Well, it is the Year of the Snake now. Today is Day 4 of the Tet New Year here in Vietnam. I rode my motorbike to Bien Hoa outside of Saigon to see a friend. I rode him back to Saigon during the early afternoon today. At the outskirts of Saigon, I was passing a motorbike in the left lane when the traffic police flagged me down. Yes. riding in the left lane even to pass is a traffic violation in Vietnam though you see many motorbikes doing this all the time. This will be my 3rd left lane violation during my nearly 9 years in Vietnam (all of my 3 traffic violations were left lane violations).
I did not see the traffic police until he flagged me. The traffic police had picked a very well hidden spot on the highway back to Saigon. This being Tet, the traffic police aimed on making as much money as they can on “legal” traffic violations. “Legal” here means, as you guessed it, none of the fines would actually go to the Vietnamese government. There were already motorbikes that were stopped by the time I was flagged with the riders “negotiating” the fee that must be paid.
One of the first things I did was to see if the traffic policeman had a blue ID card. Yep, he it had it which meant he could pull over cars, trucks and motorbikes to issue fines. My Vietnamese friend initiating the negotiating and offered 200,000 VND. The policeman refused since I did not have a license. The policeman mentioned that he could take my motorbike for 10 days as means of leveraging, or blackmailing, to obtain a higher fee. In the end 500,000 VND was offered but I accidentally put in and extra 100,000 VND in the pile of money, hence he got 600,000 VND. All of this money went straight into his pocket. My friend then drove my motorbike until we got back into the city.
My friend did research to see if the policeman charged us the right fee. It turns out that the new fine for left lane violation was between 400,000 and 800,000 VND. The police could also take the motorbike for 10 days. I was a bit surprised that the Vietnamese government raised the traffic fines which in turn actually is helping the traffic police earn much more money. Then again, maybe this is to be expected.
Hence I lost roughly $30 US today, well actually just $20 US since my friend covered part of it. Next time I will try to STAY in the right lane unless I want to lose more money. (^_^). At least the traffic policeman was happy. I suspect this particular traffic policeman could make at least $1000 US, or more, just today alone. Just a guess though, no proof…
Happy New Year of the Snake (who just snatched some money from me).