February 23 - 24, 2015
Days 221 - 222
We spent most of our day staring at the rice fields, mountains and forests that characterized southern and central Vietnam. I would've appreciated some fresh air, but the windows were all locked, probably for our safety. Then, a few hours into our journey, a burning smell filled our car. I walked around, trying to locate its source. I never found it, but the odor was strong enough to force an employee to open the windows. Katie and I grew ecstatic. We stuck our heads outside like dogs, careful to avoid being decapitated. It took at least an hour for the fire to be extinguished, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
That night I bought two beers, but I forgot that Katie couldn't drink because she was on antibiotics from having giardia, so I drank them both. It was a wonderful journey.
Our Train arrived in Da Nang at 6am. We walked to the main road and got on the bus to Hoi An. The attendant was wearing sunglasses, and a mask covered her mouth. A local woman who boarded the bus in front of us paid 20,000 dong. I tried giving the attendant the same amount, but she demanded 40,000 each. After getting ripped off – and threatened with a knife – in Can Tho, I was already leery of Vietnamese bus attendants. And now we were being charged double, simply because we were foreigners.
I said, “The price is twenty thousand. I won't give you more.”
She yelled at me in Vietnamese, then turned and said something to the driver. The bus slowed down and the attendant pointed at the door. Her message was clear. It didn't matter how much the tickets normally were; the price for Katie and me was 40,000. There would be no bargaining. If we didn't like it, we could always walk.
It's one thing to overcharge a tourist for a souvenir, or even a ticket on a private bus. If you look like you have a lot of money, a good salesperson will increase the price accordingly. You can't blame them for trying. But this was a public bus, and it was the only one that went to Hoi An. I think I'm a reasonable guy. I have a lot of tolerance for other cultures, and I realize that Vietnam is a poor country. Many bad experiences can be chalked up to cultural differences. But this woman's behavior was unacceptable, no matter the country.
As much as I despised the attendant, I realized that she had the upper-hand. A taxi would be even more expensive than her inflated price. It would take us all day to walk to Hoi An. Seeing no reasonable way out of this situation, I paid her 40,000 dong. Then I said, in clear and slow English, “You have stolen our money. Understand? You are a thief.”
Because her entire face was covered, I couldn't read her reaction. For what it was worth, she didn't say anything for the rest of the trip. And if she had a knife, she kept it hidden.
Most of our interactions in Vietnam have been positive. The family we stayed with in Can Tho was simply amazing. In Chau Doc, everyone we saw smiled and waved to us. I didn't want to dwell on the few people who were hellbent on ripping off the tourists. I tried to put the experience past me, but I kept thinking: Am I a human being, or a walking cash register?