Combi Vans, a shared minevan usually packed full of human cargo inside and with baggage on the roof, ply the highways from Flores/Santa Elena through to Coban on a relatively new highway system. Just before I took this route, many here on VT argued that it would be hard going on a gravel road, taking many hours, but at the time of our trip a new black asphalt ribbon highway made the trip relatively easy. However, at Sayaxche, the combis coming from Flores stop to let their passengers take the pedestrian launch across the river to the town itself. Then, the vans fill up with passengers and return to Santa Elena. Meanwhile on the opposite side of the river vans wait to fill up for the ride through to Coban and other possible destinations. This part of the journey through to Coban is somewhat more complex as there are a number of forks in the road, so to speak. Anyway one bargins it, the fair will work out to about $1- per hour of travel, so for bargain travelers this is the way to go. Although the passengers are packed in like sardines and the roads leading into the mountains full of hairpin curves, the vehicles along the main highway routes are in good condition and the drivers are professional and safe. We traveled quite well this way, typically for about 4 hours or so per day, striking up interesting conversations with fellow locals along the way. Other tourists are few in number, a feature I liked very much about this route. Ask around for the stations for your destination of interest, or talk to the drivers.
As I explained, the minibus dropped us on the "wrong" side of the Rio De La Pasion. To reach Sayaxché, it is but a short boat ride across the river (cost: 28 cents).
I wonder how many people who read this tip have crossed from Chiang Khong to Houayxai. It was exactly the same experience, although a world away. Actually El Remate reminded me a lot of sleepy and smoky Chiang Khong, and Sayaxché was as bustling a backwater as Houayxai.
All bus from Flores actually depart from lively Santa Elena, across the causeway.
I took a tuktuk from the hotel to the bus station. There, I found the minibus to Sayaxché easily. I was alone when the bus started, but we made a first stop in the rowdy market and then stopped again and again in the town's outskirts. Pretty soon we were jammed full. We stopped many times, all along the way. It seemed like we were picking folks up and dropping them in the middle of nowhere.
The passengers were calm and very dignified, even when madly squeezed. The driver bought a CD at a stop, tried it a few times but it skipped, so he tossed it out the window like a frisbee. The landscape was flat banana land. The ride took 3 hours ($3), and the bus left us on the North bank of the river.
The Combis from Coban and Flores/Santa Elena arrive at La Pasion River and stop. Although a vehicular ferry could transport them across, the practice is to drop passengers off at the river, and allow them to bargin for another combi on the opposite shore. The pedestrian launches are quite large and capable of easily transporting whatever baggage one or a group of people have brought along. Help is typically available for this exchange between combi and boat, although negotiation of this lifting may be required, not assumed. The launch takes just a few minutes, so the price is only about $1- to cross, maybe less. The launches themselves are handcrafted from lumber logged from the area, and are brightly painted. If you arrive by private vehicle, the wait for the vehicular ferry could be as long as an hour or more, whereas the pedestrian ferries come and go almost continuously. I can't recall if the traffic stops at night, so I'd plan to arrive during daylight if possible as the accomodations on the shore opposite Sayaxche are meager at best.