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Thu, 24. Aug 2006 08:00

Getting around in Southeast Asia - Our adventures in Laos and Vietnam

Mathias & Nina The idea for this blog entry about transportation in Southeast Asia was actually born a couple of weeks ago when we where sitting in a minibus in Laos. Now nearly a month has passed and we can now add a few more experiences that we had along the way. We'll not finish this blog entry today but we will keep adding descriptions of our latest transportation-adventures.

Travelling Laos-style: Relaxing boat journeys and nerve-wracking bus trips

Lets start with the "Laotian" experience of travelling. First of all we have to say that that we will always remember Laos as the country without proper roads. So we spent a lot of time in Laos on long tail boats, the most comfortable way to get around in this country. But even if you rent your own long tail boat (like we did to get to Louang Nam Tha), you can hardly expect to have the boat all to yourself. In our case, we shared the few square meters with the boatman (of course), two boys who were in charge of preparing meals and helping to steer the boat through rapids (we think they were the little brothers of the boatman), some other Laotians who we picked up and dropped off along the way and some chargo. But all in all boats are really a very relaxing way to get from A to B in Laos.

Another unforgetable experience were our bus trips. First of all, it's not so easy to figure out when the bus will leave the station: There are two times given on the board in the bus stations, a "positioning" time (that's when the bus arrives at the station and starts loading good and passengers) and a "departure" time (that's the latest time the bus would leave). However, the departure time doesn't say anything, because normally busses only leave when they are full. The mini bus that we wanted to take had a positioning time of 12:00 and a departure time of 14:30 but the bus was full earlier so at 14:00 we were ready to go (but we still spent 2 hours waiting at the station...).
Actually, the bus was more than full, the driver managed to fit 19 people (+ all the strange luggage of bamboo plants, various foodstuffs and houshold items that an average Laotian usually carries) in a 12 seater mini bus. What made the situation worse was that our fellow passengers were obviously not used to travelling by mini bus on the winding mountain roads of their homecountry and got car sick. Six of our fellow travellers solved the problem by throughing up through the open windows of the mini bus (we gladly left them the window seats...). The sound track to this experience was Lao folk music blaring from the radio (for our Austrian readers: a mixture of Wolfgang Ambros, Zillertaler Schuerzenjaeger and Chinese Opera).
During the 5 hours we spent on this mini bus the bus driver constantly had to watch out for all kinds of obstacles on the road: potholes (well, we expected that), but there were also children, chicken, dogs and cows. We drove 138km in 5 hours (that makes an average speed of exciting 27km per hour...) with a maximum speed of about 60km/k. Believe us that travelling by bus in Laos seams like a never ending journey.

Vietnam: Figuring out train ticket prices

Two days ago in Vietnam we learned that capitalism really won in this supposedly communist country: We arrived at Danang train station and wanted to get a ticket from Hue to Ninh Binh on a night train. The lady at the counter first explained to us that she can not sell us tickets departing from Hue, but only from the train station where we currently are (which was Danang). We had to accept this and asked her to give us tickets from Danang to Ninh Binh, what she refused telling us that we can only buy tickets on this train up to Hanoi! This means we ended up buying tickets for a much longer journey that we actually wanted. For our Austrian readers: this is like if you want to go from St. Poelten to Linz but you have to buy a ticket from Vienna to Salzburg. This strategy will definitely boost the revenues of the railway company!

We have to go now, our bus to Hue is leaving soon, but we'll definitely continue with stories about getting around in Vietnam!