Bad Taxi Driver!
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 21, 2009
June 1-4, 2008
The last few days in Vietnam were bitter-sweet for me. I knew that in a few days I would be heading back to China and then to countries I had only dreamed about visiting. I would also see my brother and mother. It had been almost a year since I’d seen my brother and about six months since I’d seen my mom. But at the same time, I would have to say good-bye to my new friends. I would probably never see them again.
We spent our first day back in Ho Chi Minh shopping. We bought cheap jewelry and lovely trinkets. Dong is worthless outside of Vietnam and no one will change dong back into dollars. So, anything that caught our fancy, we bought. It started to rain, but we just put on our rain ponchos and kept going.
The next day, two of the ladies left to go back to their homes in Europe. The day after that, another one left to continue her tour of Asia in Cambodia. I was the last to leave.
My flight to Beijing was on the morning of the fourth. It was an early morning flight, so I woke up before the sun rose in order to pay my hotel bill and waited for a taxi. The front desk clerk called one for me. When the taxi arrived, the door man help me into the cab.
He put my backpack in the trunk and told me that the ride shouldn’t cost more than 100,000 dong. I already knew that the ride should cost about $5, because I had asked many agents and other tourists about it. I even made sure to set aside double that, to make sure I could get to the airport alright as well as to give the cab driver a nice tip.
To me, the price didn’t really matter, I planned to give the cabbie all the dong I had left which was about 300,000 dong. The ride lasted about 8 minutes, but even from the start I knew something was wrong with the cab’s meter.
The meter started at 50,000 dong. When it hit 100,000 dong I looked back; I could still easily see my hotel out the rear window. When we got to the airport, the meter said 382,000 dong! I didn’t have that much money on me.
I handed him a 100,000 dong note. He waved his arms furiously, refusing to take it and pointed at the meter. I told him that the hotel man said it should cost less than 100,000 dong and that was all he was going to get.
He took my money and folded his arms. He wasn’t going to move until I paid his full amount. I told him that I wanted my backpack and pointed to the trunk of the car. He ignored me. I was not going to get out of the car and give this man the opportunity to drive off with my stuff.
During my trip I noticed that people in Vietnam like to shout a lot and I figure I would try it. I sat back in my seat and I screamed at him, “I want my bag NOW!”
He turned around looking quite shocked. I had yelled so loud, all the people standing outside the airport turned around to look at me. I opened my mouth, about to yell again, but he was already out of the car. He ran to the back of the taxi to get my bag for me. Once he was standing on the sidewalk with my backpack in hand, I got out the vehicle.
He handed me my bag. I put my arms through the straps, turn to him and politely said, “Thank you.” I did drag him along for a bit when I walked away because he didn’t let go of my bag. But he couldn’t hold on forever.
The Tourist Rate
I usually don’t mind paying the tourist rate for things. As a tourist, I pay more for items sold on the street than a local would. It’s a bit unfair, but the things bought in South East Asia are still pretty cheap even with a price hike. A dollar might not mean that much to an American, but its worth a lot to that vendor.
I think it’s more about how the vendor makes you feel that determines whether or not you really feel scammed. Let’s face it, it’s all a scam. Tourists will always pay way more than the locals and not just in South East Asia. But were you charmed out of your money or intimidated out of it? Did you feel you had a choice to say no?
What I hate is when I’m backed into a corner and I have to pay an unfair amount. That taxi driver looked at me. I was a female traveling alone. He probably thought I didn’t know any better and even if I did, I would be too scared to not pay his overpriced charges. I was already given the ride; I had to pay, right?
I don’t mind paying 20% extra for fruit from a vendor who walks all day in the hot sun to feed her family when I choose to. If I feel the price is too much I walk away; there’s no feeling that I’m going to get in trouble or hurt if I don’t buy anything. But I will not pay 282% extra to an obnoxious cab driver for an 8 minute ride, in a cab with an obviously broken meter, who is trying to bully me into to over paying.
I understand that maybe this cab driver also has a family to feed. Maybe he even has more bills to pay because he also has a car to take care of. I don’t even mind the cab drivers that claim to not have any change. If the change is not too large I just let him or her keep it. It’s a bit cheeky, but there no feeling of being threatened. I just didn’t like to feel intimidated. I knew how much the fare should have cost and he was charging me almost three times that and there was no negotiating or walking away. Well, there was some walking away because that’s what I did.
And I was going to give him all the dong I had…
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
- Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
- Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
- Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the airport either in your country or in Vietnam. Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
- When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
- Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
- Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
- Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
- Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
- For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
- Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo.
- It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
Ho Chi Minh City
(Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)
- 10°49’24.2″N 106°37’48.3″E
You can get here by train, plane, boat, or bus.
- Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station – This one is downtown and near many tourist sites and hotels.
- Mien Dong Bus Station – Buses to and from northern destinations
- Mien Tay Bus Station
- Cholon Bus Station