Well, maybe not infuriate them exactly, but they sure got a little bent out of shape when they had to give up to their seats to us on the bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.
The morning Aon and I left Luang Prabang we got to the Nanluang Bus Terminal early to check in and get our tickets and food coupons for our bus ride back to Vientiane. Now, when you book a bus ticket through a travel agency, the travel agent makes a phone call to the bus terminal to reserve how many seats you need and then gives you a voucher for each seat which you then exchange for the bus ticket when you check in at the bus station.
That’s what happened when Aon and I booked our tickets at the travel agency in Vientiane. We had no problems checking in at the bus station in Vientiane the other day. We showed up, exchanged our vouchers and got our tickets. Seemed easy and efficient enough.
Now I am not too sure how efficient this system is because it is all done over the telephone. Maybe mistakes could be made like the one when Aon and I got on the bus the morning we left Luang Prabang.
When we went to the travel agency yesterday to reconfirm our bus tickets back to Vientiane, the travel agent made a quick phone call and then issued us our vouchers with our seat numbers 9 & 10 that we would exchange the next morning at the bus terminal. We weren’t given seat assignments when we bought our tickets in Vientiane; maybe they are only given out the day before you leave (Aon and I had bought our tickets to Luang Prabang five days before we left).
Anyway, we were the first ones to check in at the bus station the morning we left. While Aon waited in the bus (it was really chilly out) I waited at the window where you checked in. I didn’t have to wait too long. I handed the clerk our vouchers and he gave me our blue tickets. We were good to go. However, when I got on the bus, Aon told me that was two people sitting in our seats. Turns out the Swiss couple also had seat assignments for 9 & 10, but all they had were vouchers.
I tried to explain to them that they had to check in to get their blue tickets but the woman refused to give up her seat.
“These are our seats,” she said. “We have a reservation.”
“We did too, but you have to check in first,” I explained, “then you are given your seat assignment.”
“But we have a reservation for these seats,” she said and not too happily.
Hopefully her husband would be the voice of reason and he went to the window to check in. Now, I would have gladly given up our seats in exchange for the seats (7 & 8) that the Swiss couple would eventually get, but they were so rude to On and myself like we were the ones who caused the problem/mix-up in the first place.
Thinking that I might be of some help in clearing up this seat snafu, I went back to the window where I had gotten our tickets. The Swiss man got really angry with the ticket agent on the other side telling arguing that they had reservations for seats 9 & 10. The agent tried to explain that the travel agency that had promised the Swiss couple seats 9 & 10 was wrong and that they would be given other seats. Well, the Swiss tourist did not like this answer and told that agent that when people hear about this back home they are not going to want to come to Laos and so on and so on.
Like I said, I would have been more than willing to exchange our seats, but after the Swiss tourist started wigging out I decided not to and went back to the bus. Aon wanted to know what was happening and I told her to wait that everything was going to be okay; at least for us.
Eventually the Swiss couple moved after the husband had come back to the bus with their tickets, but they were still not too happy about it. They started talking to some other tourists about how messed up the system was and complained about how Laos used to be much better in the past. Maybe if they would have known that Aon was Laotian they might not have been so vocal about with their disdain.
As it turned out a few other tourists had the same problem; however, they had not been told to check in once they arrived. I don’t think it was that much of problem, but it is something that needs to be straightened out between some of the travel agencies at the bus terminal. Maybe once everything gets computerized it won’t be so much of a problem.
The Swiss couple was still fuming hours later and a few times, they shot us some cold icy glances as if it was all our fault for sitting in their seats.
If you do go to Luang Prabang and take a bus back to Vientiane (especially the VIP bus) buy your tickets early and get to the bus terminal early on the day you leave to check in. You should at least buy your tickets a few days in advance if possible.