I had just arrived back into Hanoi on an overnight train from Sapa, where I had been hiking through the region’s famed rice terraces. The train ride hadn’t been comfortable and I had only managed at most an hour’s sleep. That morning I was meant to set off for Halong Bay, but bad weather had postponed all trips out for the day so I had an extra day in Hanoi. After returning to my hotel in old town, I went out to explore some different areas with my newfound spare time.
As I walked around the city midmorning, I was in a sleep-deprived state and not altogether alert to my surroundings. This naturally made me easy prey for one of the city’s many wandering shoeshines. Now I had come across them in the city before and declined their offers, but this particular fellow stopped me and had my shoe off before I knew what hit me.
At the time I was wearing a ratty pair of Converse chucks that I held no great affection for and wasn’t particularly interested in having them cleaned. Assuming he was going to give my shoes a quick clean for a dollar or something, and given my zombie-like state, I didn’t resist. At first he started scrubbing the sides, before inspecting the sole of my shoe. Seeing its state, he then proceeded to trace out a new sole in rubber or something.
While this was all happening, one of his colleagues nearby saw what was transpiring and rushed over, yanking my other shoe off my foot. Now while I was distracted with Shoeshine #2, Shoeshine #1 was already gluing a new sole onto my first shoe. There was just too much going on for my sleep-deprived mind. Realising the escalating amount of work being done and therefore cost, I started to try and get them to stop, but to no avail.
It wasn’t too long before Shoeshine #1 had completed my shoe and presented it to me, demanding an obscene amount of money for his work. I outright refused and tried to haggle but things started to get a bit tense with just a hint of aggression. Had I been more present the situation could have been handled better any number of ways but in the end I gave him something like $15, expecting it to be split between the two.
Wrong. Shoeshine #1 disappeared and once Shoeshine #2 had finished my second shoe, he demanded money just the same. Frustrated, but standing on one foot while my other shoe was held ransom, I relented and forked out more money just to get my shoe returned.To add insult to injury, their “repairs” to the soles of my shoes only lasted a matter of weeks, despite costing a sizeable fraction of the shoes’ original cost.
To date, this is the worst I’ve been knowingly scammed and I know that had I been better rested, I wouldn’t have let it happen at all. While the experience may have sucked, it certainly didn’t overshadow all the great experiences I had throughout my time in Vietnam. In the end, I’ll get by without that money and I get tell the story of how I got scammed in Hanoi.
Have you had an experience of being scammed while travelling? Where and what was it? Please share in the comments below.