Police in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday said they'd found 33 endangered pangolins at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport on Saturday.
The mammals were about to be transported to Hanoi, they said.
The Sunda Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, were found alive in 11 parcels of turtles under the name of Nguyen Viet Hung, the Environmental Police Agency PC36 said.
Hung, who got documentation for turtles but failed to submit the needed one for the pangolins, said he was sending them to a neighbor named Long in Hanoi.
However, initial investigations showed that the pangolins weighing 158 kilograms in total were bought at a border gate of Cambodia at VND800,000 (US$41.9) per kilogram before they were sent to a man named Phuong in the northern province of Quang Ninh's Mong Cai Town.
Phuong would sell them to customers in China, police said, adding they were investigating the case further.
Listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, pangolins are hunted for their skin, scales and meat which are used for medicinal purposes.