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Trust and Traveling: Enter Vietnam

“One dollar only to Pham ngo Lao,” the taxi driver said, holding open the taxi door. The blazing lights of Ho Chi Minh City ricocheted off the insane 9pm traffic next to the bus station, and I felt dizzy. “Perfect,” I moaned, staggering into the seat and pulling my backpack behind me.

“I am so glad to be off that bus!” I cried, leaning against the taxi’s soft interior. “16 hours is a long journey!” The taxi driver smiled and veered through a motorcycle-choked intersection with relaxed skill. “It a looong way from Cambodia!” he said. “Where you from?”

“I’m American,” I said, brushing the crackers off my shirt that the baby next to me on the bus had thrown. “In Boston I have taught many wonderful Vietnamese students, and so I am so happy to be finally seeing this country in person.”
“Ahh, teacher. Important job!” he said. “I have three kids.”

“Oh you do! What ages?”

“Fifteen, twelve, and little baby one month.”

I squealed with delight. “One month! So cute! Do you love holding her?”

“No, I no hold her. My wife say my hands too dirty. Too rough from taxi wheel. My wife hold her.”

I chuckled, and the traffic poured by. Three motorcycles nearly hit us, veering away at the last minute. The driver was unfazed.

Soon, the neon lights grew brighter and a three-story orange-lit bull loomed up. “Pham ngo Lao!” the driver said triumphantly. “Here your hotel.”

Sure enough, there it was, so I grinned, gathered my stuff, and handed the driver a dollar.
“What?!” he yelled, aghast.
“One dollar, right?” I responded, shaken, “That’s what you said!” What was going on?

“HA!” the driver laughed, “I never say one dollar. Twenty dollars, of course! Vietnam very expensive. Gas very expensive. We go long way. Twenty dollars of course. One dollar– HA! I never say that!”

The tears welled up in my eyes. I had heard of this trap from an Australian couple I met in Cambodia. They had agreed with a taxista on a fare of ten dollars to a far-off Vietnam destination, and when they arrived, the taxi driver insisted he had said one hundred dollars. The Australians ended up paying the blatantly criminal fare because the driver was so intimidating.

“Sir, you said one dollar,” I repeated, hands shaking. “I have only one dollar.”

“One dollar, HA!” he scoffed, “I have a wife, I have kids. You try to cheat me. Twenty dollars. Twenty dollars!”

I felt sick thinking how happy and relaxed I had been moments earlier. The sixteen hours on the bus began to warp my vision, and my breath raced.

“Sir,” I choked out, “You said to me one dollar and now you are changing the price. I have heard of this before. I will give you a few more dollars as payment for reminding me that I need to be alert, always, but there’s no way you’ll get twenty dollars.” I hurled the money at him and stomped into the hotel. I could hear the driver’s screams behind me.

When I finally got to my hotel room, I cried, letting the tension of the past few days pour out. It takes energy to remember never to trust anyone, and in my fatigue I had let it lapse.

Looking for solace, I clicked on my computer and received the following message:

“Ms. Marshall. I just wanted to let you know that we learned about the Oedipus Complex in Psychology class this week. If you hadn’t forced us to read that weird “Oedipus” book, I would have been completely lost. You told us to trust you that what you did would pay off in college. I didn’t believe you then, but you were right. Thank you! – Sade.”

I put my hand to my heart and cried with happiness.

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ChinaMatt

Monday 11th of August 2014

There are always much worse scams than that, but they do sour the experience of entering a country. I took an official bus from Hanoi airport to my hotel. I was told it was a few dollars, but apparently, it was extra to get dropped off AT my hotel. I had an argument with the driver because I was given a different price when I got on the bus. Someone from the hotel helped translate and I ended up paying. Fortunately, it wasn't too much money.

Lillie

Monday 11th of August 2014

Sigh...

Marc d'Entremont

Friday 10th of June 2011

Ah yes...the taxi scam, it's worldwide. My advice after similar mistakes worldwide: (1) never take a taxi that does not have its meter running. True, meters can be altered to run faster, but at least it saves arguments. (2) Once in the hotel, always ask the front desk people to call a cab and ask what the average fare to the destination should be then at least you'll be able to check the meter and see if it's close. (3) Never take busses in Southeast Asia - at least for long haul. Flying can be costly in comparison, but the time saved and comfort is worth the price. Within Vietnam, flying is cheap! Vietnam Airlines has a new fleet of jets. One way fare from Hanoi - Hue is US$65 (500 mile flight) and the same from Hue or Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. We all make mistakes and as teacher/travelers pass our knowledge to the next traveler.

Lillie

Monday 13th of June 2011

Thanks for your comment, Marc! I will put in a good word for the long-distance buses in Southeast Asia, though. They are arduous, but they are also fascinating! I have a ton of articles about all the 20-hour buses I took here: https://www.aroundtheworldl.com/category/logistics/transportation/page/2/

Genesis

Wednesday 23rd of March 2011

That's horrible. I would've teared up too. I would've been scared he was going to hurt me. You had a nice conversation with him and he treats you like that?! What a jerk. But I guess this is what happens in poor countires. People will do anything for money. My mom has had experiences like this in the Philippines. He's a bad driver too and he expects twenty dollars? Wow.

Imported Blogger Comments

Wednesday 26th of May 2010

eli said... aw, you're such a great teacher!!!

October 2, 2009 3:41 PM

Joanna said... Oh, Lil! Hugs to you, I just can't fathom someone being so dishonest. That's such a wonderful email to get from a student though, way to go one being an awesome teacher!

October 2, 2009 4:14 PM

sade said... I think this blog is great I guess im a new fan lol. Ive actually heard of the scams they try to pull too I dont know what I would do if I was put in that situation though. I am so glad my letter made you smile after the horrible day you had.You are a great teacher eventhough we might underestimate you sometimes lol. But we were kids what do you expect. At least we know now what you were doing benefits us all. hope to read more blogs soon!!!!

October 3, 2009 3:13 PM

Luddy Sr. said... Good for you sticking to your guns in these situations.

Just to put things into perspective:

I just spent a week in Asheville NC (of all places) and had some of the worst cab experiences of my life. Like 37 dollars for a 5 mile cab ride! (I spoke to the boss and got it down to 20). Great.

The worst was the initial friendliness of the driver. It felt really awkward getting my feelings hurt by a stranger cab driver, but I did.

Another guy showed up with 17.50 already on the meter. This time I couldn't get it reduced as I was going to the airport. Manager said that those are the rules and to call town hall?!?!

Another time I needed a ride 5 miles and was told, again by the manager, that there was a $20 minimum for credit cards. She said the credit card companies set the policy and when I argued she said "Bye" and hung up.

I hitched the 5 miles.

I guess scammers are everywhere (and mostly are found driving taxi's).

December 8, 2009 8:00 AM

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