Thursday, April 17, 2008

Da Lat and “Internet motorbike taxi” service

This is the sole motorbike taxi firm in Vietnam that has its own website and only serves foreigners.

Five years ago motorbike taxi drivers in Da Lat set up this firm. Besides having a website at, other special things about this firm is the mutual affection and sense of community – as well as their long journeys.

Da Lat’s story

I have known him for a long time but it is very difficult to arrange an appointment with him. Whenever I went to Da Lat, I called him, but he was always somewhere very far away like Ca Mau or Sapa. I’m a journalist, who has chances to go everywhere, but I admire him for his travelling experience.

When I thought I lost my chance to meet him, he suddenly called me and said he was in Da Lat to relax and maintain his motorbike. So I went there to meet him.

I thought that we would meet at his house or a street café but I was very surprised when he arranged the meeting at a luxurious café which has wireless Internet service. He was drinking coffee and looking at a laptop waiting for me.

He used the computer very well. Calling for a cup of coffee for me, he said he has been familiar with computers and the Internet for a long time because it is his means of support.

Worldly-wise and manly as a motorbike racer, he is Tran Ngoc Ba, from Ward 6, Da Lat city.

Ba is supporting his wife and two children who are studying at universities in HCM City. The total expenditures of his family are around VND6 million (US$380) a month, and it comes from his Bonus motorbike and clicks on the computer.

Ba said his “Internet motorbike taxi” service was initiated in 1991 but did not operate systematically from a website until 1995.

Ba recalled that in 1991 when Da Lat focused on developing its tourism industry, many foreign visitors came to this highlands city, especially Norwegians and Germans. From here they wanted to travel to other provinces by motorbike.

Though having worked as motorbike taxi drivers for many years, Ba and his colleagues had never run far. They just carried passengers within Lam Dong province or to neighbouring provinces like Gia Lai, Kon Tum or Dak Lak.

Foreign visitors were willing to pay highly to be transported by motorbikes to northern provinces like Hoa Binh, Lao Cai or Ha Giang but Ba and his colleagues didn’t dare because they didn’t have any information about these sites or relationships.

However, as many visitors had demand for long trips by motorbikes, Ba and some motorbike drivers decided to collect tourism maps of all provinces and cities and seek partners. Several years later, they had a website.

Foreign visitors who want to travel by motorbike can visit this site to know everything about this group of motorbike drivers and their services as well as useful advice for their trips in Vietnam.

A six-month trip

Ba’s motorbike taxi group currently has 70 members, who know all routes and tourism sites very clearly. All of them can speak and write English and some can speak French and German.

Coming to this group, everyone must equip themselves with good English because besides good health and good vehicles, foreign language is indispensable. When visitors access the website, these drivers have to convince visitors by their experience, price, services and win their trust.

This motorbike taxi firm has many special things that are admired by other transportation service providers. The longest trip conducted by other transportation service providers is around one month but Ba and his colleagues sometimes provide rides of several months and the longest was six months.

Ba’s record long trip was with a Norwegian female TV journalist who wanted to discover all regions of Vietnam. Through a friend, this girl visited Ba’s website and was convinced by his service. She decided to fly to Vietnam to travel by motorbike with Ba.

Ba went from Da Lat to HCM City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport to pick the girl up. From Tan Son Nhat, he took her to Ninh Kieu wharf in Can Tho city, then to Ben Tre, Phan Rang, Lao Cai, etc. and finally Da Lat. The whole trip took six months. Ba said thanks to this trip, he had money to support his children’s studies.

Some of the drivers in the group have a lot of customers while some don’t so group members set up a fund, called the “risk fund”. Any member who has tours will give part of their income to this fund to support others who don’t have customers.

This unique motorbike taxi service has lost some of its members who fall in love with foreign customers and go overseas.
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