It was around dawn on August 29th last year after a 10+hr overnight bus ride from Bangkok by the time we had exited Thailand and crossed the mighty Mekong river to enter Laos. The bus ride itself may sound daunting but it was quite comfortable and cheap. I paid just over 900baht (about $25USD) and I was seated towards the front of the top level of the bus where the rows of seats were divided into 2s and 1s. Fortunately I booked my ticket in advance and got a solo seat. The seats were also quite spacious and you could recline them quite a bit so I got a good relatively uninterrupted sleep. No amount of sleep would prepare me for the shock to come.
At the Lao immigration checkpoint I was unsure how the visa process worked…..I assumed it was just going to be a stamp, hand over the overpriced $42USD visa fee for Canadians (among the most expensive), and walk on through to the other side. I was wrong. I made sure to be one of the first off the bus to get to the window and the official just flipped through my passport pages and gestured to a side building with numbered windows. I went over to window 1 and gave him the money and thus started the process. At that point while I was waiting I could see the number of people left standing in line to get through the border from my bus was dwindling…to make matters worse the visa officials were taking their sweet time, in part probably because of the early time of the day and the famous laid back Lao way of doing things. By the time I got the full page pasted on 30 day visa, there was no one lined up to go through. I rushed back over to the checkpoint and the official promptly saw the visa, stamped it, and I was through. That’s when I walked over the border into Laos and I couldn’t see my bus.
Gobsmacked I ran around the parking lot area where there were a few closed shops and restaurants, frantically looking for my bus. It is now I should mention that I left my backpack on my bus seat and in it contained, besides all my clothes, my laptop and a large amount of cash. Despite not seeing the bus I wasn’t completely freaking out, but only because I was still shocked that this was happening to me. The bus attendant who helped people find their seat should have known I wasn’t back on the bus because I was the only white person on the bus and if the other people sat around me noticed I was not on the bus, they either hadn’t cared or had told the bus attendant but he choice to tell the driver to leave anyway….Thankfully my running had attracted the attention of a taxi driver.
He asked me what I was looking for, I said my bus and that I think it had left without me. He said ‘bad bus driver, I take you bus station’. Sure. Let’s do it. The driver drove at a good speed the short distance to Vientiane and to the bus station. There we both got out and by luck I saw my bus and people were still unloading their bags from beneath the bus. I saw the bus attendant and when he saw me he just gave me a stupid guilty bewildered look like ‘oh I didn’t know’. I wanted to call him out in front of everybody but I knew that wouldn’t solve anything. Instead I just said ‘WTF you left me!’. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and I just went right past him into the bus hoping to find my bag…to my utter relief there was my bag sitting innocently and unmolested right where I left it. Knowing that I had foiled the bus attendant and driver’s likely plan to divide the spoils between them was just as satisfying as getting my bag back.
The taxi driver also had a few words with the bus attendant and the attendant was looking sheepish by the time I got off the bus and back into the taxi. The driver then took me to the Funky Monkey Hostel (highly recommend if you are headed to Vientiane; cheap, friendly staff and backpackers, pool table, a stone’s throw away from the night market and riverfront, walking distance to other city sights). Outside the hostel I thanked the driver profusely and gave him a hefty tip because he saved my whole backpacking trip.
I guess some advice I can give to other backpackers going through any border is 1) get a clear idea of what kind of visa you will get; stamp or full page, or better yet get it before the border 2) tell the bus attendant to not leave you behind (sounds silly but it might save you!) 3) if possible try go with reliable bus companies, although I know that theft is common in these parts of the world on buses.
Hope you enjoyed my story; I have another wild Lao story to tell sometime soon so make sure to come back and read up and what kind of predicament I get into next!