Viet Dong bills

A Rant on Vietnam Scam Culture

Nov 21, 2014 - Julie

In many developing countries, it’s common for the tourist “cash-cow” to be milked and charged more than the locals for the same thing, or a “tourist fee.” Vietnam takes this to a whole new level. All the locals are often in cahoots and pretend to pay more just so that tourists can be scammed for more money. It seems that there is almost a “culture” for scams in Vietnam. Locals here find asking tourists for more money as a generally acceptable practice. I don’t think they are realizing that this is not necessary beneficial. Yes, in the short term, they’re making more money. But they are sacrificing their potential earnings in the long run. The classic example is taxi drivers.

Vietnamese taxi drivers are notorious for “quick” meters that run too fast and charge passengers for 3x, 5x, 10x times the actual price. Because of this, most tourists are advised to avoid certain taxi companies or discouraged from taking them at all. I know this definitely made us avoid taxis as much as possible during our entire stay in Vietnam. Has it occurred to any of the cab drivers how many more customers they would get if they offered honest services? I would bet that a lot more people would be taking taxis if they didn’t have to argue prices, keep track on googlemap, watch for their belongings. I know if we could trust cab drivers and their meters, we would have taken many more cabs and we would have been happy to pay them the fare they deserved.

The same applies to tourism in Vietnam in general. Many travelers have had terrible scam experiences during their time in Vietnam. This only gives the nation a bad reputation and discourage other tourists from coming. I know of several other travelers who will never return to Vietnam again, because all the scams outweigh the otherwise beauty and charm of spending time here. If traveling in Vietnam wasn’t such a scam-filled experience, a lot more tourists would come here and spend their money. For many of the towns here that are clearly dependent on tourism, this would ultimately benefit everyone.

This tendency to favor short-term gain over long-term gain is often correlated with people who are uneducated. Or maybe people just don’t have the luxury to think into the future because they haven’t even figured out the present.

Obviously, the issue of scamming foreigners is not just limited to Vietnam, but it’s particularly hard to trust anything here. From personal experience, I can tell you that being here teaches you not to trust anyone. Because of that, it makes traveling in Vietnam so much harder. Everything needs to be researched beforehand because you can’t believe what anyone tells you. The phrase “trust no bitch” comes to mind. You have to question everything here, ask multiple sources, never let your guard down. That doesn’t make for a nice or relaxing travel experience.

It’s understandable that tourists will pay more for services than locals, if only because tourists usually pay for the convenience since they don’t know what the locals know. I don’t mind paying a bit more for a tuk-tuk that takes me directly to my destination, or pay more for a national historical site that locals get to go for free (as they should). The “tourist fee” in Vietnam is often not just a bit more, but many, many times more than the actual price. It’s one thing to inflate the fee marginally in exchange for added convenience, but it’s actually insulting when the other party offers me 5x or 10x the price. Sure, we’re tourists and we don’t know all the ins and outs of this foreign place, but we’re not completely retarded.

It always happens the same way. When you ask that service provider (taxi driver, seller, etc) for the price, he/she will not answer right away, but pause. During this pause, time will seem to slow down for you as you wait for the response. He/she will look you up and down as if to judge to what extent he/she can scam you. In this microsecond, you will almost feel a premonition that the price will be overly inflated. He/she will confirm your suspicions, and you will gawk and immediately walk away, because the fact that they even dared to offer you such a ridiculous price means that you don’t want dishonest service and would rather give your money to someone else. The price will immediately drop by half, if not more, and he/she will try to call you back, but you know you don’t ever want to see their face again, and he/she will never get your business because they don’t deserve it.

On the other hand, I think it can be argued that tourists and travelers are in some ways indirectly allowing this to happen. If no foreigners were willing to pay the “tourist price” and demanded reasonable prices, then the locals would stop trying to scam us because they know we wouldn’t fall for it. Whenever we were firm about the price we were willing to pay something, we usually reached a mutual agreement. I’m confident that they would not agree to sell if they were not making profits. Sure, the marginally more money doesn’t matter to some people. But we should do our part in encouraging a more honest and less corrupt society… or at least not contributing to it.

All in all, for us, we’ve tried our best not to let these moments ruin our time in Vietnam. Once in a while, you find that rare person that is honest and trustworthy. One lady serving beer on the streets of Hanoi gave us our money back because we accidentally gave her a 100,000 bill instead of a 10,000 bill. She secured our trust with that moment. In return, we went back several times to drink beer from her instead of the thousands of street stalls in the street of Hanoi. I will remember her forever.

I still choose to believe that most Vietnamese are hard-working people trying to make ends meet, support their families, live their lives with dignity and happiness, just like all of us. When we were charged a little more than we should of, instead of being upset and angry, we looked at it from a positive point of view. The 20,000 dong ($1) extra we paid is nothing for us, but is probably worth a lot more for the average Vietnamese. In the grand scheme of things, it makes no difference. Nonetheless, I look forward to the day when travelers to Vietnam can let their guards down and enjoy all the joys of this unique country without constantly worrying about being scammed.