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Cat with Nine Lives in Tact: Lao Road Trip

Updated on October 30, 2010

If I were a cat I reckon I would have used up at least eight of my nine lives on the mini bus trip from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. The road is extremely windy, narrow and its scary reputation precedes it.

I’d heard many horror stories about this bus trip between the Lao towns of Vang Vieng and historic Luang Prabang.

Now that I too have traversed this road, I agree with them. Every story! The driver on this mini bus trip took shocking risks on behalf of his six passengers!

Vang Vieng towards the mountains our bus trip went
Vang Vieng towards the mountains our bus trip went
Historic, beautiful Luang Prabang
Historic, beautiful Luang Prabang

From Vang Vieng, the road winds up and up and around and around. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to climb any higher we continued our bus trip journey continued up and up and up. As we tentatively looked over the edge of the narrow dusty road on this six hour journey the majestic valleys below us receded in the distance.

There are many very tight bends and few straight stretches of road so when we got behind a slow vehicle, the driver would aggressively overtake! The blind corners didn’t stop him overtaking very often.  There were grab bars to hold onto in this packed minivan and they were used regularly.  I am not a nervous passenger but at times I white knuckled it! 

I didn't know whether to sleep so I wouldn’t know what was going on or stay awake to drink in all of the wonderful scenery.  I decided to stay awake.

Staying awake (which I usually do anyway) meant I saw a couple of narrow escapes. Once I screamed as a truck came around the corner on the wrong side of the road. We were also on the wrong side. Both drivers swerved and I swear the huge cab missed me by about 20 cm if that! I took several deep breaths to slow my heart beat. One of my nine cat lives saved! There were other close calls but not quite as close as this one.

If we were forced over the edge there would be no chance of survival it because protection barriers are few and very far between. But I chose not to think about that. Instead I focused my energies on getting to the destination safely.

We had to stop or slow almost to a stand still many times for a variety of things:

Big articulated trucks on the side of the road, broken down or having a rest stop. They were very common. When I did this trip I thought there was no warning, but I discovered later there was a system in place. When a truck breaks down, the driver picks a branch off a nearby tree and places it on the road as a warning to others to be alert to the dangers ahead. I thought that was an ingenious solution.

We also slowed down for a variety of other things wandering across the road, like:

A big fat goose
Mrs Pig and her pink piglets, curly tails held high and proud
A dog – unusually one was so fat it could hardly walk

numerous other dogs
Chickens and fluffy yellow babies following behind, single file.
Children in dusty clothes or naked
Rocks piled on the side of the road – sometimes blocking one of the two narrow lanes.

The villages we passed through are very pretty. This wonderful country and its people are very poor. Many of the houses are flimsy and simply constructed with sheets of woven bamboo and roofs of palm leaves. Sometimes they are made of concrete and occasionally wood. The yards are dirt but are swept clean. They take such pride in their surroundings.

There is no litter around.

Sometimes on this trip north we passed through big villages. Many times though, high up in the hills, when the roads had been cut through the mountain side, the extra dirt was pushed to the side creating a wide sweep on narrow corners. Houses have been built on this "extra wide" part of the road. Sometimes, on this reclaimed land just a few houses have been built; sometimes a dozen or so. Many of these dwellings are precariously cantilevered over the edge of the mountain with a huge drop down into the valley below. The children play in the only flat land available to them; right beside, or on, the road. People bathe within a metre of the roadside too.

The road through the villages was often very straight so our driver on this bus trip took this opportunity to speed through, honking his horn to scatter a variety of animals and people out of our way.

Aside from often travelling on the wrong side of the road and overtaking on blind corners, the other scary part of the trip for me was seeing, high up in the mountains, young men in the uniform of the youth, holding sub machine guns. Sometimes these weapons were held casually by their side, sometimes slung over their shoulder. At times these youths were alone, sometimes in pairs but once I saw a group of about a dozen. They were lounging, their guns menacingly arranged at the edge of the road, tee pee style, butts pointing skywards.

Is this why we traveled this road in min bus convoy and quickly?

