(training for The Bus Ride From Hell on Friday… probably)
Step 1: Ask to book the overnight bus through your hostel. Don’t be entirely dissuaded when the hostel owner tells you she doesn’t sell that ticket because the 7 hour ride means you arrive at 3AM and suggests you book the morning bus instead; knowing Laos time, you figure this will put your arrival time at around 4:30AM.
Step 2: Make the decision to leave anyway too late in the day to book through a travel agency. Convince yourself that this is okay, because buying the ticket straight from the bus station is cheaper… and how many other people are crazy enough to do this trip, anyway?
Step 3: Overpay a tuk-tuk to drop you at the station two hours earlier than the bus you want to take. Find out it’s full. Buy a standby ticket and wait nervously.
Step 4: Be waved on to a more than half empty bus at 8PM. There is an Asian music video blaring on a TV and disco lights flashing through the whole bus. You and a French man are the only non-locals aboard. (At least there’s no chickens on the bus this time.)
Step 5: Finally leave at 8:30PM. Headphones and two reclining seats are your saviors. Pee in the dark behind a closed market stall when the bus makes a stop around 11:30PM.
Step 6: Wake at 2:17AM to the bus driver yelling the name of your stop. You are the only one who gets off. It’s slightly cold outside, and you’re in the middle of nowhere. Start to doubt your decision making skills for the first time.
Step 7: Meet a Portuguese couple who paid more to arrive a few minutes before you on the packed 6:30PM bus and feel a bit better. Ignore the tuk tuk driver and walk the 1km into town with them using the map you’ve downloaded. Sit outside a random guesthouse talking until 3:45AM, then find a bar with hammocks to nap in until it gets too cold, then sneak in to the hostel you’ve pre-booked for the next night and sleep in the common room until 7AM.
Step 8: Wake up two minutes before the morning staff comes on duty. Pretend you just arrived and ask to stow your bags there while you search for breakfast. Eat the best bacon and cheese omelette in Asia, and celebrate that you’re not spending all morning and afternoon on the bus today.