The Vietnamese Motorcycle Accident Scam

When motorcycling abroad having an accident is always a concern. However, you don’t even need to have a real accident to be taken advantage of while traveling. Locals tried to extort me in Hanoi, Vietnam one evening during an encounter that brought the entire block out into the street, all yelling and screaming and pointing at me. Of course the only word I could understand was “fuck (most often said while pointing at me) and I know that is not a Vietnamese word…. this is going to be fun 😅

5 Minutes Earlier…

After several hours of working from my favorite local restaurant, I tossed the laptop into the backpack and hopped on my new old motorcycle. Yup, I had just purchased a super stylish and top of the line Honda Win from another tourist that morning. He had just completed the Ho Chi Minh Trail and I was planning on spending the next couple of months doing the same, slowly working my way down to Saigon, so it was perfect timing. Plus, since most everyone starts in the south and finishes the trail in the north, the market was flooded with cheap used bikes and I was able to get a crazy good deal. Yes, everything was coming up Derek!

$250 well spent hehehe 😉

Unfortunately, I only got about two blocks down the road before a taxi stops in the center of the street to pick up a pair of elderly tourists. Rather than get stuck behind them, I swung around the left side of the taxi and am already passing it when this lady on the left hand of the street starts pulling her bicycle out without looking. No so much as a glance.

Seeing this, I squeezed dangerously close to the taxi, coming within a couple of centimeters of hitting my right handlebar on it’s left mirror, and although I managed to miss the taxi, I couldn’t also miss the bicycle this girl was wheeling out into the road. The foot shifter just barely clipped the back wheel of her bicycle but it was just enough to knock the bike and the lightweight girl over.

I slammed on my brakes, threw the bike into neutral, and stopped literally 2-3 metres past where the bicycle fell. I was still next to the front of the taxi.

Hanoi motorcyle accident
As you no doubt have already determined from my drawing above, before travel blogging I was a comic book artist. (The girl is in orange, the red is the bike lock, and I would be in blue if I had drawn Stick Figure Derek.)

I didn’t even turn my bike off, just hopped off and ran back to stand this girl’s bike up and then help her to her feet. That took all of about 15 seconds but when I looked back at my motorcycle I saw that an old lady had run over, taken my keys and thrown a bike lock around the back wheel of my motorcycle. As I opened my mouth to say something about this, she was already yelling at me in broken English:

 ” You pay. You pay now! Two million Dong! ”  

It’s been maybe 30 seconds since this whole incident started but already point both sides of the street have joined in to collectively try and empty my wallet.

Two million Dong was around $100 but unfortunately I had just converted a nice chunk of change to Dong before stopping at the restaurant. My pocket was literally overflowing with Dong…. and that’s a sentence that I hope never to say again 😅

Having already been in Vietnam long enough to know that if I opened a fat wallet and tried to give her ₫2,000,000, the price would immediately increase in proportion to the wallet fatness. That’s just how things work in Vietnam. This is something that I’ve written about before, and sadly still does not appear to have changed.

Clearly the Hanoi locals bad seen Breaking Bad and were not happy with my t-shirt

As the entire crowd gathered around is against me, their Vietnamese yells broken only by fucks and more demands for money, it was clear these war cries were getting louder. I had limited time to resolve this situation and since they already had my motorcycle + keys, the only things that I had left to lose besides the cash in my pocket was the backpack full of electronics. I knew that I needed to find help, and fast, before things escalated any further — but I also knew that I needed to get my motorcycle back, obviously. ‘Can I wait until night and steal it back’ was definitely a thought that crossed my mind

I also did not expect any help from the police either. One would clearly expect local Vietnamese police side with the injured Vietnamese person over the international tourist (with an experienced international drivers license) who only speaks three words of the language. Obviously.

So I called my Vietnamese friend Nikki but unfortunately she was on the other side of town and unable to quickly come to my rescue. And this was clearly a problem that could not be solved over the phone. “Just don’t pull out any money without a translator, okay, DO NOT!” was her final piece of advice.

With no other option, I ran back to the restaurant where I had just spent the last few hours running up a nice bill and making friends with the waiter while tip-tappin’ away on the laptop. Rushing back inside the restaurant, I frantically explained what had just happened and asked if he would be a translator to help me recover my motorcycle.

Translator To The Rescue!

As you might imagine, the locals were a bit surprised to see me return so quickly — and with assistance. No police had arrived yet, either. I would assume no one had even bothered to call them. There had been no serious injury and the only crime that had happened was the theft of my motorcycle keys 🤣

The lady who had been knocked over, other than a minor abrasion on one arm, she was perfectly fine. If anything she was more embarrassed about how quickly the entire situation had escalated.

As for the old lady who had so quickly slapped the lock on my bike wheel and stolen the keys, she had already disappeared just as quickly. My former waiter turned new best friend has to ask around before we were told which unit was hers. She was already back inside and chillin’ (probably because she had just scored a new motorcycle for free).

There was a lot of negotiating in Vietnamese as to how much restitution was owed to the injured lady — cash was due, there was no avoiding this. Even if she was at fault for not looking before pushing her bicycle into the main road, I had the bigger vehicle and I was the white man, and that responsibility is mine and mine alone.

In the end I gave her a half million Dong, about $25. She had no relation to the old lady who had locked up my motorcycle, either.

It seems that this seasoned ol’ Vietnamese lady has been running con jobs such as this for many years, judging by her quickness. Had there not been someone less than two blocks away that I could go to for help, this story probably wouldn’t have ended so happily.

In The End

This was one of my last days in Hanoi. I had my motorcycle back and there was no reason for me to stick around any longer. Spent the next month hitting the Ho Chi Minh Trail and exploring all the cool cities and destinations that I passed along the way. Sure enough I wrote about this story, just like I promised. But this article has been saved as a draft for a decade waiting for me to add photos to it. Oops 😅

Luckily, a quick Twitter search revealed the exact day and time this event happened. I miss Twitter. My travels have always revolved around my tweets, not the other way around. Unfortunately since Elon took over it has all been downhill for the once great platform. At least imo lol

Thanks for joining me on this flashback, and my apologies for taking so long to get it published. When covid first started my entire plan was to finish all the old draft blog posts and half-edited videos. Sadly here it is four years later and I still haven’t done that.

That all changes today. It’s time to get back to the updates! And to resume The HolIDaze Travel Newsletter. If you are still reading this far into the post, you probably want to sign up — got a lot more interesting draft posts that will be published soon, including:

  • How India Is Making Me Worse Of A Person
  • I Was Hit By A Drunk Driver On An International Vacation
  • What is Inside The Good Day Museum in Korea?
  • First Impressions Of Turkey
  • Things You Do Not Know About Turkey
  • Things You Do Not Know About Korea
  • Vietnam: Casual Communism
  • The Appalling Toilets Of Indonesia
  • and more on the way!

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

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