Observations from the Real Ride to Luang Prabang

So the bus ride from Kunming, China down to Luang Prabang , Laos didn’t have any improvised mines , rebel attacks, malarial outbreaks, or even monkeys flinging poo. Merely a small child with a plastic automatic rifle that shoots out pure annoyance and irritation instead of bullets. But hey it was alright , I made it!

A couple of observations on the way down:

China has an excellent road (G213) paved from Kunming down to the border, once you cross the border the road loses the fancy G2 and is merely called 13. Along with the prefix the road also loses quality and gains potholes (craters), dirt, and mud. The roads also now are very windy and the bus is constantly turning on its way through the mountains. Dense , lush , and verdant foliage also now surrounds the roads. It’s a bumpy ride.

After we crossed into the tropical district of Xishuangbanna , China, which borders Laos, at every parking lot/rest stop we stopped at you can count on money changers being there. They will come up onto the bus and in chinese say “huan qian” (换钱)followed by a “change money” in English. While it may seem shady to do trade with these random strangers and their thick wads of (kip) Laotian currency and calculators , I recommend it. The rates they offered were very close to the official rate encountered on the internet and much to much better than any rate I encountered while actually in Laos. I figured I would get a better rate in Laos so I only exchanged a little bit . Next time I know what to do. The rates are so close its hard to figure how these traders even make money. I wish I would have made a note of it but the profit margin for them was tiny.Now be smart and make sure you know the rate and make sure the math is correct and inspect and count the bills but don’t be afraid of this transaction.

1RMB = 1,257 Kip , $1USD = 7,980 Kip. This was the first time I’ve been a millionaire! The largest Lao note is the 50,000 Kip bill , so its only worth about $7USD. I thought having the 100RMB ($15) note in China was bad enough. So if you are changing lots of money be prepared to have a fat wad of notes.

At one stop a gambler came up to the bus with three small round covers and a coin. The coin was placed under one of the covers and they were all scrambled around. Two people gamble and try to find the coin. One of the Chinese guys on the bus pulled out a stack of 100RMB notes and ended up winning a couple hundred. High-roller!

As you go further south down into Xishuangbanna, signs in towns and on roads start having Laos script written underneath the Chinese. In stores there are more and more Laotian groceries and in the cooler next to the Dali beer Beer Lao starts making appearances as well!

The further down south the more palm trees. The more palm trees the more appearance of a laid-back calm environment.

Once you make it to the border you have to get on and off the bus a maddening number of times. First to go through Chinese customs and get your exit stamps then on the bus for 30 seconds , then off again ( I don’t even remember why) , then on and off again to pass through Laos customs and get your Laos visa.

At the Laotian customs there is a large book full of prices for visas on arrival. Every nationality has a different price. There are also different prices marked for different currencies. Americans are supposed to pay ~$35 USD but I had only Chinese RMB and after I did the conversion I had ended up paying $50 USD.

Bring two small photos with you to the border , fill out a small application , hand over the application with photos, cash ,  and passport, two minutes later receive your passport with a new visa stuck in it! Walk ahead and get your passport stamped and then its back on the bus.

The Lao Visa is a very cool and psychedelic with purple and pink hues , with a trippy silver holograph seal.

The Chinese customs looks all hi-tech and futuristic and bids goodbye  , while in Laos a big old-looking golden temple is the first thing that says hello.

After crossing the border the toilets in rest stops are more expensive to use  , 2 RMB versus 1 RMB (but in Kip).  I had to pay 2,500 Kip to piss. Hahahahahaha two thousand five hundred to pee.

New varieties of snack foods , (lays squid potato chips) , more variety of energy drinks. Lots of dried fruits. A snack station making sandwhichs out of loaves of bread. First real sandwhiches I’ve seen in Asia. Thanks French influence!

Finally , after 28 hours , my bus finally pulled into Luang Prabang. This was the first semblance of any large center of civilization. Up until now we had only passed through a few small villages and encountered little huts on the side of the road. Wow, it felt great to be done with the bus! I hopped off the bus and onto a Tuk-Tuk and it was off to the center of town to try and find a guesthouse……

Ambushed in the Jungle

At 6am, the sound of rapid burst machine gun fire ripped through the air followed by incomprehensible primal screams coming from the dense thicket and echoing down the river valley.

