Very disappointed in Min Thu

Mar 5th, 2013, 10:04 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,895

There is a lot going on here. As I said before, I think it is not ok for Min Thu to make commitments and not be able to fulfill them. But we also don't know the whole story. A westerner would be more forthcoming with why they couldn't make it. From my observations and experience, that is not the Burmese way.

We found Min Thu to be exceptionally well informed - his library of books on Buddhism, Buddhist Arts and iconography rivals ours. We know a lot about the topic, and wished for someone who could give us more depth to what we already knew about the temples at Bagan. We did not expect to find someone like that and we certainly did not expect to find a horsecart driver who was so well-informed. MinThu was a gem we stumbled across. We had a marvelous three days with him our first trip and another two our second trip. Some others here have reported similar experiences, Robbie and Jules come to mind.

Part of what we are running up against is differing expectations. Some of you may remember a big brouhaha a number of years ago about a guide in Siem Reap. Someone had a great experience with him, recommend him, and then as too many people made "reservations" with him, he was unable to accommodate them, so gave them to other guides. He felt he'd done his job - got them a guide, but people were livid that they weren't getting "the one." From all accounts, he was mystified by people's reactions. This situation, of course, is not an exact parallel, but is related, I think.

If someone just wants a horsecart driver, I wouldn't recommend they contact MinThu. There are plenty of available horsecart drivers, any of whom can take you from temple to temple, get the keys to the locked temples, give a rudimentary explanation of what you are seeing. There is no question that MinThu has been overwhelmed by the demand for his services - that has been the case for a couple of years.

Shelly, as a seasoned traveler, I'm sure you have had instances (as we have all had) when the Hyatt didn't have a room for you despite your reservation, and, as per their policy, they put you up in another hotel for free. Or the airlines overbooked and had to put you on another flight. As travelers, we are accustomed to these things happening. We don't like it, but we know it happens and we know what recourse we do (or don't) have.

MinThu is operating in a much less developed country than the guide in Siem Reap. There has not been an organized network of guides where he can just refer you on to someone else if he cannot make it for some reason. And of course, there are not the resources of a Hyatt to send you to another hotel or the airline to rebook you. It sounds like MinThu offered to get a substitute, and did. That was probably his equivalent (given available resources) of the rebooked flight.

So I think that in addition to the issue of MinThu not being able to fulfill a commitment he made we have a number of cultural and resource-related issues that made this more difficult.

Let me add as an aside about the Balloons Over Bagan flight, and MinThu calling the travel agent when Tharbar gate said to go to the Balloons Over Bagan Office - from our experience, MinThu made the right call. After our first BoB flight was cancelled, we called the BoB office, couldn't get any satisfaction, so went to the office. Basically, because we had booked through an agent, BoB wouldn't deal with us. Our agent did refund our money so it all got taken care of, but talking with BoB was not the way to go.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 5th, 2013, 11:45 AM
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
firmwill: "How did I miss the mark? He got *us* from Point A to Point B and didn't dump *us* for new customers. That was my experience -- and that of other posters here. "

Put simply, you have belittled and scolded two different posters for expecting too much when each poster's primary complaint was that he didn't get them from Point A to Point B. (e.g., "Keep in mind that you're not dealing with Butterfield & Robinson here.") That's how you missed the mark.

In contast, Kathie and shelleyk's posts on this thread have been very helpful. They have detailed their outstanding personal experiences with Min Thu, while giving a fair and objective assessment of Min Thu's unacceptable behavior toward other travelers.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Mar 5th, 2013, 01:43 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I find myself thinking about all the various guides/drivers/etc who have been recommended here and how it always seems to come to this. There was the guide in Siem Reap, then the intertwined stories of Ratt and Tong, now MinThu. All got overwhelmed by the demand for their services.

Some have survived - Ratt, for instance, though we don't often hear about here on Fodors anymore. Others still collect both comments on how wonderful they are and how awful they are - Tong, for example. Tong has a stable of drivers and guides she gives work to. Some visitors are angry that she promises to guide them, then someone else shows up. Others are happy with the guide she has assigned them. A number of times, the new driver/guide has told people that Tong is in the hospital, but then they run into her with others groups of visitors. And everyone knows she has hundreds of unread emails. In spite of this, Tong has built a big business and people continue to book with her, yet her reputation has suffered.

So many people want to go with the driver/guide someone else had a good experience with, but sometimes this creates problems for the person being recommended. Marmot points out that there are literally hundreds of very good drivers/guides in Bali, it's sort of silly to think that you HAVE to go with Putu.

