Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fashionista Travels: Robbed in Ho Chi Minh City

Very recently I saw a friend posting on Facebook a newspaper article on tourists being robbed by taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The newspaper article that my friend had posted on Facebook. Thank you Ismandy for highlighting this article on Facebook today. 

I've always been wanting to blog about my own experience but I've kind held back from blogging about it because I did not want to re-live the experience. You may have noticed that I did not blog about my trip in Ho Chi Minh City either for the same reason. And I was only able to blog about halal food in Ho Chi Minh [click here for the link] about a year after the trip. 

Anyway, it seems that the rogue taxi drivers are getting quite aggressive so I thought it's better for me to share tips on HOW TO SPOT A FAKE TAXI DRIVER IN HO CHI MINH

Before that, let me share with you what happened. 

Us on that fateful day. 

It was the second day of our trip. We had just arrived in Ho Chi Minh the day before. We wanted to see the sights and because we had Alexa with us (traveling with a baby is definitely different compared to traveling with just your partner), we decided to join a tour. It was a whole day tour and it included lunch. Unfortunately, the lunch was not halal. We did not join their lunch but we did manage to grab some croissants and hot chocolate at Starbucks. 

The tour ended at around 4 pm. It was still early so we decided to ask the bus driver to drop us off near Ben Thanh market where we knew that halal food would be plentiful. Had some food at Salima Halal Restaurant and then we went off to Ben Thanh market in search of souvenirs. 

By 6 pm we decided to head back to the hotel. Our hotel is not that far from Ben Thanh market (perhaps about 15 minutes walk) but it had started to rain. Because of Alexa (she was sleeping in the baby carrier at the time) we decided to take a cab and immediately grabbed the one which was conveniently parked in front of Ben Thanh market. The car was painted in white and green, similar to other taxis and there was a meter on the dashboard. Hubs decided to sit in front for safety reasons (he felt that we would be more vulnerable if all of us were sitting at the back)

While the driver was driving, I noticed that the meter was moving pretty fast. That kinda got me slightly worried. And then as I was looking outside, I also realised that the windows were tinted black. Alarm bells started to go off in my head. This doesn't look right, I thought. But he had the meter and there was an ID as well on the dashboard. So I just kept quiet. 

And then he stopped by the main road (a very busy intersection) and said (in broken English), he cannot go any further. The road is packed with cars and he is unable to turn into the small road that leads us back to our hotel. He asked for payment.

Since hubs was sitting next to him, hubs asked me to pay (because I was sitting at the back, and thus at a distance to the driver). Took out money from my wallet and paid the amount on the meter. The driver got angry and said not enough. He then took all the cash that I had in my hand. 

Bear in mind, Alexa was sleeping at the time in the baby carrier. Hence, Alexa is positioned in between me and the driver. I did not know what happened to hubs because he suddenly started asking me to just give my money to the driver. It was weird for me that hubs did not seem to notice him taking my money and instead asked me to just give the driver more money. 

The driver noticed that I had more cash in my wallet. He took a newspaper and put it next to Alexa's neck. Instinctively, I feared for Alexa's life. I did not know whether there's a knife inside the folds of the newspaper and I certainly do not want to find out. However, I did push the newspaper out of the way and lo and behold, I saw his other hand underneath the newspaper and was inside the opening of my wallet. How did he do that, I don't know. But he was very smooth and cunning. I pulled away my wallet, gave him almost all the money in my wallet (you can always replace the money that you've lost but you definitely cannot replace lives) and satisfied with that, he finally allowed for us to leave the car. 

By this time, I was shaking. Hubs, unfortunately, was oblivious. Outside the cab (or fake cab) hubs asked me what had just happened. I said, I was robbed. Hubs was shocked. He thought I was arguing about cab fare (I mean, seriously? Me arguing over cab fare?). We walked slowly to our hotel and told the staff that we had just been robbed. Johny (the receptionist at our hotel) had warned us about being robbed by taxi drivers the day before, but because I was busy tending to Alexa, I only half-listened to him. And funnily enough, we got robbed just the next day. 

Now that I've gotten the story off my chest, here's how you SPOT A FAKE CAB in HO CHI MINH CITY

The city is filled with Vinasun cabs. It's the best cab (most reliable and safe). All tourists are encouraged to take only Vinasun cabs. They are very easy to spot, white and green paint, logo on top of the cab. 

Logo by the side of the passenger doors as well and company number. 

The Vinasun logo is very visible and easy to see. The phone numbers on all Vinasun cabs are the same. Vinasun cabs are not tinted at all. 

This is one of the entrances to Ben Thanh market. Behind the black car, you can see white cars parked at the entrance of the market. That was how we got into the fake taxi. We had just exited the market and (fortunately or unfortunately) there was only one cab in the vicinity. As it was raining, we jumped into the car immediately without checking the logo. We only saw shades of white and green and thought that we were in a Vinasun cab. 

And here is a fake cab. Looks similar right? Same white paint and green numbers. But it's not a Vinasun logo. Even the phone number looks almost similar. And if you notice, the windows are tinted black. 

Fake cab. Different logo. Black tinted windows. However, car paint color is almost the same to Vinasun. 

To compare, this is how a Vinasun cab looks like from the side. 

So, I hope this post has been helpful. The reason for me writing this is to ensure that you (my fellow travellers) are safe and able to differentiate between a fake cab and a legitimate cab. Despite the trauma, we went to Ben Thanh market the very next day for the one reason so that we could take photos of these fake cabbies for me could warn others on how to spot them. As Johny (our hotel receptionist) would say, just take Vinasun cabs and nothing else.

Would I go to Ho Chi Minh again? Truth be told, after that incident, I had second thoughts about traveling but now, after having Alexa join me to other countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, China and also on our many trips within Malaysia, I know that it would be very difficult for me to stop traveling. Inshaa Allah, I'll try to take extra caution the next time and make a lot of dua'a for Allah to keep us safe. That being said, if there's an option to rent a car with a driver, I'll go for that option the next time.

Alexa was only 1 year and 3 months old at the time of this trip. All praise be to Allah for keeping us safe. Although we were robbed, we were unharmed. Alhamdulillah.

Do take extra care and enjoy your holiday, peeps!

xoxo Mrs Fashionista