My intention in writing this book is to guide those who plan to visit beautiful Vietnam to enjoy its many offerings.
You see, as much as I love my country, I cannot help but admit the fact that Vietnam’s tourism industry has become synonymous with scams. This is because as far as there are decent vendors, tour guides, and taxi drivers who labor day and night to help boost the country’s economy, there are more people who have ill intent as they make a living out of Vietnam’s tourism.
Some of these characters would ask for money, beg, and even force tourists to empty their wallets. Others may work in teams, leading tourists from one point to another, leaving them penniless and bruised. It just pains me to think that internationally beautiful Vietnam’s great name is being ruined by the prevalence of scamming and harassment.
No, foreigners aren’t the only ones being targeted—these scammers don’t care about ripping off their fellow citizens. The problem doesn’t exist just because of the lack of familiarity associated with foreign travelers—it’s fueled by greed and desperation. Low salaries, limited job opportunities, and addiction problems lead people to engage in fraudulent activities.
Of course, they’re not worried about ruining their nation’s reputation—besides, these scammers probably think that there’s not much to protect at this point. Even Vietnam’s Department of Tourism seems to have given up. They barely have any policies to protect people from getting ripped off. Fines are just way too small to deter those with shady intentions.
In this eBook, you shall be introduced to the various tourist scams common in Vietnam, and you’ll be given tips on how to avoid them. It is not difficult to outwit these scammers. It only takes common sense, vigilance, quick thinking, the firmness to say no, and the contents of this e-book, of course. Stay safe and enjoy your visit to Vietnam!
People travel for business, soul-searching, family bonding, reaping the rewards of their hard work, or simply for personal pleasure. Every year, more people travel abroad to get to know the world better. Traveling has become a common entry in bucket lists because it is the only spending spree that opens up opportunities.
Even if you spend a fortune circumnavigating the world, it also enriches your knowledge of various cultures and traditions of countless creeds and races. As they say, learning should not be confined to the four corners of a classroom. It is best to take learning outside where you can experience life at its very best.
At present, you can freely travel to various locations anywhere in the world. You may have to invest in getting a tourist visa, wait in line for your turn, search for cheap deals for your accommodations, and plan your itinerary. But your main goal is to enjoy your journey. You can take your pick of tourist destinations located on other continents—and Asia is among those. One of the many countries in Asia that boast of tourism opportunities is Vietnam.
The country is home to various nationalities; it has an unforgettable history that we still study even now, and it offers affordable commodities. Tourists love cheap deals. When you visit a country on a budget that many tourists find more practical than splurging like a king all the time, you’ll find yourself up to your knees with precious bargains. There is no question about the food, too, because some of Asia’s authentic Oriental cuisine comes from Vietnam.
Discovering the wonders of Vietnam can be fascinating and breathtaking, but it can also burn a hole in your pocket and your self-esteem if you so much as get scammed.
This e-book shall outline the basics of tourist scams in Vietnam, as well as reveal ways through which you can avoid them. You need to take extra care when traveling, especially when you’re in a foreign country. There may be safety in numbers if you travel with family and friends, but still, it’s best to avoid being scammed so you can keep your holiday journeys a stress-free experience.
Most Common Tourist Scams in Vietnam
So, let’s get right into it. In this chapter, you’ll read about the most common tourist scams that can be found in Vietnam. On the other hand, the next chapter shall provide you with tips on how to become a wise tourist so you can outwit the shrewd scammers and enjoy your stay in this country.
In the streets of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Da Nang, Phan Thiet, and Dalat, you’ll find numerous trishaws. These are three-wheeled bicycles which you can see lining up in a queue, waiting for tourists and taking them to destinations. It is best to avoid them as much as you can. Cyclo drivers are highly skilled in establishing rapport with tourists. They approach with a big smile, which many foreigners find endearing and warm.
That is when alarm bells should go off in your head. Anyone with half a brain knows well that this is one of the most common uses of conmen. Many of these dishonest cyclo drivers would make you feel as if you are welcome and that they are someone you can rely on to take you around the city. In some instances, they may even take out a notepad and show you various scrawls of many other tourists they drove around the city.
These writings may resemble an autograph, like a message of thank you to the driver for his good service. Do not be fooled. You should know by now that this is a scam. Once you agree to avail of his services and hop into his trishaw, he will take you anywhere around the city. Again, he’ll make you feel comfortable. He acts as a tour guide because, of course, he knows every nook and cranny of the city.
You’ll find yourself slowly trusting the driver. At the end of the day, he may take you to a secluded spot, and then he’ll fire away prices, demanding huge sums for hours of service. Since you have already established rapport, you’ll have no choice but to pay him, usually in exorbitantly unreasonable amounts.
Confusing Currency, Overcharging
This type of scam is particularly common wherever you go. In every country you visit, you’ll encounter at least one currency conman who’ll try to outwit you into charging more than the equivalent amount of the currency you are trying to convert. It is quite rampant in Vietnam because of the large banknote denomination. Now, what is overcharging?
Well, there are many forms of this particular type of scam. It could come in the act of over-the-top conversion. Some local money changers may also give back less change because they are used to rounding up or estimating down currencies. They do not think much about changing currency to the last cent. There are accounts of money changers not giving any change at all because they insist on getting a tip, which, for what it’s actually worth, is actually annoying.
