Nov 22 2010

That’s Hanoi-ying

While our initial impressions of Vietnam were fantastic, we soon fell victim to a syndrome warned of by the Lonely Planet: feeling paranoid that we were constantly becoming victims. Vietnam, more than any country we’ve visited, put us on guard of being ripped off.

We’d spend five minutes negotiating a relatively fair price for something, and then the seller would pocket our money and try not to give any change. Every taxi meter started at a different price and went up not just by different amounts of money, but in different increments of distance and time. Taxis outside tourist attractions were even worse – after leaving the Ho Chi Minh museum, Peter and I took separate cabs (I wanted to go to a hip hop class) and both were overcharged so outrageously that we each got out early. When I pointed out to my driver that his meter was bumping up approximately every five seconds and insisted that he pull over, he then accused me of being a “Very bad lady.” (“And you are a bad man,” I replied.) Peter’s told him that it was his fault, since he’d chosen to be picked up in an expensive part of town.

We heard stories of people selling counterfeit bus and boat tickets several steps away from the legitimate ticket offices; there is even a scam where people open hotels with the same name as other hotels, and hire cab drivers to go to the airport and ferry passengers to the fake version. (Sometimes the fake version is run-down/closed, and so the would-be guest goes to the guesthouse recommended by the cab driver — and owned by the scheme’s mastermind.) Check out the number of pages our guidebook devoted to ways you can get ripped off, as compared to other hazards:

Landmines: 209, 482-3

Malaria: 514-15

Scams: 90-1, 104, 351-53, 476, 481-2

The result is that you begin to feel that everyone is out to get you, which doesn’t make traveling a very pleasant experience. We found the best solution was to arrange pickups at the bus or train station so that we didn’t have to deal with taxis at all – which led to this welcome in Bac Ha (I didn’t get a photo till the sign had almost been destroyed).

My favorite scam, though, was this ambush that Peter coincidentally caught on camera as we were trying to take a movie that would show what it’s like to cross the street in Hanoi. After lots of smiles and an insistence that we take a photo, this woman demanded I buy a bag of sliced pineapple from her. In this particular case, though, the video was worth the price.