After travelling around SEA for two months scam free, we (a couple) were excited for our trip to Vietnam. Sure it is commonplace in SEA to be overcharged and given the incorrect change and when this happens, we smile and move on knowing the money will go further for the person that has taken it than it will for us (not that this makes it right, but maybe this is a culture thing?).
Now travelling for two months in SEA and staying scam free means that we have done extensive research on what to look out for, what not to do and also how to act, however, in Vietnam it's a whole new ball game. We are sharing our story in the hope that it may help someone be more vigilant and save being scammed (maybe).
We knew when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh from Cambodia, only to use a reputable taxi firm to reach our hotel. So Vinasun taxi it was. The logo, the number the lot. Before flagging down a taxi we used wifi to find out how far our accommodation was from where our bus dropped up off (2km) and get a rough idea of what route the taxi driver should take. After the 2km drive the taxi refused to take us outside our accommodation, but rather a street 1 minute walk away, and he pointed to our hotel. We thought nothing of this, given the hectic traffic. The taxi quoted us 78000 dong (which was probably overpriced but not an issue). We then (in hindsight foolishly) stated would he mind taking a 500,000 dong note (his English was good and it was apparently a reputable firm). After the taxi driver confirmed he had change we handed him the note and he handed 20,000 dong back, claiming this was the note we had given him and we needed to pay him more.
We calmly explained that we had given him 500,000 dong and he owed us a further 400,000 dong. He then got irate, threatening and stated we "DON'T UNDERSTAND THE CURRENCY EXCHANGE, YOU OWE ME 780,000 DONG (about $36 for 2km)." Now being in shock at how angry he was and thinking I must have done something wrong, I took a minute to think and confirmed to myself it was around 20,000 dong to a dollar. I calmly informed the driver that I understand the currency exchange perfectly and you are trying to charge us over $30 dollars for a 5 minute journey and requested our change back. Again he went furious and reiterated we owed him money, he held our bags in the boot to ransom and would not open the door. We stated we would not pay him any more and after a stressful and awkward ten minutes, he finally threw our bags out of the boot and onto the street and opened the doors to his car.
After being in shock a little, we could not find our hotel. We asked a local shop owner for help and gave her the address. She pointed us in the wrong direction, despite her shop being two doors down from the side alley we had to take from the address. After searching for 10 minutes in the wrong direction a travel agency stated we had to go back the other way and through the alley. On the way back the shop the owner laughed at us and we literally couldn't believe what we were seeing.
We arrived at our hotel and informed them of what happened with the taxi. I had managed to take a photo of the taxi car and the hotel stated despite it being a very convincing fake, the car was not Vinasun. Vinasun has a black plate on the back of the car, as well as the logo and stripes that were present on this car. The hotel said because of this their was no point in reporting the fake taxi driver (as we couldn't make out the registration plate). The next morning we checked out of the hotel, only to be charged for some drinks in our fridge that were not present before we had checked in. It wasn't a lot of money maybe $5 but again a scam, we reluctantly paid and moved on (don't let a hotel hold your passport).
We bought breakfast from a local shop to take out and we were short changed and again unable to receive this change back despite requesting it and stating we had been given the wrong change. We took a bus out of HCMC asap to Da Lat where we had read great reviews about the place.
When getting off the bus at Da Lat (we were the only westerners on the bus) the driver's assistant placed our bags on the right side, whilst the 30 odd other passengers where placed on the left side. We knew our bus included free transport to our hotel in De Lat and picked this reputable firm for this basis. We were approached by two men who said they were our free transfer to our hotel and they continued to walk us away from where everyone else was at the bus stop. We confirmed it was a free transfer with no other obligations, however, after seeing the other passengers alight in logo'd cars and these men wearing different "easy rider" jackets to the other drivers with different cars, we knew we were in trouble and in for another scam. They lied and joked blatantly to our face, but we managed to move away from them and onto our proper hotel transfer. A lucky escape it seems as from what we have now read after research, it is likely that we would have been driven out of town and they would have requested a substantial amount of money from us to take us back, or they would have taken us to a different hotel, which would have been confusingly similar to the hotel we booked.
We would love to hear from other travellers (especially couples) who have maybe experienced something similar and still loved the country. Does it get better further up North or do the potential for scams continue all throughout the Country? We're currently in De Lat and trying to stay positive but are seriously thinking of boarding the next flight to Thailand as we don't want to end our journey on a low (we have one month left).
That being said to be more vigilant and to learn from our mistakes:
1) Only board a taxi if you have the correct change for the fair and try not to store your luggage in the boot, if possible.
2) If your hotel has a fridge check what the contents should be as soon as you have checked in (our hotel was highly reputable) and don't allow them to hold your passport. Request it back after they have made a copy - better yet, give them a copy and keep your passport.
