We got Scammed!

Being taken advantage of as a traveller is the worst. It’s only happened to us a few times but when it does, we feel embarrassed, out of control of the situation and it also inevitably colours our view of the place we’re visiting, which is a shame.  In Vietnam we actually had two such incidents, but here are the details of one told by Drew on 27 January 2011.

We have successfully made it almost three quarters of the way through this trip without being scammed by some ‘enterprising’ tourist-devouring local. We have sort of patting ourselves on the back for having been so lucky, though honestly, I feel that the easiest way to avoid getting screwed is some basic research and common sense (i.e. if you know the scam about telling tourists that a popular attraction is closed to get them to go shopping in your store, you know to ignore such comments). Our streak came to a crashing halt a few days ago when we got totally hustled by an old lady.

Julie and I decided to have lunch at the massive Hue market after having wandered around for a bit. Besides the craziness and the complete lack of any personal space that are trademarks of any respectable Asian market, this particular one was impeccably clean and was devoid of white people, meaning that good, cheap food was to be had. There were numerous stalls, so we made the rounds to find a promising stall and settle into some seats. We ended up in the center of the market whose main speciality was noodle soup. This lady working the stall had a small menu of five items or so hanging at the front written in Sharpie and none of the soups cost more than 15,000 dong (about $.75).

She quickly whipped up two bowls of noodle and pork soup, which was delicious, even though we had yet to order. This is where the lunch went decidedly downhill.The stall lady would come over to our table every few minutes, delivering two more of some other item. First it was spring rolls, and then shrimp paste dumplings, then meatballs for our soup, then skewers of grilled pork. It looked like we had raided the buffet at Ponderosa we had so much food.


We kindly declined each time she came over with a new plate, but she was having none of it. She would quickly set down the plates anyway and pour sauces and add condiments, as if she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Once, she even picked up a piece of sausage and literally fed it Julie. When we were not eating enough of the grilled pork skewers for the stall lady’s liking, she rushed over, grabbed five skewers and slid the meat off on top of other uneaten dishes. When I had yet to add the additional meatballs to my soup, the stall lady quickly remedied the situation by dumping the meatballs into the soup for me.

As this frenzy of activity was taking place (and frenzy is really the only word for it), we decided that this must be one of those situations where you pay for what you eat. If you don’t touch the dish, how can you possibly be charged? When we had finished eating maybe 25% of the various offerings, I quickly gestured for the check.

The total: 200,000 dong. That’s $10US, a crazy sum of money for lunch in Vietnam, let alone at the market where the most expensive thing on any menu is 15,000. In fact, it’s the most expensive meal we have had in Vietnam. We got completely and utterly scammed.The entire transaction took place in such a rush, the old lady pulling out a 200,000 note from a Ziploc bag and waving it to us to indicate that’s what she wanted. Since there was no printed menu (the Sharpie board was now almost 20 feet away and not within view), and all the uneaten food had been tainted with sauces and condiments, we were stuck.

Should I not pay for the meatballs dumped in my soup even if I didn’t eat them? Should Julie have spit out the sausage? And how do we navigate this conversation about what we ate and didn’t eat in Vietnamese? We only know a few words – ‘bia’ is beer and ‘ga’ is chicken.

We paid the bill. Our egos in shambles, we walked out of the market in a complete funk. We just didn’t see it coming. We thought we were doing the smart thing, going to eat where the locals eat, taking a chance on some unknown food, being as un-Western as possible, and look what happens!

We decided as we walked back to our hotel to drown our sorrows in rightly cheap beer, that this will one day be funny. We tried to comfort ourselves with the thought that you haven’t really ‘done’ Asia until you get swindled by someone, since there are hustlers on literally every corner. At least we can now consider ourselves fully-fledged travellers!

  • April 13, 2015

    How irritating. Such a sinking feeling when stuff like that happens: we got stung for having some photos taken with tango dancers in Argentina. Felt really silly afterwards.

    But really, you have to remember it was only $10 and not let it happen again!

    • April 13, 2015

      Right – I think we need to balance being pissed about the scam and appreciative that it was only $10! Could definitely have been worse… 🙂

  • April 28, 2015

    Just came across your lovely site from twitter and absolutely love seeing all your stories. So sorry you guys got scammed, that is always the worst feeling 🙁
    Phi @ The Sweetphi Blog recently posted…Flat Iron Steak Caprese SaladMy Profile

    • April 28, 2015

      Thanks for the kind words Phi!
      It wasn’t the sum of money that bummed us out in Hue, it’s that we had worked so hard to avoid the typical scams. And once we were in the situation, we knew it was a scam and there was nothing we could do about it. The market lady had us. Luckily the food was quite good and at the end of the day, we were out $12. Not the worst possible outcome.