My first visit to Vietnam in 2007 seemed to be filled with scams from beginning to end. On my second visit in 2013 I returned a little less naive but no more wiser to the tricks of cyclo drivers. I’m sharing the scams I encountered today not to scare-monger – I’d return to Vietnam in a heartbeat and had many incredible experiences amongst the fails – but simply to give first-timer’s a heads up about some of the behaviours you might encounter. None of the scams I personally encountered were major problems – nothing that needed me to claim on my travel insurance – but they are nuisances that can be swerved with a little fore-warning.
A version of this post was originally published on Skyscanner Australia
The Scam: ‘Your bus has left already’
On my first visit to Vietnam we encountered a problem within minutes of arriving in the country. I was travelling with a girlfriend and we arrived via a serene cruise down the Mekong River. Our plan had been to catch a public bus to Ho Chi Minh City from the point we disembarked the boat but getting to the bus station proved tricky. 2 minutes after climbing into the cyclos we’d hired to take us to the bus station my driver says, ‘But the bus station closed, your bus left already’. We knew this was not true, having just checked the details with our tour leader on the boat, so I told the driver firmly ‘please take us to the station’. He refused. Despite our insistence, we were dropped at his friend’s place in a quiet rural street and instructed to board this guy’s rickety minibus. We pleaded with him to take us to the bus station and tried, to no avail, to catch another cyclo or taxi but by this point it was late and there were none around. Eventually we gave up and went with his friend who drove us the 6 hours to the city, arriving much later than our intended bus would have but in one piece at least. (I admit I spent many hours of the journey doubting this conclusion.)
How to avoid it: I now try as much as possible to arrange transfers in advance via my hotel or a reputable taxi service (I tend to ask friends/bloggers for recommendations).
The Scam: ‘Your hotel is no good’
I’ve encountered this trick on a few different trips but remember it coming up again in Hanoi in 2013. As the taxi we had hopped in at the airport approached our hotel the driver turns to us and enquired, “Do you have hotel booking? Have you paid already?” I’d learnt from a similar encounter in Cambodia to just say yes but the driver tried his luck anyway. “This hotel no good,” he tells us, “I take you to a better one instead.” My understanding is that drivers get a kick-back from hotels if they bring new guests – which is totally fair game – unless they make up stories about your hotel to get you there.
How to avoid it: Stick to your guns and tell any enterprising drivers that you’ve paid for accommodation already. If you haven’t pre-paid I recommend doing a quick reccy of the room before handing over any money – just to check the problems you’ve been told about aren’t true!
The Scam: ‘You misheard the price’
I reckon most visitors to Vietnam could write a whole post about cyclo drivers and their propensity to raise the price at the end of your journey. My girlfriend and I were left a little shaken after our first cyclo ride where the driver dropped us at a market and then demanded 10x more than his original asking price. He insisted I had misheard – even though I had held up my fingers and reconfirmed several times before getting in – and when we stood our ground and paid the original price he called upon his friends to follow us around the market. It was incredibly intimidating and we ended up hopping in a taxi back to the safety of the hotel several minutes later.
Not wanting this experience to put me off I have taken cyclo rides since then – they are fun and cheap(ish) way to get around – but have always kept in the back of the head that I may need to pay more for the experience. Justin and I had a giggle when we encountered a cyclo in Hue who insisted he could pedal us both in 1 basket for a pretty long distance. We were trying to get a taxi but this guy followed and pestered us until we gave in. Turns out it is hard to pedal 2 fully grown adults and the driver had to call upon his friend with a moped who shunted us along in the cyclo instead! We ended up needing to pay both the cyclo driver and moped rider but just had a giggle about it.
How to avoid it: If you can find a trustworthy metred cab there should be a lot less of a surprise at the end of the journey. Cyclos are a fun way to get around on short trips in Vietnam but just be prepared to pay a little more than you anticipated for each journey.
The Scam: The Tour That Never Was
Sadly my first trip to Vietnam ended just as challenging as it had begun. We wanted to spend our last full day visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels and booked a trip there through a random tour agency near our hotel. As instructed we waited (for over an hour) on the steps on our hotel but our transfer never came. We flew home the next day with disappointment in the air.
How it could have been avoided: Instead of saving a few bucks with a random operator we wished we’d booked through our hotel or a reputable online operator and followed up with them as soon as it appeared like no one could be coming for us. You live and learn!
Have you been to Vietnam? Did you have any similar encounters or am I particularly unlucky/naive?
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