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Caveat Emptor: An Phu Travel Company

VIETNAM | Monday, 9 July 2007 | Views [2882]

With so many open tour bus companies to choose from here, it would figure we booked our trip with the worst one.  Even after reading reviews and searching the internet, it must just be our luck with local transportation, to select the dud.  You get what you pay for... $22/pp got us a 30 day open ticket up the coast from HCMC to Hanoi, stopping off in the towns of Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi.  Our bus was supposed to leave at 7:30 a.m. today for the beach town of Mui Ne, which we were anxiously looking forward to days of R&R on a white sand beach.  We boarded our bus, and the ticket collector took not just our ticket, but our carbon copy receipt.  We'd read horror stories on travel blogs of people who had handed over their receipt, and never able to get the service they'd paid for afterward.  So learning from others experience, we made a point to be sure we always kept our receipt.  So the first three times I tried politely explain to the ticket girl that we needed the receipt back for our records.  I finally got off the bus to go into the office to address this with the older woman we had bought the ticket from.  Another Korean man and I were both requesting the same simple thing - some type of receipt, even if it was just the date, service and cost on company letter head, to indicate that we had paid for the full ticket.  But no, she was obstinate and refused.  What was most frustrating was that no reason was given as to why we couldn't retain our "customer copy" of the receipt, and why they couldn't just write up a receipt for us if they wanted the carbon copy.  We were continuously me with a big "NO!"  I asked her if it was because she was running an illegal business under the table, why she couldn't document that we'd paid.  At that point she slammed her fists on the table and got irate with me.  I called her bluff and told her then to refund our tickets and we'd go with one of her competitors that were more reputable businesses.  She made a huge scene, causing herself and I to both "lose face" in Asian culture (meaning we would now never reasonably settle the issue no matter how trivial the request or simple the solution for her to comply with).  She said she'd refund the tickets now (of course, it was too late by this time for us to get on another bus, we'd need to wait until tomorrow and waste a whole day in HCMC).  So we reluctantly got on the bus. We should have seen this as a sign to bail while we had the chance.  Little did we know that we had booked with the absolute worst bus company- An Phu.  

Our bus arrived Mui Ne, 5 hours later.  It was a long, hot, bumpy ride with no A/C.  We requested to have them let us off in front of the guest house we planned to stay at, but they said it was too much hassle to let us off and get our packs- although it was apparently no trouble for them to let locals off at 20 different spots along the way with all their cargo.  They said another bus would come to the An Phu bus station in 5 minutes to take us back to our guest house.  The trick, why these bus companies can keep the cost of tickets so low - aside from the age old trick of packing the bus with paying passengers and locals on plastic seats in the aisle which they assured us would not happen at time of purchase - was because they pressure you at the drop off point, to stay at their overpriced, and often dumpy guesthouse.  They take you a distance out of the mainstream accommodation hub, and drop you off, many times at strange hours (6:00 a.m. or midnight), so it's difficult or just inconvenient for you to find a better guest house, so you end up staying at their guest house, using their local transport and eating at their restaurant.  We were determined to live by our own plan, and not theirs.  So we waited at their bus station cum overpriced hotel for over an hour before the bus driver finally agreed to take us back into town.  We finally got dumped off close to where we wanted to stay, and scored ourselves a cool beach bungalow... a splurge for relaxation- a whopping $20/night!

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