We had already been traveling for 2 full days to get from Siem Reap, Cambodia to our eventual first stop in Laos. Along the way, we had taken a 10-hour bus ride and gotten stuck at the Cambodia-Laos border crossing when we arrived after it had closed for the day, we had bribed border guards with money to stamp our passports (the corruption!), we were exhausted and getting tired of moving around… So we were relieved when we learned that the bus that we would be taking on the final overnight push from Pakse, Laos to Vientiane, Laos was a sleeper bus – complete with horizontal beds, pillows, blankets, everything one might want for an uneventful nights sleep!
What we hoped would be an enjoyable 10 hour ride up to Vientiane turned out to be a hellish ordeal covering some of the worst highways in Asia: man-eating potholes, stretches of highway giving way to dirt roads, riddled with large rocks and deep ruts. (Amazingly, this was all on the main “highway” through Laos that connects the north and south of the country.) Needless to say, we didn’t sleep on the so-called “sleeper bus”, and we’ve gathered some DOs and DON’Ts for you, our reader, here in case you should ever attempt it:
*DO put your shoes into the plastic baggie provided before entering the bus to avoid scratching the glass-topped disco floor that makes up the aisle.
(blurry pic of the aisle, below– yes, those are plastic yellow rubber duckies sitting below the glass-topped surface)
*DO greet your seatmate that you will be spooning for the next 10 hours. (There are 2 people to one twin-size bed, unless you buy out the entire bed with two tickets. The giant kilt-wearing Scandinavian man and the 5-foot Lao farmer seemed an odd couple.).
*DON’T get excited (like these idiots) when you see how cute, clean, and soft your bunk-bed and pillows are. (You won’t be sleeping.)
*DO sleep in the most mobility-limited position you can find—preferably flat on your back with your hands interlocked over your stomach. But even then, DO bring loads of ibuprofen to soften the blows to your head that you will encounter for the next 10 straight hours.
*DON’T attempt to sit up if you’re on the top bunk, no matter how extruciating the bumpy road is to your head—there’s not any headspace. (But DO assume a 45-degree angle half-sit up position occasionally – you’ll give your head a few seconds of relief and get an ab workout in the process.)
*DO dance on the glass-topped disco floor with the other bus patrons when you still haven’t fallen asleep by 4 o’clock in the morning. (Unfortunately I did not capture any pictures of this.)
*DON’T use the bathroom. (Remember, you’re already not wearing shoes..….)
*Even after 10 straight hours of throwing back Lao beer on the bus, please, just DON’T, DON’T use the bathroom.
*If you DO use the bathroom, DON’T wear pants that drag the ground, DO bring your own toilet paper (there is none), and DO bring your own trashcan to put it in (there’s not one..and can’t flush your TP here…). DON’T fall into the bathroom walls or accidentally step into the squat toilet when the bus hits the inevitable bump. Upon exiting, DO spray down your feet with the bum-hose next to the toilet. (Somehow, I managed to neglect all of these rules and was not allowed to climb back into bed afterwards.) DO wipe hand sanitizer on your feet and hands afterwards (of course there is nowhere to wash your hands—that would just be silly at this point).
*This should be obvious by now, but DON’T get locked inside said-bathroom when the bus assistant comes back to secure things; if it is your sleeping companion that gets locked inside, DON’T just laugh until you cry (like Scott did)– DO help them out, instead.
*DO thank your driver for providing you with blaring Cambodian karaoke music and multi-colored disco lights as your wake-up call at 5:00 am when you’ve reached your destination.
*Upon exiting the bus, DO let the rooster that was apparently in the luggage compartment underneath the bus THE WHOLE TIME out of the bus.
*DO laugh hysterically as your sleep-deprived brain thinks back fondly on all the fun you’ve just had, as you stumble into the nearest hotel and finally, finally fall fast asleep…..