And it was quite something!
There weren’t any night bus options available from Pakse to Thakehk, so we booked a local bus. What an experience! We were brought to the station in the morning where a very old bus was waiting for us. The seats were almost destroyed, the windows dirty, the curtains customised… I would have been curious to know when this bus first ride was! Probably quite a few decades ago… That’s when we understood the concept of VIP bus (usually a bus for tourists which is a little more, how to say… comfortable!) and local bus.
We stopped many times along the way and the bus filled up quickly. I am not even sure about the existence of proper bus stops, it seemed like we stopped very randomly on the side of the road when people wanted to get on or off.
A few stops were chaotic… Like this one time when about 15 women got on board: They were selling food of all kind; some were holding huge grilled meat sticks, others had fruit plates, corn, peanuts, water bottles and other stuff that didn’t always smell great… they were all shouting out loud whatever they were selling and were very very persistent. A younger men was sitting next to us, he was something around 17 or 18 years old and he was almost harassed by some of these women. Their tactic was to force people to old a brochette or put a bottle of water in their hands while they went to the back of the bus, then came back and forcing people to buy these items. This poor guy was being picked on every time food sellers came onto the bus. Whenever he gave back the food or drink because he didn’t wanted to buy it, the women pushed the items back to him (sometimes quite aggressively) and looked away as if they didn’t wanted to hear about it.
Luckily they must have been afraid of us tourists because they didn’t give us that treatment… But it was quite intense just to watch!
About 4 hours into the journey, the bus stopped and we were asked to get off. We were given our backpacks and asked to change bus. We were told it was a direct bus, no changes required but apparently it wasn’t and debating this seemed useless.
So we jumped on the other bus, however since we’d been a little slow to understand what was going on, all seats had been taken by the locals. This new bus was in slightly better shape than the first one but had been customised at the back: the last 5 rows had been taken out to make more space for luggage/goods, or in this case passengers like us who had no seats available. So with a few more people we sat on the floor and started the second half of this journey. We kept stopping on the way and more and more people joined the ride, and more luggage/packages were stored with us at the back. About 1 hour into the ride, about an entire family joined, there was no more place on the floor and we ended up all sitting on top of all the whatever we found comfortable to sit on…
In the end it was rather comfortable despite the unbearable heat. But most of all it was fascinating to see how these travelling conditions seemed normal to these people, some of which who were close to 70/80 years old, sitting on the floor, with no back support, not complaining, just happy to be on the bus…
It was quite a funny thing to watch how in the Asian way there is always a solution to squeeze more people on a bus but we were happy when we reached our destination and were able to finally stretch our legs again after this long ride!