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Laos forum

Laos bus scam - Huay Xia to Luang Namtha

Posted by IvanaCZ on 24/4/2013 at 01:46

We missed the local bus from Huay Xia to Luang Namtha, so we decided to use the services of "Houai Sai Travel&tour", one of the many travel agencies in town. We paid 85000 Kip each (which is about double the normal price) for a minivan that was supposed to take us to a bus station at LN. The driver stopped 16km before LN at a bus station where the tuktuk vultures were already waiting for us to shake us down some more. I showed the driver on my gps where we were and told him to get back behind the wheel and get us to the real bus station which is in town. He kept saying that this is it until I made a really nasty scene and yelled at him really loud. Then he called his boss back at the office, we told him that we paid a hell lot of money and that we want the driver to take us to town. In the end we got going and got dropped off in the very center.

My advice before you pay for a private bus/minivan:

1. Ask where exactly you will be dropped off. If you have a map, have them show you the spot. If it's way out of town and they want to charge you a lot of money for the ride, negotiate. You don't want to pay for a tuktuk.

2. Double check with them if the bus will go at the time you were told or whether they will wait for more people. This is important, otherwise you might end up waiting on the bus for an hour and lose time and patience .:-)

3. If you get dropped off somewhere else than arranged, demand that you be driven to your destination. It's not gonna be easy but you need to be tough and gang up on the driver.

4. If your driver drives you into the arms of tuktuk vultures, don't take the first offer. Either negotiate or, even better, go to the main road and hail a tuktuk. I never want to give them the satisfaction of milking me right after I step out of the bus. Be prepared that their first offer is either double the price or 1/3 higher.

All of the things I wrote here go not only for Laos but basically for all South-East Asian countries (maybe not Thailand, they are pretty honest there).

So, don't let them get you, dear traveller!:-)

#1 IvanaCZ has been a member since 24/4/2013. Posts: 12

Posted by Captain_Bob on 24/4/2013 at 04:25

"We paid 85000 Kip each (which is about double the normal price)"
Standard bus fare to Luang Namtha is 60000 kip. You paid slighty more because you bought from an agent and got a minivan instead of a bus.

You got a good deal. 85000 kip ($10) is not "a hell lot of money".

"get us to the real bus station which is in town"

The long-distance Luang Namtha bus station is out on the highway 9km out of the town.

"I made a really nasty scene and yelled at him really loud"
You're lucky he didn't just throw you and your bag out the door at this point. Getting pissed off and shouting is the worst way of dealing with things in this part of the world.

"be tough and gang up on the driver"
Worst possible advice. Don't listen to this person.

#2 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,951

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Posted by IvanaCZ on 24/4/2013 at 05:54

Captain Bob, you're probaly right about the price of the regular bus being 60000. I read somewhere it was 50 but that info. may not be up to date. Since we were told by several people that the bus had gone, I didn't varify the price.
Anyway, I do think that $10, which to you is not much, is a lot of money for a 3-hour trip (176km) in this part of the world. You can go all the way from Siem Reap to Bangkok for $9 (410 km). Also, the fact that there were only 3 of us in the van tells me that we did pay a lot, otherwise they would wait for more people, as they usually do. Plus, we agreed with the person that sold us the tickets that we will be dropped off at the bus station in town ( there is a minivan bus station). So, do you suggest I should just accept their breaking of what we had agreed on and pay, yet again, for a tuktuk, when that was obviously their scam all along? I did try reasoning with the driver, I didn't start yelling at him at once.
So, what would you do in this situation? If you have better advice for fellow travellers, shoot. I'm listening. I didn't write this to piss anybody off. If you don't like my advice, don't follow it.

#3 IvanaCZ has been a member since 24/4/2013. Posts: 12

Posted by eastwest on 24/4/2013 at 06:49

So, let me get this straight:

- Buses that charge lower prices wait for other passengers.
- Your bus left on time and you have overpaid a little but were with only 3 people in the bus

And you don't see any connection between the two...

- You use Bangkok - Siem Reap for $9 as the benchmark for all bus trips
- You complain about scams and commissions on that route

And you don't see any connection between the two...

