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The Sawngthaew

It’s been been a long trip out here.  We left Tad Lo at around 8am (and it was already hellish hot) and took the local bus to Pakse, where we would catch another bus to the 4,000 islands (which as I mentioned, are less idyllic than they sound).

When we got to the station and inquired about the VIP bus (the nice bus with A/C that white people ride in), he said unapologetically:  “No VIP bus.  Sawngthaew only.”

I panicked.  Now you are wondering why, so I must clarify by showing you a pic of our sawngthaew:


Yes.  That’s right. We were about to ride in that converted truck for 3 hours.  Sure, the Bible (aka Lonely Planet SE Asia) is encouraging:  “Ride with the locals.  It’s fun!”  but really, would you call a 3 hour ride in that thing “fun”?  Hardly.

Sadly, it was our only alternative, and as I still hopefully dreamed about the VIP bus (cool, comfortable and with real seats–at this point I would even overlook that bad karaoke that is loudly played in all buses), the sawngthaew started to fill up.  Quickly, Diesel and I staked our claims and picked our spots.  The sawngthaew had 3 benches:  one on each side and one in the middle.  There was no way in hell we were going to end up in the middle. So we sat there corageously under the 80 degree sun,  even though the sawngthaew wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 40 min.

Slowly, people started filling up the seats.  I watched my watch, nervously.  Was it 1:30 yet?  I refused to believe that more people would fit in the back of that truck.  but 20 people got in and the sawngthaew still didn’t budge.

1:31.  God.  Please.  We HAVE to leave.  It was especially tight when another white couple (Germans) got in.  Those seats are made for petite Asian people, and the anguished look of the German couple made me cringe.

1:32.  As we were about to leave, a car pulled over and lo and behold, a whole famlily jumped out.   Five people started unloading piles of shit.  I mean, itjust shit:  watermelons, brooms, baskets, pots, veggies, you name it, they had it.  And they refused to put any of it on the top of the vehicle; instead, shoving it all into the sawngthaew, forcing watermelons in the middle of our legs and pink Hello Kitty bags in every unfilled corner of the sawngthaew.  Then, they started climbing into the back.  I could  no longer keep my mouth shut:

“Diesel!  Be ruthless!  Don’t budge!  It’s  not our fault that they got here late.  We have to protect our seats.  BE RUTHLESS!”

But my command seemed to make no difference to the family, as each of the members started sticking their behinds wherever they could find a small spot.  Never mind that one of them was a 10-year old girl and that the old lady that somewhow ended up next to me was like 70, I was relentless and I was NOT going to budge.  I stood my ground for the 3 hours.  When she moved, I wiggled a little, guaranteeing all the room that I was entitled to.

It was a long ride, but I was glad that I remained ruthless and did not end up like the Germans:  the guy in the middle seat,on his side, and his wife barely able to lean all the way back into the seat.


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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the honesty Kelly! It is those small details that make your blog fun to read. You both have posted some great photos as well………….Michael

  2. This made me laugh out loud for the first time today, thanks guys! And sorry, I am laughing AT you and not WITH you … 😉

  3. i was here!:) just got your website from peiyi =D
    i took a similar type of transport when i was traveling from luang prabang to vientiane (it was a night ride!) and boy was i glad i survived then haha.
    leaving laos soon ya? hope you guys are having a great trip so far. do take more rest!!!

  4. So dramatic. I thought the ride was kinda nice, but I was able to hang out the back…

  5. […] our death defying “16-Hour Bus Trip to Cambodia,” and the stressful trip on the “Sawngthaew.”  Hope you guys […]

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