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Bus Travel in the US—an Overview for Visitors

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Bus travel takes a different role in the car-driven culture of the United States than it does in most countries. Because the area of the US is so vast, flying is often the most attractive transportation option for traveling between cities and can be priced quite competitively when factoring in time and convenience. For shorter distances driving is usually the first choice for US domestic travelers. However, for routes that are under five or six hours, the bus is almost always the most economical and often the most convenient form of travel. Furthermore, as Amtrak (the national rail service) continues to see cuts in government funding, bus service is often the only ground transportation option for many destinations. Visitors who are planning to stick to major cities will most likely find having a car to be inconvenient, expensive, and unnecessary. Therefore, taking the bus between destinations is a great option.

Many Americans view traveling by bus with some trepidation, and, whether deserved or not, bus service in the US often has the reputation of being rather basic. In truth, the level of service varies greatly among bus carriers. Some carriers, like LuxBus in California or Transfloridian in Florida, offer deluxe buses and feature services that are rarely even found on airlines today, such as on-board entertainment and complimentary food and beverage service. Still, standard bus service is generally more on the budget level and offers few amenities. Food options are more likely to be a ten minute stop at a roadside fast food restaurant than on-board meal service.

The bus industry in the United States is dominated by Greyhound, which is the only remaining nationwide bus carrier. Several other companies such as Trailways and Coach USA are made up of independently owned bus companies that share marketing functions and branding. In addition there are several strong regional players in the bus industry. While these companies compete with Greyhound, they often end up sharing service on routes that do not have enough traffic to sustain two carriers. This is similar to “code sharing” in the airline industry.

The most recent development in the U.S. bus industry has been the “Chinatown bus” phenomenon. Several years ago a few enterprising business people in New York’s Chinatown started running buses from Chinatown in NY to Chinatown in Boston, charging less than half of what traditional bus companies did and a fraction of what it cost to take the train or fly. They targeted Asian immigrants who wanted to shop or visit relatives and needed inexpensive and convenient transportation. Although the buses were modern and comfortable, the service was bare bones—no advertising, customer service, or bus stations. Customers simply went to the bus stop, waited for the bus, and paid the driver upon boarding. For those willing to do without frills, these companies offered virtually the same service as Greyhound at a substantially lower price. Before long, word spread about the service and all kinds of travelers started using these bus lines. They became especially popular with students, budget travelers, and people for whom the service was simply more convenient.

Soon more bus companies duplicated this model and started offering service in other markets. Now you can find this type of bus service in Philadelphia, Virginia, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. At this point the term “Chinatown bus” is used more loosely to describe this sort of low-cost/low-frills service. Many, if not most, of the company’s do not have Chinatown as there main location and may not cater to the immigrant population at all. When these companies first started operating, concerns were raised about safety standards. There is still controversy within the industry about whether these low-cost bus companies are complying with the same regulations as the traditional companies. Nonetheless, all bus companies operating in the U.S. must undergo the same inspection standards and must comply with the same rules.

Finding information about scheduled bus service is not always easy for visitors to the US. Historically bus companies have sold tickets at on-site ticket booths. Many now sell through their own websites as well. Whereas for plane travel there are many online booking sites that allow travelers to compare different carriers, it is more difficult to find route information for bus service. GotoBus.com is a centralized booking site focused on bus travel. It offers search capability similar to Expedia or Travelocity and sells tickets for many different bus and tour companies.

Overall, the bus is a great option for visitors to the US who are looking for transportation between major US cities. For most cities, a car is not necessary and will be inconvenient and expensive. In metropolitan areas there are more choices for bus service today than at any time in the recent past. Particularly for shorter distances, it is the best way to go for the budget minded traveler.

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Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat

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Most of this is true, but that’s not the only local reality where things get pretty ugly, too. Unless this reality is recognized and seriously addressed, Da Lat will lose its charm and become a shadow of itself.

Here’s an unflattering picture of the other side.

When walking or running on a sidewalk around Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat in the early morning, at a certain point you can no longer stay on the sidewalk. One is forced to walk or run into the street as there can be up to ten street kitchens completely blocking sidewalk access. Going out on a street at night can be a bit dangerous as there are quite a number of drunk drivers on the road at night, some driving at speeds well in excess of 120km/h.

These street vendors sell food and drink in plastic bowls and cups. Plastic waste is scattered about a hundred meters in front of and behind their stands. Food and drink thrown away or spilled on sidewalks and streets is a common sight.