- You misbehave against local people and advise travelers to "gang up" and stand-up against rip-offs of $1
- You didn't get treated very well by the locals

And you don't see any connection between the two...

#4 eastwest has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 778
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Posted by IvanaCZ on 24/4/2013 at 09:50

1. We didn't have any other choice but to take the minivan because the local bus was gone and we didn't want to be stuck there for the night

2. I'm not complaining about how much I paid. I paid it because I had no other choice and also because it would get us into town so we wouldnt have to take a tuktuk

3. We didnt exactly leave on time. They were waiting for some other people for about 15min but since noone was interested we got going.

4. The difference between the 2 destinations I used as an example was in the distances. That was my point. In Thailand you get 234km further for the same price.

5. I dont see how I "misbehaved against local people"- you sound like you wrote the post for the driver:-) If he's still there, tell him he was an a..hole:-)
Maybe I didn't express myself too well. What I meant was that people shouldn't get fooled that easily and should demand what they paid for. In my case it was a different destination.

Sorry, but you seem to be the one who doesn't see the connections here.

#5 IvanaCZ has been a member since 24/4/2013. Posts: 12

Posted by JaiYen88 on 24/4/2013 at 17:04

*Sigh. You really don't like the fact that poor people want to make a bit of money out of you, do you? What the hell did you expect travelling to these countries?? Do you have any clue what effect years of war and poverty have on a society? You are Czech but probably too young to have been majorly affected by the war - you're lucky.

Please, nobody listen to this person's advice on bullying people or shouting at them. It is exactly the opposite of what you should do in these situations. If you really can't bear to see that extra dollar (that's €0.77 for a European) fall into the hands of a dastardly tuktuk 'vulture' then keep calm, smile, and politely explain that you won't pay extra. That way at least you won't end up wasting time moaning on the internet when you come home because of the negative and hostile attitude you insisted on maintaining during your travels.

#6 JaiYen88 has been a member since 25/4/2012. Posts: 110
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Posted by IvanaCZ on 24/4/2013 at 20:55

So, are you telling me that in your country you would pay to get from A to B but got dropped off at C and just calmly accept that, well, today I'm not getting directly to my destination even though I paid for it but whatthack, these drivers also need to earn a living so let me get out my wallet.

If that's your idea of traveling then be my guest but I want to get from A to B when I pay for it.

#7 IvanaCZ has been a member since 24/4/2013. Posts: 12

Posted by busylizzy on 24/4/2013 at 21:14

Ivana, did YOU ask where you were going to get dropped off before buying the ticket? Or did you make an assumption that you were going to be dropped off at the bus station? Did you ask the driver or the ticket seller?

In this particular situation I believe you are right in your general expectations - if you paid to get to a particular location, then you should expect to get there and not be taken to a drop-off point far away from the station. I've been caught out like that - but to be fair, I didn't clarify where the drop off point was.

The problem is, you've managed to be 'ripped off' in quite a few situations, according to your recent spate of posts. Unfortunately that raises suspicions about your credibility especially when you have ONLY ever posted on the forum to complain/warn others. Maybe it's not fair, but that's reality.

Your advice above is, for the most part, reasonably sound - EXCEPT for the part about ganging up on the driver, yelling, etc. That won't get you anywhere. Caveat: I don't always get this right. There are times where my patience has run out and I've gotten grumpy with drivers, etc. But it never ends up with the result that I want. Hence I don't think it's good advice to dish out. Where I've been successful is where I've maintained a smile, continue to show respect, and try some polite negotiation.

#8 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by IvanaCZ on 24/4/2013 at 21:28

I asked specifically to be dropped off at the bus station in town (based on my previous experience with private bus companies). I arranged that with the person who sold me the ticket who then said something to the driver who was there the whole time.

Look, I've been traveling around SE Asia for 2 months now. I posted 3 negative sounding posts, things I didn't like because I think people who are new to the country look up things to be vigilant about.

I'm not saying everybody should follow my advice strictly. Pick what you find useful, use your own judgement.