You might think that going straight to a bank will solve the problem. Well, in Vietnam, even banks shouldn’t be trusted. They have all sorts of fees in place (even for transfers, deposits, and withdrawals) to maximize their gain from each transaction. Bank employees have also been known to steal from clients, and this kind of theft becomes much harder to notice if you’re dealing with large sums of cash. If you want better security, you should specifically go for foreign banks.
There’s one surefire way of having enough money during your trip and not dealing with money changers and banks at all—but it will only work if you know someone in Vietnam who wants to send money back to your home country. Simply put, you’ll be getting Dong from that person, promising to give the agreed-upon amount or equivalent after your trip. Don’t forget about the possible impact of currency fluctuation, though. Also, keep in mind that you might end up losing a bit of money by opting to do this.
Overcharging on transportation is also a big deal in Vietnam’s streets because there are drivers who would abruptly change their rates once they have brought you to your desired destination. Since locals surround you, you will have no choice but to pay up, or else a crowd scammers hound you. Take extra care when you are changing the US denomination to local Dong because it is easy for most money changers here to overcharge. They have a habit of rounding up USD’s value since it is worth much more than the Vietnamese Dong.
Many would demand unreasonable payment in local Dong while using an equally unreasonable exchange rate. You should also be on the alert when you ask a vendor the price of his wares. If he says 10, it could mean a lot of things. It may mean 10 USD, 10 Dong, or 10,000 Dong. Also, for services, make it a habit to clear up your transaction by ensuring that the agreed fee is charged for your group, not per person.
Caucasians are the usual targets of local vendors guilty of overcharging. You may want to visit Ben Thanh market among others. After all, this is one of many popular tourist markets in Vietnam; but if you’re Caucasian, you might find yourself paying exorbitant unreasonable prices. You may want to haggle or say no to the offered goods. It’s your call.
All Sorts of Street Vendors
You should be vigilant and try to always keep a watchful eye for street vendors. They come in all shapes and sizes when you’re in Vietnam. For example, you may encounter vendors who sell journals and books. These items are usually boxed up and sold by volume. At first glance, you’ll see that they’re making good money out of it because it might look as if their books are just walking off their shelves. Do not be fooled, though.
There’s a fat chance that these vendors’ “customers” are all part of an act to attract unsuspecting bookworm tourists. It is innate among consumers that when we see a store, a rack, or an establishment being flocked upon by a lot of people, we’d automatically think that what’s being sold is good. So, we go along with the flow and grace the store with our presence and our wallets.
As a tourist, you should be wary of booksellers on the streets. There’s a big chance that their wares are photocopies of original books. You won’t be able to tell if it’s a legit copy of Anne Frank’s Diary you’re about to purchase because, as I said, everything’s neatly wrapped or bundled. Most of these copies are botched, made of low-quality onionskin paper, and have lots of errors on the pages.
If you’re not into books, you might be into taking pictures. Who doesn’t love to take pictures when you’re on holiday? Be careful when you are in Vietnam, though, because vendors might invite you to pose for a photo with them. Can you ever resist? Absolutely not. This is pretty suspect for scamming, especially when your main goal for your visit is to get in touch with the locals.
What better way to do that than actually to take pictures with them, right? Sure. But if you’re in Vietnam, take extra care not to commit this blunder. These vendors may pose and smile for the camera with you, even let you borrow their hat, or carry their wares for effect. After taking your picture, they’ll most likely ask you for a tip. Ignore them, and you’ll wish you’ve never ever visited Vietnam.
These vendors work in teams. If one of their members gets ignored by tourists when they ask for a tip, that hapless tourist will be hounded by their lot. You could end up going back to your hotel in a matchbox for that.
Last but not least are the pesky photo mongers. They’re not actually professional photographers. Give a monkey a camera and show it how to point and shoot. You get a photo. The same goes for these photo mongers. They are a street fixture in Sapa.
They especially like to lurk around tourists whom they observe to be alone. They’ll offer to take pictures of you as a souvenir, and since you find it convenient and quite nice of them to do that, you agree. The problem is, they’ll take one too many photos of you, and most of these shots have horrible angles. They’ll demand a high price for each snapshot, and if you don’t pay, then you know what’ll happen next.
Sometimes, trusting tourists are victimized by photo mongers who mess up their agreement to deliver the photos to the customer once developed. The moment payment has been made. These photo mongers will disappear before you could say anything.
Pickpockets, Snatchers, and Beggars
Then there’s the sleight-of-hand, ancient art of pickpocketing, rampant not just in Vietnam but also in most Third World countries. When you’re browsing for souvenirs to take home, or you’re talking to vendors, keep your valuables close. Pickpockets are everywhere, ready to pounce at you when you least expect it.
You think you’re so smart and alert that you’ve avoided snatchers in your European tours? Think again. It is common knowledge that snatchers and pickpockets from developing countries are much more skilled than their First World counterparts. Vietnam is no exception. These ill-mannered individuals come in all shapes and sizes too. There are child snatchers, old ladies, fake cripples. You name it. They use different techniques to get their sticky fingers into your valuables. You must always keep a watchful eye and be alert for something so much as a brush or someone bumping against you.
