If you expats are leisurely walking along a street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and a man comes out of nowhere to invite you to buy his coconuts, chances are he is going to rip you off.
There are several groups of coconut peddlers who only target foreign tourists to force them buy coconuts at cut-throat prices, or invite them to pose for a photograph with their ganh – the bamboo yokes hung with baskets at each end used to carry the fruits around – and charge them a great deal.
When a couple of tourists were heading to Nam Ky Khoi Nghia in District 1 on May 5, they were stopped by a coconut vendor named Ngoc, who jumped out from his hiding place on Nguyen Du Street.
The peddler spoke a few sentences in pidgin English and immediately passed his ganh onto the shoulders of the male tourist, much to the latter’s surprise.
Finally, the holidaymakers were asked to pay VND200,000 (roughly US$10) for two coconuts, which normally cost only VND30,000 ($1.4) at most.
There have been cases when tourists refused to pay, so the vendors snatched their wallets and took the money themselves.
Two undercover reporters from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper have managed to penetrate these scam rings and discovered that there are around 30 such dishonest coconut sellers in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
They hunt for victims at the city’s famous attractions in the downtown area such as the Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum, and War Remnants Museum.
Foreign tourists are advised to beware of coconut peddlers whenever they travel on such streets as Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ly Tu Trong, Nguyen Du, Huyen Tran Cong Chua, Le Quy Don, and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.
A scam coconut peddler revealed to the Tuoi Tre correspondents that it is not easy to be a member of the rings.
“English fluency is not the only thing that matters,” the man, named Ty, said.
Ty, however, eventually agreed to take the reporters to meet Thanh, who has ten years of experience in cheating foreign coconut buyers.
“Different rings have taken control of different areas in the downtown, and you will be beaten to death if crossing their lines,” Thanh warned.
A scam coconut peddler demands $5 from a foreign tourist on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The man also revealed some ‘tips’ to rip tourists off, one of which is to charge local customers “only VND20,000 a coconut,” as the main target is foreign visitors.
And there are no fixed prices for foreign tourists, Thanh underlined.
“If the tourists are confused, you should stick to them and signal the prices using your hands,” the seasoned scammer instructed.
“One finger stands for $10, whereas five means $5.”
While he was sharing the tips on scamming with the Tuoi Tre correspondents, two foreign tourists walked past, and Thanh did not waste the chance.
He immediately jumped in front of the tourists and shouted “Hello sir,” while asking them to buy his coconuts. The visitors kept walking but eventually gave in to the scammer and opened their wallets.
“That’s what you have to learn,” he told the undercover reporters.
Thanh said he can make up to VND700,000 ($32.62) a day, and sometimes even more.
Another coconut seller who preys on tourists on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street said he will even press the banknote into the face of tourists if they do not understand or refuse to pay.
“Still, you should always watch carefully before fleecing them,” he said.
“There are experienced tourists who will take a photo of you and report you to authorities.”
Indeed, the scammers do not always succeed in their overcharging attempts.
On May 8, two female tourists were stopped by a vendor named Tam, who invited them to pose with his ganh and gave them a coconut.
He then used two fingers to signal for payment, but to his astonishment, the tourists presented a VND10,000 banknote.
The peddler kept signaling and the women gave out another VND10,000.
“F..k, they knew the [real] prices,” Tam cursed after the failed rip-off attempt.
Police in Ward 6, District 3 told Tuoi Tre that they have booked around ten cases in which coconut vendors overcharged tourists at the War Remnants Museum.
In the meantime, the chairwoman of the Ben Thanh Ward administration in District 1 said she has so far received no complaints from tourists who were ripped off by coconut sellers.
“If any scammers are found, they will be strictly penalized,” she promised.