Saturday, March 29, 2014

First hitchhiking experience in Laos!

Leaving the beautiful village of Huay Bo behind, I rushed to Luang Prabang once again. From here I wanted to go to South, preferably directly to Vientiane since I had already been to Vang Vieng. But I thought to myself, "Man, I haven't tried hitchhiking yet!" and started looking on internet about it. Soon I found that, Laos is a difficult country to hitchhike in and even more difficult in the North of Laos. But I found a couple of blogs with successful hitchhiking experience and decided that I was up for the challenge.
First step was to get a hitchhiking letter written in local language. So, I quickly wrote a letter in English and asked my guesthouse owner to translate it for me in Lao. She did that happily but while giving it back to me she looked tensed and said "Be careful". I smiled and gave her a sketch I drew as a payment for the favor.

Hitchhiking letter
Well, first mistake I made was to get up at 9 the next morning. Getting ready and packing took some time and by the time I set off on foot it was already 11. Sun had started to shine too brightly. Naturally, I wouldn't get a lift in the heart of the town, so I started walking towards the highway 13. It took good part of an hour in the heat of the day, before I found a spot where vehicles were most likely to notice me. It was a fuel station and hence had good empty place in the front. Plus I thought, vehicles stopping to fuel would notice me and would immediately feel bad for me and I would get a lift! I dropped my bags and waited there.

Waiting time!

Well, I was successful partly, as I was able to attract lot of attention. But most just waved or smiled and some didn't even throw a glance. Many trucks, private cars, bus, moto-bikes passed. None stopped. When one truck stopped, I was really happy, but turned out it had stopped just for unloading whatever it was carrying. Two hours later, dripping sweat, I decided that it would be just five more minutes and then I would go to the bus station and catch a bus instead. And precisely at that moment, I saw a small automobile racing and raised my hand, fist closed and thumb outstretched. Two people in the front seats noticed me and as the car passed me the girl looked back and said something to the guy. I was hoping hard they would stop, my fingers crossed, I was looking at the car intently. And a little distance ahead, the car stopped, took a U-turn and stopped in front of me. Windows rolled down and very friendly couple from Singapore asked me "Where are you going?". I shouted, "South....Vientiane, Vang Vient...I don't know". I approached the car slowly and they said "We are going to Vang Vieng". They both looked at the back seat and said "Well, we need a  little of re-arrangement". And quickly the back seat was emptied of the luggage, and shifted to one side making room for me. I was thrilled, excited and overjoyed. It was my first hitchhiking ever and it was successful! I couldn't believe my luck....still can't.
Their names are Michel and Saylin, both from Singapore and both doing work in animal rescue missions. As the small car raced on the road, slowly I started to notice. I was with a wonderful couple, zooming car with Air Con, comfortable seat,  nice music was a luxury and not the kind of hitchhiking experience I had imagined it to be. I told this thought to me and both of them started to chuckle. Saylin told me that they were going to try a new road, i.e. taking highway 4 and then joining back to 13 later. As we took the highway 4, first we were greeted by a very very bad road. And everyone started to think if it was a bad experience. It was a dirt road, with big stones everywhere and apparently it was under construction. But this bad patch did not last for long and we were on a proper road again. As the valley opened up, the views were breathtaking. Tall, lush green mountains supported by beautiful rolling hills that looked bluish. Between all this scene was a stretch of beautiful tar road. We stopped for a while to take in the views and felt a gust of wind on our faces before continuing again.

As we hit the road!

The little zoomer!

Rolling hills


Without any warning, car started to give up. On steep road uphill, it wouldn't climb anymore. The power was receding and with what can be describing as a faithful attempt to continue on, it gave up completely! We were dejected. A small scrutiny and Saylin's Formula 1 knowledge told us that it was a gearbox failure. A couple of calls later, we decided to try again. After a bit of an effort, it started to move again and once again downhill, it was smooth as silk. Our smiles quickly faded as we saw an uphill again and car gave up again. We looked at our options, Spend the night there, get help from somewhere or crawl to the nearest village/town. And we decided the last option. A few calls went through successfully and we got to know that there was a small town called Muong Kasi about 40 kms from where we were and help may be available there. But car going not beyond the mark of 10, it took whole afternoon before we covered about 30 kms and car stopped again. So now we resorted to second option and Saylin called someone who arranged a truck from Kasi. We waited there, at a nice scenic spot with rice fields and watching the sunset behind mountains.

Brilliant spot for a breakdown
Small bugs started to irritate us and 30 minutes later a big truck showed up with three guys. That was our help! They decided that car may not be repaired there but agreed to drop us to Kasi. So now I was in the back of a truck and the weather was perfect!

Back of the truck
Kasi is a small town and not many travelers there. So people stared at us more curiously than any other places. It was already dark by the time we reached a guesthouse and my heart dropped when the lady told that price for room was $ 12. That would negate any financial benefit I had from hitchhiking! But then I met another traveler. A 68 year old Bob, who was cycling around in Laos. He showed up in the same town coming from Lunag Prabang and probably took the same time to get there as I did . He said he would happy to let me sleep in his room if I had a sleeping bag and once again, I couldn't believe my luck.
It was amazing day of my travel, probably the most amazing. But I was tired as hell and a few beers later, I was fast asleep.

Kasi Village
Next morning, I said goodbye to Bob, who continued on his bike and me on my foot. This time it was early morning and I enjoyed the walk thoroughly. A couple of kilometers, I was out of the town. Once again, I found a fuel station and stopped on the opposite side just in front of a small shop. I waited and waited, once again, all I got was stares or smiles or a wave of hand. The shopkeeper asked me if I would like to sit inside and I thanked him for that. A couple hours later a small truck stopped. I explained him that I had no money and showed him my letter. But he said he will not allow me for free but would charge very nominal amount. So we decided on this nominal amount and I was in the back truck heading to Vang Vieng. I had a hitchhiking companion, a very friendly farmer. After loading the truck with 10 or so packs of vegetables, he got on, sat in front of me and with a wide smile shook my hand. I just said "India" and then we were friends! He talked to me a lot and I did not understand a single thing. But I felt happy and cheerful.

My temporary companion
A couple of hours later I saw the familiar limestone mountains and realised that I was close to Vang Vieng. So after about four hours of sweating on the road, lots of stares and warm smiles, wonderful car and a car break-down, a free night sleep at Kasi and an addition of 3 to my wonderful friends circle, I was not entirely where I planned to be. But I was South of where I started and that was the intention!

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