Taxi Adventures in the North of Nam..
Hanoi is not for the faint of heart. If you were dropped into the old quarter you genuinely wouldn’t be able to identify which side of the road they drove on. On the dual carriageways it was more straight forward at least most of the vehicles on each carriageway drove in the same direction. Even crossing the road is and adventure that will test your bravery (or stupidity). At first Niamh and I were pretty much stuck on a short circuit that required no such crossings but we had to be braver if we were to see any of Hanoi. Once used to the chaotic madness of Hanoi we set about our sightseeing – pagodas, museums, old houses.
Our plan for our next move was to get a bus / boat combo to Cat Ba Island and use it as a base for seeing Halong Bay. As such we headed on foot to the bus station to check out departure times and if possible pick up some tickets. We got lost en-route and when we did eventually find the station the lady was extremely unhelpful and refused to sell us tickets stating that we could buy them on the bus the following day. It was at this point that we decided to be lazy and take a taxi back to the old quarter...
Every direction you turn (lonely planet, travelfish, hotel websites, hotel maps) warn you of the taxi scams – normally they take circuitous routes or tell you your chosen destination has burnt down, is closed today (delete as applicable) and take you to an entirely different location of their choosing. Some even have dodgy fixed meters. Niamh and I were discussing this as we were surrounded by taxi drivers and we tried to find one that spoke some English and knew their way to the Hanoi Hilton prison. We found one – he reset the meter and off we went. In the wrong direction.
Niamh with her map and Stiamh with his GPS – too clever for this taxi driver. We indicated our dissatisfaction with his route choice and he promptly made some turns and got us back on course. Score one for Sniamh.
All was well, the meter at a mere 40,000 dong (about $2) very reasonable. Quick check for a street sign to monitor progress and the meter is suddenly at 365,000 dong. I suggest we pull over immediately but apparently the area was a little too busy for our driver and he found a quiet alternative with just a couple of kitchen appliance and washing machine shops around.
We were stupid – we knew we had been scammed but we knew it was a risk and should have agreed the price upfront and not ridden on the meter. We gave the guy 500,000 note and waited for our change – which was 20,000 dong. A dodgy meter was one thing but this was undisguised theft – Sniamh’s collective foot was put down - we were not having this.
Niamh opened the taxi door and started calling to the shop for help meanwhile our friendly local taxi driver was simultaneously hiding 500,000 dong in his sock and showing us that his pockets were empty. He was insisting that we had given him 2 x 200,000 dong notes. It seemed futile to point out that we had given him no such thing and that even if we had he was still short changing us, we pointed it out anyway. At this point he mysteriously lost the gift of the language of Shakespeare and was only able to converse in Vietnamese.
The man from the shop appeared – looked at the meter, laughed and hurried back to his shop to summon a lady we took to be the owner of the shop. Through a series of hand gestures and map pointing we got across to her the route we had taken, she seemed shocked and phoned the taxi company. At this point she was not aware that any cash had exchanged hands. The taxi company told her that 50,000 dong was the fair price for this ride. With more hand gestures, scribbled numbers and arrows Niamh got across the cash transactions that had taken place. Our lady friend immediately stationed her shop assistant in front of the taxi so our driver couldn’t abscond, she insisted we stayed in the car and she called the police.
Our cabbie was now starting to look a little nervous, putting the car into gear but with the door open and a man standing in front he had nowhere to go. He gestured for us to leave his cab and even gave us some more money back, in fact the correct change from 500,000 if we were to pay the full metered amount of 365k. We declined his offer, informing him that we knew he spoke English and that he had missed his chance, that he was a thief and we would wait for the police – he then had the audacity to ask for the money back – a request we politely refused. Meanwhile the shop owner was berating the taxi driver – we don’t know what she was saying but the gist, we think, is that tourism is good for Vietnam and people like him will stop people like us coming.
More nervous gear movements followed by a phone call to summon another friendly cabbie who upon arrival took receipt of the 500,000 dong note from the aforementioned sock and thus disappearing with the evidence of the crime. Our friendly washing machine dealer photographed the transaction on her phone for the police to enjoy later on.
Finally the police arrived – they had no interest in Sniamh but talked at some length with our shopkeeper heroine and the taxi driver. Another phonecall, another cabbie arrives and we are given a further 200,000 dong – this is apparently the end of the matter for us. We leave the taxi, thank our friend the shopkeeper and make our exit stage left as the taxi driver takes a policeman for a ride – presumably to check his meter but perhaps not. Somewhat appropriately we head to Hanoi Hilton followed by an emergency visit to get a dirty bird (that’s KFC for the uninitiated).
Upon getting back to the hotel we booked the first trip out of Hanoi for the following day – a cruise to Halong Bay.
This episode illustrative of a wide reaching problem in SE Asia. There are so many people out to scam you that it darkens your view of everyone, you stop trusting and find yourself rudely turning away those that offer genuine help with no strings attached. The vast majority of people are wonderful, welcoming and helpful people like our shop owner. Should you find yourself in Hanoi and in need of kitchen appliances – please let us know and we will send you in the right direction.
Victim of Scam: 3 (we have already included Hanoi taxi in early updates) net cost to Sniamh $5.25
Reluctant tourist update: