If you’re ever traveling Laos via land, consider taking the sleeper bus. I’m not vouching for the ride because it was awful. Dreadfully, dreadfully awful. It’s just an experience worth complaining about afterward.
Booking Our Sleeper Bus Ticket in Luang Prabang
When booking our trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the sleeper bus seemed to blow the VIP bus off the road. For a five-dollar step-up in price, we were getting a free tuk tuk ride to the bus station, a free meal coupon for the 10:00 pm stopover, and of course the fully reclined seats that would allow a rider to sleep. Marissa and I chose the upper deck because when we heard the term, we both assumed that the sleeper bus had two stories. But upper deck meant top bunk and the lower deck was a bed level with the floor.
Inside the Sleeper Bus to Vientiane
I laid down on my burgundy leather seat, which was in the prone position, and shoved my feet into the foot cubby. It was a cramped space that made it impossible for me to point my toes upright and I’m only size 9.5. (Notice the awkward, toe-curled position of my foot in the picture above.) The bus was designed so that there were six sleepers on the left upper deck, six on the left lower deck, twelve beds down the starboard side, and twelve more in the middle. On my tray was a warm bottle of water, a styrofoam container of cold fried rice, and a bad snack. But it was the first time that I refused to eat the meal on the bus because my stomach was going round and round. I had made a huge mistake.
Before boarding, I had taken five bites of Mekong River Weed, which I had purchased at the bus station market. As the name implies, river weed grows in the dirty brown waters of the Mekong. In a failed attempt to improve the abysmal flavors, vendors smash dried bits of tomato and garlic into the weed. It would be like bottling Hudson River water to make iced tea. (I actually did this once when I worked in public relations and we were demonstrating the functionality of a mobile water filtration unit. But we drank the Hudson without adding flavoring. It was much better than Mekong River Weed.) Just writing about this weed (and now again revising this section) makes me want to puke. It might be the only food on the planet that I find to be too putrid to eat.
Once the bus started moving, Marissa asked me to switch seats. She was in the middle row and started to panic. As a gentleman does, I gave up my seat along the window. The middle seats wobbled endlessly and my stomach felt every turn of the twelve-hour trip. The entire time I smelled the river weed. I also felt it moving up my digestive track. Bad Laotian music videos played on the screen. I planned my dismount from the bunk to the toilet. The only problem was there were about half a dozen Laotian kids sleeping on the padded floor of the sleeper bus. This was not going to be pretty, I thought.
What was your most nauseating bus ride?