#9 IvanaCZ has been a member since 24/4/2013. Posts: 12

Posted by drewdogy on 24/4/2013 at 22:43

The following seems to be missing from the discussion above: in almost all of the towns and cities around Laos, the bus station is located far outside of the town center. In the case of Luang Namtha, the bus station is located around 10km south of the tourist center (which is focused around night market).

Perhaps it might also be of interest that we took a minivan from Huay Xia to Lang Namtha three weeks ago for the same reasons as Ivana. We were a total of four people (1 local, 3 foreigners) in the minivan, and we paid 100,000 kip each. Since the local also paid this price, I imagine this was a fair price. However, unlike Ivana, we made sure to arrange our drop off in the tourist center and not at the bus station before we departed Huay Xia.

Lastly, I agree that yelling and creating a scene is not sound advice and definitely the wrong approach. It can be easier said than done, but if you can not communicate your needs effectively, better to walk way. Remember, you are in essence a defacto ambassodor of your country, and your actions will be scrutinized closely by the locals, especially in Laos where tourism is only just now starting to take off.

#10 drewdogy has been a member since 12/4/2013. Posts: 7

Posted by JaiYen88 on 25/4/2013 at 11:31

It doesn't matter that you wouldn't accept that in your home country, this is a different country where people are simply much poorer than anywhere in the west. A culture has developed around getting whatever little extra cash they can out of tourists, which is perfectly understandable considering visitors are vastly better off than any locals they come into contact with (the few rich people in Lao / Cambodia wouldn't exactly be driving tuktuks or working in hotels / restaurants, would they?). The mistake you are making is getting angry about the fact that you are a target for (small) rip-offs, when really you need to realise that this is the reality when you visit poorer parts of the world, and approach the problem in a more constructive fashion.

How many times did you get ripped off? Was getting that angry at the time and having debates on the internet about it after really worth the couple of dollars you saved?

#11 JaiYen88 has been a member since 25/4/2012. Posts: 110
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Posted by Captain_Bob on 26/4/2013 at 04:18

Note to my guesthouse and restaurant staff (10 years in Chiang Mai)
Beware of angry violent Czech girl named Ivana.


#12 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,951

Posted by Rufus on 27/4/2013 at 22:20

Ivana, please never come back to Lao, where I have lived for a long time. You got a good deal; you made an absolute fool of yourself by creating "a really nasty scene" and yelling "at him really loud." (sic). Please go away do not come back.

#13 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 978
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Posted by Geer1 on 27/4/2013 at 22:39

Laos was bad for the bus stations being significantly outside of the town/cities. Quite frustrating at times, luckily they have adopted the group tuk tuk decently and there are usually enough tourists that the rates aren't too bad($1-2).

Never listen to tour agents selling you bus tickets in regards to where you will get dropped off, how long the ride will take etc. They are all full of bs and will tell you anything to sell you the ticket as you more then likely will not go back to complain. The only thing you can really do is make sure to do your research on companies/travel options and how much tuk tuk rides from the station etc should cost.

Also you can't compare Thailand to Laos when it comes to travel costs. There are far more travellers in Thailand(tourists and locals), roads are far better and straighter and this all leads to Laos' travel costing more then Thailand's.

The one thing to keep in mind is if you are on one of these bus rides and the bus stops at the "station" but no locals get off then it is often safe to assume the bus will keep going to another closer stop. Sometimes you can just sit there and wait(especially if you have done your homework and know the bus should go closer) otherwise they might try and force you off the bus to create revenue for the tuk tuk drivers...

I do totally agree with not usually taking the first tuk tuk offer. In Laos it was the opposite for the most part though, you took the first tuk tuk because it was likely a group of people getting off the bus and cost 10k to maybe 20k to get into town each. If you waited or walked away you many times would find no other options and or end up having to pay full fare for a ride as an individual traveller.

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Posted by mooball on 15/5/2013 at 05:59 TF writer

I can confirm that the Luang Namtha long-distance bus station is located 10km from town. If you want to catch a bus to or from and place that is as far as Huay Xai is away, you're usually going to be picked up and dropped off there. It's only a 10,000 kip ride into town from there anyway.

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Posted by odo on 26/8/2013 at 03:18

Clearly a case of Ivana go where Ivana go (& dats dat)

Sorry, I'll get me coat

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