I’ve experienced more than my fair share of scams. No matter how long I’ve been in Asia, new ways to get caught off guard crop up like cattle on the road.
Some methods are annoying, some are hilarious, and some are downright dangerous.
The following series tells the stories of scams that I’ve been the victim (or near-victim) of.
By reading this, I hope you’ll gain a better sense of judgement while traveling and avoid similar scenarios. Otherwise, just sit back, relax and revel in my misfortune.
This is the second story in a five-part series about the times I’ve been scammed in Southeast Asia.
Read the previous entry here: Cooking Oil in my Motorbike
Back when I was a fresh-faced noob of a teacher in Siagon, I took a lot of Xe Oms (otherwise known as motorbike taxis). All I’d have to do is walk along the road and watch out for these guys; perched on their bikes, chatting in groups or taking an afternoon siesta. Usually they’d be cheap, quick and (after the initial haggling) hassle-free. Usually.
One fateful day I walked out of school, looking for a ride home. It was the height of midday, blisteringly hot and I was exhausted after three consecutive classes.
The road outside school was a war-zone. Cars were blockaded by a swarm of parents on motorbikes picking up their kids from school. Vehicles were moving in a tangle of directions – into school, out of school, into the mass, around it – there was no way I was getting a Xe Om here.
So I walk down a couple of blocks, when I’m suddenly parallel with a Xe Om driver. Quietly revving his engines, in a helmet too thin to provide any sort of protection, he keeps up my pace and asks: “Motorbike?”
The distance between the school to my house warranted about 20,000 – 30,000 VND (less than £1). My first offer was 20,000, speaking in stunted Vietnamese.
Now, of course it’s easy to point out that in my shirt and tie, I look like I make a few extra bucks. Indeed, as an English teacher I made strides above a local Xe Om. I’m often more than happy to let an extra 20,000 or so brush off. But this was his counter-offer: 500,000VND (£17). I shake my head and walk away.
Soon, however, I hear the sputter of engines catching up behind me. “100,000” he says.
“20,000” I say. He shakes his head, pointing at the road and proclaiming it’s “too far”. This drive normally took less than 10 minutes. I could walk home in 15.
I shrug and continue on my merry way, leaving the poor guy to re-scale his economic decisions.
I’m pretty much halfway home when I hear someone shout “hey!”. It’s my old pal. I stop, a little tired and more than wary of what he’s going to say next.
He says nothing, and hands me a spare helmet. I say “20,000”. He nods vigorously, I perch onto the backseat like an unwilling trophy wife, and we’re off.
Five minutes later we arrive at my alleyway. I hop off, give him back his helmet, and hand him a 20,000VND note.
“No no,” he says, pointing to my wallet. “So far. Một trăm ngan! (100,000).”
I’m annoyed. We agreed on a price but he tries his hand just one last time.
I say no.
He gets agitated. Shuffling around on his seat, he speaks in a tirade of Vietnamese, making hand gestures describing bikes turning on roads, going long ways round as if it were the Odyssey.
I give him an extra 10,000. He looks at it and asks for more. I walk away, into my house, as he sits staring.
Have you been the victim of a scam whilst traveling?
Do you have any advice to give travelers in Southeast Asia?
Feel free to comment below.