The Sleeper Bus in Laos

Laos Sleeper Bus

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.

Laos Sleeper Bus

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.

Laos Sleeper Bus

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?

 

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia

10 Responses to The Sleeper Bus in Laos

  1. Simo

    I feel your pain…. worst travel experience ever was the sleeper bus fro Hanoi to Hue…. your bus looks plush compared to the one I was one…. but yes def worth doing…. (once)
    Simo recently posted…Desert Machines, Old and New…My Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      It was quite plush looking, not plush feeling. Laos has some of the windiest roads I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure Vietnam is no better. We found really cheap flights on Jet Star from Hanoi to Danang and avoided that dreadful ride.

      • Simo

        yeah yeah after that trip it was planes train and motorbikes… no more sleeper buses…. but of to Laos this year so here we go again lol
        Simo recently posted…Desert Machines, Old and New…My Profile

  2. Rupa

    Holy Crap – I’m boarding a sleeper bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in about 5 hours. Now I’m beyond scared. 🙂

  3. Elyssa

    Thanks for your entertaining post! The pictures and your descriptions are really helpful as my friends and I are contemplating taking this bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane on our trip next month. Can you please advise how/where in LP we can purchase tickets for this ride and what time we would actually arrive in Vientiane? Is there only 1 bus departing each night? Many thanks!

    AEM

    P.S We will be staying far far away from the Mekong River Weed.

    • Noah Lederman

      Hi Elyssa. Thanks for the comment. The bus is outside of the town, but if you purchase a ticket from any reputable travel agency in LP then the taxi to the bus should be included in the price. You arrive in Vientiane early the next morning. Yes, good choice to stay away from Mekong River Weed (MRW). I was recently in Wales and for breakfast one morning was served laver bread–basically a seaweed pudding. Not only was it awful, but it made me recall MRW, which caused me to feel even more nauseous than I already was.

  4. Patrick

    Hi Noah, do you know where i can book the bus tickets from Luang Prabang online? And would know of any reliable website that has the departure schedules? Thanks.

    • Noah Lederman

      Hi Patrick,
      Sorry for the delayed reply. I’m not sure of any credible agents who sell tickets online; I’m sure they exist, I just don’t know of them. When I was in LP, I went down the block from my hotel and booked the beds day of. I’d suspect if you book a few days before, there should be plenty of tickets for the sleeper bus. Let me know what happens.

  5. Nicola licciardello

    This is to certify that in date 27 December 2018, by 7 pm, we (Nicola Licciardello, Fabrizio Ruggiero) have embarked on a “tuc tuc”, which came to pic us up at our hotel in Luang Prabang, to reach the “Sleeping Bus” station, to depart to Vientiane Laos capital.

    A lady of the Whisper Journeys in Luang Prabang had assured us that it is a luxury bus, practically the best way to travel to Vientiane: arriving there in about ten hours, at 6 o’ clock in the morning (1), having perfectly horizontal beds for two people (2), and toilette system (3) within the bus itself; and last, that a dinner would have been served to passengers just before its departure (4), on the bus itself.

    But in reality, the truth of such trip has been a nightmare, or a Hell. No food was given us until 6 o’ clock next morning, at a restore place of very poor quality; no toilette system was present in the bus, and precariously people every time had to ask the driver to stop somewhere in the open space to deliver. The beds were extremely thin for 2 people (80 cm. x 150 ca), and a mess was necessarily the consequence of it all along the bus. Moreover, after just 1 or 2 hours of travelling, the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere, and the driver with his comrade went under it yelding something for more than an hour. The bus then went, particularly slow all the time, so that it arrived to Vientiane at 1 PM, in 18 hours instead of 10.

    We complain not only with the company running such kind of trips to Vientiane, but expecially with the agency Whisper Journeys in Luang Prabang which handed us with such completely wrong information. For the benefit of other people, to protect them from such horrible experience, we present this report.

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