I can't help but feel that those of us who have recommended particular drivers or guides bear some responsibility for all this. Someone like MinThu who has been a horse cart driver for so many (lean) years suddenly has people from all over the world contacting him. I'm sure it is hard to say "no" when the memory of having no customers for weeks on end during the slow times is so fresh.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 5th, 2013, 07:48 PM
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 371
It's clear that there have been a number of different experiences with Min Thu, and expectations always play into one's experience. We had looked forward to having Min Thu as our guide--not just as a horse cart driver, and were surprised at his canceling so casually, but really more disappointed at his general attitude for that very brief time when we did get to go to the temples. Instead of taking us to some of the lesser known ones , which is specifically what we'd requested since we'd be returning with the Pandaw cruise, he started to take us to the large one just outside the Tharabar Gate; we'd already gone there on our own; and so it went--with hisspending quite a bit of time on his cell phone while taking us to two temples and not really telling us very much that we hadn't read on our own. Will, I'd been preparing for our trip for about a year,had done quite a bit of research, but also remembered that it'd been suggested just to let Min Thu choose the temples. That made sense to us. We weren't expecting a dynamic tour guide. Rather, I was expecting someone like the wonderful Pao guides we'd had at Kakku and Lake Inle, who were very attentive and caring--and fun. Min Thu certainly tried to be helpful when my husband got ill and got us back to the hotel as quickly as possible, and I'm sure he had the best of intentions with the Balloons Over Bagan call. Kathie, we HAD to go the BOB office in order to turn in my husband's ticket so it couldn't be used-- they already had resold it--and mine as well. Our refund didn't come until we returned to Yangon, and yes, BOB had to speak to our travel agent, but all that was handled --again--at the BOB office, and they were very pleasant and helpful and certainly more than willing to deal with me and expected to as they needed to have the ticket(s) returned. It was an unfortunate mix-up in all respects, but it did work out. There was a waiting list of about 30 people for the ticket(s) and they resold it for about $50 more than what I'd paid--AND my place was reinstated!

My memory, Will, is that you got very upset when there was a mix-up with Santa Maria about your BOB tickets. I believe you expressed great disappointment and irritation when it looked as if you might not be able to have that experience despite having booked it well in advance and weren't quite prepared to go with the flow. So much of a trip/travel can be about expectations. Most of the posters here put in a great deal of time, thought, care and expense into preparing for their trips. I'm not sure what purpose is served by dismissing someone's disappointment when a reservation isn't held, or a booking disregarded or suggesting that they have unrealistic expectations and are perhaps, too Western in their behavior and cultural understanding--or lack thereof. I think most of the posters on the Asia forum are veteran travelers and are looking for and open to new experiences and cultures. In other words, they're travelers rather than tourists.

Aside from Min Thu's rather cavalier cancellation, every reservation, booking, and plan went exactly as arranged. The Burmese may have different cultural and resource issues, but for the most part the warmth, gracious spirit and very responsible behavior we encountered throughout our trip was very special.

My memory is that we paid 20,000 Kyat ($22) per day for Min Thu's service--we only paid for a half-day the second day; whatever the fee was for our Pandaw guide, Daniel, it was included in the cost of our ten-day Pandaw cruise. He was the guide for the entire cruise, and he was extraordinary. His breadth and depth of knowledge about art, architecture, politics, religion, music, food and many other things, combined with his warmth, charm, openness, and great spirit was exceptional. We've never been on a cruise before--or really any kind of tour, and felt so lucky that it worked out so well--and so much of that was because Daniel was a truly caring person.
520 is offline  
Mar 5th, 2013, 08:31 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 2,433
Agree, 520. I *was* upset. I paid over $500 for the Balloons Over Bagan experience. A far cry from a horse cart ride. There's hundreds of horse cart drivers in Bagan. There's one balloon ride--and a fleeting moment to do it in. Not the best comparison.

Maybe that's the real issue. People are expecting a BoB-level experience with Min Thu. Let's all agree: he's not that, nor does he claim to be. A full service tour guide like the one you describe, 520, is usually something folks pay a premium for. So maybe expectations should be level set about Min Thu in general.

No one is disputing that he shouldn't have dumped anyone or flaked on bookings. But, as I'll state for the 10th, time, for ME, it's about expectation (despite what Holier Than Thou, Esq. may say, I actually am allowed to express my opinion on here, last time I checked.) I don't expect a whole heck of a lot for dirt cheap. Expectation goes up with price for me...not everyone, apparently. Would I have been pissed if it happened to me? For sure...for 10 minutes until I walked down to the front desk and got on with my vacation. That's just me.

Anyone comparing a $20 guide to the experience booking a room at a Hyatt -- sorry, that's kind of a stretch. A better comparison: if I had booked a Motel 6 for $50/night I'd expect just about what I'm paying for. If I booked the Mandarin Oriental for $600/night, I'd expect a whole hell of a lot more. Min Thu is the hostel in that situation. And from my backpacking days, I was lucky to get a room when I arrived at one of those and considering it a score to have gotten such a cheap deal.

Maybe the issue is that we've set Min Thu up as a full-service, professional guide somehow based on our experiences with him here?

