Getting Sucker Punched in Vietnam & How it’s Hard to Love this Country

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Pho, I’m in Vietnam yalllll

I apologize for the lack of posts!  My wifi in Vietnam has been surprisingly horrible, which is ironic since my friends & I have been staying in airbnbs for the purpose of getting good wifi.

Right now I’m on leg 3 of my first real backpacking trip after teaching.  I was in Myanmar, I did some time in Thailand, and now I’m in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a country that I’ve heard both the best and worst about from friends and other travelers.  Some people love it and decide they want to move here, while others swear they’ll never go back again.  Two of my favorite travel bloggers, Alex in Wanderland and Nomadic Matt, both wrote about how much they dislike Vietnam and are never going back again.

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So far, I’ve loved Vietnam.  I could see myself moving to Hanoi for a bit.  I love it THAT much.  In Vietnam the weather is gloomy (I love dark and cold), the food is AMAZING, the French influence makes for gorgeous architecture in Hanoi, and the countryside near Hoi An is beautiful.  The shopping in Hoi An is also absolutely insane, you can get a full custom outfit made for $15.

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Outfits by Hoi An.  I got that romper brand spankin new for 160,000 dong, or about $7 US.

Scams/unkindness I’ve experienced and witnessed in Vietnam so far:

  • Men trying to “fix” my perfectly fine shoes on the street and charge me
  • A woman trying to sell me 2 doughnut holes for 200,000 dong(about $10) because she let me take her picture
  • People not having enough change, or thinking that I can’t read their sign that says “Bahn mi egg 15,000 dong” and charging me double
  • A man getting kicked out of a pharmacy after the owner saw him trying to take my friends’ wallet
  • Rigged taxi meters(not very original)
  • Vendors straight up being unwilling to negotiate absurd prices and straight up yelling at my friends & I when we won’t buy their stuff
  • Attempting to walk into a local food stall and getting straight up told “no” even though it’s full of Vietnamese people eating
  • The dog in the whiskey bar – In Saigon a man working at a little whiskey bar told us a story about how he bought the cute little bar dog from a butcher in Hanoi, as she was about to be cooked as someone’s dinner.  He then said that the butchers feed the pretty dogs steroids so that people buy them when they don’t want them to get eaten.
  • Getting handed the “English” menu at a food stall, then picking up the Vietnamese menu to see that the prices are half
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The perpetrator of the 200,000 dong doughnut scam.
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The Vietnamese love me I swear
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*sits down and talks to us for 20 minutes on the beach & says she’s widowed before asking us to buy her shit* (she actually wasn’t terrible)
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Saving grace – the only person in Vietnam to actually say “Take my picture!” in the history of ever possibly.

I’m really trying to give Vietnam a chance.  I REALLY am.  I don’t want people to be right about people constantly trying to scam you, I don’t want to think that Vietnamese people hate tourists, and I don’t want to think that every other sweet little lady I buy a Banh Mi from is overcharging me because I’m a foreigner.

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Love at first bite…until the clerk decided to charge me 60,000 dong instead of the 35,000 that it said on the menu in Vietnamese.  BANH MI PATÉ IS THE SAME IN BOTH LANGUAGES HUN

But then a few nights ago, in Hoi An, outside my friends & my gorgeous AirBnB, something happened.

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Our AirBnB
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View from our balcony

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Neighboring houses/shrines

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About a week ago my friends & I headed out to downtown Hoi An for dinner.  Hoi An is pretty quiet; you’re more like to be at a tailor around 11PM than dancing on a bar.  We planned on getting Banh Mi(Vietnamese sandwich AKA heaven in a baguette), grabbing a drink(singular) at a bar, and heading back to our airbnb for some sleep after partying a bit much in Hanoi.

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Of course, we ended up stumbling onto a bar crawl full of fellow backpackers, and ended up staying at the ONLY bar in Hoi An open past midnight until they closed at 3:30AM.  Oops.

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When we went to leave at 3:30AM, our only option for rides home were motorbike taxis that were going to overcharge the crap out of us, as they were the only show in town.  Weirdly the only taxis in town had no one in them, despite the fact that some of them had their lights on.  I’m starting to get a sneaking suspicion that they were in on the scam that ensued.

My friends & I each hopped onto our respective motorbike taxi, and off we went.

The second I hopped off my bike by my apartment and walked into the light to look through my wallet, I heard a bunch of yelling and was swarmed by Vietnamese men.  One bastard yelled SECURITY! and pushed the other guys back.  He said “no 50,000 dong for taxi, only 10,000!” trying to make it seem like he was helping me get a better cab rate.  THEN hereached into my wallet to help me find the correct bills.

He grabbed a handful of my Thai baht that I had yet to exchange.  This was when my other friend Sara who had already fought off the vultures came over yelling “GET AWAY FROM HER” and I came to my senses and grabbed my cash back.

But the damage had been done, and the sneaky bastard had already hidden away between 3000-4000 baht.  In total they got about $400US from the 6 of us.

The “security guard” wasn’t a security guard at all, and was in on the scam.

