Breakdown

Posted by on Jan 12, 2005 in Laos | One Comment

There is one bus a day from Luang Nam Tha to Huay Xai–the border town near Northern Thailand. Keeping in mind what happened on my last trip, I went to the bus station one hour early. The bus was almost full by the time I arrived. Before we left more tourists arrived and locals were kicked off the bus. Sometimes I feel bad when we get preferential treatment, but we do pay a lot more money for the same service so I understand the motivation. I thought I had done really well by securing a window seat. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In addition to being a window seat it was also over the rear wheel. The round hump raised about one foot above floor level. The space between the seat in front of me and the front of my seat was less than 12 inches. This meant I was sitting with my knees at chest level with one knee wedged into the small gap between seats. Every bump on the road pushed the metal of the seat into my knee–I had bruises later. It wasn’t too long before I felt a stabbing pain in my back from this horrible position.

The bus didn’t get far before we hit the Chinese trucks constructing the road in front of us. Most people don’t realize that China built and operates most of the roads in Northern Laos and Western Myanmar. Because the route snaked through forested-covered mountains we had to carefully navigate through the rubble or wait until the trucks moved. Little kids playing beside the road or peeking out of small village houses waved to us as we passed. By lunchtime I realized the trip was going to take longer than the posted seven hours. Apparently seven hours was how long it would take when the road was completed.

After a while the driver started leaning out his window, looking at the bus while he was driving. We stopped at a bamboo shack where he bought a few bottles of oil. Our first breakdown caused the driver to change out of his dress slacks and shimmy under the back of the bus. Our second breakdown we saw smoke and the driver poured more oil and kicked the tires. The crew of a dump truck stopped to help but they mostly ended up squatting by the side of the road Chinese style and watching oil drip under the bus. We pressed on even though nothing had been fixed. The third and final breakdown, smoke was pouring out from under the bus. We all got off and watched the sun set. It was completely dark before two vehicles stopped to take us the remaining hour to town.


Passengers pushing the bus after the third breakdown.

We were all shocked by the hotel prices in town and I was frustrated because they were all quoted in Thai Baht. Four of us joined up and shared a room. It had four beds and a TV with CNN–a bit shocking after being in Northern Laos for over a week. Our showers were hard won and definitely necessary after the 10-hour bus ride. A rough day ended with a nice dinner overlooking the Mekong River and the Thai border.

1 Comment

  1. vlad
    April 23, 2005

    heh, bus rides are always an adventure. it never ceases to amaze me how people in these countries run their vehicles into the ground. everything is really pushed to the limits. it’s like, let’s take the absolute bare minimum to keep this thing from breaking down, and do just a little bit less.