So it's only 10am here and you might be thinking what could have happened in the few hours we've been awake that deserves an email? Well our morning started very normal, after breakfast we checked out of our guest house and waited in the lobby for our mini-van to arrive. We decided to spend an extra 10000 kip each (a little over a dollar) to upgrade to a minivan rather than take another VIP bus with no a/c. Our hotel was kind enough to arrange for us for a small fee and have them pick us up from the hotel, which saves money on not needing a tuk-tuk to the bus station.
The minivan arrived and our hotel front desk guide said "here's your bus, and lucky you...you get first pick of seats". To put his comment into context, all buses and vans cram as many people as humanly possible into their vehicles. A van built for 8 can easily fit 20 in their world...they even have short bar stools in the trunk and put them in the aisles when extra seating is needed. So we were ecstatic to have a brand new, beautiful Toyota minivan pull up with free pick of seats. We jumped in and our bags were loaded in the back....ecstatic with our extra dollar of spend. New car smell, plastic still on the sun shades and a/c vents everywhere.
We then pulled away from the hotel and the woman took our ticket and gave us another ticket in return. We drove about 3 blocks to another guesthouse, presumably to pick up more travelers. We pulled up and the woman got out, looked at us and yelled "you get out and get on bus" pointing to another bus parked at the guesthouse. This thing was a 1970s style van that looked like it was being held together by duct tape. It was already crammed with backpackers and luggage was piled high on the roof. I said "hold on, I don't understand" and she explained in broken English that this was only the shuttle to the van that would take us to Vientiane. This was followed by a shrieking "get out" and the driver getting out of the van and taking our bags out of the back. I was shocked - I looked at Jen and she said "let's just get out". I looked at the other bus again and said to the woman "we paid for this minivan and we're not getting out". This didn't sit well with her - there was a stand off that lasted a few uncomfortable seconds and followed by lots of words in a completely foreign language but which I fully understood the meaning. She got back in the van and our bags were put back on. We then started driving back towards our guesthouse without a word from driver of the shrieking woman - I assumed they were just going to drop us off where we started.
We stopped at some random travel office and the woman jumped out - we then continued...passed our guesthouse...down a dirt road. I started to worry where he was taking us, and then we arrived at a guesthouse with backpackers standing outside. We then proceeded to pick up lots more passengers, including the shrieking woman again, who acted like they hadn't just tried to rip us off and had the nerve to ask us again for our ticket! We kindly reminded her of the incident and she ignored us and walked away.
I'm sure there plan was to pocket our money and buy us a dirt cheap ticket on the other bus. Pretty sad scam.
The good news is that we're now on the road in the nice air conditioned bus with the best seats on the bus, and a little wiser from the experience.
Sent from my iPod