Overcharging and Ha Long Bay

I have not felt this disillusioned by travel since I left Atlanta. Vietnam, while beautiful, is full of obnoxious, money hungry people who have no shame when it comes to over charging foreigners. When asked how much something costs, a can of Coke for example, they pull a number out of their ass and look at you with an expression of hope on their face. Here is a sample conversation.

“Hello, how much for a Coke?”
“Ehh… three dollar?”
“You must be joking… I will give you 4,000 dong (25 cents)”
“Ok ok, how about one dollar?”
“No. I’ll give you 4,000 dong.”
“ok ok, you give me 7,000 dong?”

And so it goes. It would not be so bad if it were not for the fact that it happens with every purchase. It makes everything take so long, and you know that no matter what you pay, it is still more than the local price. I saw a Vietnamese guy buy a loaf of bread for 1,500 dong, so I went up to the woman and asked for bread which she handed me, then I handed her a 2,000 dong note, to which she looked up at me and said:

“No no, 10,000 dong…”
“But I just saw you give it to him for 1,500!?”
“He Vietnamese, your price 10,000 dong.”
“Screw that, give me my change…”
“Ok, you give me 5,000 dong?”
“Piss off.”

And so I walk off without my change, but at least I didn’t spend 10 times the amount it cost.  I once talked a moto driver down from $3 to 50 cents… but I had to walk off before he came after me and said ok. I have found this to be the best way. Just act like you don’t actually care if you get it or not, and walk to the next vendor. The first vendor will give chase. This enables you to pit them against each other and actually get a decent price.

What would happen if we started charging a higher price for foreigners in the states? Hell would ensue. But since it is almost impossible to speak the language over here if you are not local, there is not much to do about it.

This recent trend of pessimism stems from the trip I just took to Ha Long Bay. I had been looking forward to it for quite some time, as it is one of the natural wonders of the world. There are around 2000 limestone karsts climbing out of the ocean in an area that is some odd hundred square kilometers. It was truly breathtaking. However, the trip I had booked made me feel like a cow in a herd of cattle. We were picked up at our hotel, crammed into a van for three hours, with a stop at one of the bus stop restaurants where they sell products made by the handicapped children and if you don’t buy something you obviously want to kill all the children and are going to hell. They keep you here for half an hour so that you at least buy a soda to stay awake. Afterwards we got to the bay, were herded to some steps and had to wait an hour before we finally got onto a boat. This was an overnight trip, so we were going to sleep and eat the next four meals on this boat. We were told where to sit, served a set menu, then told to wait. We ended up just chilling on the roof for a while, but it was rainy and cold, so that was a bad idea.

We did get to go kayaking in the bay, which was a lot of fun. There were a good amount of vendors out on boats, and they were charging about half of what the prices on the boat were, so the guy I was rooming with and I stocked up on beer and snacks which we enjoyed later with a group of people in our room since they told us we could not bring outside food and drink on board and tried to charge us for each item. We said piss off once again and went to our cabin with the two brits I have been hanging out with who were as sick of them trying to eak out every cent from us as I was.

I don’t know, just an overall depressing experience. I returned back to Hanoi today more ready than ever to leave the hustle and bustle of Vietnam for the openness of Nepal. Since I fly out of here on Friday morning I am not to worried about spending one more day here. The Iceman has finally caught up to me, and I might meet up with him tonight.

The one good thing is somehow the guest house I am staying in is run by the nicest man I have met in this country. He is helpful, wants us to enjoy our time here, and is full of energy. It is also only $3 a night with hot water and all the free tea I can drink. Really nice when you come out of the rain.
I owe everyone an updated travel map, and will work on it tonight and tomorrow. It will take me some time because I have to backtrack, and figure a way to show it all. When I get to Nepal, I will be out of contact for a few weeks. There are no roads, much less internet access.


I will throw the pictures from the bay up online once I have had a chance to take a look at them.