Look, I don't want to get into a catfight with y'all, so I best just drop the subject completely. Too many panties in a twist.
filmwill is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 05:28 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,171
Don't understand what money has to do with any of this. I can be more disappointed by a $10 per hour babysitter failing to show, or sending a sub, than by a $1000 per hour lawyer doing the same.
Marija is online now  
Mar 6th, 2013, 05:42 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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If Min Thu finds out that a baby sitter in the US makes $10 an hour he will probably change his job!
Hanuman is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 06:01 AM
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He can charge extra for bringing his horse cart.
Marija is online now  
Mar 6th, 2013, 06:23 AM
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Hanuman, 555!
filmwill is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 06:30 AM
Join Date: Oct 2006
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Marija, you got it! It really doesn't have to do with the money--when it looked as if I'd lost the chance to have the BOB experience, the money was going to be refunded; that wasn't what I was concerned about.

Nor was it Min Thu's small fee. It's about an attitude and responsibility in observing an agreement. What I believe Losaltos was expressing was a justified disappointment in someone's behavior who had come with strong references. And, yes, I think Kathie makes an essential point that Min Thus has probably been overwhelmed--and become somewhat heady with his recent success--and, of course, is hesitant to turn anyone down because of having had a lifetime, really, of great difficulty. I hope he'll learn that not keeping his commitments could be harmful to his business. One of the reasons I'd been hesitant to post anything about our experience is because I didn't want to harm his business. When Losaltos posted her experience, and I remembered that another Fodorite had, also, had a similar experience, I decided to post ours.

Enough said.
520 is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 07:25 AM
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Posts: 15,505
>>Thank you for reporting your grievance, it needed to be told.<<

I agree with ht. That applies to the posts by losaltos as well as the posts by 520.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Mar 8th, 2013, 10:10 AM
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
Well, Minthu just emailed me to bail on us next week. At least he told us in advance. He offered his brother's services for the 2.5 days we are there. Should we accept this, or just find a different horse driver? It seems that you can't reach lots of places by car and that it wouldn't be a good idea to go by car. Let me know your thoughts.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Mar 8th, 2013, 10:17 AM
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
P.S. to my previous post. We are staying in New Bagan. If we should take a horse cart, is it harder to get one from New Bagan and are we better off taking a taxi into old Bagan to find one?
LAX_Esq is offline  
Mar 8th, 2013, 10:50 AM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 1,738
Sorry to hear that, but as you wrote, at least he gave you advanced notice so you can do some alternative planning. Based on my experience last year, I think it would be easier for you to get a horsecart from in front of the Tharbar Gate Hotel in Old Bagan, than in New Bagan. Most of the old temples are in or close to Old Bagan, and in the March heat, I would not want to ride in a horse cart an extra half hour to get from New Bagan to Old Bagan to begin my sightseeing. Perhaps you could split your time between an air conditioned car and a horsecart. You are correct that there are some temples that are only accessible by horse cart.

As far as a substitute for Min Thu, I think the people who used Min Thu's brother were satisfied with him. I also remember that on Trip Advisor several people mentioned horse cart drivers, other than Min Thu, with whom they had a good experience. Maybe you could post there and see if you can get the name or contact of a recommended horse cart diver. If not, bring a guide book with you which will give you a general idea of what the temple's architectural features are. Hope you Have a wonderful trip despite this.
shelleyk is online now  
Mar 9th, 2013, 11:59 AM
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
I asked minthu if he had any recs for another horse guy and he said he can send a friend. Would you go this way or take a random horse guy? I'm inclined to go with minthu's friend.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Mar 9th, 2013, 11:59 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,076
When we visited Bagan in July, we had booked Min Thu for 4 days. We ended up doing car trips with his brother/cousin (who we called Joe) for 2 of the days. We had a really great time with both of them so I wouldn't hesitate at all going. But do check on whether the time would be horse cart or car.
FromDC is offline  
Mar 13th, 2013, 07:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 192
All: I thought I would send an update on all this now that I am somewhere with good wifi access. I did get an email about two days after MT failed to show. I had sent him one explaining that we were disappointed and that if he wanted to protect his great reputation, he needed to communicate better with his clients. (No Will I was not patronizing....) He responded with an apology and a "thanks for sharing your learning" message. He said he wanted to become a good tour guide and the information was helpful. I like to think that our experience -- perhaps combined with disappointment felt and expressed by others -- has contirubted to the fact that he actually gave a heads-up to other clients about needing to cancel his services. In the end I hopes his reputation will be enhanced, not damaged.
losaltos is offline  
Mar 13th, 2013, 08:36 PM
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I'm sorry, did I say you were patronizing?
filmwill is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 06:55 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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I don't like the cheap shot at Will.

Looks like you and Min Thu learned something about each others culture through this exchange. Thank you for sharing.

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Mar 15th, 2013, 05:17 AM
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 305
To all here, Burma is still 3rd world, struggling with visitor pressures.

It really can't cope with the numbers, much like Vietnam in the 1990s and Cambodia in the 2000s.

You need to be patient. They're getting there, though.
mareeS55 is offline  

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