Johor durian trip turns prickly after minibus breaks down
Family stranded for five hours in Johor after minibus skids to a stop
The day trip to Johor Baru to feast on durians was meant to be a happy gathering for the Chin family.
Instead, they ended up getting all prickly when the trip did not meet their expectations.
The 14 relatives from four nuclear families across two generations found themselves stranded on a secluded Malaysian road about a three-hour drive from JB after their minibus broke down two Sundays ago.
Ms Candice Chin, 33, said the group waited for nearly five hours for a replacement vehicle to arrive before deciding to arrange their own transport to get home.
She said this was not what they had envisioned when they came across a Groupon deal promising an attractive itinerary for $60 a person.
The package, organised by AMW Travel Service, included a private coach for the family.
Ms Chin, who owns Pilates Fitness, said they were disappointed when a battered minibus turned up to pick them up that morning from one of their homes in Hougang.
Then, they were subjected to the griping of the "pushy" driver, she said.
"First, he distributed his name cards and asked us to contact him personally in future instead of going through a tour agency," Ms Chin said.
"Then he started complaining about working on a Sunday and decided that he wouldn't be following the itinerary."
Ms Chin complained that the three-hour drive from the Malaysian immigration checkpoint in JB to the durian plantation in the "poorly ventilated" minibus was "unbearable".
And when they got there, the durians "weren't that good".
"After lunch at 1.30pm, the itinerary stated we were to visit a waterfall and temples.
"But the driver wanted to take us straight to our dinner location," Ms Chin said.
"It took half an hour of negotiation before he agreed to take us to a shopping centre."
But after 20 minutes on the road, disaster struck at 2pm.
"We heard a bang as if another car had hit us. We also felt a sharp drop. We thought a tyre had been punctured," Ms Chin said.
"The driver looked shocked, but did not say anything."
He applied the brakes, "but the van skidded from left to right and tipped a little", she recalled.
After skidding, the minibus stopped abruptly by the side of the road.
Ms Chin said: "It was fortunate there were no other cars on the road, but we were traumatised. The van could have flipped."
She assumed the suspension system was broken as the minibus had "sunk".
The family was upset by the driver's reaction.
"We expected him to help us, but he did not know what to do. He only called a motor workshop. We had to contact AMW Travel Service ourselves," Ms Chin said.
The family got through to the agency only after repeated attempts, but were dissatisfied by its reply that it would figure out "some solution".
Affected by the heat and mosquitoes, the family sought refuge in a clinic a 20-minute walk away, with the driver's knowledge.
When they returned to the van at 4pm, the vehicle and its driver were gone.
"We felt helpless and angry at the driver," Ms Chin said.
She claimed the travel agency was of little help.
"They told us to find a foodcourt to rest at. They must have thought we were at Orchard Road."
AMW Travel Service managing director Gordon Tang said the agency did send a replacement vehicle to pick up the group.
It arrived there at 6.30pm, but the driver's calls to Ms Chin went unanswered.
Ms Chin claimed that they found out later that the agency's transport had arrived at 9.30pm.
By then, they had arranged for their own transport back to the checkpoint for RM700 (S$270) after getting help from nurses at the clinic.
They reached home past midnight.
Ms Chin has filed a complaint with the Singapore Tourism Board and intends to raise the matter with the Consumers Association of Singapore.
They told us to find a foodcourt to rest at. They must have thought we were at Orchard Road.
- Ms Candice Chin, who claimed that the travel agency was unhelpful after the incident happened.
Tour agency 'did its part': Director
Breakdowns happen and they are usually unexpected, said Mr Gordon Tang, the managing director of AMW Travel Service.
Responding to Ms Candice Chin's complaints, Mr Tang, 45, said in Mandarin: "It is normal for vehicles to break down and it is something unforeseen.
"We do checks on our end, but you cannot guarantee that the vehicle won't break down. Of course, we did not want this incident to happen."
As for Ms Chin's complaint that her calls to the agency went unanswered, Mr Tang said it did get back to her eventually.
He said that Ms Chin would not accept the explanation for the delay in sending a replacement vehicle.
"It was a weekend afternoon and all the vans were taken. I believe most people can understand this simple explanation," said Mr Tang.
Even if a vehicle was available, it would still have taken three to four hours for it to get to the stranded group, he said.
Mr Tang said the replacement vehicle arrived there at 6.30pm, but Ms Chin did not answer phone calls from the driver.
"We sent her the details of the replacement vehicle. She was uncontactable and our driver was looking for her for two hours. She never contacted us to tell us that she had arranged her own transport," he said.
Mr Tang also maintained that the original driver had followed the itinerary.
He said that since the family members had a vehicle to themselves, the driver could have tailored the itinerary to their requests.
As for Ms Chin's complaint that the minivan and driver were missing when they returned from the clinic, Mr Tang said the vehicle had been towed away to be repaired and the driver had to accompany it.
He maintained the agency had done its part in sending a replacement vehicle.
A check with the Consumers Association of Singapore on AMW Travel Service shows a complaint in May 2011 about the agency failing to honour a contractual agreement.
It had provided accommodation at a serviced apartment instead of a three-star hotel as promised to a consumer.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said the number of travel industry complaints has fallen in recent years.
She was uncontactable and our driver was looking for her for two hours. She never contacted us to tell us that she had arranged her own transport.
- Mr Gordon Tang, the managing director of AMW Travel Service
BY THE NUMBERS
Travel industry complaints handled by Case last year, down from 210 in 2012 and 273 in 2011. There has been 108 of such complaints so far this year.