A street vendor approaches a foreign tourist as soon as he gets off a bus near the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: N.Tran Tam
A group of vendors wait by their motorbikes fully loaded with colorful T-shirts on the sidewalks of Vo Van Tan Street in District 3.
It's a perfect spot for them considering the high foot traffic near the War Remnants Museum, a popular tourist attraction.
A couple in their 50s do not even try to hide the fact that they have earned their living by overcharging foreign tourists for the last 20 years.
“I will sell you one for only VND60,000, but it will be VND100,000-150,000 for a foreigner,” the woman told Thanh Nien reporters.
At Ben Thanh Market, probably the city's biggest tourist trap, some vendors start following foreigners at the entrance gates, often until they can sell something.
It is an usual practice here to charge foreign tourists double or triple what locals are asked to pay. A hammock, for instance, can be sold to locals at VND80,000 but for foreigners the price will be VND200,000.
Sometimes, the vendors even try to put their items into the tourists' pockets and bags, forcing them to pay.
The hassling only stops when vendors see green-uniformed men, a task force assigned by the city government to beef up security in tourist-popular areas.
In mid-2015, HCMC government set up a hotline for tourists and local people to report incidents related to overcharging and harassment by street vendors.
On Wednesday, Thanh Nien reporters tried to call the number, 08 3982 6371, twice. No one answered.
Even La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of the HCMC Tourism Department, conceded that his office has not done enough to protect tourists, despite many efforts.
“We will have to inspect street vendors at popular tourist spots more frequently, and then propose new and stronger measures to tackle the problem.”
A postcard vendor approaches two foreign tourists in HCMC. Photo: N.Tran Tam
Robert Tan, a Singaporean tourism expert, told Thanh Nien street vendors can be seen in many famous places in the world, not just Vietnam.
What's important now is to find a good solution that shows compassion to the street vendors, instead of taking away their livelihood.
Authorities can create and manage places where vendors can gather and sell their products at fixed prices, Tan said. Those caught harassing tourists would then have their products confiscated, he said.
Phan Xuan Anh, general director of Viet Excursions, said HCMC or Hanoi can learn from Sa Pa.
The northern tourist town has reorganized street vending activities at popular spots after receiving many complaints from tourists.
“It works for Sa Pa, Da Nang and Hoi An, so it will work for HCMC, Hanoi or Ha Long,” he said.