As budget travellers we try to avoid airplanes when we are in South East Asia. Instead we take long bus trips. We have done many bus trips in Thailand, and expected something similar in Laos. Unfortunately we didn’t expect to be scammed twice in just four days.
After a great time in Vang Vieng we decided that a sleeping bus was the best way to travel to Luang Prabang. This way we could save the cost of a night accommodation and arrive in Luang Prabang early in the morning. We booked a ticket in one of the many tour/ticket offices in Vang Vieng and paid 110.000 kip per person. You can spend less if you want, but you will end up in a local bus or a mini van. At least now we can travel in comfort…… right?
In the evening we got picked up by a tuk tuk, which was included in the price. After driving for a couple minutes the driver stopped at a gasoline station, which is a bit weird because we have been at the Vang Vieng bus stop before and this was definitely not the one. Suddenly he made a phone call to the bus driver. “Just to check if the bus has any delay“. Big surprise, the bus “has some troubles” and will be delayed. He told us not to worry, because he can “guarantee” us that we will get on te sleeping bus the same evening. I however got the feeling we will get scammed, since I have read some stories about this on the internet.
The tuk tuk-driver made another phone call and suddenly he said that the bus is broken and will show up at all. Instead he gave us another option, “take the local bus“. It has 17 seats left and we are with 16 people. What a coincidence…..
Obviously this was a cheaper bus, but he refused to give us any refund. So we had little choice, because we already booked a guesthouse in Luang Prabang for the next day. When the bus arrived we found out that is was full with locals who all brought their laundry for some reason. We ended up with an uncomfortable and very noisy ride, with very little sleep and a lot of neck-pain.
Thinking we had been one of the few unlucky people who had been victims of the ‘bus scam’ we decided to take another night-bus back to Vientiane. This is an even longer trip, so we choose the VIP bus. Even though this one isn’t as good as the sleeping bus, we didn’t feel like trying this bus again, because of our previous experience.
The lady that sold us the VIP ticket was very nice and “guaranteed” us that something similar wil not happen again.
Just like last time, a tuk tuk picked us up and dropped us of at the bus stop in Luang Prabang. We could already see our bus, so we waited in front of the bus. Suddenly it drove away with no passengers in it. We asked the lobby what happend and the told us there is some delay. “ow no… déjà vu”. We laugh about it and joked that we gonna be scammed again.
Unfortunately our smiles disappeared quick after the people at the lobby told us the bus broke down and that they are waiting for replacement. Already annoyed, I tried to lighten the mood by joking that the small minivan that just arrived at the bus stop will be our replacement. Unbelievable but true, IT WAS!!
People that never been in Laos might not know, but Laos has some of the worst roads you can imagine and a Minivan is the most uncomfortable “and cheapest” option available. After a lot of yelling “and cursing” it AGAIN wasn’t possible to get a refund. We also didn’t have any other choice than getting in the mini van, because the next day our flight was leaving to Cambodia. Just like last time there were exactly enough seats in the Minivan to fit all of the people that supposed to leave in a VIP bus.
For most tourists, getting scammed by paying a couple dollar to much for a bus trip isn’t the biggest problem. The problem is the crowded bus, a night without sleep and a lot of neck- and back pain.
How to avoid bus scams?
We don’t think there is much you can do about it. We do however advice people, that do not have to follow a tight travel schedule, to book their ticket at the bus stop just before the bus is leaving. This way you know you get the bus you paid for. Of course there is always a chance that the bus is already full and tickets for your preferred bus are not available anymore.
It is hard to tell who is all involved in the “bus scam”, but we think tuk tuk-drivers, the bus company, the people that work at the bus station and the ticket/tourist offices could all be connected.