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Don't Get Jacked in Vietnam (by a taxi, not a masseuse)

Headache, exhausted, half-asleep, I landed in Saigon.  In a daze, my guard was down and general belief of the good in people worked against me.  I had just landed in a place that I was so eager to travel to, only to get jacked by a cabbie as soon as I had arrived.

So what happened?   After a 20 hour flight and eating the disgusting broccoli on the Vietnam Airlines flight, I got off the plane feeling like hell.  I never, ever get headaches but my head was aching and all I wanted to do was get to the hotel.  After waiting an hour to get my visa on arrival at the airport in Saigon, I ended up finding out that my luggage was lost.  After another half hour, I finally got my luggage!  Thank God it wasn’t in another country.

As soon as I left the airport, a guy dressed like he worked for a taxi company asked me if I needed a cab.  Not looking around to realize that there was probably an official taxi line, I went with this guy.  He grabbed my suitcase and dragged it backwards, bumping it around.  I tried to laugh it off, and told him to be careful.  It gets worse.  Although I had already negotiated the rate (would be about $8), once he had my suitcase and me in his van, he charged me more money to exit the airport.  While I knew there was an exit fee for cars, he overcharged me.  I called him out on it, but felt trapped.  Sick and tired, I couldn’t jump out of the van since my suitcase was in the back.


Halfway to my hotel he now tells me he wants more.  So what does someone do in this situation?  Suitcase held hostage in the back, what do you really do?  It’s easy to say that you tell the cabby to fuck off and jump out.  I tried to keep positive while my head pounded and I felt like I was about to faint.  The negativity of this piece of human garbage beside me was palpable.  One of my thoughts was to stiff him when I got out, and just pay him what he initially agreed upon.  Again, I still had the problem of my suitcase in the back.  So we get to my hotel outside and I pay him….and he returns my bill and angrily wants a different one because a corner was bent.  (As an aside, if you’re travelling with US Currency, always bring very clean bills with no damage or bent corners.  At least in Asia, most places won’t accept your bills or exchange them.)

I got my suitcase out of the back from my captor and slammed his door as hard as I could and called him an asshole.  Part of me was hoping his window would break.  With any luck another tourist he tries to rip off knocks him out.  Thankfully, karma is a bitch and I’m sure in the years since then he’s paid his price. 

In retrospect though, my unwelcome welcome to Vietnam was one of the best lessons I could ever get.  Why?  Because at the end of the day I was out only about $25 US and in return I had gained a lot of knowledge.  Here are my lessons that I hope you can implement upon your next trip, especially an overseas trip where you arrive tired, jetlagged, and generally disoriented:

  • When exiting the airport, always look for a taxi stand.  These days there is often a central or even government controlled taxi stand with pre-determined prices based on zones.  Look for it, and if you can’t see one, ask for it.  
  • People that randomly approach you, even if dressed the part, are usually not legit taxi drivers. Whether in the USA or Thailand, I almost never see taxi drivers hunting around for passengers outside of the airport terminals.  If someone approaches you asking you if you need a ride,  just say “no”. 
  • Try to keep your belongings as close to you as possible. In my case, what really hurt me was being in the front seat of a van, whilst my luggage was way back in the trunk section, completely inaccessible to me.  This fact alone is what kept me hostage.  While it may not be feasible based on how much luggage you have and the size of the car you’re in, what I recommend doing is sitting in the back seat and keeping your luggage in the back seat with you.  This way, if there is any hank panky going on, you’ll be able to leave along with your belongings. 
  • Always keep a few bills and local currency on your when arriving. The rest should be hidden in another pocket.  While I did not have this problem, I fathom that for others, some greedy taxies seeing a wallet-full of cash may get greedy and want to cash in if they think you’re some rich foreigner. 
  • When travelling with the plan to convert your home currency (Euros, US Dollar, British Pounds, etc.), always carry clean bills with you. As I have found out traveling throughout Asia, if there are any blemishes, cuts, tears, or even bent corners, most places will not exchange your money. 
  • When getting ripped off, avoid physical confrontation.  It is not worth it.  Given that you’re in a foreign country you never want to risk getting into a physical fight and getting injured or killed for what is an insignificant amount of money.  Yes, you want to adhere to your principals, but what’s the point in ruining a longer vacation and risking your health or life?  
  • Use your cell phone to take a picture of the taxi license and any external licensing on the car. While I’m sure filing a complaint is the last thing you want to do, by taking pix in front of the driver, he may be less likely to screw you over. 
  • If the car you’re getting into is unmarked, ask the taxi driver to see his license and proof that he is with another company. This is not the time to worry about hurting his feelings.  There are countless taxies at the airport so if he gets upset and doesn’t want you as his ride, then good riddance – you probably just averted a scam.
  • Never pay for a “toll”. In my case the cabbie made me pay the toll to exit the airport (nevermind the fact that he charged me more than the actual toll was that I saw him pay).  That’s the cabbies problem.

If you’re a traveler, you’ve been there at least once.  Whether you’re a Canadian visiting Mexico, or a South African visiting New York City, or anyone visiting Las Vegas, you’ve been ripped off by a cabbie.  Thankfully Uber is gradually changing the game around the world so I fully support the many taxi companies that they are putting out of business.  Whatever happens though I hope this article helps you to avoid a rough landing.  Whatever happens, stay positive and just know that every experience is a lesson! 

Here’s a great article from an American who consistently got ripped off in Saigon.


Enjoy life. Have fun. Travel more.

- AB3

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