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Getting To “No” In Southeast Asia

Getting to “No” in Southeast Asia Can Be Hard To Do

We’re all too dumb to know what we want as travelers in Southeast Asia.  At least, that’s what street vendors and taxi drivers would lead you to believe.

It seems these operators think if they pester you enough, you’ll just give in to their demands and buy something or hire them so they’ll leave you alone.

You’ll see this pestering type behavior at night bazaars, street festivals — just about everywhere you go.  And it’s most common with taxi, Tuk-Tuk and Songthaew drivers, store owners and rental bike operators.

The Thai’s are polite about it. They’ll ask you once.  If you say “no”, they’ll leave you alone — most of the time.

Laotians are a different story.  In Luang Prubang, Laos, we drove a rental truck.   After parking it in the middle of the old quarter in downtown, Tuk-Tuk drivers would walk up to us and say the words “Tuk-Tuk?” even as we were locking our rental car!  Why in the world with these drivers think we would need their services if we have our own vehicle?

Our typical response was to hold the keys in front of them, insert the key into the keyhole of the truck, pull the key back out, hold it up in the air again, and then repeat the question back to the driver — “Tuk-Tuk?”

At the night bazaar market in Luang Prubang, rows of street merchants a quarter of a mile long would hawk their wares as we walk through old quarter area downtown.  “No” didn’t matter to them.  And here’s the irony.

Many of these sellers read and speak English well enough to understand basic words and expressions like “no”, “yes”, “how much”, “where” and so on.  You could argue it’s normal for them to do that.  After all, isn’t reasonable for them to infer our presence there meant were predisposed to buy something?

Pleas of this nature were far more aggressive in Vietnam.   All vendors — street, bicycle taxis, taxis, and Tuk-Tuk drivers bantered at us constantly.  “No” didn’t mean “no” to them. It simply meant that if you said no 997 times in a row you might say yes on the 998th response.

From Hanoi to old Saigon right up to the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, Vietnamese were barking at us.  At one hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam, we found we could not exit the hotel onto the street without being harassed … constantly … by vendors from all sides.  Business owners to left, right, and straight in front of the hotel were waving, calling out the words “Sir”, or “Madam” sticking their wares in our faces while walking alongside of us.

For some hawkers, this is a ruse, partly.  If they touch you with their product, their argument is “you bought it”.  Tactics by others involve putting objects in your face if you ignore them.

Another sales tactic is a shoe-shine scam. The scammer starts to shine your shoe while guiding your foot onto glue on the street.  While you are distracted with the scammer and trying to extract your shoe, a pickpocket makes off with your valuables.

There’s times we had to be less than civil.  We couldn’t walk anywhere without every taxi driver hounding us.

You can assert, and we understand and agree, that we’re meeting poor people in third world nations where this behavior is “understandable”.  We agree in principle.  But we also know from experience many of these business owners are well off.  If they wish to continue seeing tourists in their country, they should embrace “no” when they hear it and leave us alone.

One of our daughters is a graphic arts designer.  We’ve asked her to design a T-shirt for RoverTrekkers.  It will bear our logo and state “NO!.  I NO BUY!” on the front and back:  IN EVERY MAJOR SOUTHEAST ASIAN LANGUAGE.

This will be a great T-Shirt to wear in Southeast Asia.  Some sellers will be able to read it!

What say you comrade rovertrekkers?  Tell us your experiences here?  Will our T-Shirt work or is it just our way of laughing about this ridiculous behavior?

We’re Karla & Tom, travel content creators and founders of RoverTreks.com. When we are not international travel, we explore North America in our Leisure Travel Van (LTV) Unity to discover new stories for our readers. Our stories connect the past, present and future to inspire audiences and span an array of topics to include culture, history, law, public policy, space, technology security, travel, and the future. You'll find some of our stories about RV Life here and on the blogs of Leisure Travel Vans and the Family Motor Coach Association.

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