3) As a general rule of thumb, don't allow yourself to take advice off or follow people who approach you. Go and speak to people directly, especially other Vietnamese travellers, to find out how your transfers work etc.
4) Pray, the scams are confusing and convincing.
Hope the above was a good read if nothing else!
#1 Travellincouple has been a member since 8/7/2013. Posts: 5
Thanks for your message and sorry you've had such a rough time so far. It's such a frustrating situation, especially as I live here and love the country - it drives me insane that so many people just don't get (or care) how to keep tourists happy! Anyway I wish I could tell you that your trip would be trouble-free from now on but there's no guarantee of that. However, good news is that central Vietnam is apparently far less scam-like - http://www.travelfish.org/blogs/vietnam/2012/08/12/hoi-an-scams/. And your experiences so far have made you more aware of what to look out for.
I find that when I'm on a downer when travelling, it's worth investing in doing something really nice, to get back on track: a stay at a good hotel, a fancy meal, beers on the beach etc. (level dependent on your start point!) And when you get to Hanoi , ideally book a hotel in advance and get them to pick you up - that gets you off to a good start.
Any specific questions about Hanoi processes, let me know!
WIth regards to the passport issue, I always carry a laminated copy of my passport photo page and use that to handover to the hotels. Worked everytime except once in Vietnam over a 30-day visit. I wasn't so concerned about them holding it for ransom, but more concerned leaving it behind when I checked out.
Sorry to hear about the rest of your troubles. I guess I was pretty fortunate and had very little trouble with scammers. - only one cyclo guy that tried to reneogtiate half way thtrough the trip. But that's not to say that I didn't have my frustrations in Vietnam - mostly because of the constant pushiness and aggressiveness of the street sellers, etc.
My views changed significantly after doing a 9-day Easy Rider trip. This wasn't part of my original plans but was kind of a result of my frustrations. This trip turned my views around completely about Vietnam and I had the opportunity to meet some absolutely lovely people. But you almost need to get out of the popular touristy areas of Hanoi, Hoi An and Nha Trang (in my experience).
Hope this gets better for you!
Good advice on the passport and Easy Riders - perhaps you could look into doing that to travel onto your next destination? That would fit into my 'do something really nice' category! We only did a day trip with Easy Riders because of budget but I've always regretted not doing more.
I travel scam-free in Vietnam by going the flashpacker route (meaning that I spend a little more, avoiding bus travel and staying in mid-priced 2 or 3 star hotels). I really think that when you try to do it too cheaply, you get in trouble. I only use cabs when absolutely necessary (I'm a walker). Maybe I've been very lucky, but I could count on one hand the number of major scams I've encountered (usually taxi or cyclo).
Don't let the problem ruin your Vietnam experience, because the people here are fantastic. Get off the tourist trail once in a while.
#5 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,091
I never got majorly scammed as I am quite careful and aware of when something might be up. Travelling through Vietnam was difficult though and the hassle at nearly every town often nearly negated what they had to offer. If I had started in Vietnam I think I would have enjoyed it more but since I ended my trip there I already knew a fair bit about the area and was only impressed with a few of the sights.
One spot which had very friendly people and beautiful sights was Dong Hoi and in particular Paradise Cave. I would recommend Nam Long Hotel for their great service, the owners there were by far the friendliest and most helpful Vietnamese people I met on my trip. I had a good chat with the owner about how other places in Vietnam try to rip you off etc and he said he knows about it and finds it very disappointing and that is why they try to do the best they can so people enjoy their time in Vietnam.
Overall I would say the sights definitely improve the further North you go in Vietnam and the people have better attitudes towards tourists. Another note is to try and avoid major tourist areas, Dong Hoi was nice for example but will become a major tourist area in the near future once word really gets out about the caves. Ha Tien had some nice people as well although the one tour company lady was a bag...
Vietnam is nowhere near as nice as Thailand or Cambodia when it comes to the people and their attitudes towards tourists but it does have some nice unique sites that are worth seeing. If you do decide to bail on Vietnam and haven't spent time in Cambodia give that a try. Myself and other travellers I met loved Cambodia because of their friendly nature. They can really use the tourist income as well since they are such a poor country in comparison to Vietnam and Thailand.
We have been here 2 weeks and had nothing really major happen to us, Taxi driver in Hanoi tried to get us 100k for a toll to the airport even though the taxi was prepaid..
Other than that I have found most people to be so good natured and friendly a few pushy Cyclo drivers here in HCM other than that its been a blast.
#8 Bradders has been a member since 6/1/2013. Posts: 11
Thanks for sharing this scam thing, It is similar even in Mumbai - India. In India cab drivers they see foreigners and decide to charge them extra money or they will take them through a longer route and with their faulty meters they win.
To avoid this deception done to you, you must buy a city map or through GPS you may know the route, and for the fare rates you must ask for the cabs fare card.
#9 dokuman has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 8