In order to get to Luang Prabang before sunset (so that we would have plenty of time to look for a good guest house), we decided to catch an early morning `express' bus from Vang Vieng.
Our beautiful express bus with its ever-open door
The tuk-tuk transport to the bus station got us there half an hour early, which was good news for us as we managed to secure two front seats: more leg-space and a good view of the scenery along the way.
Lao scenery from our bus
We never really understood how the bus journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang could take 7 hours (it's only 140 km, apparently), but it soon became clear why. The roads are generally quite OK (paved, not dirt roads), but there are numerous deep pot holes scattered randomly around. Some pot holes take minutes to cross and the bus driver generally needs to drive quite slowly to spot them before it's too late (you don't really want to get a flat).
Unfortunately, 7 hours didn't happen. It’s the wet season in Laos, which means that it rains heavily (usually at night). Heavy rain means heavy soil and combined with over-logging we've got the perfect conditions for a landslide. And that's just what had happened the night before. We were first met by a very long queue of cars, trucks and buses, all come to a halt by the pretty enormous landslide a few kilometres ahead. Four excavators were already at the site, working their way through the soil, digging as much as they could. I thought they could sort this out quite quickly, but the truck drivers had obviously seen this before and welcomed the situation by having naps in the shade underneath their trucks. If any of them had any merchandise, they set up small shops alongside the road, selling food and water to those in lack thereof.
When traffic finally started flowing (only one lane could be cleared, so first in the opposite direction), some of the cars in our queue got impatient and started to overtake us and many others. This obviously created new problems as two lanes were now blocked. One of the drivers got angry at this very stupid behaviour and started using the-tank-man-at-Tiananmen-square tactics, but with little effect.
Diggers working on what looks like a construction site
The road we were stuck on was down-sloping, and as cars here generally don’t have handbrakes (or the drivers don’t like to use them), the drivers place a large stone in front of one of their wheels to stop the car from moving. As our queue slowly stared moving, most drivers couldn’t be bothered moving the stone away from the road, and as a result our bus hit one of them and we got a flat. Providing us with some long awaited entertainment, all of us watched the bus driver change wheels on a bus (the inner one of the two rear, so quite a troublesome job). It was OK though, as the queue had stopped again and we didn't really lose any time.
Now slowly moving, with at least a 3 hours drive remaining to Luang Prabang, the sun had set. The slow moving queue eventually took us to the site of the landslide and we passed through on an impromptu road made of rocks. Good times.
The three remaining hours turned out to be four, and we finally arrived in Luang Prabang just before midnight after 14 hours on the bus. At least we had the front seats!