Disclaimer: The situations described in this article are taken from anecdotal experiences and are by no means representative of the average travelers’ experience in Vietnam. While the scams and tricks described here do happen in Vietnam (and the rest of the world), the Vietnamese are by and large a beautiful and gracious people. This article is primarily meant to entertain so take it in the satirical and light-hearted manner it was written and enjoy!
It is now officially summer time, and many of you are planning or already on your way to travel to Vietnam. You may have already received advice about the “one-third rule” of bargaining, checking pockets after a stranger bumps into you, or only riding cabs from reputable companies. Those things are considered basics and will not be covered in this article because I’m going for something a little more extreme. Just to be clear, these are not the kind of situations you should expect to run into—they are the horror stories your mom warned you about and tourists trade in backpacker cafes. But keep them in mind so that the next time you get a $50 cab fare or are beaten to death by a group of Vietnamese thugs, you know something’s up. Well, are you ready to take notes?
Be Careful in EVERY Taxi!
If you don’t have friends or family to pick you up, riding a taxi is probably your top choice. When doing so, a good rule-of-thumb is to use reputable taxi companies. That varies by destination and you should do your own research to find out which taxis to take. However, VNExpress has written about how some big-name taxis may actually be fakes here, so you MAY NEVER BE SAFE. Follow these guidelines, however, and you will be. First, keep your eyes glued onto the price meter. Some taxi drivers can tweak their meter in the blink of an eye to double the fare, and the taxi company is not part of this “fishy business.” When getting off, you should also ask the cab driver to help you unload your baggage or keep the passenger door open until you’re done getting your belongings. Most drivers will help you with unloading, but I have witnessed a few naïve tourists think that the taxi won’t go anywhere until the fare is paid. Well, as soon as the passenger door was shut, the taxi rolled away with everything still in the trunk. If this happens to you, good luck calling the fake taxi company to get your stuff back!
Hotel Reservation – No Rooms Available!
Most taxi drivers appear to be very nice to tourists, but actually they’re all out to get you and your first-born. Tourists often get tricked when their taxi driver (by using their magic reservation-checking powers, or an iPhone app) informs them that their reserved hotel room is no longer available. The driver will then graciously take the lost and confused tourist to hotels with higher rates where the driver is paid for referrals. So, never trust your taxi driver to call or check in the hotel for you. Always ask to talk to the manager of the hotel directly, even in English or your own language, until you have given up on the communication.
You’re Being Spied On!
This is a warning for all the ladies and couples checking into hotels. All shady hotels secretly install cameras in your room and bathroom. Check every corner of your place for cameras and suspicious items in the room. Alarm clock is usually the perfect item to install a spy cam. Check and see if your alarm clock has some funny looking lense. Or just check into your town’s local six star hotel for slightly more privacy. The last thing you want to see is a “not-so-nice” photo or video of you on the internet.
Tour Guide For Free?
That would be nice, but here is a true story: one of my close friends was visiting the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh for his first time in Hanoi. As he was about to enter the entrance, a very friendly looking Vietnamese gentleman came by and spoke English to him after recognizing that my dear friend isn’t a Vietnamese native. He introduced himself as a History student at the top university in Vietnam, where he would soon be receiving his doctorate. He said that it was his second time visiting the Ho Chi Minh tomb in order to finish one of his dissertations. He offered a free tour inside the mausoleum to my naïve friend. He also helped my poor friend check in his bag and camera at the entrance. After a 10 minute tour inside, he then excused himself to the restroom for a minute. He then checked out my friend’s bag and camera, took the exit, and never returned. So admit it: there is no such thing as a free lunch. And if you ever get offered one, eat it with one hand while holding your camera and bag in the other!
Scooter On Fire!
Riding a scooter in Vietnam is the most thrilling experience ever. However, riding a smoky scooter is not thrilling at all (or perhaps too thrilling). This fact has been used on people riding scooters in suburban areas for long distances to force the victim to immediately fix their scooter.
