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What happened when I took a late-night cliffside ride along ‘death road’ in Laos

Luang Prabang national museum

CamiloTorres/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

If you want to go from the party mecca of Vang Vieng, Laos, to the UNESCO heritage city of Luang Prabang, you must take Road 13. If you go, there's something you should know: It's known as a "death road."

On Road 13, the potholes look like bomb craters and there are no crash barriers along the most dangerous bends. Make a mistake and you're freewheeling down a deadly cliff drop. The 230-kilometre trip takes about six hours, more or less, depending on how maniacal your driver is.

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Last November, an overnight bus careened off the road and into the abyss, killing seven people. The culprit was a sleepy bus driver.

That's why many travellers opt to take the day bus. But my travel companions and I wanted to save money on accommodation, so we tried our luck with the night bus.

It's pitch dark when we start, shortly after 10 p.m. The six of us cram our bodies and bags into the minivan. The seats are tight with not even an inch of legroom. Pretty soon, our driver gets up to about 45 kilometres an hour, too fast for these mountainous roads, too fast for a van with no seat belts.

I feel nauseous, so I pop two motion-sickness tablets. It lulls me to sleep for half an hour until a shrill scream startles me awake. The noise came from outside and I look ahead and see five squealing pigs crammed in a cage on the back of a truck.

Our driver gets ready to overtake the truck. But we're coming up to a curve with little visibility of oncoming traffic. Beside me, my Swedish friend lets out an expletive. The driver creeps out of the lane, steps on it to get past the pigs, and jerks back into the right lane just before the turn.

Throughout the trip he overtakes more vehicles at inopportune times. It's stomach churning. The German to my left had a bout of food poisoning hours earlier, and I hope it won't make a comeback here. The other two, an Australian and a French, are both sleeping, somehow.

Some hours later, the Brit in the front checks his GPS. We have 80 km of windy roads to go. He shows me the map – the longest stretch of straight road lasts mere metres. It looks like an electrocardiogram reading.

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"I think death is ahead," he says.

To pass the time, I think about what the headlines would say of our demise, and wonder if the leaders of our countries would come together to mourn the tragedy.

Finally, we arrive in Luang Prabang – except it's 3 a.m. The driver drove so fast that we arrive in the dead of night and have to check into a guesthouse after all. So much for saving money.

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