Some snatchers would even work with accomplices. One would distract a potential victim by chatting with him casually, then two or more accomplices would do the dirty work. You’ll be left with nothing but an empty bag or a missing wallet. Wearing gold or expensive and flashy jewelry in public is also a big no-no.
Some snatchers would literally snatch earrings. If they realize that what they got from you was a fake, they’ll come after you with the errant bling, and who knows, they might give you a blow on the ear for wearing one. It might seem funny, but it happens. A blow or a box in the ear is not funny at all, though.
You might also bump into fake beggars. They’ll come in the form of fake cripples, fake blind persons, or even mothers in shabby clothing carrying a sleeping baby in their arms. The thing about these sleeping babies is that their guardians or mothers would usually drug them or feed them alcohol, so they’ll be in a stupor as the adults go about their business. The sight of a sleeping child in the arms of a frail-looking young woman stabs the heart out of any tourist.
There’s a chance that you’d give in, especially after seeing children trying to survive on the streets. Instead of giving money, though, it would be better to simply treat these kids to lunch or just give them food. Any cash they get will just end up in the hands of those exploiting them. Still, remember that if you entertain them but you won’t so much as give them money, you might be hounded by their group of fake beggars in the scene as well.
Interacting with the Common Folk
Even when interacting with the common folk, you shouldn’t let your guard down. For example, if your phone dies and there’s this need to make a call, it still wouldn’t be smart to ask a complete stranger to lend it. There’s the chance that upon returning the phone, you’ll be asked for some sort of compensation—yes, the person will claim that you somehow damaged his precious device.
If you’ve been approached by students claiming that they wish to study English, it’s best to consider the possibility that you’re not actually dealing with eager learners. Some only want to create new relationships (specifically for dating). There are also those who only end up asking for financial assistance, while the more desperate ones are completely fine with free meals. On the other hand, if you get your very own pupil, you might be offered a guided tour around Vietnam. Regardless of the mode of transport, you’re going to take. It’s likely that your student will handle the cost. So, it would only be appropriate to at least take care of the food or the occasional refreshment during the trip.
You should also be extra careful around people who are a bit too friendly towards you. These people might be after your money—and they could even be looking for a way to get out of the country (with you being a means of making passport acquisition easier). No matter how nice these people are, they won’t really show gratitude towards you once they’ve gotten what they want. How would you know whether you’re in the wrong crowd, though? It’s actually not that complicated.
You will notice that among your Vietnamese acquaintances, only one seems to be capable of communicating in your own language. In other words, you’re being prevented from listening in to their conversations (your “friend” might already be badmouthing you publicly). Keep in mind that most of Vietnam’s local populace isn’t that clueless when it comes to the English language. Although many aren’t capable of fluent speech, they should still be able to understand and communicate with the few words that they know.
Here’s something similar—if someone’s giving you special attention, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s pure attraction. It’s safer to be skeptical since you might be dealing with someone who’s only after money or favors.
Shady Tour Companies
There are a lot of travel agencies in Vietnam, which are nothing but a fraud. These shady tour companies may approach you anywhere, anytime. Whether you’re enjoying a quiet lunch alfresco in a restaurant or while you’re browsing for souvenirs at side street shops. How do these companies scam tourists, then?
Well, they’ll approach you and entice you with their awesome tour services. Afterward, when a bargain has been struck, or payment has been made, you might not hear from them again. If you do, expect unreasonable demands for pricey tips, miscellaneous fees, and other hidden charges that you need to pay for before you go ahead and consummate your tour.
There’s another scam that involves travel agencies – well, not the real kind. These are mere resellers that will offer packages at a premium but are essentially cheap offers from actual tour companies. Note that this activity is quite common in HaLong Bay.
Frauds of the Gastronomic Kind
Yes, there are restaurants and bars in Vietnam that don’t display their prices for each menu entry. How tacky is that? These establishments have adopted this practice of not providing a price list with the menu from expensive first-class Western-style restaurants.
These high-end restaurant inspirations would serve pricey caviar and Wagyu patty, and you’ll only know how much you’ll be paying for when the check arrives. Stylish and extravagant, right? Well, that practice is only applicable to developed countries where fancy restaurants are popular among the rich who don’t bother with the price tags of menu items. But in a developing country like Vietnam? Absolutely not.
Sure, there are a lot of fancy restaurants here too, but you can only find them in the upstate parts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. If you’re a tourist on a budget, always look for restaurants that display price lists on their menu items. If you can’t find any, exercise a little assertion and politely ask for the price. Take caution about restaurants that display menu prices in USD as well. Chances are, the management may demand payment in Vietnam Dong, and to top it off, they’ll ask for an exchange rate fee, which, if you must know, is entirely unnecessary.
We’re not done with restaurants yet. One of your priorities for visiting Vietnam is, of course, the food, so let’s stretch this aspect a bit more. Aside from the absence of menu price lists, restaurants may also charge you for some other things. Before you know it, your check has already caused you indigestion because of overcharging—the kind that you yourself won’t even be able to rationalize.
If you go to a restaurant and you are served with a fancy bread basket, fruit slices, or a bowl of nuts, do not touch them. They are not compliments of the house as what you might have been used to in your country. Try to reject them verbally or ask your waiter to take them away. They will cost you a fortune as the restaurant will claim that the Panini is made with durum semolina wheat, or those are macadamia nuts you just swallowed.