At times, in this mountainous rural area, we would see a single person wandering down the road, back bent with the load of wood being carried. It was surreal to see people so far from anywhere. “Where are you going?” I wanted to ask them, but we didn’t stop.
But we survived this bus trip from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. We were hot, dusty and relieved to be in the beautiful, peaceful town of Luang Prabang.

After arriving, I too carried on the tradition of telling horror stories about my trip between these two Laos towns along route 13.

Having said all of this, the bus trip is not one to be missed. I still encourage travellers going between these two towns to consider taking it at least once because of the outstandingly beautiful scenery.


**Words and photos are copyright Travelespresso.  Please respect my work and if you wish to use them, ask me.**



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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I hate driving along the winding mountainous roads where I live, so your trip sounds like a real nightmare to me! On the other hand, it sounds like you had a wonderful experience exploring the country and meeting people, so I can see that the bus trip was worth it. I enjoyed reading about your journey.

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Too true Jerilee Wei. Many people wrap themselves up in cotton wool and don't try stuff. Not that I think I'm "out there" totally on the risk taking scale, because I'm not. But they are wee adventures that wouldn't have happened had I not been traveling. Thanks for your comments.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Sometimes if you don't live life on the edge, you miss an amazing life. Not saying to take unnecessary risks, but better to have gotten on the bus, than to never know where it went. Great hub!

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thanks for those lovely words mega1.

      Seeing such a fat dog was most unusual as they are usually very skinny.

    • mega1 profile image


      9 years ago

      Those piglets and the fat dog are gonna stay around with me today - You describe things so well, wish I had been there too! honestly -

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thank you so much Princessa. I really enjoy them too. I haven't yet visited South America but would love to.

      Glad you enjoyed reading this one keira7. Thanks for dropping by.

    • keira7 profile image


      9 years ago

      I like your hub and will certainly read more of your work. Thanks for sharing. God Bless you my dear.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      wow... I love those trips; it reminds me the trips in the Peruvian Andes... you never really know if your bus is going to make it through the land slides and all the other "picturesque" things that you encounter on the way. I really enjoyed reading this, thanks!

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thank you Leop...As I said in the last message, I think I might be a drama queen, but this is, quite genuinely, a challenging trip. I met a great bunch of people on this mini bus trip though and that adds to the memories too. One young couple were so scared they were white as sheets the whole trip! Yes, there sure will be more.

    • Leop profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, this sure sounded like a trip to remember.. I understand it was scary and little dangerous, but all that adds to the adventure of traveling and discovering other places. I am glad you made it ok. That means more trips to come in the future.. so just celebrate and look forward to the next.

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thank you for your messages. It's always lovely when people leave a message.

      Dohn - its more the roads. Because its so steep, it's a miracle that this road exists actually.

      Nell Rose - thanks for your kind words. I am glad you find the stories real. I think I'm a drama queen actually because when I think about this topic I can write 5 or 6 and all of them are full of drama.

      Catherine R - an accident in Malaysia. Gosh, but aren't the memories wonderful. Thanks for adding to the story.

    • Catherine R profile image

      Catherine R 

      9 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I did a bus trip up through Malaysia some years ago which was very much like this one - it did in fact crash and we were showered with glass from broken windows. Luckily no one was seriously injured, the glass was swept up and we continued on our way (minus most of the windows from one side of the bus). I was young then so I don't remember being particularly frightened!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      You certainly get around! I enjoy reading your stories because it really makes them real. great. thanks Nell

    • dohn121 profile image


      9 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Crazy Lao drivers :) Again, I had fun reading this one. Your right--yjr trip to Luang Prabang is in itself half the adventure! Which reminds me...Have you seen my Luang Prabang hub?

      Hope to see you there :D

    • travelespresso profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thanks Anath. It sure was perilious but DEFINITELY one worth doing. What's life without a few risks huh?

    • Anath profile image


      9 years ago

      LOL such a perilious trip, scary and exciting. I think I would take your advice and DO the bus trip, it sounds like a fantastic experience to tell your friends about!


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