The Time I Thought I Was Being Kidnapped

Let’s start from the beginning:

I was in Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City for Tet (Lunar New Year) and after celebrating this exciting new holiday for a few days, I decided I was ready to go somewhere new. I decided on Da Nang, a beach town near Hoi An, another place that I wanted to visit. It was pretty far from Ho Chi Minh, so I booked a cheap flight.

I was going on a tour of the Mekong Delta outside of Ho Chi Minh City in the morning on the day of my flight, so I booked it for later at night to ensure I would have enough time to get to the airport after my tour.

Well, that was a dumb idea, because that meant I arrived after midnight to a tiny airport where everything seemed to be closed.

I usually booked a taxi while still inside the airport to be sure it was a legitimate taxi service rather than grabbing one off of the curb. None of those taxi service stations inside the airport were open, though, so I went outside.

A man came up to me, asking me where I needed to go, and quoted me a price. I told him that I did not want to pay a fixed price. I asked if there was a meter in the taxi and he said yes. I showed him where I was going by the screenshot of my hotel confirmation on my phone, and he told the driver.

I got into the white cab, and we started driving. I noticed that there was no meter. I tried to ask the man about it, but he didn’t speak any English. I was angry. I didn’t want to pay a made-up fixed price, I wanted to pay for a meter. That was what I thought we had agreed.

I didn’t know how far away my hotel was (because I did not have a SIM card in Vietnam yet and I did not download maps.me yet either, so I couldn’t map it out), and I didn’t want to get ripped off. I also didn’t know if the cab was actually legitimate, because there was no signage and no meter. I was worried so I demanded he take me back to the airport.

Back at the airport, I saw a yellow cab with proper-looking signage. I pulled my phone out to show a different semi-English-speaking man the name of my hotel so that he could tell his driver. My phone had just died. Frustrated, I told him the name of it, and he said “yes, yes, I know it.” Feeling assured, I got into the yellow cab. There was a meter, and the driver had been told the name of my hotel, so I was on my way.

Da Nang is a desolate city at night. I didn’t see anyone around and it creeped me out. This was nothing like Ho Chi Minh, the bustling metropolis (a.k.a. largest city) of Vietnam.

We rode through what looked like the beginning of the city, and then we kept driving. I wondered where my hotel could be. I read that it was near the beach within the city. We were still driving, and the city came and went. I was looking back and looking ahead and wondering where we were going. I tried to ask if we were close to my hotel and my driver didn’t understand. He said something to me in Vietnamese, and he laughed, so I started to feel uncomfortable.

We kept driving, now for over half an hour, and suddenly we were on a dirt path. This wasn’t the city. The city was behind us. Where were we going? Right then, I started to panic. Was I being kidnapped?

We kept on driving, around curvy dirt roads with nothing but a few small wooden houses in sight. I kept trying to ask what was happening, but nothing was clear.

We drove on, the meter kept running, and I kept yelling internally at myself for being so stupid as to let my phone die. I was arriving alone, after midnight, in a new city, in a country I had only been in for four days. I didn’t speak any of the language (except the one phrase I successfully learned: “happy new year!”). How could I let my phone die? And why didn’t I have a map app or SIM card, anyway? Was I really that naive to trust that people would take me to the correct location, even if my phone had been on? How could I be so unsafe? I was quite possibly going to die tonight, and it was all because I was being an irresponsible traveler. I was helpless, unable to communicate, and scared.

Finally, after an hour of driving, we started coming to another area that seemed like more of a city, or at least a town. I knew it wasn’t Da Nang, but at least here, maybe I could ask for help.

Out of nowhere, the cab driver pulled over, on the side of the road, and said something. I had no idea what he was saying. I asked,”where is my hotel?” as I had already asked many times before. He seemed frustrated too. I had no clue why he wanted to drop me off on the side of the road. At least it seemed like a nice area, so I thought, I better find someone who may understand me. I grabbed my small bag that contained my credit card, money, and passport, left the big bag in the cab, and ran out. He called after me and I pointed at the nearby hotel that I was going into to ask for help. It was after 1:00 am.

