Sleeper buses are new to us, although Vietnam is full of them so we had seen them before. All that I knew about them was that the beds are short, the top bunks sway around more than bottam bunks and that depending on the bus, the beds may be single or double configuration. So what a joy to find myself in a top bunk, double configuration! The beds on our side were about 5 feet long with the head end inclined for about a foot - however only the flat area was mattress so the incline was only a goood place to put your pillow. That leaves 4 feet for shoulders to feet. Well, no worries because when checking off his manifest I noted the conductor had no scribble (writing) against the bed number next to me. Hooray!
The girls were pretty happy beneath me and the bed sharing wasn't too big an issue for a mother and daughter team.
The first 2 hours North retraced the route we had taken at dusk into Luang Prabang 4 days earlier - only it seemed twistier. This was a concern because I had worked out from maps that this was the flattest and most straight forward part of the route out of Laos.
We stopped for a toilet stop after 2 hours which was a good sign. I had heard that the bus barely stopped until China to make sure it clears the border posts before 4.30pm. Evidently we were making good time - or the border posts no longer close in the evening.
The toilet stop at a roadside restaurant had its own little surprise, I walked in to the squat toilet, noting what looked like poo on the dimly lit floor. I was about to turn back and wait for another when I realised I could walk to the toilet itself avoiding the deposits on the floor,...oh, and I made a quick mental note not to step on the tortoise....um, yep that's right....oh, no, wrong not 1 but 3. Ah, it was probably their poo (or food?) lying around on the floor. Mmmm I wonder if I could get for take away - can you really cook the taste of Asian squat toilet floor out of tortoise flesh?
Anyway, back on the bus and time to tackle some mountains. In fact 5 hours of mountain bends with a 20 minute lunch stop in Udomxai. I have to mention my lunch - a very Western "Asian" favourite of mine - baguette, cream cheese, coriander, carrot and onion. Sure it's not traditional Laos fare but it's easy, cheap, a sure thing (no hidden cicadas or pig intestine) and best of all it leaves a fresh taste of conriander for hours to come.
So back on the bus, 3 violent, sexy, Chinese Kung-Fu and machine gun movies later, we arrived at the Laos -China border. The buildings were ugly, all writing was in Chinese and there were trucks everywhere, from as far afield as Cambodia and Thailand - and this was still several Km's inside Laos. Molly and Julia had enjoyed the movies, one of the flip down screens was actually under my bed - therefore it was a foot from their faces. Fortunately Molly was caught up in her own i-pod by the time the female Kung-Fu assassins had proven themselves by beheading their lesser rivals, only to be drugged and pack raped by a bunch of body builders - good family matinee that one!
Leaving Laos was easy and to be honest, entering China was much the same - we did have our luggage searched for the first time this trip (in fact it was the first time since Singapore we even had to have our luggage with us at customs/immigration) but overall it was as the military officer searching suggested - "just a formality". The guy that had tried to outwit the Chinese customs by leaving his chickens under a bed (not his) on the bus was told to let them go free, presumably with the hope that they would run back to Laos and not go for a holiday into China.
So we were in China. Time for bus formalities to be dropped. People appeared from nowhere and soon I had a bosom buddy. My short, wide bed was now short and narrow. Suddenly confined to my own side of the bed, next to the window, I had a chance to see how close the air con vents were - no place for claustrophobics. Fortunately my bosom buddy had a friend on the top bunk across the aisle - they were able to talk (loudly) for hours - well, when his mates mobile phone wasn't going off.
BB had obviously come straight from a busy and hard days work, there really is no other way to get that musty, sweaty smell. Ah, it wasn't that bad ........ well, until he took his shoes off. Down below Julia and Molly had quickly identified him as "smelliest feet on the bus guy" as he climbed up to bunk with me.
We stopped in Mengla at 7pm for dinner. We went vegetarian and so they prepared enough greens and corn to offset the lack of iron we should have been getting from the various offal on offer. The food was delicious but we really held back and left a lot- we had between 12 and 15 hours left on the bus, depending on who you believed, so 4kgs of sauteed cabbage for dinner would have been downright inhospitable of us!
By 4am I had managed 2 hours sleep and was more than a little uncomfortable - not just physically either. I mean spooning with a stranger is no fun unless you just turned up at the Playboy Mansion for a slumber party. But it wasn't just the spooning - at the point that BB broke wind on my hip I felt dirty, unwanted and ready for 36 hours of economy class on Garuda Air - at least then I would have an armrest for protection.
Meanwhile Julia woke up at around 3am and was cursing that the trip was almost over!