Because food safety isn’t monitored regularly, or because people might be very drunk, it’s also not uncommon to see vomit on sidewalks. Open stool and urination is a regular occurrence in the early hours of the morning.

There are many signs along the lake advising that making fires is forbidden, but the street vendors completely ignore them. Many tourists from warmer parts of Vietnam easily come to Da Lat in shorts and T-shirts, despite the colder weather. Street vendors want these visitors to stay warm so they stay longer and buy more food and drink. Sidewalks are often blackened with ash from these staying-warm fires.

When I was photographing these fires, a street vendor threatened to stab me with scissors several times. Some vendors started throwing rocks. A man tried to grab my walking stick and the cell phone I use to take pictures. I reported these incidents to the police but they took no action.

These charcoal fires release many deadly toxins such as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and benzene. When street vendors run out of charcoal, some start burning plastic waste. Burning plastic waste releases dioxins and other highly toxic substances. A piece of dioxin the size of a grain of rice is enough to poison a million people.

To keep their customers happy, some street vendors sell beer and other alcoholic beverages. Some install large speakers so their customers can sing and make lots of noise when they get totally drunk. Not infrequently, the karaoke singing continues until 4 a.m. and can be heard up to two miles away. Although the law prohibits singing karaoke after 10:30 p.m., this law is not enforced around Xuan Huong Lake. Once I heard karaoke singing in three different places around the lake, all blaring at the same time.

Almost everything I have described so far represents laws that are constantly being broken. But why don’t street vendors and their customers obey the law when it’s clearly stated on signs in the area?

The answer is simple.

Laws are not enforced. I have more than 12,000 pictures on my files of breaking the law in this city that gets dirty and ugly quite often, but I didn’t see a fine being issued when I called the police to intervene — not once.

A policeman explained it to me in a somewhat pompous way. If the police consistently enforce laws, it would infuriate many people, and with many angry people out and about, the country’s stability would be undermined and civil unrest could ensue.

The same officer went on to explain that if the police strictly enforce the law, things could get out of hand very quickly. People could become violent, and if the police hit back to defend themselves, controversy would ensue.

Police Policing

With a huge police force and militia, Vietnam has everything it needs to counter the violence and maintain political stability. So what’s the problem?

For many years, the police in Division 8 themselves have blatantly flouted the laws about dumping trash, throwing cigarette butts on the ground, and burning garbage. They even ran a fire pit on police property.

How can the police enforce laws when they themselves break them all the time?

On October 31, I informed a senior police officer in Da Lat that I have over 12,000 pictures of people breaking laws – laws related to setting fires on sidewalks, burning trash, dumping trash, dumping of waste and fishing in the filthy waters of Da Lat Xuan Huong Lake and its stinking lagoons, singing karaoke until 4 a.m., binge drinking, drunk driving, high speed motorcycle racing and so on.

I was surprised when he explained that I should not photograph people breaking the law unless their lawlessness directly impacted my safety and well-being.

Surely it is every citizen’s duty to record violations of the law and report them to law enforcement?

Even when someone threatened me with violence, he advised me not to take photos and to report the person to the police unless I had stab wounds or other injuries.

I was stunned.

I think the government needs to be much more serious about enforcing its most basic safety and environmental laws. If it doesn’t, it won’t be able to tackle far bigger things like the impact of global warming, carbon neutrality and sustainable development.

Photos by Paul A. Olivier of public waste in Da Lat:

*Paul A. Olivier is an American expat living and working in Da Lat.



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How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level

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Kodak Moment: How two 3D artists from Hyderabadi are popularizing overpasses, roads and city buildings on a global scale

Hyderabad: For most of us, photography means clicking photos of a beautiful sunset, landscape or people. But Laxman Pithani and Nikhil Chakravarthy from Hyderabad are crazy about new buildings, roads, highways, flyovers and other infrastructure projects in the city.

“When you’re driving on a newly constructed freeway, with not many vehicles and hardly anyone to stop you or ask you anything, you have a kind of absolute freedom. We both enjoy it,” says Nikhil.

Laxman and Nikhil jointly run a Twitter and YouTube page, Traveling with Laxman, where they post videos and photos of newly constructed or inaugurated flyovers, roads and buildings. They have released drone footage of the Uppal SkyWalk project, the renovated Yadagirigutta Temple, Gandipet Park, the Biodiversity Flyover and more.