In some extreme cases, restaurants use barbed wire to boost their business. Those unfortunate enough to stop by these eating places end up having their vehicles blocked or even covered in sharp metal. The only way to leave would be to dine first. Surely, those who’ve been ripped off this way didn’t have a pleasant meal.
If you’re into street food, you must watch out for something similar. Much like most people, you’d want to confirm the price of a meal before ordering it and sitting down. Once you’re done eating, though, you’ll be approached by another person asking that you pay up – the problem is, you’ll be asked to pay more. Why? Supposedly, you ended up ordering a pricier meal. Since you’re not sufficiently familiar with Vietnamese street food, you won’t be able to argue. (This kind of scam happens a lot in Hanoi.)
Last, beware of hawkers that engage in some sort of bait-and-switch scheme. They’re typically the ones selling food wrapped in leaves. The samples they show have these big juicy slices of meat that would surely whet your appetite. If you gave in and decided to buy some, you will soon realize that you purchased an expensive bunch of leaves—not even a poor or cheap substitute for what you’ve been shown.
All things considered, though, it would be best to simply stay away from street vendors. After all, it’s likely that whatever they’re selling isn’t hygienically prepared.
The Dangers of Shopping
What tourist doesn’t love shopping? But bear in mind that you need to exercise great caution when you are in Vietnam while you are busy shopping. Some of the tourist scams that might leave you bushed include item-swapping, fraudulent freebies, and fake wares.
In the case of item-swapping, you must keep an eye on the things that you pay for, especially when you’re shopping for souvenirs. If you are getting something wrapped or boxed up, try to check the contents in the front of the seller. You wouldn’t want to risk paying for an item only to realize later that it was swapped for a cheap dupe. A classic example of this involves media discs – you’ll get them properly packed, but once you check what’s inside, you will realize that you received blanks.
Fraudulent freebies are also rampant in Vietnam, as in other international tourist destinations. This is when a vendor would entice you to claim a freebie from them. These freebies could come in the form of goods or services. Once you have taken the bait, they will then demand payment, and if you don’t cough up, you’ll be hounded, of course.
There are vendors who may display war relics, silk, or jewelry for sale as for fake wares. Beware of this tactic, especially when you are looking at wares on sidewalks, because chances are, you’ll get a fake one. They may come at a cheap price, vendors would even tell you they’re the only sources of such wares, but in the end, you might just get a cheap fake.
There’s also the chance that you’d be asked to pay more than what was agreed upon. This isn’t that difficult to pull off for these shady sellers, especially since their offerings don’t usually have price tags. If you wish to cut your chances of being ripped off, just stay away from the streets and shop in malls or stores – those that clearly indicate their wares’ prices. This applies even if you’re merely planning to buy fruit or bottled water.
Also, if you’re thinking that going cashless will make you safe, you really should reconsider your plans. It’s not unlikely that upon checking your card transactions, you’ll see another shop’s name (and it’s probably one that already went bankrupt). Sometimes the name you’ll see won’t make sense at all. There’s another possibility that you’ll be charged for an entirely different item—one that’s much pricier than what you bought. Since the right name isn’t reflected on the records, going after the merchants will be impossible.
Tailor Shop Trouble
Suits are generally expensive, but those sold in Vietnam are much cheaper. If you’re looking for a true bargain, though, you need to be extra careful when dealing with local tailors. Make it clear that you know enough about garment quality and style so that you won’t be asked to pay for all sorts of extras that don’t really exist. Confirm whether modifications will be done free of charge (as they should be). Aside from that, do check for damages like scratches and loose seams before you leave.
Here’s the most important thing, though—only pay up once you’re fully satisfied. While some tailors are nice enough to accept modifications a day or two after you’ve taken your suit home, many aren’t that willing to ensure customer satisfaction.
Closed for Repairs
Another popular tourist scam in Asia, especially in Vietnam and Thailand, is that someone would approach you to inform you that a particular temple or establishment is closed for the season. When you take the bait, they’ll then offer to take you somewhere else. It’s foolproof if you’ve got common sense. The reason will tell you that they’ll bring you somewhere so that they’d get a commission.
Always be firm about your decisions. Look up the alternative destination. You might not like the place at all, and it’ll be a poor excuse for regretting it.
Prostitution and Karaoke are Illegal
Before you enter the country, you should have done a good deal of research on what and what not to do in Vietnam. Two of the things that are prohibited here are prostitution and karaoke. They may be legal in Thailand, but Vietnam is another story, so be warned. Countless male tourists who fall for this trap; don’t be one of them. You should observe warning signs.
Karaoke bars are usually located in dark alleyways in Vietnam, away from authorities. They are commonly set up in tightly sealed warehouses that are soundproofed, so no noise emanates from the inside. You might think that this is an adventure, entering a karaoke bar. In there, you’d have a few drinks, and when you’re a bit drunk, a hooker may approach you. She’ll book a room, and once you pay up, it’s going to be the last time you see her. You’ll be confronted with nothing but a hefty bill, and if you refuse to cough up the money, the mafia would be there to beat you up.
