I arrived at the Lao Cai train station after taking the day train up from Hanoi which arrived about 1630 hrs. I was heading up to Sapa and there were lots of mini buses waiting and no surprise, lots of touts as well.
The problems began when I tried to get on a mini bus, even the ones that were almost full. The touts started asking for ridiculous amounts of money, they started at $28 for the 40 km trip up. It soon became clear that the touts didn’t actually represent any of the mini buses, as the buses were leaving, many of them with only one or two people in them. As soon as I spoke to a driver about a ride, the ‘touts’ who actually were little more than a gang of thugs, spoke to the driver and he then said no. This situation lasted until almost all the mini vans had gone. I had a group of these guys following me around the bus park, all asking for large sums of money to get to Sapa.
Finally I agreed (a still inflated price) for a ride in a mini bus. I negotiated that I would pay the driver some of the amount when I got there. Two of these guys then got into the van with me to demand their ‘fee’. Very intimidating. When they had been paid, we got going.
It seems that this gang controls the mini buses trade at the station, as none of the drivers would consider taking me without their say so. In the end, my driver only received a quarter of what these pimps got.
How to avoid this, I should have called their bluff and looked for the public bus station, but with only an hour of daylight left I really wanted to get moving. Better still I should have stayed in Lao Cai for the night and got a public bus in the morning.
If the Vietnamese government is really concerned with the social ills tourism brings, it could start by sending this mob off for some reeducation.
#1 travellerwill has been a member since 19/8/2009. Posts: 3
I didn't see any of that when I was there, if you takle the night train there's so many people and people offering trips to Sapa it gets quite confusing. I bought my train tickets at ET Pumpkin in Hanoi and this included the bus from Lao Cai to Sapa as well. In any case, I did see a desk where tickets to Sapa were sold at 30,000 dongs...That's bad luck mate! You're right, if tourists are not looked after properly in Vietnam, people will simply choose other destinations
#2 Pokol has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 38
My girlfriend and I had a run in with a similar "gang", if not the same one, when we were there last March.
We also took the day train from Hanoi, but stayed at a guesthouse right by the train station that night. My girlfriend is Vietnamese, and she became friends with the lady at the guesthouse. Next morning, we asked the guesthouse lady which was the best bus to Sapa , and she said she'd arrange it for 50,000 dong per person, which seemed reasonable enough so we got on the mini-bus when picked up. The guys, and one young woman who were running the bus were all sporting leather jackets, trying to look tough I guess.
They were nice to us at first though.
Several other foreigners were on the bus already, and I think they had been charged 60,000 each. Then a young Japanese traveler arrived, possibly fresh over the border from China, and one of the mini bus guys told him it was 60,000 dong, but then some how tricked him into handing over 600,000. Within 5 seconds the Japanese guy realized the mistake and politely asked for his money back. The mini bus tout refused.
When the Japanese guy continued politely asking, the mini bus guy starting saying "no, no, we're mafia, mafia... get on the bus or go away!" Then the mini bus girl started screaming in Vietnamese "Don't give it back to him!" When the Japanese guy said, "no I will just take another bus, it's okay, just money back please", the mini-bus guy just walked away with the money and went to another bus nearby. It looked as though they were just going to take off, essentially stealing the Japanese guy's 600,000 (close to US $40).
At that point we decided to protest. My girl and I hadn't paid yet, so we got off the bus with our bags and basically said, "hey you guys are deplorable, we'll find another bus" (girlfriend did the talking in Vietnamese). Then we got the lady from our guesthouse involved, and an Aussie traveler got off the bus and joined us. The mini-bus lady got in my girlfriend's face and told her it wasn't our business. Things got pretty tense for a minute. Finally, after a decent crowd had accumulated and with our guesthouse lady putting pressure on them, the "gang" relented and gave the Japanese guy his money back, little by little. But we still said, "hey you guys are still deplorable and were not taking your bus, have a nice day." The "gang" said some not so nice things to us in Vietnamese and took off without us.
At this point it was already around 10 AM and most of the morning busses had already left. We walked around a bit, and soon a totally different bus with different driver pulled up with the Lao Cai - Sapa sign, so we said, "sweet, how much?" Bus driver said it would be 60,000 dong. When we got on, we were the only passengers, and he said we'd have to go pick up others. We drove into town and who do we pick up? The same guy from the "gang" who'd tried to scam the Japanese guy, along with 2 of his cohorts. Turns out the bus we got on was in league with the "gang."
One sat next to me, and two in the seet behind. Very intimidating - I prepared myself for the worst.
In the end, they messed with us a bit, and gave us a scare. But they were actually harmless. They took us to Sapa for 60,000, trying to flirt with my girl on the way, and then had the nerve to try to get us to stay at their guesthouse of choice in Sapa.
In over 2 months in Vietnam, this was the only time I encountered such a situation, but do be on your guard in Lao Cai for creeps like these.