Tonight I went out with a friend of mine to a local Australian Pub called the Blue Geko. It’s a great place to meet drunk Australians who are really open and easy to talk to.
One guy shared a story with us about how he got conned out of 200 Australian dollars and one million dong. He had hired a motorbike taxi who took him to all the usual sights, and then to a girly bar in the evening. He was sat down and a lot of girls came in. He chose a few to sing karaoke with but about an hour after all the girls left and three Vietnamese came in with a bill totaling $276 USD. They wouldn’t let him leave without paying, so he at first put down a million dong but they said no and wanted the full amount. He wouldn’t pay so they started beating the motorbike taxi driver. He said it was all staged and as an ex-pat in Saigon, I would have to agree with him. The motorbike taxi driver probably took a few blows for a handsome kickback from the thugs. Finally the tourist got freaked out and pulled out all the money he had after which they let him go.
It’s not uncommon to get scammed like that in poor countries and tourists have to watch out. If you are taken to any shady places, it’s best to leave right away without ordering anything. Even in Japan I have heard stories of the Yakuza doing stuff like that in the shadier districts. You have to be on your guard when in a city you don’t know, especially a poor one.
As an ex-pat this stuff never has happened to me because I don’t let myself get taken to shady joints and have learned how to get out of certain situations without losing my cool. That really is the key, which is to remain calm, smile, and work your way out of it. If I was in that situation, I would have pulled out my cell phone and called some influential Vietnamese. They might have taken my cell away, but they can be intimidated if it’s done in the right way. You just have to keep cool, refuse to pay and let them play their game.
But really one shouldn’t let themselves get into that situation which is the best defense. I did have one incident at the coconut stand where I didn’t negotiate the price first and they gave me two coconuts which I drank. Also, it was in broad daylight and in the middle of a busy street so I was safe anyway. They wanted to charge me twice the price and refused to let me leave. It really wasn’t that expensive but I refused to pay that price on principal. I pulled out my cell and started to call an influential friend. Once they saw that the let me leave.
A tourist does not know how to get out of such situations and therefore are easy targets.