It finally happened.
I got ripped off. I got played. I got screwed over.
Enough with the dramatics. Here’s the story.
It’s raining outside, a cold winter’s night in Hanoi. I am running late to meet a friend at a bar across town. The xe oms, or cheap motorbike taxis, that so often frequent every corner of Hanoi are nowhere to be found.
So I take a taxi.
A random one that stops for me even though I didn’t call it.
Metered though, I think to myself vaguely recalling a Lonely Planet passage that says it’s the only way not to be conned.
I sit in the front seat of the car with the driver. He is so damn nice. We chat away about his family, his home life, the craziness of this city’s traffic.
He speaks English. This should have been my first sign. Taxi drivers in Vietnam don’t usually speak a lick of it unless they target foreign tourists.
We get two kilometers down the main roadway and I look at the meter for the first time.
150,000 Vietnamese dong and climbing rapidly.
I point to the elevating red figure and exclaim the obvious: “150,000 DONG!?”
Immediately, the charming man with two children and a family in the countryside that he will go visit this weekend, switches his defenses on.
“Taxis in Hanoi expensive! You don’t know! You foreigner! You tell the taxi company, not me!”
We exchange a slew of accusations.
“They are not this expensive! I do know! You are ripping me off! I want to get out of the car!”
By the time I convince him to pull over, the meter is flashing 250,000 dong. The equivalent of eight motorbike taxi rides or fifty bus rides through town.
I was in the car for approximately four minutes and haven’t made it more than a quarter of the way to my destination. I can’t imagine what the total cost would be if he took me all the way to the southern part of Hoan Kiem District. At least a million dong. At least the sum of my budget for two days.
I half-heartedly try to barter him down. I can’t bring myself to argue a hard case and he wins. I hand over the cash which compromises nearly all of the money I’ve brought out tonight.
With not enough left to get to the bar, have a couple drinks, and then get back home again later, I’ll have to walk home in the rain now.
I’ve lived and traveled extensively in South-East Asia, have been to many places in this world and, to the best of knowledge, I have never fallen trap to a blatant scam before tonight.
Whenever other travelers recalled how they were tricked into paying exorbitant fees, I quietly congratulated myself for being clever enough to have escaped these tourist traps.
Now, I am just one of millions of travelers who have been swindled abroad.
But all is not lost.
Because these are the moments that define a traveler.
Either I could get pissed off, curse the place I have traveled across oceans to visit and go to sleep sullen or I can laugh and add it to the many other silly/ludicrous/scary calamities I have encountered overseas, for which, I have many:
I had an appendectomy in New Zealand.
A Vespa hit me in a back alley in Florence.
I caught Dengue Fever, or its related cousin, along the Thai-Burma border.
I had to take the next flight out of Chile when my mom got abruptly and acutely sick.
The entire Cambodian guesthouse I was staying in flooded.
A strange man tongue kissed me without my consent in a bar in Vienna.
I broke up with a boyfriend via Skype in an internet café in Thailand.
After all, I don’t travel to live fairy tales. I travel for a whole, true story of real places and real experiences. Tonight is just another disaster, and a very minor one at that, to add to the list of the mostly good, and sometimes bad, experiences I’ve had in foreign places.
When I get back to June’s house, I tell her what happened. She cringes, offers her sympathies, and sarcastically welcomes me to Hanoi. Next time, she says, ask a local which taxi to hop into before actually doing it.
I rinse off my legs, splattered in mud that my flip-flops kicked up while walking the wet road home. I take off my party dress. I go to bed to the sound of rain in a warm room on the top floor of an apartment in an alleyway neighborhood of Hanoi.