A neverending bus journey into the central highlands of Vietnam

I had planned to spend a couple of hours on the beach this morning before catching my bus up to Dalat, and in hindsight I would have been able to. Today has well and truly confirmed my opinions of the T.M Brothers and as greedy and incompetent tour agency. I was due to catch the bus at 12:30pm, so when I awoke a little later than I’d planned, at 9:30, I decided to have a relaxing and unrushed breakfast at the hotel and read some more of my book whilst I waited for the bus to arrive. 12:30 passed, as did 1:00 and despite my polite enquiries as to where my bus may have got to, no-one in the Happy Tours office (a subsiduary of T.M Brothers) seemed very bothered by the fact that it was late or very keen to find out when it was due to arrive. Eventually at 1:30, I was told to get on a bus headed for Nha Trang, but this bus had already come some distance so it was stopping in Mui Ne for a further half an hour so that its passengers could eat some lunch. Down at the actual T.M Brothers office, I met the only other western passenger headed for Dalat, a 22 year old girl from Reading called Pill.
We sat together on the bus journey, sharing travel experiences and doing enough talking to compensate for the fact that everyone else on the bus was either asleep or had their heads in books, so were deadly silent save for the loud snores of one gentleman sat a couple of seats behind us. We’d been told we had to change buses about 100km into our journey, on to one which take us on to our final destination of Dalat. Neither of us had watches so we were unsure about how long we’d been travelling, but we were both a little worried that we had covered over 100km of ground and not made one stop even for a drink or something to eat, let alone to change buses. The driver began to have a heated telephone converstaion with someone who we assumed knew (or perhaps didn’t know) the whereabouts of our alternative bus. Shortly after this telephone conversation had taken place, a local bus passed us, heading in the opposite direction. Our driver made frantic hand signals to the driver of the local bus, trying desperately to flag it down. We didn’t need to be told that this was the bus we’d be catching. It was not an air conditioned tourist bus as it was supposed to be, and it wasn’t even a bus that had been waiting for us; it was just the first one that had passed us heading in the opposite direction. We were both bundled on this bus, with no explanation as to where we were or how far we were from Dalat. However we guessed from the fact that the sun started to set not long after we boarded, that we’d travelled too far in the wrong direction on the other bus and were doing some serious backtracking.
I know I said in my previous blog that I wished I’d paid extra for the experience of travelling on a local bus, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind! Our bus headed up into the mountains, far away from any form of civilisation. We were constantly teased by the sights of a series of lights up ahead, but these turned out to be the lights of several small villages tucked away in the highlands of Vietnam. We finally pulled into Dalat at 9:45pm, ravenous, stressed and seriously pissed off. It didn’t help the situation that we were dropped off 5km outside the centre of Dalat, and not at an appropriately priced central hotel, as was supposed to have happened. We paid our 10,000VND each for a moto ride into the centre, intent on lodging a complaint at the T.M Brothers office the next morning.
We checked into a pleasant $6 room at the Peace Hotel, but I wouldn’t even have cared if it was a dirty cockroach infested hovel (well, maybe I would just a little!), I was so relieved to have arrived at a place we thought at one point in the journey we’d never make it to. We ate our first meal since breakfast at 10:15pm in the Peace Hotel Cafe, which was fortunately still open – but only just! When we returned to our room, a lady appeared at our door to give us some towels and ask if we wanted any laundry done. All we both wanted to do was sleep so we were a little annoyed when, about 15 minutes later, the woman returned. I didn’t really understand the point of her second visit, which was to point out that we had hot water in our bathroom (which we’d already discovered when we ran the tap) and ask again if we required her laundry service. A very surreal end to a very stressful day . . .
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