Vietnam is one of the place that I loathe to go and if possible, will not go again. I first went to Vietnam in 2007 and a few times subsequently for work. I never have good experience about that country. The country is backward, the streets were never paved properly, hygiene is poor and most of the people were swindlers. It is also an irony that vendors prefer US$ as a medium of exchange instead of Vietnamese Dong for they were enemies.
View of Halong Bay, Vietnam, circa 2007
Taxi drivers in Hanoi are crooks and I think we can hardly find an honest one. I am going to share with you my experiences with them. Each day, the taxi fare from my hotel to the office is different even though the distance never changes and the roads used were the same. Sometimes it will be 50 Dong, sometimes 80 Dong and once it went up to 160 Dong. My colleagues face the same thing too. Obviously they have done something to their meter.
Once while on a tour to the Confucius temple in central Hanoi, my friend and I made friend with a couple from America. Somehow our conversation turns to taxi drivers. We were comparing the fee charged. To our astonishment, they paid 200 Dong to get to the temple even though their hotel is only two streets away while we paid 65 Dong. Later, my Vietnamese friend told me that taxi drivers have three rates. One is for local, another for white and another for Asians.
However, my most interesting part about taxi is when I was dumped by two taxi drivers in Hanoi. On a morning, I flew from Danang to Hanoi and reached Hanoi at around 9 a.m. My friends and I decided that we will leave our luggage bag in the airport locker room and we then take a taxi to the city. The price that the government determined for cabs to and fro airport is US$20.
After shopping and enjoying our early dinner in the city we had problem getting a taxi. After waited for about 20 minutes, we got the first cab and he agreed to take us to the airport. But after a few rounds, he told us he is not going and asked us to get off his taxi.
Next, we waited for another 15 minutes before we got on the next taxi. We asked “airport,ok?” and the driver said no problem. But again after driving around, he stop his taxi by the roadside and said he have some emergency at home. He was lying because we never hear he have any phone conversation while driving us. He got another taxi for us and we thought, ah, at least this is better and we saw the third taxi driver gave money to the second taxi driver. Again, we thought maybe they know one another.
Halfway through to airport, the driver told us that we had agreed to pay 40 US$ to get to airport and that he said that he had paid the second driver 15 US$ as commission. Along the way, he kept on saying we have to pay him 40 bucks. I signal to my friend to keep quiet and pretend that we had not heard anything.
Upon arrival at Hanoi airport, we just gave him 20 bucks and get off the taxi. We thank God that we do not have any luggage so we can move fast. He chased us till the terminal but we told him that “your government said it is only 20US$, why you are so stupid to trust that second taxi driver?” and we proceed to check in. He can’t do anything except lamenting that even locals cheat one another.
Another popular cheating case in Vietnam is fake hotels. Uh, fake one? Yes, they have the same name as the real hotel but the facilities were bad and the interiors are crappy and some don’t even have air-cond in the room. Usually these hotels will look good on the front and they teamed up with taxi drivers to send visitors to the fake hotel. When asked why it is on a different street, the standard answer will be that they have moved to this new place.
Even hotel porters cheat. One day I walked to a sundry shop next to the hotel that I stayed to buy a bottle of water. The old lady gave me hand signal that the water is 5 Dong and suddenly the porter was next to me, portraying to help me to translate. Then he told me the water is 10 Dong. Damm him! I paid 10 Dong. The very night, we bought the same water for 5 Dong so we knew the porter got 5 Dong for himself.
If you are visiting Vietnam, make sure he select the right travel agency and do your homework well before arriving. Always have in mind to question things that are not right because the tendency that you will be cheated is very high. None of my friends who have been to Vietnam never got cheated. They even cheat among themselves, not only foreigners. And also make sure you eat at proper restaurants if you do not want to have food poisoning.
However, having say all that, I still have a few good Vietnamese friends and I would recommend Hoi An and Ha Long Bay if you plan to visit VIetnam.