Thursday, 16 December 2010

On the subject of tourism in Vietnam

I was writing an email in a café when I was approached by two men, maybe in their early forties, both wearing Blundstones, stubbies and t-shirts with beer logos on them. In a city where Australian tourists are always wearing embarrassing and inappropriate things, even they stood out.

“Whoah!” is what I said, with my gobsmacked white face.
“Nah, we don’t mean to be rude or nothin’! I’m Darryl and this is me brother Wayne.”

Darryl and Wayne (could it be more awesome?) had just arrived on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City. It transpired that Darryl had already lost his wallet. He said “lost” but it was probably pick-pocketed at the airport arrivals hall when a dodgy taxi tout bundled them into a dodgy taxi. Would it be unfair to say they looked like easy targets?

They were in a flap - if you can have a very slow, laidback version of a flap – about the wallet and wanted to know how Darryl could call his wife at home in Tasmania. I suggested he use my Skype, which is the kind of comradely thing that one white face will do for another in a foreign land.

I didn’t have headphones, so Wayne and I (and the other patrons of the café) got to hear the whole painful exchange between Darryl and his wife, who we know only as “Bubs”.

It was clear that Bubs was not particularly amused by Darryl and Wayne’s great big Asian adventure. I reckon she had a pretty good idea of how this trip was going to pan out right from the get-go. You could practically hear her eyes rolling.

Darryl: I’ve lost my wallet.
Bubs: Did you check your bag.
Darryl: Yes.
Bubs: Did you check the hotel room.
Darryl: Yes.
Bubs: Did you check Wayne’s bag.
Darryl: Yes, we checked everywhere.
Wayne pipes in: We did! We checked everywhere.

Something told me that Bubs had been through this kind of thing before.

Bubs: Well, what do you want me to do about it.
Darryl: Can you transfer some more money into the account?
Bubs: What happened to the $1500 I transferred one week ago?
Darryl: Oh, we spent that already. We booked a tour.
Bubs: Right. Well when do you start the tour?
Darryl: Tomorrow. It’s all organized for us. We don’t have to pay for hotels or meals or nothing.
Bubs: So why do you need more money?
Darryl: Yeah, I guess I don’t. Yeah, I suppose I don’t need any money.
Bubs: Good.
Darryl: Yeah, good. Okay then. Well… I better go!

Something told me that Darryl had been through this kind of thing before.

Darryl and Wayne had been saving up for their two-week holiday to Vietnam for three years. They were completely overwhelmed and confused. Wide-eyed and astonished they said that in Saigon they kept getting approached by “ladies”. They said they loved Asian food back home but here they didn’t know what anything was or how to order it. They said the currency had them baffled, with all its zeroes.

“And we keep getting ripped off!” they added, unnecessarily.
I reassured them that everyone gets ripped off here. "I reckon it's because you're so friendly!" I said, cheerily.
“Nah,” Wayne said. “I reckon it’s cos we’re stupid!”

Poor Darryl and Wayne, those loveable larrikins, they really were stupid. And Vietnam was no place for them.

My encounter with Darryl and Wayne was particularly striking as at the very moment they turned up at my table in the cafe, I was writing these words in an email to Joe:

"The faces of the tourists here say it all. Defensive, harried and exhausted by seeing their dreams of the promised mystical orient dashed by every rip-off taxi driver and every formaldehyde-laced beer."

It was like they were waiting in the wings.

So I was pretty much beside myself with excitement then when they made another appearance in my life the following day. I was at the bank when I heard their distinctive voices trying to ask the teller if they could withdraw money from their Bendigo Bank account without their ATM card. They probably needed the cash for an amazing, too-good-to-refuse deal on tailored suits. I could hear Bubs sighing from halfway across the world.

I decided to let them fend for themselves. They had another week left in Vietnam and they needed more help than I could offer.


  1. Tell Wayne & Dwayne about this fabulous, authentic Vietnamese villa in Truc Bach, only available this week!, theirs for the bargain price of...

    And then go stay at the Sheraton, courtesy of Bubs' latest transfer.

    You're making all this up, aren't you?

  2. I wish I could make up something as awesome as this!

    And you're right, I definitely missed a scamming opportunity of my own there. Maybe I should have charged them 2 million dong for the Skype call.

  3. Just want to say that yours is the funniest blog on my homeland that I have ever read. Please let us now if you fancy a free stay in Da Nang.
    Thank you very much :-)

  4. Thanks Mai! Yours is the most generous comment our blog has ever received!

  5. Much hilarity reading your blog on this side of the globe too.... I forward it to my favourite friends for Friday afternoon work reading.

  6. I mean it too. :-)
    I have bookmarked your blog so I wont miss anything. I was trying to find a way to leave you a private message but I couldn't.
    I have read all your posts and so has husband. We wet ourselves laughing.

    I am sorry. I just really like your humour.

  7. Maybe you were viewing a pilot for the next ABC series?


  8. We're very much enjoying the more frequent additions to your corner of the blogosphere. (I know that spheres cannot possibly have corners but I'm sure you get my drift...) Not sure if Darren or Wayne would get that drift though. In any case, thanks for all the fun Tabs!

  9. We met Lucinda, who knows you, in Nha Trang. I mentioened I read a great blog written by people in Hanoi, she mentioned her two friends- and hey it was Nathan and Tabitha.
    I found your blog a few months ago by accident when I was googling stuff on Vietnamese food. I read it and have been addicted ever since. Most blogs are deadly dull. Yours is so funny, whimsical, great photos and very in love with Vietnam and its quirkiness. All that appeals. You are both great writers, wish you would do something with the "material" as it is too good to live in virtual blog oblivion. You capture Vietnam and all the weird and wondeful things.
    Great to have bumped in toyour lovely friend.
    love Jane
    Nha Trang

  10. Thanks for the mad props, guys! I've been really enjoying writing the blog again so I'm glad it's enjoying being read.

  11. I love it Tabitha! You truly make my grey european rainy day!!! :D

  12. Heh. Poor guys. They should have gone to Bali. Much more reasonable scammers. I've been on holiday to Hanoi a few times to visit friends, and never had any bigger scam pulled than a 50000 dong motor bike ride that took us about 4 blocks. We were both so pissed we couldn't figure out where the hotel was .. And when we were dropped off, the xo rider did the 'you want marajuana?' I go get some ... Which was 12 types of scary trouble then and there. We backed off laughing - which wasn't hard after a night pool and beer. A little bit of sensible helps, but in summer, the haggling you have to go through to buy anything - water even. Every time. Insane. Have you met a couple called Asia and Giles in yr travels there? I loved nosey in newtown. Thanks to popping back to update. Have now new blog to read :)

  13. You have a great blog and you write well. This particular post is a bit condescending, funny, but condescending. I notice your joy at seeing them again did not extend to offering any assistance.

  14. "The faces of the tourists here say it all. Defensive, harried and exhausted by seeing their dreams of the promised mystical orient dashed by every rip-off taxi driver and every formaldehyde-laced beer."

    Oh yeah, as one of those tourists last last year that line almost viscerally takes me back to the hot, vibrant, confusing Hanoi streets. Fantastic post!


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