The Mystery of the Missing Millions

On arrival in Viet Nam, at Ho Chi Minh City airport, Hayley withdrew 2,500,000.00 (Viet Nam Dong) from a CitiBank ATM. We kept the receipt, and it does say that amount.

We then bought SIM cards and pre-paid for a taxi from a tourist desk, and were allocated seats in a very small and uncomfortable taxi. The driver put the suitcases in the boot and driver’s side back seat, leaving the front and rear passenger seats for Hayley and I to sit. This detail may be important.

Less than 30 seconds after commencing our journey, the driver pulled the taxi over and started demanding money. Hayley handed him our copy of the receipt (he already had his own copy) but he kept demanding “1” and pointing to a tollbooth. Hayley had all the money, and offered him a 50,000 note but (unbeknownst to me, in the front seat) he instead reached into her purse and snatched out all of her money and left her holding the 50,000. All I saw was the driver reach around the back and come back with a pile of notes. I figured Hayley didn’t understand him and gave him some money to cover the toll. I tried to confirm with him that it was only “1” and he pointed to a sticker near my window. I turned to look at the sticker, which only made me more confused, as it said “0.1”, and not “1”. When I turned back to him, he was holding a single 50,000 note in his hand and gave me back a bunch of money which I assumed to be all of the money that Hayley had given him. I put the money in the pocket without counting (no need, Hayley wouldn’t have given him much). He paid the toll, which turned out to be 10,000, and gave me the four 10,000 notes which he received as change, and I put those in my pocket.

We arrived at our hotel, but the driver didn’t stop, and instead dropped us 30m further down the road. We only made it halfway to the hotel before porters arrived, started helping us with our bags, and asked if we were OK – sometimes taxis overshoot the hotel when they rip off tourists.

We got up to the room and Hayley asked for the money. I gave her all the money from my pocket and then she asked for the rest. This is when she told me that he had emptied her wallet. We counted the money and exactly 1,500,000 was missing – i.e. three 500,000 notes. My heart sunk, and I was in a bad mood for a little while

Theories of what happened to the missing 1,500,000:

  1. The taxi driver stole the money
  2. The money fell out of my pocket

Theory 1: The Thieving Taxi Driver

Clues that point to the taxi driver:

  • he put a suitcase in the back seat, so that we were visually separated, when all other taxi drivers have put extra suitcases in the front
  • He has a history of literally taking our money
  • He dropped us off past the hotel, which is apparently normal for rip-off taxis

Theory 2: The Careless Darryn

Clues that point to me losing the money from my pocket:

  • There is less money than expected, and it was in my pocket.

Clues that point to me not losing the money:

  • The pocket was sealed with 2 buttons


The taxi driver stole 1,500,000 from us.

Whilst this was a bit of a blow financially (about $93 AUD), it was a bigger blow to my experience of Viet Nam. I now view everyone as a potential thief and have an assumption that they tend towards the hostile end of the friendliness spectrum. Other experiences with non-tippable people have added to this. It’s a bit of a shame that this happened, but at least it happened at the start of my Viet Nam experience, so I will be wary for the duration of my visit, instead of being ripped off repeatedly until the penny drops.

[Update 1 day later – I’ve since learned that people count money in lots of 10,000, so “1” = 10,000]

[Update 2 days later – I’m less suspicious now; I’m in the North (Ha Long Bay) and perhaps people here are different, or perhaps I’ve just calmed down]

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