#PhonSavan #Takhek #Laos: Taxis, Tuktuks, & Transport—the Plot Sickens
I’m pissed off, furious in fact. I just got charged $10 for a two-minute tuk-tuk ride so I’m pissed. New York is cheaper than that! Laotian people may be the nicest in the world, but tuk-tuk drivers here are a lying thieving treacherous lot, smiling all the while, and tour operators aren’t much better. Of course the government is in on the fix, so that seals the deal right there. They’ve got their bus stations so far-flung and scattered that making sense of it all is beyond the capability of any casual tourist, even one who happens to speak and read the language…
I didn’t knowingly pay ten bucks for a two-minute ride, of course, but that’s the upshot. This happened in Phonsavan, Laos, the capital of Xieng Khoang province, a city of maybe 40K and proud owner of no less than five (and maybe more) bus stations. Sounds like somebody’s got more government money than they’ve got good sense to me. I’ve dealt with the same situation elsewhere in the country, also, but can hold my tongue no longer.
The deal is that in addition to the regular public buses leaving from far-flung stations roughly corresponding to the four directions, there exists a parallel system of private vans run by tour companies that will pick you up from your hotel and take you to various cities of prime tourist interest. Between these two extremes there exist varying shades of gray, of course, including, but not limited to: simply reselling public bus tickets with or without accompanying transportation to the appropriate station at the appropriate time.
Well, all this was tolerable as long as the commissions seemed reasonable and the consequences were clear. After all, many of these remote locations only run one public bus per day, so you certainly don’t want to screw up on a tight schedule; a little help can come in handy. Remote locations for bus stations also add the uncertainty of uncertain—and often expensive—tuk-tuk costs to an already uncertain equation. A hotel pick-up can mitigate that uncertainty. This all breaks down, however, when a tuk-tuk simply takes you around the corner to the tune of a $10 surcharge on two $12 tickets.
Then add to that an en-route bus over-charge of $2.50 on a $6 run. And this after I was so proud of myself for making an immediate connection from Xieng Khoang on to Takhek without even officially arriving in Paksan, figuring we’d now easily make it to Takhek before dark, or not TOO late, anyway. Then a group of bozo backpackers gets on an hour down the road, barely even knowing where they’re going or how to get there. So I end up translating for them. Turns out they’re going exactly where the bus is going, and didn’t even have a clue. Only problem is that it arrives at 3 a.m.
The irony is that I got charged 70,000 Lao kip for my four-hour ride and they only got charged 100K for their twelve-hour one. Huh? What gives? They get the killer deal and I get shafted! Of course I can’t say anything, not much anyway, without them maybe getting charged more, so maintain a noble silence, but I’m still pissed. By the time we get in, it’s well after dark, so I convince myself that maybe I wasn’t overcharged, but decide not to risk a tuk-tuk ride anyway; just a hunch. We get a super-cheap room at the bus terminal instead. There’s a movie for you.
I was right. The tuk-tuk drivers asked for 100,000 kip (about $12) for the ride into town next day from the bus station. I told them that was too much—New York, etc, etc. They said it was 7km/4 miles into town. I told them that’s still too much. They said that’s the price. I said I’d walk, then… and proceeded to do so, having no idea what’s the right direction, but figuring a tuk-tuk outside the terminal will be cheaper. They immediately lower the price to 50,000 kip, so we rock. The ride was about ten minutes.
I even renegotiated the final tuk-tuk charge on arrival—to 40K—after complaining that I was lied to about the distance involved, which was true. I walked back just to measure it, in time and space. I figure it’s about half the seven kilometers claimed. I decide we can walk back to catch onward transportation if necessary, maybe forty-five minutes. I don’t like being ripped off, and this sh*t goes on all over—Phuket, Sarajevo, Athens, you name. The deal is that you’ve gotta’ use the meter. You can ride around Bangkok for an hour on $10. Still something’s wrong—something else. Stay tuned…