This week I was due to go and meet my fiancé's family in Lâm Đồng province for the first time. Being almost 5 months pregnant with our baby and having never met her family, visiting them for our engagement was very important. As my fiancé is deaf I had no choice but to let her return home to her family for the duration of the pregnancy since I would be unable to assist with hospital visits.
With the trains all sold out for the long weekend, I approached a travel agent in Đà Nẵng, booking a bus to Đà Lạt. All went well at first but just before midnight I was awoken by a loud crashing sound and screams and I was jolted forward, hitting my head on the seat in front. It didn't hurt at the time, perhaps due to the shock. As everyone began filing off the bus, I followed and the reason for the accident became clear. The bus had collided head-on with a man on a motorbike whose lifeless body lay in a pool of blood directly in front of the bus. I did not witness the event personally but it would appear from the location of the body and bike that the bus was in the wrong lane, traveling too fast in an urban area and collided with the man as he exited a side street.
We waited for hours while police investigators questioned onlookers and the driver and took photographs of the body and the bus while all the other passengers arranged other transport in the middle of the night. I simply waited. The organiser of the bus took my bag from under the bus and threw it into the middle of the road, right near the centre divider. I looked at him in shock, wondering why he was dumping my bags in the middle of a highway. He motioned to me and just said "Come". I followed him for several hundred meters down the highway where he silently asked me for a cigarette and then another bus arrived. He threw my bag onto the bus, pointed inside and simply said "Đà Lạt".
I got onto the bus for a sleepless journey with the sound of the man's wife sobbing over the body still ringing in my ears and I messaged my fiancé telling her that I would be late due to a bus crash but that I was ok. However my troubles were not yet over. By mid-morning the bus stopped on the side of the road. My map said were in Phan Rang, more than 3 hours away from Đà Lạt in the wrong direction. No one got off. My bag was retrieved from under the bus and thrown into the dirt on the side of the road. I was handed a piece of paper with a phone number and 120.000 vnd written on it. I shook my head and said "Khong. Tôi đi Đà Lạt. Tôi trả rồi !" and pointed at my ticket. They in turn pointed to their own piece of paper and then at my bag on the side of the road and yelled "Không đi Đà Lạt. Đi. Đi !" and pushed me off the bus. I yelled the most offensive Vietnamese insult I could think of as they drove off, leaving me in a cloud of dust, hours from my destination and late for my engagement party.
I called my travel company and explained what had happened. They were very apologetic and asked me to find out where I was and see if they could do something to fix it. I gave them my address and they sent a motorbike to pick me up and take me to a bus station. It was not one of my agent's busses but the woman said she would pay for the ticket personally because the bus company were refusing to take any responsibility.
I made it to my engagement party, half a day late; injured, covered in dust from head to food and extremely upset. If I had not been an experienced traveler with basic tiếng Việt knowledge and the contact number of an understanding travel agent, things could have been far worse. With my travel agent getting me to Đà Lạt, I asked some school kids if I could get to Lâm Hà on a local bus and I spent a bumpy journey standing up on an overcrowded school bus amongst children vomiting into plastic bags.
Unfortunately the hospitals were closed and I had to see a private doctor about my eye injury who gave me a variety of medicine and said that the damage should not be permanent but that I should visit the hospital for a proper check after the public holiday is over.
Regardless of who was at fault in the accident, the flagrant disregard for either the lives of motorists and the wellbeing of their passengers of the Ha Linh bus company was surely grossly unethical and unprofessional, dumping a foreigner on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere after promising to take him to his destination and then demanding more money to get him there just because they killed a man on the highway and had their bus impounded is absolutely unconscionable. After the accident division are through investigating the impounded bus, the Ministry of Transport should take serious action against the bus company for their actions.
My only consolation was the kindness and helpfulness of the woman at Han Travel in Đà Nẵng who did everything within her power to get my to my engagement party at her own personal expense and promised to refund my ticket since the bus company refused to do so. I cannot thank her enough for helping me out of what could have been a disastrous situation. The Ha Linh bus company however should be ashamed both for the man they killed and rudely pushing a foreigner off the bus in the wrong city, and taking no responsibility for injuries caused by their fatal bus crash.