When in Vietnam, use public transport. You may not live to regret any other decision. By Tom Howard
IT WAS THE decision to rent a mini-van and a driver for a short journey in Vietnam -rather than catch public transport - that, with hindsight, was the mistake. It started with the organisation, which took longer than the journey itself. To say we were given the run-around would be an understatement. All the "agents" we approached were linked by family ties, and all fully understood the benefits of price-fixing. Each would furiously dial several numbers, speak incredibly fast Vietnamese for a few minutes and finally come up with the same price as everybody else.

When the journey finally got under way we discovered that our driver had his sights set on the touring car circuit. He drove so fast that in the event of a crash the van and everyone in it would have been reduced to dust. At one point he came careering up behind a huge truck and, strictly obeying the Vietnam highway code, pulled out to overtake at the same speed. As he drew alongside we were faced with six Vietnamese schoolgirls cycling alongside one another, taking up two-thirds of the road and blinded by the glare of our headlights. Our driver swerved to the other side of the road, one wheel on the tarmac one on the gravel and continued as if nothing had happened.

Shortly after midnight our driver pulled over into a siding in the middle of nowhere, turned round and announced: "OK, now I sleep for half an hour". Then he put his feet up on the steering wheel and passed out. Soon the sounds of croaking toads and a buzzing fluorescent strip-light hanging from the roof of a deserted garage had sent me into a deep slumber also. After what seemed like a minute I awoke. Everyone had crashed out in painfully contorted positions. Two and a half hours had passed and we hadn't moved an inch. The others slowly came to and we set about trying to wake up the driver who by now was hugging a hot water bottle and sucking his thumb. We crashed about in the back, banged the roof and generally made as much noise as possible but still he slept peacefully. Eventually I leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder. He grunted, rubbed his eyes, looked at his watch and said: "Oh ... sorry ... we go now?"

As we set off once more I wondered whether to feel glad or apprehensive about the fact that he was driving immediately after a deep sleep. The road was now so bad that I couldn't tell whether he was on it or off it anyway, so I gave up and dropped off again. This time I was woken by a pleasant rush of cool air onto the back of my neck. I turned round dreamily as the back door arched open, flinging our luggage 100... 200... 300 metres back along the road. We screamed at our driver who was clearly upset at having to slow down, and ran back to pick up our rucksacks which lay, forlorn but intact, directly in the path of any oncoming traffic. Luckily there was nothing behind us.

Early in the morning, as the mountain road turned into a winding coast road, hugging steep hills that dropped sharply into the sea, we finally embarked on the descent into Nha Trang.

"Do you think we should tip him?" someone enquired. His suggestion received the response it deserved.

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