The everyday hero driving a van in Laos

This is the story of a man that really inspired me to be a better person by showing me how little it takes and how many chances we do get everyday to help someone in need. A simple minivan ride from point A to point B turned out to be something much more and this is a moment or experience even that I will carry with me for as long as I exist.

Prelude

I was traveling in Laos and in Luang Prabang I joined forces with Hara from South Korea. Together were going from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and we had booked a ride with one of the many, many minivan services in town. At the time I had been traveling SE Asia for a good four or five months which meant that I had been on a few minivan rides.

They are completely crazy. First they add more people than the van should take and where you once used to move around all you can see is bags. I literally could not see the person sitting over the aisle from me one time because of there being so many bags inbetween our seats.

On top of that the drivers are in, from my experience, 80% of the cases very tired of living and the only thrill they can get in life is to speed that minivan up to speeds where it is almost shaking apart and not only that they will also overtake any vehicle at any time no matter if there is any type of vehicle approaching at the same time.

So I am truly lucky to be alive after going on a few of those trips. So anyway, I was expecting a old minivan, crammed with bags and people, hot to death and a crazy driver. Luckily I was completely wrong that time.

 

Street in Luang Prabang.
Street in Luang Prabang.

Starting off

Me and Hara go to the hostel where we are going to get picked up and wait in the morning. After waiting for a while they tell us that not enough people booked a van to Vang Vieng at the time we were going so a driver from another establishment would take us there. We really did not have much to say so we just walked to the place where he would pick us up and to our surprise a really nice looking minivan shows up and to our surprise he is there to get us.

We get in and it is almost completely brand new and looks really good. But not only that, and please excuse me if I sound a bit boring now because I was traveling and supposed to meet people and all but, there was no one else in the van. So we had the whole thing to ourselves, we could put the chairs in sleep mode and just relax the whole way if we felt like it. Luckily we did not.

So we drive off and I notice rather quickly that he is not one of the crazy “I will risk my life to save 1.5 seconds”-drivers. Happy about that the journey continues and we shit chat for a bit before me and Hara compliment him on the nice van. Standing at a red light he looks back dead serious and says “Yes! I got this new one because I crashed the other one completely on the way here.” After a few seconds he bursts out laughing and so do we, I can imagine that me and Hara looked kind of shocked because I think he still smiles about that, I know I do.

Top of one of the temples in the middle of the city, located on a mountain named "Phousi".
Temple in the middle of the city, located on a mountain named “Phousi”.

The gift of giving

As our journey takes up into the mountains he spots a fruit stand on the side of the road and pulls in. Me and Hara had already bought what we needed so we stayed in the van as he got out and started talking to the family sitting there. They talk for a bit and then he goes to the back of the van, opens it and takes out two plastic bags in which he has clothes that he then gives to them. It was easy to see how happy and thankful they were and he also bought some kind of vegetables for his mom that “tastes way better from here because it is not covered in pesticides”.

That took about ten minutes all in all and soon we were off again. I was already impressed by his generosity but I had no clue about what was about to happen. After driving for a bit more in the mountains through areas where no one seems to be living we find us driving on a long straight road, well long to be a mountain road, with the mountain on the right hand side and a lot of vegetation on the left hand side.

I remember that he started to slow down and I could not understand why, soon the van came to a stop and he honks the horn. First nothing happens but then I see something moving around in the field. Whatever that was growing there was atleast one and a half or two meters high.

 

Sunset by the river, Luang Prabang.
Sunset by the river, Luang Prabang.

Then all of the sudden, two young girls look out from the field. Their heads kind of pop out and they look around and it seems so unreal. I have no idea how exactly how young they are but I guess around ten and eight years old. The driver sits still in the van asides from smiling and waving to them. They look skeptical but they step out of the field and I see that they both have one big machete each. It looks kind of funny them being so small and all with such a big cutting tool. I wonder what the heck is going on and the driver opens the door.

At the sound of the door the girls look a bit frightened and step back a little but they do not run away. Eventually the driver gets out and this time he has another bag that he opens and it is filled with colorful pens, stickers and things like that. He slowly walks up to them and reaches it to them very carefully. They look at it for a while before they finally accept his gifts and puts the machets on the ground. They shine up and talk with him for a bit.

He asks them something and the older one turns to the field and yells something. Soon, what I assume to be, their mother appears with a even younger girl by her side. She looks even more skeptical than her daughters did but she stays there as our driver talks with her and gives her some cash and some clothing for a baby. They look so happy and after talking for a bit the driver heads back to the van and they dissapear back into the fields.P1080025

Now I only took two photos of this because I felt uneasy to document it, it felt intrusive in some way. I do regret that I did not get out to give them something but I did not know what was happening, next time however I will make sure to leave a gift.

The driver told us that it was a family that lives up in the mountains, mostly farming but not really having much. Apparently that is a problem in Laos that not many know about, I know that I had no clue before that happened.

 

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I regret one more thing and that is that I forgot the drivers name and that I did not ask him for a card or anything. He really inspired me to be a better person and he showed how little it takes to help someone and how easy it is. So this post is my homage to him, the driver in Laos with a very big heart. Thank you, Mr Driver.

To all everyday heros and living legends that spends their time helping others: Thank you. The world needs you.

Please like and share this if it warmed your heart as much as it did mine.

Thank you for reading,
Stef


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