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Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Getting to Laos

Originally I thought I would have to go to the Laos embassy in Phnom Penh for my visa. At most land crossings into Laos it is possible to get a 30-day tourist visa on entry. The route I was taking, from Phnom Penh to Vientiane via Pakse did not, until recently, have a visa facility at the border. Online reports suggested this may have changed but it was not certain. I had advice from two people that it was definitely possible, so I decided against making the trip to the embassy—actually it would have been two trips on a moto. This option seems to be much better.

The distance between the two capitals is apparently less than 800 kilometres. My first thought was that it should take about 12 hours. That wasn't really smart on my part because I have a lot of experience with Cambodian roads. I should have known better. Perhaps it was wishful thinking.

There is a bus that leaves from Sorya bus depot every morning at 6.45 am. It costs US$45 to go to Vientiane and $27 to Pakse. When I checked the arrival time with the ticket seller, she told me 24 hours. 24 hours! How could that be!? I simply did not want to believe it. And that would mean staying overnight on a bus. I've only ever once done an overnight bus trip. It was horrible. I didn't want to do it again.

Eventually I decided on a ticket to Pakse. That is a 12-hour trip. I figured I'd get off in Pakse stay overnight and then get a day bus the rest of the way the next day. So, yesterday morning I set off. Sorya bus station is only a few blocks from my guesthouse in Phnom Penh but I'm carrying far too much at the moment so I relented and took a tuk-tuk. I didn't want to do my back in before I started.

When I got on the bus I was pleasantly surprised. The seats were quite wide and comfortable. I was in the second row. The front row was raised as it was above the driver. This meant that the view to the front was obscured to me as would oncoming headlights be. And somehow the arrangement gave my seat lots of leg room. I was pretty content and even started thinking that maybe I could cope with overnight on this bus.

Most of the seats were empty including the one next to me. I even had space to spread out. However, along the way the bus stopped and picked up passengers and also dropped them off. I had the company of a pleasant young Belgian lady for a few hours but for the rest of the journey the seat was empty.
I sat back and watched the view, taking the occasional picture. We crossed lots of rivers and passed through many flooded fields. We also passed through towns and villages and rice fields. I really enjoy the Cambodian countryside. Just before 4.00 pm we reached the border.

Cleared the Cambodian immigration, no problem. Paid the $1 fee that these guys charge for doing their job. They were most obliging and even accepted it in reil. Walked the 100 metre no mans land in the hot sun. Filled out a form to state I didn't have any flu symptoms and presented my fee and papers for the Laos visa (including the extra fee here also). The hardest part was that I had to stand on a west-facing verandah in the hot sun and it takes about ten minutes. I was lucky, I got in first. The dawdlers had to wait while everyone else was processed. Altogether it took about an hour.

I see there are buildings under construction. I trust this rather primitive system is only a temporary one.

We had a couple more hours of driving on Laos roads which are much better than on the Cambodian side of the border. I'd also say that on average the Laos housing was slightly better than Cambodian. There seemed to be fewer vehicles on the road. There weren't so many rice fields and there was a lot more bush.

I had still been thinking about staying on this bus but I noticed that on the Laos side of the border the driver beeped his horn much more. Are Laos drivers more dreamy? They seem to be. Also the conductor told me that it was a different bus from Pakse on. That convinced me that I wanted to get off at Pakse.

Eventually we reached Pakse and I discovered that the onward bus was a 'sleeping bus'. It had proper bunks rather than reclining seats. But I grabbed a moto with a sidecar and headed for my guesthouse. I'd got a couple of names from the travelfish site. I rejected the Narin Thachalern Hotel. The fan room did not have any window or ventilation. When I lay on the bed I could feel the springs sticking into me. No thank you. I ended up at Sedone River Guesthouse. It is very basic but has a firm bed that suits me and after Phnom Penh, it is incredibly quiet. : )

I decided to stay a second night because I didn't want to be rushing in the morning to find a bus. After I paid for the second night I asked about buses to Vientiane. There is very little choice. There are two bus companies and both offer only sleeping buses that travel at night. There are no day buses. I have to wait until Thursday evening and will still have to endure a night on a bus.

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