A train from Bangkok runs over the border almost as far as Vientiane, 30km into Laos. Which for now is as far as the rails go. Until foreign investment yields results, a horde of minivans and VIP buses swing passengers around winding mountainous roads between major hubs and tourist sites.
It’s 08:30 and we are safely installed in a battered old minivan at Nong Khiaw’s out of town bus station. The same cannot be said for the late arriving Australian couple stood at the ticket counter however. They are looking at us passengers already packing the van, and we are looking at them. Human Tetris follows; a young boy moves from the front to a plinth that extends from my seat, and one of the Aussies deposits his long legs around the neck of the girl in front. More bags go onto the roof under a tarpaulin sack.
Arrival into Luang Prabang is around five hours of high-speed hilltop corners and risky overtaking later.