Laxman (left) and Nikhil (right) at the recently inaugurated Shilpa layout transition

Her most recent work was the transition of the Shilpa layout. When the city witnessed their first Formula E racing event, they were there to capture the track on which the race took place. On their Twitter Page Travel with Laxman, they have around 2,806 followers and on their youtube Page they have around 57,000 subscribers.

Transition of the Shilpa layout

It’s not about the end product. But Laxman and Nikhil began pursuing infrastructure projects in the city from the start. “If there are upcoming projects, we consult the person concerned and get detailed information about it. We shoot it from start to finish,” says Laxman.

In this way, it helps the audience to keep up to date with the progress of these projects.

T hub

When Laxman met Nikhil

Laxman is originally from Hyderabad but Nikhil is from Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. He moved to Hyderabad in 2002. Both met in 2007 in an animation institute `Arena; where they served as 3D training faculty. Here they taught the students how to use animation techniques in films and character forms. They later moved on to teach interior design at the same institute. In 2015 they both joined Custom Furnish, a company specializing in interior design, where they worked as 3D artists. In 2019, Nikhil left and Laxman continued for another year and a half before retiring in 2021.

Durgam Cheruvu Bridge

Ever since they met, they have discovered their shared passion for travel. Your definition of travel sounds very unique and interesting. “We both love to explore unknown roads. I can drive straight for 10 hours without thinking about the destination. We used to always discover new roads, overpasses, buildings, etc. on such trips, which fascinated us a lot. Each specific destination where nobody bothered us gave us a different kind of freedom,” explains Nikhil.

Until December 2021, Laxman and Nikhil were doing this as a part-time job. But in December 2021 both resigned and started doing so full-time.

Her work is now also being recognized by the Telangana government, which is asking for her help in getting photos of some of the infrastructure projects in the city.

Command and Control Center, Banjara Hills

Development in Hyderabad

Both Laxman and Nikhil say the pace of development in Hyderabad has been very fast compared to other cities. “I was born here, so I’m really excited to see the city developing at this pace,” says Laxman. Nikhil adds: “Something happens every week that it just can’t keep up with this speed. For example, the other day when the Shilpa layout flyover was inaugurated, on the same day Skyroot Aerospace’s private rocket was launched from Sriharikota.”

transfer of biodiversity

In addition to updating townspeople on the development, Travel with Laxman now allows many expatriate Hyderabadis to regain their lost connection with the city. “We have people calling from places like the United States and telling us they’re excited about how their city is doing,” says Laxman.

Renovated Yadadrigutta Temple

The duo are happy to be able to fill this gap faced by Hyderabadis living elsewhere.



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Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning

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Jamie Hart, 36, and Daniel Sutton, 44

Western Australian senior graphic designer Jamie and welder Daniel always knew their wedding should be small and intimate, but they also wanted an element of surprise.

The couple, who met online in March 2021, had planned a trip to Indonesia and made the spur of the moment decision to elope because why not? They were too excited to wait a year to tie the knot, so they turned their engagement party into a secret wedding celebration.

After legally signing the papers at The Old Tower House in Perth a week earlier, Jamie and Daniel said ‘yes, I do’ in Bali, with Daniel honorably taking Jamie’s maiden name, Hart.

Jamie Hart and Daniel Sutton get married on the beach in Bali.
camera iconJamie Hart and Daniel Sutton get married on the beach in Bali. Recognition: Srivijaya Stories

When and where

The big day took place on October 22, 2022 on the white sandy beaches of the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa.

Jamie and Daniel's big day in Nusa Dua, Bali.
camera iconJamie and Daniel’s big day in Nusa Dua, Bali. Recognition: Srivijaya Stories

a dress

Jamie’s dress of choice, Morilee, was by New York bridal designer Madeline Gardner.

Jamie's dress was a stunning Madeline Gardner piece.
camera iconJamie’s dress was a stunning Madeline Gardner piece. Recognition: Srivijaya Stories

honeymoon

There was no need to travel to their honeymoon destination as the newlyweds were already there! They celebrated in Nusa Dua, Ubud, Seminyak and Canggu.

Jamie and Daniel started their honeymoon in Bali.
camera iconJamie and Daniel started their honeymoon in Bali. Recognition: Srivijaya Stories

If you would like to be featured, send your wedding details and high resolution photos to [email protected]

Add details about when, where, dress information, honeymoon and anything that made your big day special!

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