After a couple of unfortunate encounters in Bangkok where we found ourselves in the midst of a taxi scam more than once, the brother and I had our guards up regarding taxi drivers in South East Asia.
My research had enlightened me on Vietnam’s notoriety for elaborate scams and clever cons on naive foreigners, but even when you feel like you’re in control, it can be easier than you think to get ripped off.
In Hanoi, an exhausting quest for a renowned restaurant on the far side of Hoam Kiem Lake had drained us both. Paddy was feeling under the weather so we decided to get a taxi back to the hostel. Knowing it should cost 60,000 dong ($3), we hailed a blue and white cab – supposedly the reliable ones.
Within minutes of taking off, my eyes were popping out of my head as I watched the meter soar rapidly.
By the time it breached 250,000 I had begun tracking my map and the passing street signs. This guy was not only taking us round the houses but he also had one hell of a dodgy meter. Great, another taxi scam, how are we going to get out of this one?
“Hey buddy, where you going?” I enquired.
With a shrug, our chauffeur feigned ignorance. Therefore I decided to break out the charades.
“You go round and round and round” I said, while pointing at him and making circular motions with my hand.
“Your meter go tick, tick, tick” I continued while karate chopping the air several times, each chop higher than the last.
In hindsight, he may have interpreted this as me telling him he was crazy, and warning him that I’m going to karate chop him.
“I know where we go”, I said. I pointed at the map and then tapped my temple.
Seeing I had twigged his game he replied, in perfect English.
“Ahh, this street one-way, I have to go this way.”
“You’re not getting that”, I said as I pointed to the meter, which had now hopped above 300.
I turned to Paddy in the back and asked him for a 100,000 note.
He fished one from his wallet and handed to me. I rolled it in my hand and waited.
Finally, we reached our destination where the driver requested 400, 000 – about $20 for a ride that barely stretched five minutes.
I threw him the 100, which was still way over the odds. Getting out, I turned to close the door as he began complaining and I looked in as he was waving the note at me.
Double-checking, I looked at it and seen it was a 10. Thinking that was a bit cheap of us, I opened my wallet and threw him another 50, taking the total to 60, which was about fair price for the length of the trip.
Shutting the door and walking away, Paddy and I found a bar and thought to ourselves about what just happened.
“That was a 100 I give you” said Paddy.
“Definitely?” I replied
He was adamant. I thought the same, and yet the slither of doubt at the time was easy prey for a conman.
The 10 and 100 notes do look somewhat similar to someone unfamiliar with the currency.
We surmised that the driver had a 10 already in his hand, ready to pull the trick. He waited until I turned my back and then he switched the notes in the time it took me to get out of the car, before I turned to close the door.
Surely not…did we really just get stung by another taxi scam?
Two weeks later, we were in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City to give it the correct modern title.
Leaving the War Museum, we hailed a taxi. I had been in ‘Nam long enough now to know that no taxi driver could be trusted, especially after witnessing the cheek of one in Hoi An who tried to rip us off only for the police to show up.
As the driver got out I told him where we wanted to go and said, “Don’t worry about your meter, you’ll take us back to our hostel for 100, yeah?”
I waved my hand like a Jedi and waited for the mind trick to take hold.
“Yeah, okay”, he agreed reluctantly. His resistance pleased me and let me know 100 was a sound price for the ride.
Both of us sat in the back and prepared a single 100,000 dong note. We stared at it and counted the zeros. Several times.
Ten minutes later we reached our hostel and Paddy jumped out first. Giving the note a final examination to confirm it was a 100 I handed it into the front and followed Paddy out the door.
Before I could turn and close it I heard the driver shout.
“No, no, ten, ten!”
I turned around to see him waving a 10,000 note back at me. I leaned back down into the car with a smile on my face; this time I was ready.
“I give you one hundred”, I said, calm and unflustered.
“No, no, ten!”, he hollered. He waved it again.
“Oh, what? Is that my change?” I said, motioning to grab the note out of his hand.
Pulling it back he smiled and laughed. Knowing his trick had failed he dropped the act.
Proud of myself for catching him in the act and avoiding another taxi scam, I closed the door and strutted across the road to the hostel feeling cooler than Vanilla Ice.
Then I smacked my head on the low door-frame on the way in…
Have you encountered any taxi scam or confidence trick in Vietnam? How did you handle it?