Hookers in Vietnam are mostly scammers, too. They may advertise their flyers in secret, approach you, and talk in whispers. There are so many beautiful Vietnamese girls, and sad to say, among them are hookers. You’ll be enticed to avail of their services. We all have this drive to try something racy and adventurous when we’re in a foreign country. So, you’d come with a hooker to her quarters at her workplace, and then when the right time comes, you’ll be confronted by the wrong hooker.
Now isn’t that a bummer? Sometimes, you’ll just see flyers advertising these hookers, and after you choose a girl, pay up and are led to waiting in the quarters. Again, you’ll find yourself in the company of the wrong hooker.
Massage Parlor Scams
You have come here to relax and unwind. One of the things you wish to accomplish on your bucket list is getting an authentic Vietnamese massage session. Many masseuses who double up as scammers may offer you a low price to entice you into availing of their services. Come payment time. You’ll be confronted once more with a hefty bill. The parlor will charge you for anything as silly as scented candles that are already there in your massage quarter, the water of which you haven’t had a sip, or matches which they used to light the candles with.
These scamming massage places can be quite a laugh sometimes. At other times, they may be serious with scamming and report you to the management if you refuse to pay up your unreasonably exorbitant bill.
Regrettable Motorbike Rentals
Another modus operandi of tourist scammers in Vietnam is motorbike rentals. There are several ways on how you can get tangled in this mess. First of all, you should be aware that motorbike rental scams are common worldwide. This commences when the rental bike’s owner leases you his vehicle, follows you around discreetly, and stages that you stole his bike. He will then ask for compensation so he won’t report you to the police.
A similar scamming technique takes place in the form of “damage” to the bike, as pointed out by the owner when you return it to him. He will then demand compensation for the supposed damage you’ve done, and if you insist on not paying for it, you may be mauled. There’s a similar scam involving the bike’s gasoline level, which could end up forcing you to pay for a full tank. The easiest way to avoid these problems is to write down the bike’s conditions on a piece of paper and have it signed – even before you agree to rent.
Fake motorbikes are also everywhere in the streets of Mui Ne and Nha Trang. This poses a threat to the rider’s safety, so make sure you know much about authentic motorcycle specs before renting a bike.
You are required to secure a Vietnamese driving permit before you can roam around with a bike. Rental owners wouldn’t ask for your permit, of course. But once you are caught red-handed, your motorbike will be impounded, you will be fined severely, and you will be held responsible for paying for the vehicle too.
Also, there’s a scam involving the police. If you get caught for any bike-related violation, just give them what they’re asking, and you’ll be on your way. They’re usually happy with a small amount (which they end up pocketing), so arguing with them won’t be worth your while. Besides, your goal is to keep the bike from being impounded, which might last for a month and often comes with a hefty fine.
Motorbike Taxi Trick
There are motorbike taxi operators in Vietnam who offer their services to drive you around the locale for a fee. This is convenient for tourists who don’t have driving permits or if you just want to relax and let the driver take you for a spin. Since many tourists don’t know much about where to go and what to see, these drivers will essentially offer to serve as guides. You may ask them first about their fee. They’ll tell you not to worry about it. They’ll drive you around, and if you are happy with their service, you can pay as you wish.
They may even tell you that there are no buses in the city, so they’re the only means of transport – this is not true of course. So, now that you have a riding thoroughfare, you think everything will turn out fine, yes? Wrong. There is a big chance that your driver may take you to a secluded spot, and there he will demand money. He may work with an accomplice or two, and if you refuse to pay up, you might end up with a cracked skull, a bleeding nose, and a big, burning hole in your pocket.
Some Simple Taxi Scams
Watch out for tampered meters that are common amongst scamming taxis in Vietnam. Also, you do not just hop into a cab and fall asleep because you’ve had quite a long day. Taxis charge based on distance traveled, not the time. Note that meter-related scams happen more often in the northern regions of Vietnam.
Taxis are not supposed to mooch tips from passengers. Tips are a courtesy that a generous or satisfied customer may give away. You can avoid the cesspits of taxi scams by taking cabs from Vinasun, which are white, Mai Linh in green, and Taxi Group. Common sense shall guide you not to agree on a fixed fare rate as well.
If you’re not the kind who backs down, you might want to get it on video. Do your best to capture the faulty meter clearly. Aside from that, it’s important that you take a photo of the taxi’s driver, name, and number. For safety’s sake, though, try not to be too obvious with what you’re doing. Once you’ve gotten off (and unfortunately, been scammed), you have two options – either file a complaint with the taxi company or send the info you collected to a newspaper company.
Beware of Long-haul Buses
Buses are common in Vietnam. It adds grease to the country’s tourism as it transports people from North to South and vice versa. But then again, where there are tourists, there are scammers – and of course, long-haul buses are no exception. Do your homework and lookup legitimate bus companies before you hop on a plane to Vietnam.
Secure every ticket or pass that you’ll be needed on your visit and make sure someone trustworthy is meeting you from one point to another. Countless incidents involve long-haul bus scammers extorting large amounts of money from passengers before they’ll take them to their destinations. That should be a warning to you if you’re thinking of making a spontaneous trip and just paying as you go along. That feat is not advisable if you’re in Vietnam.
