Don’t Eat Cow Pies Despite the Name

I want to make this clear right off the bat and state that there is no actual consuming of cow pies in this post. Not voluntarily anyway. I only mention that, since I know most of you sick bastards followed the title here expecting……who knows what you were expecting? And who wants to know? Certainly not I. Furthermore, you will not find any disgusting pictures of cow pies or even cows here. Well, maybe a cow; or at least the Laotian version of a cow.

Water Buffalo in Muang Ngoi

A water buffalo near Muang Ngoi in northern Laos.

Why the Laotian version? Because this little incident occurred in Laos, that’s why. More specifically, it occurred on the road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. This road runs through some pretty spectacular mountain scenery, as do most roads in northern Laos. It was also designed using the same techniques as all other roads in the north of the country.

Basically, you find a four year old and give him or her a piece of paper and a pen. Then you take the resulting scribbles and recreate them down to every last curve and squiggle using tar and gravel. Except you only have enough to pave twenty percent of the road, so you just do a few pieces here and there and leave the rest as is. You’ve just built a new state highway.

Mountains Northern Laos

Some of the scenery along the road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Photo by Val.

As you might imagine, this makes for a pretty windy and bumpy ride. Combine that with bus drivers who treat their jobs like a game of Mario Kart, bus seats spaced to create ample leg room for the above-mentioned four year old road designers, a general love of extremely loud and very screechy pop music (and an aversion to speakers large enough to handle said music) and the Laotian tendency to get motion sickness within seconds of entering a moving vehicle and you can probably see why there’s no shortage of blog posts online covering the Lao transport system.

The constant puking into little plastic bags is probably the worst and also the one thing I simply can’t understand. I get that people suffer from motion sickness, but the same people who can’t sit on a bus without filling countless plastic bags with their past several meals, seem to have no problem balancing on the back of a motorbike with five other people as well as their dog, a pig or two and a handful of chickens, all while racing along those exact same roads.

Anyway, since this particular stretch of highway is part of the standard tourist loop through Laos, I decided to take advantage of this, by paying the exact same price and getting a ride in a tourist minibus. And I loved it! No music, no puking, no animals, a whole seat to myself—the only drawback is that you might get stuck with people who have apparently read my recent post on how to become a real backpacker.

Naturally, I had two of them next to me—a couple from England who nailed all six of the annoying backpacker traits I mentioned and gave me another six for a future post. From the instant they got in the van, they began recounting every detail of their trip so far, which apparently consisted of drinking buckets of booze (literal buckets, as anyone who’s been to SE Asia knows all too well) while floating down the river in Vang Vieng, while sitting on Khao San road in Bangkok and while dancing on a beach at the full moon party.

Don’t get me wrong: I, too, partook in all three of those activities and they were an enjoyable part of my trip—they key word being “part.” I also did other things. Furthermore, I realize that a van full of complete strangers might not be all that interested in every minute detail of my drunken nights out. Needless to say, we hadn’t even made the outskirts of Vang Vieng, before I had my headphones in and my eyes focused on the landscape outside.

Mountain Landscape Laos

A much better focus for my attention than the two storytellers. Photo by Catherine Murray.

That didn’t stop them from talking, but it stopped me from opening the van door and launching either myself or the two of them out. And with any luck over the side of a steep cliff. But my headphones did their job and pretty soon I was enjoying the beautiful scenery accompanied by some beautiful music, while the sun warmed my face and the breeze from the open windows cooled it right back down.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments, where we sit back in our seats, staring at the passing landscape and just feel perfectly at peace and we get hit in the face by a warm pile of cow shit. Yup. Apparently a passing truck drove through a cow pie and splashed it all over the side of our van and into the open windows. The guy in front of me caught more of it than I did, but let’s face it: any amount of cow shit on your face is too much cow shit on your face.

It took me a moment to realize what exactly my facial consisted of and it was the smell that made it clear before anything else. The smell and the fact that the guy in front of me started hacking out the words “cow shit” in between gags. He’d been sleeping with his mouth open, so it only made sense he’d know sooner than I, what exactly was covering our faces.

Once the rest of the passengers realized what had happened, they naturally started laughing. They were trying not to at first, but they couldn’t hold it in. And who can blame them? I would have started laughing myself, if I hadn’t been afraid to open my mouth. Instead, I just sat there furiously wiping my face with every piece of tissue or cloth I could get my hands on. Needless to say, we enjoyed the rest of the scenery through closed windows.


  1. says

    Loved this, thanks for sharing, one really does encounter the funniest things while travelling, you just got to keep your sense of humour intact otherwise you would never enjoy yourself.

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