This Is Why I Hate Traffic Police In Vietnam (Updated)
While in Vietnam, I took notes on a lot of things I observed in my surroundings. Sometimes my notes were happy, and sometimes they were not. Anyone with any decent logic can understand that all new experiences come with ups and downs, and the paragraphs that follow are full of them; but more downs than anything. I was going to change the quote below from its original version, but I cannot seem to make it sound any more honest than from the moment I wrote it during our lengthy drive in Ho Chi Minh City a mere 4 weeks ago. It is the most profoundly blunt portrayal of “screw the police” I’ve ever thought and written down, and I would feel no less than ashamed of myself for not sharing it with the world in its beautiful, raw form:
I Really Am Saying “Screw The Police”… In Vietnam
Infectious diseases are more worthy of society acknowledgement than the filth that wears the tan clown costumes on the streets of Vietnam. They stand on the street like prostitutes, only their customers don’t enjoy their services. The primary quest of a Vietnamese traffic cop is to cause inconvenience, inconsistent disregard for citizen interests, to instill the worst possible system of corruption ever witnessed by this American writer, and above all else, protect no one but themselves, ever. A stark contrast to a police officer in the United States: there is no protect and serve here, unless you count the protection of self, and the service of the same. Make no mistakes about it people: traffic police in Vietnam are not people. They are as valuable to society as rats in the sewers… In fact, worse than the rats, since the rats stay out of sight and don’t affect me at all.
Clearly, somebody had a run-in with the law. In this case, it was not me, but Hang’s father instead. We were pulled over for nothing, told something stupid, and then forced to pay lunch money to crooks with guns. Sounds like a New York City mugging, but this was in broad daylight, and had far more government support.
Cops here can and will stop anyone, for any reason, or no reason at all. This is permitted by law, the way the system is currently set up. They will stop you, and there is no such thing as a warning. You will lose money and time as a result of this system too. While Vietnamese law doesn’t ‘technically’ allow for such treatment of their citizens from law enforcement, the oversight of police officers is virtually non-existent, as is any form of “internal affairs” as we have here. While some police are held accountable in this country (although not nearly accountable enough), Vietnamese traffic police are nothing more than predators out for wealthy prey…
They pull over everyone, asking for a bribe
They pull over everyone. Scooters, cars, commercial trucks, and even buses full of people on their way someplace. The rate of their bribe depends on numerous factors, but any inclination that they can get a good amount of money out of a driver will lead to a traffic stop. No violation is required, and even when there is one, proof of violation doesn’t have to be provided. To add to that, you don’t have the option to dispute the charges, and if you do anything but admit fault, your fines go up. Insubordination isn’t tolerated, and that’s precisely what “I didn’t do that” or “it wasn’t me” is to them.
So what happens when you get pulled over? Well, as you can probably guess, you are told by ‘law enforcement’ to pull your vehicle to the side of the road. You’re likely flagged down by a man wearing a tan uniform waving a stick around. Then you’re expected to get out of the vehicle (a stark contrast to America) and walk over to wear the police have set up camp (it’s essentially what it is). From there, you speak with ‘law enforcement’ about what your fine ‘could’ be if you pay them money. It’s not uncommon to have your actual offense left out of the conversation until you ask, and even then… it’s sometimes complete bullshit. If you want to argue about it, it’ll just make your fine go up, and make things more inconvenient for you.
From that point you have two choices: Pay the bribe (easier, and usually less expensive), or take the ticket (usually more expensive, and a pain in the ass). As you’ve probably guessed by the notations in the parentheses there, it’s usually a smart idea to just pay the bribe, even if it does fuel the corruption in the system further. If you don’t pay them fast enough, or if (like the video above) you’re caught videotaping, or somebody else is video taping, you won’t get the bribe as an option anymore. You’ll simply get a ticket. Technically, bribes are not legal in Vietnam, and an officer being caught accepting them on tape will be relieved of his job. A video is pretty damning evidence.
Without paying the bribe, you’ll certainly get a ticket. When you do, your license will be confiscated, or the ownership papers to your vehicle (depending on a variety of conditions). You’ll then be handed a slip of paper in return, stating what you owe, when you need to pay it, etc. If you cannot pay it right away, it’s not a big deal, but if you’re on a road trip, and you’re several hours away from home, you’re going to want to pay it immediately. that’s because you have to report, in person, to the police station designated on the slip of paper you’ve been given. That location, is usually the closest station to where you were pulled over, thus, driving back to a far away location is a terrible economic decision, usually.
Process of getting your license back:
First you’ll need to take the paper you were given (the ticket) to the location listed on the paper (the police station). Then, after you’ve paid the ticket, you’ll receive another slip stating that you paid it, and your ownership papers or license will be returned to you. This sounds like a fairly straightforward system on this end… until you start talking about those times where you want to pay it right away.