Questionable Luggage Fees
Porters are a common fixture in airports. They offer convenience if you’re traveling alone and you need an extra pair of hands to carry your luggage. However, they can also be a hassle if they ask for unreasonable tips just because your baggage is heavy. The same is true for train or bus staff. They may ask you for a bigger tip because of your heavy bags, which is completely unreasonable at all. Again, a tip is a form of courtesy, not an obligation.
Hotel and Booking Scams
The internet has made our lives easier. It is now possible to book hotel reservations online instead of actually calling your hotel abroad to secure your accommodation. But try to be vigilant about making your online bookings in Vietnam. Many shady hotels may advertise an affordable price for their rooms. By the time you arrive at the lobby, the front desk personnel may tell you that what you have booked is a standard room that is already occupied. They’ll go to lengths informing you that the only available rooms are suites, so since it’s 2 am and you’re desperate for a shower and a soft bed, you’ll be forced to pay whatever amount they demand even if it’s out-of-this-world already.
Remember not to trust even luxurious hotels. I got ripped off by Kimdo Hotel, a four-star hotel in Saigon. The room I booked should have only cost me around 120 Euros for two nights. However, when I was about to check out, they forced me to pay nearly 600 Euros. At that point, it all made sense to me since the room seemed too good to be true given its price – they gave me the VIP room without actually informing me. They didn’t even return my passport on their own, and I had to bring it up before leaving. Just so you know, Kimdo Hotel has been rebranded. It now goes by the name Royal Hotel Saigon.
There’s also a scam that involves advanced deposits. Some hotels will require you to place a deposit a month or two in advance. While the practice itself seems harmless, you’re making yourself a potential victim if you weren’t given a sufficiently detailed contract in relation to your stay. If there’s no info on the amount you’ve paid, for example, the hotel might see this as a chance to keep your deposit. This happens quite often in Saigon, so don’t hesitate to call the police if you’ve become the target of this sort of scam.
If none of these things seem to be happening and you’re feeling quite satisfied with your stay, you might end up considering booking a trip to HaLong Bay or any other tourist destination. Well, there’s also a scam involving this, so it’s crucial that you confirm whether you were really given the package or service you chose. For this reason, I urge travelers to just check with the Vietnamese government’s official travel agency instead of booking through third-parties.
The same applies if you’re thinking of getting movie or opera tickets through your hotel. Given how expensive those are, you’d think that they’re for the best seats and services. Well, it’s possible that what you’ll actually receive are tickets for the cheapest spots. You would at least enjoy the free food and drinks, right? Don’t be surprised if you’re only served a cup of tea – everything else will cost you extra.
Even the Small Stuff
You should remain vigilant even if you’re planning to have your clothes washed. Some laundry shops don’t actually wash clothes – they simply iron them to get rid of the smell. Unfortunately for those who’ve fallen victim to this scam, ironing isn’t sufficient to get rid of the odor trapped in the armpit area (and other similar spots). Besides, while heat kills germs, it won’t get rid of sweat and dirt. The easiest way to spot these shady businesses is to check their turnaround time. If it seems too quick, you should definitely look elsewhere.
Are you into lottery tickets? If you love the cheap thrill that comes with them, you might be tempted to purchase some in Vietnam. Just be careful where you get them. Is someone offering you tickets that are guaranteed to win? Are the tickets more expensive? Well, supposedly, there’s a small charge for eliminating the luck factor. If you do give in, though, you’ll only realize that you’ve been ripped off. These guaranteed wins are, in truth, fake tickets that don’t give you the slightest chance of winning.
If you find yourself in need of gift or flower delivery services, you should go for good reviews. Going for no-name shops could put you at risk of paying a premium for cheap goods. What they show to customers isn’t even close to what they really send out.
By the way, there are gardens in Vietnam where you’ll be allowed to pick as much fruit (the most common being strawberries) as you want for a fixed price. Now, that’s a fine deal – assuming that the price won’t suddenly be raised once it’s finally time to pay and leave. The trick here is to have the price written down, signed by whoever is in charge, before starting your fruit-picking pursuit.
Properties, Insurance, and Projects
Some people visit this Southeast Asia country to look for potential investments. If you’re thinking of buying a property, it’s highly recommended that you go for something that’s already built. While cheaper options are indeed available, they’re usually those still in the planning stages – it will take years before moving in becomes an option. During that time, your real estate agent might be tempted by an offer and choose to sell your property even though you already put money in it.
Of course, insurance scams also exist, in which the unwary end up getting the coverage that seemingly comes with understandable conditions. Once it’s time to make use of the insurance, though, all you’ll get are excuses—they will not hesitate to twist the contract’s wordings to their favor, with the ultimate goal of not paying up.
You should probably similarly treat job opportunities. Don’t believe everything you’re told and assume outright that the one you’re dealing with has ulterior motives. In Vietnam, it’s somewhat common for companies to let interested applicants work for a short period, claiming that it’s necessary for evaluating both skill and knowledge. The problem, though, lies in the fact that many are just looking for free labor. So, if you’re put in that situation, it’s best not to complete every task—just enough to give them an idea of how capable you are. However, note that this kind of scam barely affects the English teaching industry, so aspiring teachers have less to worry about.
