Luang Prabang is around 200 km north of Vang Vieng, but driving there takes several hours because of the hilly terrain. There were two options for mass transport between the two cities: shared minivan or “VIP” bus. I opted for the VIP bus, based on my prior experience that minivans plus hills equals queasy not easy.
The “VIP” bus looked like it had seen better days. The cooling system put out musty air and operated with a near constant whine coming from somewhere in the back of the bus. The seat covers were not only worn but torn too. But the bus appeared sturdy and throughout the journey I experienced no motion sickness. At least, not while we were actually in motion.
About an hour into the journey we had a breakdown. I was unclear as to the exact nature of the problem but it had something to do with the right rear inner wheel. The driver stopped the bus and a round of inspections ensued as driver and conductor slid themselves under the bus to explore the bottom of the chassis.
The bus needed to be moved forward to more level terrain and for some reason it would not start on its own so all the men in the bus were instructed to get out and push. We pushed, the clutch was engaged, and the engine sputtered to life long enough for the bus to be repositioned.
All the passengers alighted and some suitably sturdy rocks were positioned behind the outside rear wheel, then the driver eased the bus onto the rocks to allow better access to the undercarriage. About an hour later we re-boarded and resumed our slow meandering up, down and around the hairpin bends until we reached Luang Prabang just after sunset.
During the ride I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and also some conversation with the young Chinese woman seated next to me. Her English was excellent and she spoke “ein bißchen” of German too, having studied Agricultural Economics in that country for three years. She now worked for a U.S. company in Beijing, lobbying the Chinese government to allow more imports of meat products from the U.S.A. (I didn’t tell her I was vegetarian). She told me her ex-boyfriend was from Bangalore, India, and that he used to brag about how rich his family was. (I didn’t tell her how poor I was either!)
She entertained me with a story of how she and her friends tried the “Happy Pizza” at a restaurant in Vang Vieng (the “happy” meaning it was apparently laced with marijuana) resulting in a mass trip to the emergency room due to uncontrollable vomiting. (Personally, if I want to vomit, I’ll just take a minivan through the mountains, thank you – no Happy Stuff needed!).