Move over Mexico, with your fancy minivan “Colectivos.” There’s a new mode of transportation around and it’s that ubiquitous symbol of Southeast Asia, the songthaew (pronounced sowng-taow). The name quite literally means “two rows,” named for the two rows of benches that are set in the back of a pick-up truck for passenger seating. In Laos, songthaews are incredibly common for inter-city transport. I should know, as they were a staple of both my 2006 and 2010 adventures.
But in the Lao tourist hub that is the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang, which I have had the distinct pleasure of visiting twice, these vehicles join the ranks of the seemingly endless taunts for foreign tourists, turning into a taxi to be hired to any sites outside of the city. And how should those westerners know that you are available and willing to take them to various sites? Why, a sign, of course!
Now, the Pak Ou Cave and the Waterfall are both fairly standard tourist sites and many travel agencies in town will be happy to arrange a visit for you, as was done for me in my initial visit in 2006. But these songthaew drivers are a bit creative. They’ll drive you somewhere…anywhere! Just name it! Bangkok? No problem! How about India? Sure!
Needless to say, I never did take any of them up on an offer to take me anywhere! I’m perfectly happy traveling by foot, thanks.