We woke up at 4am to catch the 5am bus to Ban Nahim on December 3rd (I can’t believe it’s already December). We had prepared everything the day before so we only had to wake up, brush our teeth and get dressed. We figured this would not take more than 30 minutes, which would leave us plenty of time to hire a Tuk Tuk and get to the bus station, which was only 8km away. I think we overestimated how many Tuk Tuks would actually be available at 4:30am. We had to walk about 10 minutes before we actually came across a Tuk Tuk driver. He agreed to take us but first he had to drop off 2 other passengers. No Problem, we said. Vientiane is not a big town so we figured it can’t be that far. Our companions in the Tuk Tuk were 2 young (early 20’s) girls and they looked like they were coming back from a night out. After 10 minutes we still had not dropped them off, and since it was still dark, it was quite chilly outside. So much so that I had to get my sweatshirt. But I was still wearing shorts and even the two girls commented on this “Aren’t you cold?” while patting my knee. No! I’m freezing. Another thing we underestimated was the size of the Vientiane suburbs. After another 10 minutes we had arrived at the destination where the girls were getting off. It honestly didn’t look like a place where 2 girls should get off alone but they did. Now it was time for us to get to the bus station. We had already resigned ourselves to the fact there was no way we would catch the 5am bus, but we were still hoping for the 6am bus. We had been driving in the opposite direction of the bus station up until this point so we had to backtrack quite a bit. After 20 minutes we stopped at a gas station and filled up. As we pulled out of the gas station, 100 meters later the Tuk Tuk driver turned left. Right into the bus station! Could he have not fueled up after he dropped us off?! Really! And in our defense, the bus stations don’t look like bust stations at all so we didn’t really know we were right next to one or we would have just gotten out at the gas station and walked.
As we were pulling into the bus station a big bus was pulling out. They stopped and asked where we were going and after telling them, they said this is the bus, get on! It was 5:17am. We could not believe we had actually caught our bus! We packed our bags on to the bus, got on (it was quite empty at that time of day) and settled in for the 5 hour bus ride. After driving for a whole 1 minute, the bus stopped again to pack on a load of cabbages, and then continued to wait for 35 minutes for another group of passengers! I was so annoyed (and cold…it really was cold outside and the doors were open the whole time) because at this point I was convinced if we continued at this pace the 6am bus would beat us there! Thankfully after that long stop, we only stopped 50 more times to let people on or off.
We knew we were getting close because we started seeing some mountains, but the driver stopped the bus at an intersection and way too early told us to get off as we had reached the destination. We said no, this was not Ban Nahim, this is another town. He said, take another bus. As we got off and got our bags, we saw another big bus that turned left at the intersection, and I just knew that was the 6am bus that we would have been on! We ran after it (thankfully it stopped for a pit stop right after it turned) and we got on and delivered us to our destination! And it was the 6am bus we would have been on. Once we reached Ban Nahim we arranged for a Tuk Tuk to pick us up at 1pm and take us to the cave, 45km away. The Tuk Tuk came 10 minutes early and picked us up. Then he proceeded to drive at 10km/h while continuously honking trying to find more passengers. And that is why it takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive 45km.
I will let Andrew post the impressions of The Cave, as I do not like caves nor boats, so it would probably be a very skewed review. However I can’t guarantee when he will actually write the post, so it might appear much later and not in any chronological order.