The transport vehicle flew down the pitted, rocky, dirt road. Running as if it were really possible to leave this nightmare behind. The pistons roared under the hood as the vehicle lurched up and down through another crater like pit, in the road. Heads slammed into the ceiling and then people lay inert in their seats , too weary to even moan. The energy to moan was lost 15 hours ago in this nightmare ride.

The night was quiet and gave a false sense of security, but as soon as the sky turned from black to mottled hues of blue, it started again. It was as if the sun itself brought bright red tracer bullets along with the bright tropical sun rays.

“We’ll make it , We’ll make it”. “Only 12 more hours to go”.

These thoughts echoed in his mind over and over. A broken record with the claw marks from the devil himself, repeating for all eternity.

“What did I ever do to deserve this?” .”I’ve been good to God , Allah , Buddha, Yewah, Shiva , all of them!” . “Maybe the animists had it right?  If I live , I’ll hunt bad the biggest and the baddest of all the tigers and sacrifice him.”

More blood to appease the blood lust. The jungle already stained crimson with men, women, and children.

The head in front of him exploded. Little globules of strawberry jam sprayed forward, creating abstract modern art on the seat ahead. Bits of cranial matter burst forward at 500 miles per hour and embedded themselves neatly in the upholstery. Like a sick version of connect the dots he saw himself creating images of rabbits frolicking in a forest in his mind. Years of this shit had numbed the senses. Reducing a man’s death to a normal occurrence. Equating bits of brain and blood to an everyday event , like the alarm clock going off, like the sound of eggs sizzling in the pan.

“Dear God, war is hell, or Dear Lucifer, war is heaven?”

It was hard to tell anymore. The mind was so scrambled.

Brakes smoking , screeching noises emanating from deep within the speeding death trap, the casket desperately tried to cut speed. The 180 degree twist that suddenly popped up in the mountainous jungle road loomed ahead like the Grim Reaper clutching his scythe. The end seemed inevitable , maybe then they would have some time to rest. But somehow , miraculously even, the transport made it with seemingly every bolt and screw protesting the indignities they were being inflicted with.

“I wish it would have just careened off the path, I’m tired of all this”.

Like a massive joke , one danger was passed and another lay ahead. However, he wasn’t laughing at the tiny ,malnourished, children soldiers , who were brandishing massive machetes , AK-47s, and grenades. Children, who instead of holding stuffed animals and play fighting with sticks, were swimming in huge, tattered ,mildew green uniforms, and were trying to ruthlessly kill all of those aboard. The children leaped at the vehicle. He punched one , two children in the face. He slammed the butt of his assault rifle into the solar plexus of another. The youths were weak but then again so were the badly beaten soldiers.

The young warriors were getting grips on the shattered window frames. Blood was gushing from fresh wounds as they attempted to pull themselves over shattered stubs of glass into the vehicle. It was seeming hopeless but somehow the unscathed driver was still going. The driver slammed the bus into another 180 degree turn on the twisty mountain road and many of the kids lost their grips on the vehicle and plummeted thousands of feet down. The bus kept going.

He couldn’t really believe it when they finally pulled into the ruins of the village. He couldn’t really be happy about it, seeing as how it was just a demolished , burnt down, bombed to shreds village,  just one of hundreds of similarly destroyed towns. But they could finally get out of the vehicle. The remaining men piled out of their moving home and down onto land, most barely able to keep on two feet. More corpses stayed aboard than men came out. But they had arrived , they were “home”.

 

Yikes! , sorry everyone for that morose little entry. That didn’t really happen to me on the 28 hour bus ride from Kunming to Luang Prabang but it was inspired by the ride.

To all those Mothers , please please please do not give your 3-year-old child a plastic toy gun that lights up and emits a loud burst of automatic machine gun noise followed by a man yelling “FIRE FIRE!!” which then letting off a few more bursts of gun fire , with EVERY pull of the trigger. If you want to drive yourself insane then please equip your child with this “toy” at your own convenience in the safety of your own home. Not on a packed public bus on an overnight 28 hour journey.

If common sense has failed to stop you from giving your child this toy in public then at least please f***ing take it away from your child (monster) when he repeatedly pulls the trigger over and over and over again starting at 5:30 in the morning. 5:30am after already being on said bus for more than twelve hours and not being able to sleep due to constant bumps and turns on the shitty Laotian roads. The abuse didn’t let up until 3 hours later when they got off the bus.

During the entire cacophony of gunfire , I got the inspiration to try my hand at penning a little war story after I got back. This quickly assembled little dittyba was the result.