Bussin' Around Vientiane

Bussin' Around Vientiane

Bernie Rosenbloom

The six-wheeled Goddess appeared as I was sinking into despair. The sun was setting on Setthathilath Road at the Wattay Airport entrance, and my wait for a sawng taew dimmed with the sky. No money-grubbing tuk-tuk in sight. I was about to surrender, hike to a departure terminal, and eat a hefty cab fare.

Then music sounded from the heavens. “Tshhhhhhhhhhhh.” The gospel of hydraulic brakes. I looked up and saw a bright red LED “Airport Shuttle” blaring over a brand new bus’s windshield. The coach’s livery was drab green, my new favourite colour. It turned my way and I waved it down…which I soon discovered was against the rules of the fledgling Vientiane City 2 Bus Service. Never mind.

Vientiane Airport Shuttle

Light glowed from the opening door. A well-dressed conductor greeted me to a modern metro-liner void of passengers. Was I in Vientiane or the Twilight Zone? The conductor offered me a tan cushioned seat, and asked my destination. “Talat Sao. How much?”

He said, “15,000 kip.” Cheaper than a sawng taew. I paid the man and he gave me a ticket. Then, he showed me a machine into which you place cash and it spits out a chit. “It doesn’t work yet.” Ahh, back in Laos, but I had a feeling that the electronic vendor would soon operate.

I had heard of a new Airport Shuttle and ITECC Mall bus route, but had questions. The conductor, a brochure, and sign had answers. The service started in December 2017, ran to a strict schedule, and only stopped at specific points.

The ITECC line interested me, as I was heading there the next day. And the price tag is just 4,000 kip. I’d see about this “schedule”. Meanwhile, the Airport Shuttle pulled to a stop on Nongbone Road, around the corner from the forever-under-construction Central Bus Station (CBS) and across from Talat Sao. The ride took less than 30 minutes.

Bus Guy

Bus 103Unlike my suicidal friends on motorcycles and bingo-winning donor dudes getting chauffeured around in white SUVs, I generally take the bus or walk. My journey to town starts on Sokpaluang Road near the Russian Embassy. You can follow the busses progress on lao.busnavi.asia, but it’s not reliable for Bus 103 and my 3,000 kip ride to the CBS. Waits for a bus can last up to an hour unless a similarly priced sawng taew happens by.

Bus 103 is among the fleet of rolling grey trash cans that rumble into all parts of town. These decades-old Japanese donations testify to the ingenuity of Lao mechanics and their use of coat hangers, electric tape, and hand-operated radiator fillers. Every gear grind wrenches my gut. If the thing starts in fewer than 3 key turns, it’s called a win. Electric trolleys used to run this route, but vanished one by one.

The big green busses pulled into play a few years ago, another Japanese gift. One shuttles passengers between the corner of Mahosot and Khouvieng Roads, and the Thai-Lao Bridge for 6,000 kip. Almost as nice as the new City 2s, the air-con greenies were a Godsend.

I love coming from Thailand and marching through the gaggle of vehicle touts yelling “Where you go?” Not with you and your 300 baht fare, pal. I simply point to the green bus sitting in front of the noodle shop. This bus is also good for visiting the inconveniently located US Embassy. There is no fixed schedule, but they run constantly throughout the day.

During the dawn of the green bus era, I think one went to the northern bus station, and passed the airport. That didn’t last long. Now, a lone grey junk heap at the CBS makes the run, with a driver hell-bent on breaking records for cramming sardines in his can at 5,000 kip a pop. Even Lao people get upset. But now I know about the Airport Shuttle.

Off to ITECC Mall

The City 2 bus left its stop at the Talat Sao Mall on Khouvieng at exactly 11:50 and head to ITECC. A handful of locals and four tourists joined me on the trip. The visitors said among themselves. “This is a beautifulCity 2 Bus Interior bus…This is a nice bus.” Unfortunately for two, it was the wrong bus. But, the conductor steered them in the right direction, and all was good.

The route stopped at Patuxay and veered off on Singha Road and past places I never knew existed. A turn south ended at ITECC…exactly on time. I discovered ITECC has a new bus terminal for local and (upcoming) international bus service. I entered ITECC for a brief browse.

A look at the Bus 2 schedule called for a departure every 30 minutes, and off we went at 13:50. After the half-hour ride, I was back at the Talat Sao Mall and the short walk to the CBS and the good ole 103.

With the new airport shuttle adding to the bridge bus and war weary 103, I’m good to go. Since I wear a Lao watch, time takes a back seat to the blossoming Vientiane bus service thanks mostly to the Japanese. Now if they’ll just finish that new CBS terminal…

For more information and and to download the route maps and schedules, visit www.vientianebus.org.la.


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