The Wiser Tourist
As a tourist, your holiday experience in a particular place will never be complete without the fun and unforgettable moments you deserve to enjoy. Tourist scammers can put a damper to your visit, and you may even earn an angry red shiner or two if you get mauled by them. But there are simple steps that you can take in order to stay safe and sound at all times. Let’s take a look at them in the following guidelines.
Common sense goes a long way.
Oh, you can laugh at this one. You’ll say it’s a lame first step towards avoiding tourist scammers. But thinking that this first step is a total no-brainer and shouldn’t be given much attention makes you one of many who don’t practice common sense.
If your gut tells you not to entertain questionably cheap services and goods for sale, don’t hesitate to follow it. Scammers will attempt to gain your trust. Instincts should tell you that this is a ruse to lull you into a false sense of security so that they can take advantage of you later on.
If you have to pay for services, agree on a fixed rate. For example, do not let the cyclo driver carry you around the locality without securing an agreed rate first. You’ll be left penniless once he takes you to a shady, secluded location and bullies you into coughing up all your money.
Never forget that your common sense comes a long way to help you enjoy the sights and survive the ordeal of scammers who may come your way.
Carry only a small amount of cash
It’s your first time in Vietnam, and as a wanderlust, you cashed in five months’ worth of your paycheck so you can blow it all away in your travels. The problem is, you carried all that hefty cash in your change purse and wallet.
Stop right there. The best thing that you can do is put away some money and carry only a small wad of cash or spare change for your day-to-day itinerary. Spot cash and spare change are good for tipping waiters, spur-of-the-moment souvenir hauls, and gumball machines. You wouldn’t want to risk being hounded by scammers and be left with nothing but your bruised ego.
On the topic of tipping, though, don’t think that it’s a bad thing. While lots of people in Vietnam seem to be too eager to ask for spare change, you shouldn’t stop yourself from rewarding those who really deserve some extra cash. However, take note that if you wish to tip a waiter, for example, you should give it directly. Don’t put it in the tip box or hand it over to anyone else. Doing those will only guarantee that the waiter won’t get the cash.
Yes, it’s common for business owners to keep such small financial rewards for themselves.
Do not talk to strangers.
Our mothers and grandmothers warned us about talking to strangers. But let’s tweak the mantra a little bit. You see, it’s impossible to completely avoid talking to strangers when you’re in a tourist destination like Vietnam. That vendor who sold you a bowl of Pho is a stranger, other tourists on the streets are strangers, and even the policeman on a beat watch is also a stranger.
Your common sense will tell you that certain strangers need to be ignored, like that shady talker of a cyclo driver who speaks fluent English or that shoeshine attendant who keeps stalking you for the last ten minutes. Follow your gut feeling, and always keep an eye out for anything fishy.
Do your homework
Looking up your target destination should be a crucial part of your trip-planning. You need to take down notes on the activities that you can do leisurely in Vietnam. Try to keep an eye on the best and most trustworthy hotels that you can find on the internet or through referrals from friends.
Keep in mind that changing the names of establishments and services in Vietnam isn’t uncommon, especially among those that have been uncovered as frauds and associated with scandals and negative feedback. So, as you research your destinations or activities, try to find information regarding any possible name changes.
Plan your day-to-day itinerary. By planning everything, you will be able to have an organized and less stressful visit to Vietnam. Plus, you are already one step ahead should you bump into potential scammers because you now know how to tackle them with tact.
There is nothing wrong with having a spontaneous vacation getaway. Vietnam is home to tourist scammers, and you would want to stay safe for the rest of your visit, right?
Make good use of the internet.
You have all the access to information at the tap of your phone. When you’re trying to look things up, the internet is your best friend. Try to make good use of it. The internet has the most updated information on anything from aardvarks to tourist destinations like Vietnam.
If you must, bring your own pocket-sized hotspot so you can access the web any time of the day. There are internet cafes in Vietnam, but it is best to stay away from them. Even these establishments are home to scammers. If you so much as enter your email address or financial information when you want to book a return airline ticket, there’s a big chance someone from the internet café may tap your credit card number, or your identity might be stolen. Careful, tourist.
Don’t be a flashy tourist.
This is self-explanatory. When you are up and about for a leisurely stroll around the city, do not even bother to wear your designer purse, that expensive Rolex from Grandma, or your gold jewelry. These are a feast for the eyes of scammers who will not get you off their sight once they realized you’re the haplessly ignorant tourist.
Anyway, dressing up so you’ll look like a million bucks will not work in your favor when you’re haggling for service fees and the price of goods. When vendors see your garb, they’ll automatically think you’re filthy rich, so of course, they’ll charge you more for anything they sell. Keep your iPhones at home too.
Carry a cheap touchpad-style phone when you’re traveling in Vietnam so potential scammers won’t give your device a second look. These individuals are keen on spotting a pricey iPhone from a distance. If you must take pictures, bring a disposable Lomo camera, a decent camera phone that can take good-quality pictures or anything else that’s cheaper than your iPhone on your travels. Monopods or selfie sticks should also be avoided because they look like Christmas morning to snatchers, especially when you’ve popped your phone on the stick, ready to snap a photo.
Also, if you’re headed for the beach, don’t carry anything that can be associated with luxury—even hotel slippers and bathrobes. Those things usually end up getting stolen.