I NEVER carry that much money on my when I go out.  We just hadn’t planned on going out, and I didn’t want to leave my cash lying around with the sketchy surprise housekeepers that were living at our airbnb.

The Vietnamese currency literally sets you up for failure.  It’s so freaking inflated and all the bills look the same.  There are 2,000 dong notes, 20,000 dong notes, and 200,000 dong notes.  There are also 1,000 dong notes, 10,000 dong notes, and 100,000 dong notes.  It’s like Vietnam knew they were going to try to rip off tourists when they originally designed their currency.

The taxi drivers then tried to pull the same sh*t with each one of my friends as we rolled up.  One of my female friends actually wound up getting punched in the face by a taxi driver in the confusion because she was trying to get a picture of his license plate.

Of course we stayed and screamed and yelled and tried to get our stuff back from them.  I stood in front of the “security guard” ‘s bike and forcibly searched all his pockets after screaming in his face for about 20 seconds.  I found nothing; and in retrospect he definitely shoved my cash up his sleeve, but in the moment I couldn’t think that clearly.

My friend got a different spiel – hers was that they were with the Vietnamese mafia.  I’m calling BS unless they were like the lowest rung on the mafia totem pole based on how scared they seemed.

Men in collectivist Asia generally aren’t very aggressive.  So while they may try to confuse you and use scare tactics like surrounding you in numbers, they’re actually huge wussbags when confronted.  They’re more strength in numbers than strength in muscle mass.

The best part of this story is that 2 dillholes stayed back to try to act like they were helping us.  They gave us 500,000 dong back trying to act like they recovered it for us, and told us that it was the entire amount that had been taken.  If you ask me they were trying to cover themselves and keep us from calling the police.  You can take my money, but you can’t insult my intelligence.

So what’s the point of this story?

That I’m salty I got f*cking robbed.

Especially by a bunch of wussbags who tried to scam a group of 20-something year-old girls when they’re coming home from the bar at 4AM.  In retrospect I wish I had jacked “security” right in the face; or at least chucked his phone into the rice paddy when I was searching his pockets.  It’s not even the money I’m angry about, money is always replaceable.  It’s the principle, and the fact that I didn’t want everyone to be right about Vietnamese people being out to get you.

Also there is SUCH a double standard for girls in this country – there was 1 boy with us, and they didn’t touch him.  And he was a 24 year-old scrawny Spanish British dude who looked more like a soccer player than a football player, by no means intimidating.

I think the most dangerous thing about a situation like that is that not only do you get robbed, but the perpetrators find out where you’re staying.  In a house about 15 minutes outside of downtown, far from the police and people who would be around to witness a break it.  I carried my laptop and camera around with me for the rest of our stay there.

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Did I mention that in the same week I lost my Thai debit card, lost my phone at a music festival, and lost my American debit card, all on separate occasions?  I’ll admit that 3 out of the 4 are completely my fault.  If you need directions to the Thong Lor police station in Bangkok to file a police report I’m your girl!

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My point is that travel isn’t always as beautiful and fun as it looks on Instagram.  Yes, some weeks you’re chasing and sunsets over thousands of temples in Bagan, and some weeks you’re drinking fruity sh*t on a private longtail boat at Maya Bay off Koh Phi Phi.  But sometimes you lose your phone, Thai debit card, American debit card, and between 3,000-4,000 baht in the same week.  Sometimes you get lost by yourself in the middle of nowhere at 11PM at night when your bus breaks down and no one speaks English to tell you what’s happening.  And some weeks you have to skip sunrise hikes and temples in Bali because you can’t leave your bed due to food poisoning.

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Not pictured: food poisoning
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Not pictured: lost cell phone

It’s also by no means easy whatsoever.  People always think that you have to have money to travel, which is 110% not the truth.  But you do have to be mindful and a little savvy when you’re balling on a budget like I am, and research saves you tons of money.

Yes, it’s all worth it, and I still am going to do my best over my next 2 weeks in Vietnam to not let getting robbed ruin my opinion of the country.  But I’m definitely not taking any more motorbike taxis home at 4 in the morning, and I’m definitely not carrying as much cash with me to the bar.

How I feel about Vietnam right now:

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5 thoughts on “Getting Sucker Punched in Vietnam & How it’s Hard to Love this Country

  1. Oh my, that’s a terrible story. I hope your friend is fine? We love Vietnam so far, and haven’t been scammed like this (our host in Hoi An has told us to stay away from motorbike taxis and to say “no” to every offer made on the streets). Good luck in the future!

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  2. Sounds like you got out of it easy. On our last trip we met a girl who left that same bar on a moto and was kidnapped. He threatened her life and drive her around to several atms forcing her to withdraw at every one. She ended up back at a house where they tried to force more money out of her before dumping her back near the bar. She was that scared that she refused to report it and was leaving to go home early. Ive heard its a regular occurence there at that bar. Scary stuff!

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    1. That sounds horrible, sad that happened to her! But yes scary stuff, I’ve heard several nasty stories about Hoi An

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