Paradise lost (almost)

Traveling by tourist coach in Viet Nam is not for the faint of heart, that is for certain. We had booked tickets for our bus trip from the Pham Ngu Lau area of HCMC to Mui Ne expecting it to leave at 7.30am. However, we had not taken into account the predilection that tour operators here have to ensuring that the bus is as full as inhumanly possible prior to departure and spent an hour going around in circles in the busy area more commonly known as the “backpackers district” before we finally ventured out onto the busy traffic clogged highway.

image We had booked with An Phu Tourist company and I’m sad to say that their coach was dirty, had broken windows and was full of mosquitoes by the millions. It was fortunate that is was an overcast day, because if the sun had of been out the atmosphere would have been even more stifling as the air conditioning barely managed to pump out any cool air and the windows could not be opened. This wasn’t so bad until after our first stop when many passengers boarded with fruit, some of which happened to be Durian. Normally I can take or leave the smell of Durian, but for many foreigners the smell is unbearable and I have to admit that, in the close confines of the bus for over three hours, it was a bit much to take.

However, when traveling there is always bound to be some inconvenience and it is not too difficult a matter to just shrug the shoulders and accept things as they are. We had a seat at the very front of the bus which gave us a bit more legroom than most others and also gave us a perfect view of the road ahead. Seeing exactly what is coming towards you on roads in Viet Nam can be a good or a bad thing. Good if you are in control and wish to avoid a collision, bad if you have no control and can only watch as trucks and other buses bear down on you either because they are on the wrong side of the road or you are.

After five hours of adrenaline pumping travel my back was aching, I was hot and tired and I was beginning to have visions of our arrival at the resort. I closed my eyes (as much to avoid having to look at the bedlam of the traffic) and imagined Little Mui Ne cottages directly on the ocean front, swimming pool, restaurant, bar, palm trees, massage shack and relaxing gardens. I fantasized about pulling up in the coach and being greeted at reception with our complimentary glass of ice cold fruit juice. I was hungry, but I thought that before lunch I might cool off with a quick dip in the pool and then eat under a cool ceiling fan before heading to our well appointed bungalow to be lulled to sleep for an hour or two by the sounds of the South China Sea washing up onto the sand mere metres from the front door.

As we came into passed through Phan Thiet and headed for Mui Ne I kept my eyes peeled for any indication that soon we would be arriving at our destination. After all we had booked our coach through our resort and we were operating on the assumption that we would be dropped off there. How misguided was our thinking? I saw the first sign advertising the fact that Little Mui Ne cottages was only 6 Kms away and indicated to the driver and his assistant that this was where we wished to disembark. The offsider mumbled something about ?30 minutes? and I wondered how it would be possible for that short a distance to take so long considering the dangerous and breakneck speed at which we traveling on the narrow winding traffic filled roads. Before too long both Lisa and I saw the sign of our resort coming up and I indicated to both the driver and the assistant to pull over here as this was where we needed to be. Imagine my surprise when we were completely ignored (perhaps it would be fair to say in hindsight that I was not surprised. Nothing much surprises me anymore). I mean these guys did not even respond to being tapped on the shoulder as we frantically pointed and gesticulated but resolutely looked ahead and Little Mui Ne cottages slid past on our right.

I could almost guess what was coming next when, about 1 kilometre down the road we pulled into another resort that belongs to An Phu Tourist (Same company as the coach we were on). Sure enough, no sooner had we pulled up than several people boarded the bus and informed us that they had some important information that we should know. We would be stopping here, they said, for lunch and we were invited to inspect their accommodation as it was only $35 per night.

Strangely enough everybody else on the bus complied, filed off the bus like sheep and were herded into the large open dining room to await their fate. We however did not react according to the script. I was extremely pissed off at being ignored and even more pissed off to see my fantasy of arrival and refreshments at our place of refuge disappear before my very eyes. We demanded that our luggage be taken off the bus and enquired after how they intended to get us back down the road. To this we were told that if we waited 30 minutes we could go back to the resort, otherwise we were on our own.

After venting my spleen with a few choice and not too carefully chosen words and indicating in no uncertain terms that we were not sitting around for another 30 minutes of torture, we dragged our heavy bags down the driveway in the hot sun to the main road where fortunately we found some eager Xe Om drivers who transported us and our baggage back up the road for a few thousand VND.

We still got our refreshing welcome drink and all of the other things about which I had been dreaming, but the annoyance and inconvenience that we had to endure was, in my view, unnecessary. We were talking about this incident to one of the staff at our resort and he nodded and said, ?Yes, this is their business strategy?. Well strategy it may be, but it is a bad one and these type of ?strategies? are all too common when traveling here. Like a lot of companies, An Phu Tourist does not apply the principle of ?the customer is always right? and until they learn this simple but sometimes hard to swallow rule they are always going to be surprised by the reactions of travelers like us who refuse to be happy about being hijacked and bullied into doing things that we do not want to do.

So, now all that we have to look forward to is the return coach trip on Tuesday afternoon, and you guessed it, we are booked with An Phu Tourist coaches again because everyone else is full. I?m not all that sure we will be greeted with warm welcoming smiles, but, who knows??

Click on the thumbnail for a few images which don’t do justice to the driving. For that we needed to video.