I’m sure I have been cheated out of money dozens of times on my trip. I pay the “foreigner” tax or the “gringo” tax and that’s just how it goes. Sometimes I catch a small smirk as they earn twice as much as they should have from the sale, other times I’d never know.
The side of the bus clearly listed the prices. It cost 15,000 Dong or about $0.75. And I read on Wikitravel that it only costs 15,000 Dong. I also read there that the bus people will try and charge you 50,000 Dong for being a foreigner or claiming your bag costs extra, etc.
Unfortunately, I showed up at the bus terminal with only a 100,000 Dong note. I got on the bus and when the guy came around collecting money, I gave him the note.
He gave me back the change: 50,000 Dong.
Yes, he cheated me out of 35,000 Dong. Again, that’s $1.75. It doesn’t break the bank. But it’s the principle.
This guy was stealing from me.
I told him no, it’s 15,000. He said no, 50,000. We went back and forth for a minute or two and he wouldn’t budge.
Another lady got on the bus and paid. I was sitting in the back so I couldn’t see any of the other peoples’ transactions as he collected their money. After she paid, he walked back and showed me a 50,000 Dong note. He said “See, Vietnam, same same.”
Same same is a common phrase here, Cambodia as well. In fact, you can buy shirts in Cambodia that say “Same same… but different.” Now I understand what that means. I looked at him and said exactly that “Same same… but different!”
Time went on and I pestered him some more. Still no change. Then some Australians who live in Da Nang got on the bus. I asked them if I was right and they said yes. They recommended I just threaten to report him to the police. There are usually policemen at bus stations, so that was the plan.
Toward the end of the trip I asked him again for my change. He said no. So I got out my camera and took some pictures of him. Being a coward, he covered his face and for the rest of the trip stood facing outward with his arm covering his face. I took the pictures and said “police, police, police” so he understood it was my intention to report him to the police when we got to the station.
The Vietnamese are labeled as aggressive. I can see that on the roads, but I got to see it in a different context on this bus as I transitioned from calm and relaxed South Vietnam to frenzied and aggressive North Vietnam.
The guy kind of threatened to hit me as I took his picture. It was the first time since getting robbed in Manizales, Colombia where the butterflies were released in my stomach. The pictures I took are down below.
I had a feeling he wouldn’t hit me with all the Vietnamese people on the bus, but you never know.
As we neared the station, I got up and put my finger on his wedding ring.
I wanted him to feel guilty that he’s feeding his family by stealing. I guess it worked. Sort of.
He got out his wad of cash and started counting. He gave me 20,000 Dong more, bringing my change up to 70,000 Dong, meaning I paid 30,000 Dong for the 15,000 Dong ticket.
I told him 15,000 more, and he pointed to my bag saying that’s why he charged twice the fare. The bus had empty seats the whole way and my bag was under my seat. Bu no means did it occupy another seat.
Anyway, there was very little I could do throughout the entire ordeal. He had my money so the burden was on me to guilt him into doing the right thing.
Vietnam has been a beautiful place so far, so it was ugly to see such behavior. And quite a contrast from the people in Ho Chi Minh City who at times went out of their way to protect me as a foreigner as opposed to trying to take advantage of me.
But despite this ugliness, the beauty of Da Nang revealed itself minutes later when I met Anh.
About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.