Learn to appreciate travel hacks
Go online and Google travel hacks. These are simple measures that you can make use of to make packing and traveling way less stressful. Some of the best travel hacks include rolling up emergency money and keeping it in an empty ChapStick tube. For tourists who visit the beach, try keeping your valuables in a rolled-up baby diaper or empty lotion bottle if you have to leave your things on the sand to go swimming. No one would touch a bundled up baby diaper because they’ll think it’s got nothing but poo.
Learn to say no. It doesn’t take much to refuse or reject an offer. Do not be an unsuspecting tourist. If a potential scammer senses that you cannot pass up a chance to say yes, they’ll see you as a cash cow (you might even attract other scammers in the area, greatly increasing your chances of running out of cash). You won’t be deemed rude or impolite if you refuse an offer. Every time someone tries to convince you to try their services for a low price and your gut tells you to turn up your nose, say no, pronto.
You’ll get used to it. It’s for your safety, after all. You’re in a foreign country, remember that. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have to. Look at people in the eye, approach them in a polite and civil manner, smile, and you’ll be okay.
Being assertive also involves practicing proper negotiation skills. If you’re buying something expensive, only be willing to pay half of the amount upfront. You may gradually choose to give the rest, but what’s important is that you won’t lose all your cash if things go south. Don’t be afraid to walk away if one seller isn’t willing to accommodate your request. Many businesses actually find such terms acceptable.
Show some staunch
This one is a bit of an overstatement, but it is also a crucial tip. Try to look put together, confident, and staunch whenever you go out in public. Scammers only lurk around tourists who seem to not know where to go or what to do. When you strike them with the impression that you can carry whatever business you’re having on your own, they won’t bother you. You don’t have to look arrogant or aloof. Of course, that’s a little too much. Just act as if you’ve got everything covered, and you’ll be fine.
Keep two eyes open to your surroundings and valuables at all times. Be watchful and feel for anything fishy in your surroundings. Think before you proceed. Whenever you visit foreign countries, your mantra should always be that you’re one step ahead of everything. You may ask for price lists but do not let your guard down.
When you’re at the beach, and you see empty chairs, don’t immediately assume that they’re for public use. Someone’s likely making money off of it. Ask how much it will cost to use the chair, how long you can use it, and whether there are other paid services that you should keep in mind during your stay.
Also, whenever you ask for directions, do so at least twice. The Vietnamese have this weird tendency to save face for the wrong reasons. In other words, even if someone doesn’t really know the place you’re asking about, you’ll still get a seemingly accurate answer.
When it comes to transactions, remember that the safest thing to do is come up with a contract. Even if it’s just handwritten, as long as it’s sufficiently detailed and has all the necessary signatures, it will significantly reduce your chances of getting ripped off.
Be smart when driving.
Of course, driving without a license will get you fined. Aside from getting one and bringing it with you, though, you must learn about the route you’re taking in advance. Familiarize yourself with all traffic signs as these often get hidden behind trees—and yes, you’ll still be fined regardless of whether you saw them.
Understand the culture
Things will become much easier once you understand the culture. Keep in mind that the populace isn’t known to be straightforward and usually don’t do what they say. You must double-check everything you’re told, even if just to avoid unwanted surprises. Also, it’s best to simply accept that most Vietnamese will only pursue things if there’s something in it for them. Theft may also be considered part of the country’s culture (given how rampant it is). Accepting that, you should try to be proactive—learn to speak Vietnamese and use local products. That way, thieves will most likely think that you’re not a tourist at all and that you’re fully aware of their ways.
Know who you’re dealing with
If you wish to explore the country with complete peace of mind, you’ll have to exert extra effort in finding trustworthy locals. It will be hard at first (given that you should be on your guard when meeting someone new), but the payoff will definitely be worth it. On the other hand, if finding such people is too difficult, you should just join expat communities or tag along with other foreign travelers.
Although being friendly is a good thing, it would still be safer to ask for a few specific details from those you’re working with for the first time. Don’t hesitate to get their names—and if possible, get a copy of their IDs as well. Get yourself a Vietnamese SIM card and top it up with a small amount. That way, if something happens, you’ll immediately be able to call the police (113). Of course, complaining to companies is also an option, as well as telling your story to newspapers such as Tuoitre, Thanhnien, and Dante and getting in touch with bloggers and private media firms works, too. After all, they’re always eager to have something new to write about.
One last thing—always equip yourself with a camera. It will be much easier for the police or news outlets to confirm your report or complaint if you can quickly provide concrete evidence.
So that’s all there is to say about steering clear of scammers in Vietnam. Bear in mind that these nuggets of advice do not only apply to this country; you might as well practice them in any other country you visit. After all, it’s undeniable that frauds exist in all corners of the globe.
Here’s one last thing I would like to tell you, though—you may think of just calling the cops if you get hounded for money. The cops may not always be there to assist you. So, it’s basically up to you to keep yourself safe—far away from potential scams during your vacation. By being vigilant and keeping in mind all the guidelines listed in the previous chapter, accomplishing such a feat shouldn’t be too difficult, regardless of how inexperienced you are as a traveler (though tagging along with someone more knowledgeable will definitely prove to be advantageous).
Enjoy your stay in Vietnam and have fun!