My First (And Hopefully Last) Magical Experience of Vietnam
15th January, 2012
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I have not yet set my foot in Vietnam but she had pulled a hat trick on me here in the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila -- Amazing!
Before I applied for a visa in Manila, I did my online homework bearing in mind that the fee in Cambodia is $25, in Thailand it's $45. Two weeks ago I came to the Embassy and was quoted by this Vietnamese looking/speaking officer for a fee of $77. Shocked, nevertheless, I still filed my application.
$77 --- Double Seven, that figure is very memorable for me. First of all, it was exorbitantly high, I was expecting it at $20 to $50 but not in the range of $70s and what more, it's not a round figure neither it is divisible by five. Thus, I can never be mistaken by that number, a very striking number that reverberated in my mind on a very poignant day. I even logged it in my notes and at the same time complained about it in public travel forums. That can never be erased, and repeatedly, I can never be mistaken -- $77 stuck in my mind.
On the eve of pick-up I readied minted bills of 1-$50, 1-$20, 1-$5, and 2-$1 totaling in all $77, folded and inserted them separately from the bills inside my wallet. On pick-up day, I ask to confirm the fee and the Vietnamese officer echoed the same price he quoted (Philippine P3,400 or US$77) before. He pulled out my passport, did some pen pushing and passed it over to his colleague. Simultaneously, I readied easily the $77.
The other officer, a Filipino-looking clerk (browner complexioned than the first guy, and flat-nosed, surly in manners, never spoke or gave away his accent or knowledge of the Vietnamese language) received my passport and signaled me to stand in front of him. I slipped the $77 through the cinema/bank booth like window counter. He took the money, pasted the visa into my passport, stamped it, then slipped the passport to me through the same slot in the window.
My first reaction is to check the visa until even while walking down the gate. That was the only thing that matter to me that day. Everything else is not important.
Days after or yesterday night, I was packing up my clothes for this trip and discarding things and trashes, I came across my passport, flipped it and I noticed a paper stuck on it. It was the Vietnamese visa receipt folded neatly in three panels. I opened it, made a quick glance and my eyes were locked on the figure $72. That figure doesn't seem to ring a bell. I let my mind scan my memory and somewhere there, it was telling me I didn't pay $72, I paid $77. Hmm, let me check, something smells fishy here. Let me probe further. I checked my expenses notes, I was shocked, I paid $77 for the visa! My jaw dropped realizing that these people can do this thing!
It can't be true, my conscience tells me, do a double, triple check. The figure says $72. The handwriting of the first seven guided me how the next seven should be written, but the next seven is definitely written as two and by any stretch of imagination, it couldn't be ambiguously written down as seven to look like two.
Secondly, I remembered the officer quoted me 3,400 if I pay by Philippine Pesos. By the going rate at somewhere around P43-44 to a dollar, it would rightly be around the ballpark of US$77. If it is at US$72, then he should have quoted me at 3,168 Philippine Pesos. 3,400 is so audibly far fetched from 3,168.
I swear that the basis of my accusation is true and did my homework before publishing it, that the focus of my story is specific to these two consular officers working in the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila on the first two weeks of January, 2012 that I am laying my name and reputation here. I may be in trouble but it is a fact I am willing to take the risk.
Taking in consideration that it would be an exercise in futility, what is $5 after all? My conscience and other opinions prevailed not to make a hullabaloo over it and complain. These guys have immunities and chances are their superior will side with them.
But what if $5 kickback multiplied by 20 applications a week or even a day?
But what if these guys have not been eating three square meals a day? The first guy surely looks lean and he couldn't even afford to wear business shirt and tie. He dressed like a street vendor.
But what if $72 may not be $72 at all? What if the official charge could be $20 or $30?
Or maybe it's just $20 and they put me forcibly on expedited track even if I don't want to, to justify the $72. They may have added extra overtime pay to their pockets.
Whatever it is that made them do this sleight of the hand, it is not fare and I'm just a poor kid putting my three years of hard earned savings on this trip.
And whatever, I hope that this anecdote through this forum, it will be picked up by someone and things will change for the better.
