Monday, November 8, 2010

Fake Thanh

Thanh (in blue) did his best to sabotage our trip. Here he is writing in my guidebook, even though Tim and I had already sussed out the way to get to our next destination.
Occasionally, when something goes continuously wrong, you've got to see the funny side of it. Well, it's either that or cry about it. When it's a person, it's less easy to appreciate the constant failure, especially if you've taken the time to explain what you want in words of one syllable. To speed up our Mekong Delta tour recently, my brother Tim and I teamed up with Mr Thanh, a hire-car driver, in Cantho, for the next five days. We needed to get out and about the provinces of Tra Vinh and Soc Trang in the far south and then scoot up to the far north of the Delta, in order to cross the border near Ha Tien and back into Cambodia. We'd done our homework and with maps in hand we set out, quickly realizing that Thanh spoke not one word of English, in fact he rarely spoke at all, quiet grunting being his main form of communication.
Amongst the problems we had with Thanh was his piss-poor driving skills. Besides life-threatening overtaking on corners and blind bends, his failure to stop when instructed, his snail-paced speed when we needed him to put his foot down, he got us completely lost on two occasions by leaving the main road without warning, he couldn't read a map - even a Vietnamese language one - and we had to turn around in the middle of the road so many times, we couldn't believe that his three-point turns were never completed in anything under half a dozen. As a driver, he was a shambles. He drove at night with no headlights and with his handbrake on, he opened the windows when we had the air-con switched on and he was worse than useless when we were on the look-out for pagodas or restaurants. If I didn't know better, I would've said he was paid to sabotage our trip. Or we were his first-ever clients, and most likely his last. He was so bad that it was hilarious at the same time as being incredibly frustrating. More than a few times, Tim and I hatched a plan to take the wheel and dump him on the side of the road.
Once we reached Ha Tien we'd had enough and Thanh was sent packing back to Cantho. I'm sure he was glad to see the back of us too, even though we paid for all of his meals and even gave him a tip, which with hindsight marks us down as stupid as he was. Why on earth did we tip someone who was so bad at their job. The only answer I have is for the laughter value he provided over the five days and the fact that we still managed to have a great time, despite the man's ineptitude. If you are hiring a car and driver in the Mekong Delta and his name is Thanh, I wish you luck, as you'll need it.

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