I ran into the fancy-looking hotel and looked around for staff. There was no one at the front desk but I saw some people in another room behind a bar. I went up to them, asked if anyone spoke English, and a woman came over to me. I explained that I didn’t know where I was and that I just wanted to get to my hotel. I told them the name of my hotel and they had never heard of it. We tried Googling it on someone’s phone and we couldn’t find it. I was so flustered. Where the hell was I?? At least at this point, I felt safe. I wasn’t kidnapped. I was okay.

I asked for a phone charger and once we finally got my phone to turn back on, I pulled up the email and showed them the place. The cab driver came inside, demanding to know what was going on.

A random American guy that was staying at the hotel came out of somewhere and asked what was happening. I explained, and he tried helping me.

It turned out, I was in Hoi An, many miles past Da Nang. I had planned to go to Hoi An in a few days. I spoke to everyone that could understand me and someone translated to the situation to the driver, asking why he had taken me here. Apparently the name of my hotel was similar to the name of the area that he had taken me to in Hoi An, so he thought I wanted to come here. That’s also why he stopped randomly in the middle of the road. Clearly there was tons of confusion.

The cab fare was already double what the white cab had quoted me at. Apparently I should have stayed in the first cab. Hindsight, right?

I was tempted to stay at this hotel and deal with everything in the morning, but I imagined it was really expensive, and I wanted to be in Da Nang. I was so angry at myself, so frustrated with the situation, and really, really tired. I embarrassingly started to cry.

The American guy tried to console me and everyone else just looked uncomfortable. I think that my hysteria was a bit too much for their culture. These people have been through hell and back as a country, and here I was, crying over something so minor to them.

After thanking everyone for helping me and refusing the offer of a beer from the American guy, I got back in the cab. I sat in the front this time and the driver laughed at me, imitating crying, and made fun of me for being so upset. This really pissed me off but I tried to laugh it off as well. Here I was, thinking I was getting kidnapped, and it was really just some miscommunication about where my hotel was.

Forty-five minutes later and after stopping multiple times to ask for directions from random men that were drinking out front of restaurants in the streets (my driver clearly still didn’t know where we were going), I FINALLY arrived sometime after 2:00 am.

We pulled up, and it was dark. Seriously?! Was no one around to let me in? Was I going to have to stay in this cab forever?

Luckily, after hearing us outside, a light came on and a woman came outside. I almost kissed her in excitement to see someone who could help me finally get to bed.

I begrudgingly paid the price of nearly $60 USD for the cab ride (it would have been around $10 or less if I had made it there without everything happening), and said goodbye to that man forever. I got inside, and luckily had the best hotel ever. I usually stayed in hostels, but this place had a private room with free breakfast for only $7 per night.

The woman could tell I was upset and was so nice to me. The next day, she included me in the lunch that she made for herself and her staff: a local dish that she would not accept money for. She was so sweet. I loved staying there!

There wasn’t much to do in Da Nang, so after two nights, I sadly left the lovely staff to move onto Hoi An. I took the bus there and rolled my eyes at myself when I recognized the town when we pulled up.

I was not kidnapped. I merely overreacted to an unfortunate but completely avoidable situation. I should have been more prepared, but instead, I put myself in a potentially dangerous situation and learned from my big mistake.

After this night, I was sure to keep my phone charged and to not book any travel that would require me to arrive anywhere alone late at night.

Don’t be a naive traveler. Know where you’re going, and don’t put yourself in unsafe situations! What I did was really dumb and wasted the driver’s time, the people at the hotel’s time, and my own. I promise I’m usually not this unprepared. Generally I think I am a pretty competent traveler, but I had a lapse in judgement and ended up doing something really stupid.

This night helped me learn an important lesson about being safe while traveling solo, so I hope it helps other people think twice and be safer!