03 November 2009

"One Dollah for Pahking"

We arrived by train to Danang and wanted to take a bus to Hoi An, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, a small town by the sea, but it doesn't have train access. As the bus station in Danang was about 3 km from the train station, we had to take a taxi (I'm not a fan of taxis, be it here or in Europe, I only take them if there's no other choice. When travelling, I feel so distant from everything looking out of the windows of a taxi...). Very spontaneously we decided to share one with a Swedish mother and girl, and managed to make ourselves understood to the taxi driver as to where we wanted to go. He put on the meter (Miguel told him so) and off we went.
Arriving at the bus station, he wanted to drive us inside the station. "One dollah pahking". That would be 18000 Dong. Right in front of us was a sign saying that parking cost 5000 Dong. Me tourist but me not stupid. We told him to leave us outside the bus station, which he fortunately did without discussion, and we paid the price showing on the meter, which seemed correct.
Getting on the bus, the ticket lady (actually, there are no tickets...) wanted us to pay 40000 Dong per person, which was almost as much as we had paid for our two-and-a-half hour train ride. This was a one-hour ride on a lousy bus, and our guidebook said it was 10000 Dong. "Very important holiday in Vietnam" was the excuse, although she wasn't able to tell me which holiday it was supposed to be. She made us sit right in the back of the bus so we couldn't see how much the other passengers paid. Finally we got the price down to 20000 Dong per person. About halfway through the trip we saw her giving some money to the guy who stands in the door of the bus helping the passengers get on and off... They were probably sharing the "benefits".

Of course all this is somehow infuriating. Travellers in Vietnam often say they end up trusting nobody at all and feeling they're constantly being ripped off. At the same time, of course it's true that we have so much money compared to them and it doesn't hurt us so much paying double, triple or more. A lot of people have to rely on this "extra income" in order to make ends meet. It's just that the constant haggling about the price is tiring. It also creates more of a gap between the locals and the tourists, nobody trusting anybody else. The aim is to get as much money out of the tourists as possible. And even if one dollar is not much, it still adds up for the budget-conscious traveller.

I don't really have a solution for this. We try to take trains, where prices are fixed and the same for everybody, avoid taxis, and ignore the constant "Hello where you goin? Please come in and have a look!" I only buy things that I really need, and try to make up my mind before about the price that would seem right for me. Yesterday I spent some money in a shop that benefits disabled people who are working in the back of the shop. At least I can see where the money is going.

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