The scenario might play out as follows:
As you ride your scooter, someone will follow behind you and throw a burning piece of rubber that sticks to the back of your scooter. This piece of rubber will create quite a bit of smoke for at least a few minutes. The guy will then drive in front to let you know that your scooter is on fire. He will introduce himself to you as a mechanic and offer to fix your scooter on the spot for a small fee (ranging from 50-70 USD). Many tourists lacking burning-scooter expertise will then pay money to get their scooter “fixed”. So next time someone tells you your scooter is on fire, just ignore them (unless your scooter really is on fire, which you can only be sure of if your hair catches fire).
How Many Holes In Your Tire?
Similar to the “scooter on fire” trick, this tactic is used by all mechanics who sit on the curbside with their tool box. When I was riding my scooter in Vietnam, one of my tires suddenly blew up. Looking around, I was able to spot a mechanic sitting on the curb about a hundred feet away. I wasn’t aware of this trick and took my bike to him for repair. He told me upfront the price of each hole that he would have to patch for my tire. After agreeing to the price, I went over to a dessert vendor next door to get some “che`” while I waited for him to finish. When I came back, he showed me my poor tire being covered with 15 patches and handed me a nail to prove what he has discovered in my tire. Looking at the nail with its big head, I thought to myself that there was no way it could make 15 holes in my tire. If there were more nails on the road, my other tire would have popped as well. Learn from my experience and make sure to firmly tell your mechanic to not poke any extra holes in your tire. You might also want to try standing behind his back and watching his every move, but some mechanics have gotten so good at hole-poking that you won’t be able to catch it unless you record them while they do their repairs and play it back in slow-mo.
Before Your Bus Or Train About To Leave …
Do not buy anything through the windows! Often times, you will see a lot of people trying to sell you things through the windows of your bus or train. As soon as you hand them your money and wait for change, they will start walking away. You should never trust anybody you can’t immediately chase after, especially before your bus or train is about to leave.
Luring The Tiger Out Of The Mountain
I have witnessed quite a few of these situations with my very eyes. Before you turn on your scooter engine, look around for anyone standing next to you. This should be done all the time when you are carrying valuable items with you. An example: a foreigner turned on his scooter engine and was about to put his helmet on. The trickster that was standing near there suddenly yanked the helmet from the foreigner and ran away. The foreigner got off his scooter without turning off the engine and chased the guy. The trickster threw the helmet about ten feet away. Looking confused, the foreigner proceeded to go pick up his helmet. The trickster then ran back, jumped on the victim’s scooter and fled away while the poor foreigner had just picked up his helmet from the ground looking puzzled.
Be Nice To The Ladies, But Not All The Time!
As a gentleman, you must be nice to the ladies, whether it is in Vietnam or in a different country. However, the notion of being nice to the ladies everywhere doesn’t imply “all the time.” Seeing an old Vietnamese lady carrying some heavy load always spurs the chivalrous man to come offer a hand. If you decide to help her, be careful if she starts leading you to an empty alley. If she does, you should stop for a few seconds, look around for any suspicious activities, analyze the situation to decide whether you should proceed in helping her carry the item to her final destination.
It might be a good time for you to take out your Lonely Planet guidebook and see if this particular alley was warned about. You might also consider asking the lady to wait for a moment while you call your local Embassy/Consulate to ask if they have issued a travel advisory about this alley. Many cases have been reported of tourists being robbed, mugged, and beaten to death in an alley or other remote area by old Vietnamese ladies. Sometimes, refusing to be nice can save you from deep trouble.
To Wrap It Up…
Vietnam is a beautiful country and Vietnamese people very kind and welcoming. You probably won’t run into any of the situations discussed above on your trip, but if you do at least you’ll know some things to look out for. In fact, just count yourself lucky for going through such an interesting experience and share it with us!
So do you have any scary experiences that you would like to share with us from your trip to Vietnam?