Since the police station doesn’t have information on your ticket yet, and they haven’t yet received your license or vehicle papers, you aren’t going to be able to get it back at the police station. When Hang’s father was pulled over during my first trip to Vietnam, for example, the process went something like this:
- Get pulled over, exit the vehicle, and speak to cops – 5 minutes
- Be told that we were speeding (2km over the limit, which is like driving 51 in a 50mph zone), and that they had us speeding 3 km back (a long ways back).
- Three police officers, each wanting a cut, wanted a bribe of 100,000VND each ($5USD each). Hang’s father refused to pay that much.
- Police officers took his license, and gave him a ticket for $400,000VND ($20USD). We were instructed to get into the car, and then drive to the police station in the next town – 5 more minutes speaking to cops, then 15 minute drive
- Next town police station wasn’t open until 1pm local time. It was currently 11:45am.
- We waited around at a restaurant down the street, talked and had some cold drinks in the heat – 1 hour 10 minutes
- We got back into the car, and drove towards the police station. We had to park across the road from it, as there was no street parking available outside it (it was a gated building as well). – 5 minutes
- Hang’s father got out of the van, and walked across the ‘avenue’ that was there (two one-way streets, with a grassy divide in the middle), and proceeded to approach the building. – 5 minutes
- Security asked him some questions about his visit, and then let him inside. He would remain inside for about 10 more minutes before exiting the police station.
- He received instructions that he had to have documents checked by people in another building, which just happened to be the building we were parked in front of. He walked across the street again, and walked around the wall in front of us and into the other building. He wouldn’t appear again for another 8-10 minutes.
- After all this time, Hang’s father was given another slip, proving that he paid the ticket (which was more than the bribe). He then had to walk back across the street, and back into the police station for this receipt of payment to be stamped. Still don’t quite understand why that’s necessary, but it apparently is.
- After another 10 minutes or so, Hang’s father finally returned to the car, with a slip of paper that could be traded for his license. Of course, the police officers that took his license haven’t yet returned to the police station, and are still out pulling people over on the highway.
- We drove the opposite direction of where we want to go, back to the police on the side of the road. – 15 minutes
- He pulled over to the side of the road, and got out of the car. Walked over to the police and gave them proof of payment. After about a 2-3 minute talk, Hang’s father was given back his license, and was free to go.
- We turned around, and traveled back towards the town we just came from, and then through it. It would have been on our way anyways – 15 more minutes
As you can tell, the process of paying this ticket is ridiculous, and a total inconvenience. While the penalty is quite low to our norms as Americans, in terms of how much a ticket costs, it’s a lot of money when you consider working wages in Vietnam (on average). It also means Vietnamese traffic cops make a lot of money, from all the bribes they collect every day. They can easily make $30-$40USD per hour if they really dedicate themselves, mathematically speaking, of course. I’m sure they still have ‘quotas’ to meet too though.
This second trip, we were stopped again, which is where this video above comes from. Dad had to wait until January 3 to get it back this time, because of the holidays. That was about 10 days. During this 10-day period, he wouldn’t have been allowed to drive his vehicle, and we would have had a very hard time getting around to friends and relatives were were supposed to meet as a result of losing his license. However, Hang’s father told the police a little bit about where he worked and such, and given that it was a large company, the police took his vehicle papers instead. The ticket can substitute for vehicle papers on a temporary basis, and this allowed him to retain his ability to drive.
Like Trolls at the Bridge
Police don’t care about traffic. They don’t care about how heavy it is, or how much they’ll inconvenience people. You could be basically stopped in traffic, and they’ll still come and heckle you. There will be huge blockages of traffic, backed up for miles, because large numbers of traffic cops are making stops all day, holding up the flow. Vehicles weren’t going fast enough to ever cause a risk to safety, and certainly not over the limit. But, if you changed lanes without a signal, these sharks will stop you then and there, and try to get money out of you.
There is no safety risk here. Nothing dangerous at all. The only risk to safety was the clowns in the tan suits, waving their sticks around at every vehicle they wanted. It was like the TSA’s random security checks, only instead of frisking you and searching through your luggage, they just demand payment to continue, like a troll at the bridge. They are about as useful as the TSA too… they never catch anyone doing anything dangerous. Of course, that’s when dummies chime in and say “them being there is a deterrent from evil.” No people… they are the evil, making a living by taking from normal folks just trying to earn a living. We usually call those people “crooks” or “thieves.”
In Vietnam, they spell thief: “C-S-G-T” (Translated in English: “P-O-L-I-C-E”).
UPDATE: This article is really having some unintended consequences for me. Please read this article for more information
UPDATE 2: There have been a lot of people reading this wrong, and some websites have translated what I’ve said here very poorly. Please read this for my follow-up to this article, which explains what people are getting wrong.