What ending would you expect to see when the very first experience you have with Vietnam is getting cheated by a taxi driver who picks you up right from the airport?
German tourist Marc Voigt was in the exact situation on Wednesday night, when he took a Saigon Air cab to go from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to a hostel on Pham Ngu Lao Street, known as the ‘backpacker area’ in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
Voigt recounted that he saw a girl who was about to take the taxi so they agreed to share the fare since she was going to the same area as him.
The driver did not want to accept that and after an argument the German agreed to pay him VND170,000 in addition to the VND200,000 the girl had already paid, he said in an email sent to Tuoi Tre News on Thursday.
Voigt then gave the driver what he thought was VND200,000, the tourist said, adding that the cabby took it and showed the cash to his "boss" as if he wanted to ask, "Shall I take it?"
His “boss,” the guy who stood outside organizing the transport, told him to take the money so the driver put it into his pocket and left, Voigt said.
“Suddenly the driver didn't speak English anymore. Before that we had spoken English and he had spoken it very well! So I couldn't make him give me my VND30,000 back,” he added.
After having dropped the girl, the cabby just stopped, left the car and asked Voigt aggressively to leave the cab, the tourists narrated in his email.
He then decided not to demand VND30,000 back, taking his backpack and leaving the car, the man said.
Not until the tourist, who arrived from Malaysia, reached his hostel did he realize that he had "given the taxi driver 200 Malaysian ringgit instead of 200,000 Vietnamese dong."
“VND200,000 is around $9.5, while RM200 is around $54.5,” the 28-year-old wrote. “So I paid $45 more than I should have and the driver knew that.”
The German tourist said he had written down the number of the cab, and with the help of the staff at Long Hostel, where he stays, Voigt managed to speak to the driver through a Saigon Air hotline.
“The driver offered me to pay VND200,000 back but not my RM200 bill, which I did not accept,” he recalled.
“I really needed that RM200 back to pay for the rest of my holiday here in Vietnam.”
Voigt said he lost contact with Saigon Air after the unsuccessful dispute settlement, thus seeking help from Tuoi Tre News.
When contacted by Tuoi Tre News on Friday, a man named Quang, who introduced himself as a manager of the taxi firm, said he had been briefed on the case and was “verifying things with the driver.”
“He surely cannot continue working at Saigon Air,” Quang told Tuoi Tre News on the phone.
Quang said Saigon Air would work to refund the tourist and apologize to him, which the company eventually did.
“A manager from Saigon Air just came over to my hostel to apologize multiple times for what has happened to me,” Voigt told Tuoi Tre News in another email on Friday.
The German said he also got his RM200 back, and accepted the apologies.
“I told him that this problem was solved for me now, and that they have to make sure tourists and locals can use their services without being afraid of getting scammed by the drivers or even by other people involved,” Voigt said.
“He promised that the company will do their best to prevent further scams.”
Quang told Tuoi Tre News that the company is “purifying” its staff to rebuild trust.