Sunday, February 2, 2014

Day 23 - Laos: The Bus Mafia

Its a bit mafiosa whenever all paths lead to 1 person. And in Laos, there's equivocally a bus mafia with a Godfather in each town.

In Nong Khiaw, it was nearly impossible to get clear info about bus schedules and prices.

* No direct bus from Nong Khiaw to Luang Namtha
* 30,000 Kip from Nong Khiaw to Pok Mong (1 hr)
* At Pok Mong, wave down a bus heading to Luang Namtha

* How will I know which is the said bus to flag down to Luang Namtha?
* When will said bus be passing through Pok Mong? (I was told 9am-10:30am)
* How much is said bus?

In walks the Godfather, who said he could 'guarantee' the 3 of us that the bus to Luang Namtha will stop and will have a seat for us. Despite a likely 20,000 Kip uplift ($2.5), we decided that there were too many unknowns, so we bought from the Godfather.

The next morning 10 of us arrived to the bus station, and as we piled out of the truck. An American couple pointed to us, telling a group of bus drivers, "See more people. We Can leave now." The driver would not leave for Pak Mang ->Luang Prabang until the van/bus was full. However, the Godfather emerged and shook his head no. And then chaos unleashed.

I stood back listening to the melding pot of English, Lao, Dutch, French, and Hebrew filling the air, along with animated gestures that began to escalate in outrage.

"You think you're SO smart, but REALLY you're stupid!" the German woman roared with a thick accent. The 3 Israeli guys surrounded the scrawny Godfather, as one Israeli puffed out his chest, "Ok man, you give me my bus."

I personally wouldn't mess with the angry Israelis straight out of the army, but the Godfather remained nonplussed.

"Fine give us our money back and we'll take another bus." I heard someone say.

"I own all the busses," the Godfather said, "your bus did not come. You take this," pointing to an open truck for their 3-4 hour journey.

"I paid for a minivan and that's what I'm taking," the German lady retorted.

At this point, the 3 of us to heading to Pak Mong ->Luang Namtha left the sea of anger and secured a seat on the truck as the Godfather was refusing to give the others their money back. The French, Dutch, and American couple heading to Pak Mong -> Luang Prabang wisely joined us while the Israelis and German stayed behind in defiance.

Of course, when we arrived to Pak Mong at 9:30am, the Godfather there said the bus to Luang Namtha was full. Then he said there was space but we had to pay. My Lao translation of what we were doing failed, and our ticket stubs did not help either. So, we called the Nong Khiaw Godfather. After a heated conversation between the two Godfathers, the Pak Mong Godfather got off the phone, made us wait in silence for a few minutes, and then gave us back our tickets, "your bus comes at 11:30."

The most entertaining part was at 11am a 12 person minivan pulls into the station crammed with 15 people, including the German woman and 3 Israelis squashed between locals, still steaming from ear to ear.

The Israelis lost it once again when the Pak Mong Godfather literally pushed a man from behind, trying to fit 2 more people in the van. The Israelis barricaded the back seat and the Godfather was forced to let the Israelis win this battle.

The 3 of us made it on the 11:30 bus to Luang Namtha. We arrived after 10 total hours of travel and waiting time. Notice the awesome 70s upholstery, mickey mouse clock, and the door that stayed open with people hanging out through every dirt road and windy turn.

Watch this video to video to capture the bumpiness of the road, loud music and honking horns for the epic journey. video

UNIQUE TRAVEL TID-BIT of the DAY: the night before I had dinner with a group of bikers. Some were travelling via motor bike for 2 weeks. Some were traveling the world via motor bike going on 1-3 years!!
NEXT STOP: 3 day hike in the jungle of Na Ha Valley.

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