Owner of Sans Souci Cyclo continues to ride

Do Anh Thu is the director of the Sans Souci Tourism Cyclo Services Company. He is regarded as the saviour of the cyclo (pedicab), which is a beautiful and traditional characteristic of Ha Noi. Thu talked about the ups and downs in his life and career.
What makes Sans Souci so famous and special in Viet Nam’s tourism industry? Maybe because it was the first cyclo
company in the world. Perhaps it is more special because I graduated from the Ha Noi National University of Education. Hard times pushed me to find a temporary job to earn a living when my History degree could not help, no one ever imagined that I would stay so strongly attached to this career. Last but not least, I gave my company a unique French name: Sans Souci – "No worries!" How many cyclos and drivers are there in your company? Out of the 264 cyclos that have been authorised by the Ha Noi People’s Committee, we have 95 cyclos driven by around 135 people, making us the largest of the four cyclo companies in Ha Noi. Some families have multiple members working for Sans Souci. A few years ago, there were five members of one family working as Sans Souci cyclo drivers. How does Sans Souci compete with other companies? It is definitely not on price because our service is a bit more expensive than the other three companies. We signed contracts with travel agencies for a price of VND30, 000 ($1.5) per customer per hour, while the other companies only charge VND25, 000 ($1.2). However, due to the economic depression, there has been a decrease in tourism in Viet Nam. Because of this, we had to lower our service fee to match the competition, but theirs also dropped to VND20, 000 ($1) to attract customers. But our company does not have to worry about that. Not only do we provide customers with a good service, we also have prestige in the cyclo market. There are usually three levels of tour pricing offered by travel agencies, and those who buy more expensive tour packages are always provided with Sans Souci cyclo service. Even foreign embassies in Ha Noi contact me directly to book cyclo tours for their guests. Do weather conditions and air pollution in the city bring disadvantages to riding in a cyclo? They do, but not much. A bit of dust and heat does not really bother my passengers. Besides, my drivers always carry raincoats for customers in case it suddenly rains. On the subject of weather conditions, I have an unforgettable memory to share. A few years ago, it rained heavily while I was accompanying a European tourist. I offered to pull the cyclo roof up to keep him from getting wet, but he refused. He told me that: "I have enjoyed different rains in many countries and continents, from Europe to America, from Africa to Asia, at railway stations and ferry terminals. But I have never experienced the feeling of being rained on in a cyclo. This has given me the perfect opportunity to enjoy it". His simple reason moved me a lot; it also made the love for my career grow in my heart day by day. You became a cyclo driver with a bachelor of history, did your family support you? In 1990, when I decided to buy a cyclo to earn money, my family strongly opposed the decision. My relatives of six generations, though not famous, were all teachers and doctors. They thought that by taking this job, I had smeared our family name. No one encouraged me at all. How about your wife and children? My wife was a construction worker. Now she helps me with my work and is an assistant manager on Sans Souci’s management board. My two daughters followed in my footsteps at university by studying history. The elder now teaches history at a secondary school, and the younger is a third-year student. They are not ashamed but really proud of their father because in their minds, I am a hero for rescuing cyclo’s image from oblivion. My second daughter even hopes to work in tourism like me. How do you manage the whole company? My colleagues have to work hard to earn just a small amount of money each day. Moreover, their income depends on the number of tourists and tours. Therefore, I set up a policy to pay them at the end of each day, rather than monthly, to encourage them and also support their daily expenses. All Sans Souci drivers have to memorise the company’s regulations, one of which is that they are not allowed to ask for tips. A driver can take $1-2 from tourists who appreciate his hard work and enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to get as many bookings as possible to provide them with opportunities to work. To effectively work out a schedule for each driver, I have built up three boards in my company; the management board, the dispatcher board and the security board. The management board includes me as the director, a deputy director, an accountant and a cashier. The duty of the security board is to take care of cyclos, drivers and parking places and remind them not to break the company’s rules. If anybody violates three times, a small sum of money is collected as a fine to be put into the company’s fund for use on special occasions such as visiting or supporting sick drivers. Are all the Sans Souci uniforms designed by your company members? Actually, I did the designs by myself. Several years ago, a foreign customer asked to buy my T-shirt after we finished the journey. Thinking that he was just kidding, I gave him a price of $5 at random. He surprised me by asking to buy all of our T-shirts, even though they had been worn several times, just because he liked the positive name - Sans Souci. We were so happy and proud that we decided to design more T-shirts to sell to foreign tourists. Having lots of experience in arranging cyclo tours and a knowledge of history gained from studying at college, have you ever thought of starting your own travel agency and incorporating cyclo services into full tours? Some interpreters from travel agencies that book tours with us have suggested this to me several times. They are even willing to help me get started with interpretation. However, there are many dangers preventing me from realising my dream. The main danger is the authorities’ embargo on cyclos. What upsets us the most is that there are many unregistered cyclos still working in the city and sometimes not following the traffic regulations, which seriously affects our company’s reputation. So what are your plans for the future? I always focus on reminding our cyclists to be dedicated to their work and to take traffic laws seriously. Only in doing so can we save the reputation as well as the image of Sans Souci in people’s eyes, and persuade authorities to let us continue our work. I am 61 years old now, not young enough to be too ambitious. I just hope that the next generation of cyclo drivers will continue to conserve and improve this charming trait of ancient Ha Noi.