Surviving Vietnamese scams – Hanoi

By the time you read this, I will already be in Vietnam. It’s been a few years since I was last there. I travelled Hanoi for the first time in 2007, and the second time in 2008. In all my travels I try to understand the culture, I try to be friendly, I try to be adventurous. I try, in short to keep an open mind. Hanoi however, was probably the toughest place I’ve visited.

It’s not without its charms. I was drawn to Haon Kiem Lake, to its little streets each specialized in a specific trade, the lure of its delicious drip coffee. I was extremely excited to watch the water puppet show and see the beautiful limestones of Halong Bay. But from the minute I landed, things were rough.

Laos & Vietnam 329(Motorcycles abound in Hanoi, Vietnam)

Watch out in the transportation you’re taking to the ‘hotel’

I had read that there were taxi scams going on. Taxi drivers not charging you by the meter, or setting an extremely high price at the end of the trip. My friend and I decided to try and forgo the scams by catching a shared minivan.

It turns out all the scams from the airport were the same, regardless of whether or not you were in a taxi, or a minibus. They tend to drive you around and either pretend to not know where your hotel is, or call someone and pass you the phone with the other person pretending your hotel is full, or in my case they dropped us off at a corner somewhere and told us it was the hotel. A guy came out and told us the hotel we booked was already full and that we need to go to their sister hotel. He brought us to a random old hotel and gave us a room. When I asked how much was it, he asked how much were we being charged for the other one and took our cash. The hotel was old and rundown, and we felt that we had gotten scammed. The next day we took our backpacks with us and walked around looking for another place to stay. Needless to say the owners were not happy, insisting they keep out deposit (USD 5) and payment for the second night (USD8)

I don’t even know the best way around this with the exception of requesting to be dropped off in the middle of the city. Almost everyone I spoke to who has been to Hanoi has told me the same thing happens to them. Take caution.

Laos & Vietnam 218(By the lake – sad food poisoned face)

Eat on the road. Seriously

The friend I was travelling with had a more strict diet than I did. So when it was time to have dinner, I thought it would be easiest to follow her lead. We chose a nice looking restaurant with air-conditioning and ordered vegetable soup. Perhaps the empty restaurant should have been a sign to us.

In all my travels, including living in India, and working in China I have never gotten food poisoning. Vietnam, and this blardy bowl of vegetable soup was the only place in the world where I got food poisoning, and food poisoning so bad both my friend and I had to go to the international clinic and have IV drips inserted in us.

Laos & Vietnam 312(Eating by the street, probably the safest option)

What we should have done was to eat on the road. Look for restaurants that have a lot of people. Turnover is fast and therefore the raw materials they have should be quite fresh.

Look for the ‘real’ restaurant or café

Laos & Vietnam 310(Keep hunting for the real deals)

Like most travellers, we travelled Hanoi with a travel guide book. And like most travellers learning to accustom oneself to a new country, you tend to try out the restaurants/ café’s recommended first before you dare to go out adventuring on your own. After the fiasco with the hotel, finding ourselves a new hotel and vomiting like crazy in the new hotel due to food poisoning, you can bet that we were in even less shape to try out a random restaurant. We looked for the Kangaroo Café (recommended on LP) and were flabbergasted when we found two other Kangaroo Café’s located nearby each waiting for unknowing guidebook holders to venture in. It turns out, there’s no real law against naming your place the same as someone else’s and so, everyone is trying to ride on the popularity of places in the LP. You can read more about it here.

In short, the biggest problem I felt being in Vietnam was the true sense that I didn’t belong and that I wasn’t welcome or wanted there. Everywhere I went people came up to me to offer me or ask me to buy something or outright asked for money just because I wasn’t local. I know these things happen in all trips all over the world, but even in India you can say sorry and walk away without being pestered. And even there you didn’t feel malicious intent coming from the locals. That was what I felt like the entire way, like a walking wallet that wasn’t very welcome.

Laos & Vietnam 281(Right after I got yelled out by a guard for squatting down to get a picture in front of the mausoleum)

I’m sorry if I didn’t paint a good picture of Hanoi. Like I said, there were so many charms that I did enjoy about the place. But I think at the end of the day, it boils down to its people and how you interact together. And if that collapses, that will put a damper on your trip.

Well, I’m going into Vietnam again, and with an open mind still. I really hope that my experience with the beautiful city of Ho Chi Minh will be far better especially since I’m looking forward to the job I will be doing there. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed