Thanh spotted two foreign tourists walking along Ly Tu Trong Street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
He immediately rose up holding two coconuts. “Hello Sir!” he screamed and chased after them.
He followed them for more than 50 meters and did not stop nagging until they agreed to buy the coconuts, for VND100,000, or US$5 each.
For Vietnamese, Thanh only asked them to pay $1.
Tuoi Tre reported that many vendors in the city are now making easy money by targeting foreigners around tourist hot spots, charging them five to 20 times what locals often pay.
Most of the time foreign tourists feel cornered and have to buy from these vendors. Some even feel threatened and just want to escape the harassment as soon as they can.
Thanh, or at least that's the name he goes by, and his gang of around 30 family members are occupying the streets near the Independence Palace, the War Remnants Museum and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
Thanh keeps the business strictly in his family because outsiders may try to undercut him.
'They’ll beat you dead'
The Tuoi Tre reporter showed interest in the business and was given a warning.
“Each area already has a vendor. No one will let you take over their place. And if you try to do so or sell at lower prices, they’ll beat you dead,” said Thanh.
The reporter caught one vendor in the gang, named Ngoc, pestering two tourists on Nguyen Du Street.
He stopped the foreigners. After saying a few sentences in broken English, he suddenly placed his carrying pole, with baskets of coconuts, on the shoulder of one of the tourists.
He persuaded the man to pose for some photos and then asked them to shell out VND200,000, or nearly $10, for two coconuts they apparently did not want to buy.
Some other tourists refused to pay and the gang members just grabbed their wallets and took the money themselves.
The team would only "persuade" tourists who look confused, they said.
A member said not all foreigners in Vietnam are easy to trick.
“Many really know how things work around here. They can take your photo and bring you to the police.”
The driver of a tourism company, who asked not to be named, said he has seen how the gang's scheme worked on several foreigners.
He said one time he saw a group following some foreigners, persuading them to carry the coconut shoulder pole for photos.
Then they quickly cut some coconuts, and only announced the prices later.
“Other drivers and I didn't dare to intervene because there were many of them and they were fierce,” the driver said.
“Most foreign tourists did not want trouble and they were also afraid that no one would protect them if they made a fuss, so they just paid the money, bitterly.”
Police in the area said they have fined coconut vendors in front of the war museum many times for overcharging.
They said they will send more forces to protect tourists in the area, but added that no tourists have made any complaint.