Hanoi and Chennai have one thing in common – they have a vast collection of taxi and auto drivers who are scoundrels.
We got into several taxis in Hanoi where the meter was spinning faster than the wheels. But the interesting thing was that we started noticing some commonalities between the drivers of the vehicles who were out to cheat us.
They all invariably spoke a little English probably having ferried around a good number of tourists. Once inside their vehicle they would all ask, “Where are you from?” as though just to confirm that you are in fact from outside Vietnam and therefore must be carrying a backpack stuffed with cash that you are eager to part with.
“Where are you from?” is a complicated question for us so we always just say, “India” to which there would be an oily remark about what a lovely country it is. Then occasionally there would also be a comment about the beauty of Indian women.
The first couple of times we took this as a sign to start a conversation with the driver and learn something about Vietnam. But pretty quickly our eyes would fall on the meter and the heart would sink to the rubber mat. The driver would be hastily told to pull over and with much finger wagging also be informed that we have caught his little trick although there was little we could do but pay up.
One guy even made so bold as to perform a sleight of hand. The Vietnamese 10.000 and 100.000 notes look pretty much exactly the same. Once when we gave a driver a 100.000 note he deftly mixed it up with all his other notes and then said we had made a mistake so we still owed him a shit load of money. He was sternly told to sod off which he did.
There are plenty of honest taxi drivers as well and finding one seemed to depend entirely on luck. But atleast we had begun to realise that if the ride began with “Where are you from?” we had to glower and bring it to a halt.