I never expect these things will happen, let alone in an Embassy, where my first encounter of authentic Vietnamese people takes place and where I expect their best Vietnamese representatives will put their best foot forward.
#1 Posted: 16/1/2012 - 02:25
15th January, 2008
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I am sorry ro hear about your experience my friend but I'm afraid you are going to have to get used to it.The foreigner is seen as a walking ATM in this part of the world and Vietnam is particularly bad, with you expected to pay double for everything, solely on the fact you are a foreigner.It's the same here in Cambodia.they try to double the price for everything.My advise is stand your ground.Don't listen to the guidebooks and give in-as far as I.m concerned they are just thieves.In the days when the only car you'd see in Cambodia was a battered Camry I felt more sympathetic but now every other car is a giant luxury gas guzzler paid for by Western aid (LOL) but guess what, the owners of these cars don't get double priced although they are much richer than me.No, they wouldn't dare.
My policy now when the beggars congregate around us Barang is to point them to the fancy cars parked all around and tell them to see the people with the money to give.
The visa situation is a little bit better in Cambodia apart from the crooks at the Koh Kong crossing who demand a whopping 1000 baht for a $20 visa which works out at around $33.Greed and corruption are the main industries here and much of the tourist areas of Vietnam are the same. In fairness, I've found if you can get away from the tourist areas the people are very friendly and accomodating but the problem is top down.The rich rip the poor off and the foreigner is at the bottom of the pile and fair game for those that don't have the power to take on their own elite. The only country I've found which seems to operate a fair policy is Thailand where I know they won't try to charge me double just because I'm a foreigner.Maybe the Thais have a modicum of pride.
#2 Posted: 16/1/2012 - 03:24
17th March, 2009
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Overseas Vietnamese embassies/consulates have pretty much free reign to set their own visa fees. They also frequently lie to travellers & tell them that there is no such thing as visa on arrival in Vietnam, which is not true. But as they are mostly relatives of government officials they can operate with impunity.
"The only country I've found which seems to operate a fair policy is Thailand where I know they won't try to charge me double just because I'm a foreigner.Maybe the Thais have a modicum of pride."
Ever tried getting a taxi in Bangkok after 10pm if you're a foreigner? Or a tuk-tuk in Phuket? I had a guy in Kata try to charge me $5 for a 500-metre journey (I had a heavy suitcase). True, you're less likely to be overcharged in Thailand than in Vietnam but it does happen.
#3 Posted: 16/1/2012 - 20:52
15th January, 2008
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True. One should never say never but Thailand is relativley good.
Restaurants, shops etc I don't find I have to ask the price in advance, they are usually fair.(Before some on here get the wrong idea I am just referring to one aspect of Thai living.)
'Ever tried getting a taxi in Bangkok after 10pm if you're a foreigner?' '
I have no doubt you have had a bad experience but you DO surprise me.
Most of the taxi-drivers in Bangkok come from Isan and are amongst the nicest, fairest people I've met. Maybe it was outside Khaosan Road or Soi 4 or somewhere like that? Because that's where most of the crooked ones hang out. It's very rarely that I even have to ask them to turn on the meter. Don't forget his/her badge number should be displayed and you can put in a complaint though I'd be ingterested in the result
#4 Posted: 16/1/2012 - 21:43
i've never been to vietnam so i can't comment on that specific aspect of this problem, but i think you'll have a much happier trip if you just let this roll off your back. consider it part of the cost of doing business and let it go. like sayadian says, this double standard for pricing is not all that rare, and if you let it get to you it will ruin more than a few days.
having said that, i also agree that it doesn't happen as much as you'd think, and that most of the time you get treated pretty well in southeast Asia and plenty of times you get preferencial treatment just for being the foreign visitor. my own experience is that i've received special treatment many more times over than i've been ripped off. if someone tries to rip you off, let them own the bad karma - don't let it own you. a smile and a few polite words still go a long way in places like Thailand, and at least with food vendors and taxis, on the very rare chance that someone tries to rip you off, you can go to another food stand or hail a different taxi. cheers.
#5 Posted: 16/1/2012 - 22:28
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