…the trip back to HCMC was the bus trip from hell. Well almost.
In Paradise lost (almost) I explained the traumas of our coach trip to get to Mui Ne and finished by commenting that we were not entirely looking forward to the return journey with the same company. As it turns out we didn’t actually travel with an An Phu Tours bus back to HCMC, rather they sent a smaller family run coach which was probably on contract to them.
Admittedly, this coach was cleaner and the air-conditioning worked very well but there was a lot to be said for the way in which the coach was driven and the attitude of the people running it. We endured the usual drive around the universe picking up passengers until the bus was over full with many parents having to nurse children on their knees. At one stage the bus was stopping at any likely group on the side of the road and asking if they wanted to travel towards HCMC.
Fortunately, we had our seats albeit with very little leg room. Neither of us are what you would call “large” people but our knees were stuck firmly into the backs of the seats in front of us and so were the passengers behind us because we kept on feeling their knees in the small of our backs. Actually it was a bit funny because the girl behind me kept tickling my bottom every time she moved her toes, no doubt without realising that she was touching that part of my anatomy.
The “hell” part of this trip was the way in which this coach was driven. At first the driver produced an exhibition of breakneck speed driving using only one hand. As he ducked backwards and forwards from one side of the road to the other narrowly missing all the on coming traffic he was busy making and receiving calls on his mobile phone. There he was simultaneously dodging, braking, accelerating, turning and blasting on his horn while dialling a number and conducting an in depth conversation.
These conversations were then discussed at some length between the driver, a woman who seemed to be in charge of the bookings, a young guy who seemed to be her son and the off-sider on the bus who did all the pushing and prodding of the passengers once they were on board to get them into their seats.
The mobile phone calls went on for about the first 80 Kms of this 200 Km trip and after that, our driver really began to show us what he was actually made of. I realised that the use of the mobile phone had been a blessing in disguise as it was restricting the speed at which he could travel and the number of idiotic things that he could do. I’m sure that for the crew at the front of the bus he (the driver) is something of a hero, a bit of a cult figure of the road if you like. He certainly is “The Man” on that bus, the one with all the moves.
This guy had us passing cars on the road, not just the slower buses and trucks. At one stage he pulled a classic manoeuvre to wield our ungainly bus out around a BMW sports model that was overtaking a truck. That meant that we were three wide on a narrow two lane road with a truck bearing down on us in the opposite direction. Our driver was equal to the task however and neatly rounded up not only the BMW, but the Toyota Camry in front of it and forced the on coming truck off the side of the road. That really led to a round of high fives for the crew at the front of the bus whose faces now shone in open admiration of this Man among Men.
Our driver managed to knock a motorbike rider clean off his bike in the outskirts of HCMC which was cause for much celebration and with a shrug of his shoulders and a hearty cry of “Khong Co Chi” (“No Problem”) we continued on without so much as a “beg your pardon”.
However, our driver nearly lost some of his charisma with one last incident that left all of we passengers speechless with admiration. On a stretch of divided road where there was officially only two lanes that already had three lanes of traffic formed on it, our driver tried to create a fourth lane between a mini-bus directly in front of us and a rather large truck in front and to the right. Now, I am not sure what exactly was on his mind right at that point, unless of course his ego had been driven to extraordinary heights by the admiration of his flunkies, but he accelerated and aimed the perhaps 2.5 metre wide bus at a gap that was possibly just a smidgen over 0.25 of a metre.
I noticed at this stage that our cavalier driver was not actually watching the traffic in front of him, I had a clear view of his face in the rear-view mirror and he had his head turned and was talking and laughing with the son of the booking lady sitting next to him. Perhaps it was the look on the boy’s face or the fact that he suddenly threw himself backwards into the aisle of the bus that caused our erstwhile driver to look to the front, I don’t know. But what ever it was he suddenly had to hit the brakes hard as the rear window of the mini bus in front loomed larger into our view.
There was a young Vietnamese girl sitting in the rear seat of this mini bus and she was sitting with her eyes staring towards the front of our bus. She was transfixed, a bit like an animal that has been caught in the spotlight of a night hunter. I imagine that if we had of hit she would have ended up with serious injuries, as luck would have it though our driver proved himself equal to the task and rather than locking up the brakes managed to ease off twice and, although we did actually connect with the mini bus, no great damage was done.
I did notice though that our hero’s face had gone a slight bit pale and for the first time on the trip there didn’t seem to be the same air of bravado about him that had been there before. That lasted for only a few minutes however as he received the adulations of his crew. I guess that he didn’t recognise the stony silence that existed in the rear of the bus except for one comment exclaiming that he deserved to win the dick-head driver of the year award from yours truly.
As if the trip itself wasn’t enough, we were not taken back to our point of departure at An Phu Tours in Do Quan Dau St, but were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of Pham Ngu Lau where we stood with our bags and wondered how to get in touch with our Xe Om drivers who were waiting at the depot.
Will we take another bus trip? Well yes, but we will carefully choose a different company and will give it one more try. If we don’t, the only alternative is to travel to Mui Ne by car and that is not only expensive, but now we have seen what car travel looks like from the perspective of a bus. That is scary!