Gouging taxi drivers, pollution give Vietnam a bad rap

By Hoang Phong, Xanh Le   November 27, 2023 | 04:55 pm PT
Gouging taxi drivers, pollution give Vietnam a bad rap
A group of Spanish tourists visit Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi, Aug. 20, 2023. Photo by Nguyen Anh Tuan
Besides visa waivers, foreign travelers also want Vietnam to quickly fix some of its malaises that affect tourists such as taxi scams, slow immigration procedures and pollution.

The number of foreign arrivals in the first 10 months of this year was 10 million, admittedly far higher than the full-year target of eight million, but the figure remains modest compared to that of neighbors such as Thailand (23.2 million) and Malaysia (14.4 million).

While industry insiders have urged the government to waive visas for nationals of more rich countries, some foreigners suggest Vietnam should look elsewhere to foster a tourism recovery.

"The government needs to look into the overcharging by taxis drivers, especially at the airport," Jeremy Baratta of the U.S., who visited Vietnam last month, said.

"It doesn't bode well for the tourism industry when a visitor's first experience in the country is being ripped off."

He was shocked when a taxi driver charged him VND500,000 (US$21) for a three-kilometer ride, more than 10 times the normal prices.

Since Vietnam reopened after Covid in March last year, a number of taxi scams have been reported by foreign tourists and authorities have pledged repeatedly to crack down on this.

Baratta was also cheated by a SIM card seller who told him a card was valid for three months but was locked after 10 days.

Peter Zimmermann of Germany, who has been coming for five or six months every winter to Vietnam since 2013, said there are several things that prevent foreigners like him from coming to Vietnam again after one visit.

"It's the garbage that lies everywhere on the streets and in squares. There is nothing like this in Thailand or Malaysia, and especially Hong Kong and Singapore. It's shocking how people in Vietnam treat their environment. Only in Vietnam did we see people sitting in food stalls next to huge piles of rubbish and eating."

Peter Zimmermann (R) and his wife in Nha Trang, May 2022. Photo courtesy of Peter Zimmermann

Peter Zimmermann (R) and his wife in Nha Trang, May 2022. Photo courtesy of Peter Zimmermann

He said garbage should be cleared and draconian penalties should be slapped on people who litter.

The discharge volume of plastic waste at famous tourist destinations has been occurring at an "alarming rate," according to a recent report by the Institute for Tourism Development Research and International Organization for Conservation of Nature.

Loud karaoke is another thing he finds overwhelming.

"No consideration is given to other neighbors at night, especially by drunk people."

Vietnam now offers a three-month tourist visa for visitors from all countries and territories.

Mukul Arora of Australia, who arrived in Vietnam last month, said his bad experience was not related to obtaining a visa but to tardy immigration procedures at the airport, which "takes hours."

Martin Koerner, chairman of the Vietnam Business Forum’s tourism working group, said one of the most common complaints from tourists visiting Vietnam is the long waiting time at immigration at the airports, especially in HCMC.

The procedures for both entry and exit are often "slow and inefficient," causing frustration and inconvenience for travelers, he said.

"There are no dedicated lines for women with children or seniors."

In May the government admitted the tourism industry faced major challenges like poor infrastructure, environmental issues and shortage of skilled tourism workers, adding digital transformation in tourism has been slow.

Vietnam is now striving to attract 12-13 million visitors this year.

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