Roads of treachery

I’ve travelled along many a path in many different modes of transport but nothing prepared me for the treacherous road between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng!

It was February 2012 and I was on a self-imposed sojourn throughout Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. After spending four idyllic days in Luang Prabang I set off of one of the many “tourist” buses that run the gamut between the gorgeous UNESCO site and the “Backpackers Behaving Badly” village of Vang Vieng. Admittedly, much too old for that particular scene, I nonetheless had heard so much about the place I figured “what the heck, how bad could a six hour bus ride be”?

I should have seen the writing on the wall at the small Central bus station in Luang Prabang. Who knew backpackers were so well organized? It seemed that all the nice comfy 1st class tourist buses with air conditioning, movies and onboard bathrooms were full that day! Oh well, how bad could the 3rd class bus be? One good thing was that I was at least able to secure a window seat (I thought).

The trip started out well enough. The Laotian countryside is ethereal in its fairy-like beauty and tranquility. Endless miles of thick brush and terraced landscapes. The hypnotic thrum of the life of the local farmers and fisherman. Soon however the road became narrower and began the long laborious climb into the surrounding mountain tops. The potholed road twisted and turned with ever greater switchbacks. Suicidal dogs, huge transport trucks and frequent rockslides hid behind every turn. My window seat turned into a bird’s eye view of the sheer 1000 foot drops to the ravines below as we inched around stranded buses and traffic jams. My mumbled mantra of “it’s not my time, it’s not my time” did little to soothe my rattled bones and jangled nerves! The hillside tribes of the region have constructed ramshackle huts along the route with front doors that open right to the traffic in front and back doors that swing open to drastic drops. Small children played amongst the dust and dirt thrown up by the never-ending onslaught of speeding traffic. My heart caught at every little one’s trip or stumble.

We eventually stopped at a large viewpoint with public washrooms and marketplace. I entered the women’s area and was caught unawares by the complete open-air view to the valley floor below. Truly the most epic scene from a squat toilet I’ve ever experienced. Upon re-boarding the bus our driver assured us in his broken English that the worst was behind us and that it was all downhill from now on. Again, it sounded lovely until the reality of unrestrained speeding and sudden extreme braking filled the cabin of the bus with fumes of burning brake fuel!

It was with relieved squeals of joy that we made our way into the small village of Vang Vieng at nightfall. My fellow passengers and I hugged each other in relief, vowing to live our lives with renewed enlightenment and vigor now that we had survived Death’s Door Highway. Stay tuned to next week’s column and see how that promise played out during our time “tubing” the Nam Song River!

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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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