Things were less than great in Ho Chi Min City, so we moved on to Mui Ne. A four hour bus ride and 12 bucks a piece later, we arrived to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere that every beach town has…right? Wrong. We thought we had left most of the honking horns and taxis of the city behind. This apparently was wishful thinking. Mui Ne is a Russian tourist destination full of taxis constantly driving down the street honking their horns to see if you need a ride. As you walk down the street listening to the taxi drivers trying to woo you with their charmful horns, you also get to experience every single restaurant also trying to win you over. One or more of the staff steps out onto the sidewalk right in front of you to tell you how amazing their food is as they point to the half dead fish in the tank . No thanks, I’ll pass.
We wanted to get out of town for a bit and see the amazing sand dunes that we and everyone else comes here to see, so we rented a motorbike (scooter). As we came upon the dunes we decided to just keep going and take a ride because they didn’t look all that great. We enjoyed our day out cruising the coast and open roads outside of town and eventually made it back to the hotel without incident. Later that day, I decided to head out by myself to photograph the sand dunes at sunset. I reached the sand dunes and hiked up to find exactly what we thought…nothing spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never seen a sand dune and wanted to pay a couple dollars to rent a sled and slide down with your friends, great, but they did not live up to all of the hype. So, I hung out for a little while and decided to get back to the hotel to meet Simone for dinner. This is when things got interesting.
I leave on my scooter and only get about a half mile (1 kilometer for my non American friends) down the road before I pass two guys on the opposite side of the street who are sitting on a motorcycle. As I pass, I can see them foaming at the mouths and knew what was coming next. In my rear view mirror I see a red light on and look over to see the guy on the back with his whistle and billy club straddling the other as they pull beside me on a bike that says “Police” on it. So, I pull over and shut off the engine to see what the two dancers from the village people in their matching green uniforms want. One of the two kids that were maybe eighteen (one still had acne) approaches me while the other, with his whistle and billy club stands on the sidewalk. So junior and I start a conversation to see how much money he can get from me. He wanted to know where I had gotten the scooter, where I was from, what I did for work, etc. He continues to tell me how I broke the law of going over the white line and wanted to know if I had a license. Really, this is coming from someone who lives in a country without traffic laws. “Sure I do” I say, as I pull from my pocket, my fancy International drivers permit that I got from AAA. He was not pleased with this and said that it was not a Vietnamese drivers license. So I show him where it says Vietnam on the list of approved countries and my picture in the back. Still no good. Ok, “now what” I ask? The boy pulls out his official pamphlet (that you can get in a hotel lobby) that is ripped and worn so bad that it’s almost in three pieces. He then points to the line that says if you are caught breaking the driving laws in Vietnam you could get fined anywhere from 500,000-800,000 dong ($24-$38USD). I had heard about this scam before and knew what was coming if I didn’t pay. After I refused to pay him, he said that they would have to take the motorbike. The police take the bike and hold it for a period of time (up to six weeks) and then you have to pay those fees for the owner of the bike on top of the violation fee. This conversation went on for about five minutes or so and I kept playing dumb and refusing to pay him, but told him they could follow me back to the hotel and I would get the money (yeah right). He responded with “no hotel, you pay here”. As we’re talking, another motorbike comes up the road carrying two tourists, so they look at them, say a few words to each other, blow their whistle, and point for them to pull over. The kid tells me to go to my hotel and walks towards the next victims of the “Vietnam motorbike scam”. I was apparently too much trouble, so they looked to the easier target. All I can say is “thanks” to the two tourists who drove up just in the nick of time. I doubt they got away without paying.
I found out later that the traffic police are dressed in a yellow uniform and they are the only ones that can pull you over for traffic violations. These two guys may or may not have been actual police (who wear similar uniforms), but I doubt it. It is illegal for a tourist to ride a motorbike without a license in Vietnam, and I’m not actually sure if the International drivers permit counts. Regardless, this is an ongoing problem even for locals. There is a lot of corruption in the police force and if you ask me, it’s just not worth the hassle. It really limits your ability to get out and explore when you have to either hire a driver, which isn’t cheap, or take the chance of getting robbed by the police or someone posing as the police.
Do you have a story about getting robbed or scammed while traveling?