As the train stops in Hue, a young married couple comes rushing into our cabin. They tell us how they just barely missed the train in Danang and had to spend an exorbinant amount of money on a taxi to bring them here where they just barely made it on time. One is from New Zealand and the other's from England and we spend the next few hours trading stories about what it's like living in our respective countries. Much of the talk is about politics and what great source material America has been for British comedians for the past several years. We eventually drift off to sleep looking forward to arriving in Hanoi.
The train pulls into the station around 5:00 a.m. And we decide to share a taxi since we're going to the same neighborhood. Hanoi is famous for its taxi mafia at the transport hubs (i.e. airport, train, and bus stations) where you are basically at their whim. You can decide to walk, but you have no idea where you're going or how long it will take to get there. So you're kind of stuck getting in a cab that will more than likely have the meter rigged to run at three times the going rate. We get in a taxi hoping that we've found the one honest cabby in Hanoi only to see the meter start flying immediately. We arrive a scant two minutes later and apparently the taxi has a warp drive since it says we've gone seven kilometers. The guy wants eight bucks and Natasha and I are so tired we don't really care that it should have only cost one. We're inclined to pay and walk away with our tails between our legs, but the couple we're with is pissed. The say “Give the guy a dollar”. We don't quite know what to do so we give the guy twenty thousand dong. We don't get two steps before the cabby is cursing us in Vietnamese and demanding “Money! Money!” (interesting that he knows that word in english). Before we know it he's grabbing the British guy by the collar and we start getting very freaked out. When the British guy gets away from him to look for help, the cabby sneaks up behind Natasha and tries to grab her pack off of her back. He's now in mine and Natasha's faces and seems to be threatening violence. He's still cursing us in Vietnamese and yelling “Money!” (funny that's still the only word he knows in english) , he's now got Natasha by the collar and I'm trying to get between them, and I'm not sure, but I think Natasha might have taken swing at him. At this point I should note that yes, it's five o'clock in the morning and we're only half awake, and yes, we're in a dark alley where, surprisingly, none of the businesses are open yet. Finally some bleary eyed hoteliers start poking their heads out and step in before anyone gets hurt. We ask how much the ride should cost from the train station and one guy says “Two dollars, but I think you pay him five.” We really just want the cabby to leave without punching us or stealing our bags so we give him the five, wishing that we'd just given him the eight to begin with and avoided the whole mess.
Really what's a few dollars to us anyway?
For an area of the world that we westerners refer to as “developing”, tourism is a life-blood. Considering the average person makes $70 a week, we must seem to be made of money. It's not hard to understand why some people here wouldn't feel bad about charging an extra dollar or two for their goods or services. It's a regular occurrence to pay double what a local might pay. It's a constant battle as a traveler to find a balance between paying a fair price and getting ripped off, and really, who can blame them for trying to make a little extra money. You read about the scams and try your best to avoid them but sometimes you just can't. It never feels good to know that you've been taken advantage of, but some time it seems like it's better to just cut your losses and move on.