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Be Warned of these Most Common Travel Scams in Asia

They say bad experiences make for great stories; it doesn’t make the experiencing though any less harrowing. Traveling albeit a thrilling experience, is not removed from possibility of setbacks, one of which is getting scammed. And they come in many forms, oftentimes targeted at tourists. It’s these acts of miscreants that give a place a bad name. In a perfect world, tourists have the freedom to roam and discover a place with no misfortune. And because the world is far from perfect, it pays to be vigilant and be aware of the ongoing scams in the places you are visiting. I asked some travelers to share the scamming incidents that they experienced while traveling in Asia. Here’s a list of the most common scams in Asia that you should be aware of. 

 

Taxi scam in Laos

Laos has a reputation for being a friendly place, and I would say that, for the most part, this is true. However, wherever you go you will come across people trying to scam you. Sadly, I was actually scammed in Laos last time I was there.

I wanted to get from the airport to my hotel quickly, so instead of getting the bus, I got a taxi. The driver was warm and friendly, but he charged me 90,000 kip (USD 10.93) for a drive that took just over 10 minutes. It seemed a lot, but I was tired, and a bit frazzled, so I just handed over the cash.

When I made the return journey, just a week later, I was charged only 40,000 kip (USD 4.86), by a private taxi owner. Later, I was told by a fellow traveller that the taxis that operate out of the airport should charge a set fee, which is 50,000 kip (USD 6.07). Clearly, the first driver had scammed me, while the one had undercharged me if anything.

The best way to avoid this type of problem is to pre book your transport from the airport to your accommodation and confirm the price. Before you get in, double-check how much the driver is expecting to be paid. Otherwise, you will face the same problem in India as well.

In fact, regardless of the type of transport you use when you travel, you should do a bit of research so you can establish what a reasonable price would be for the journey you want to take. Then, before getting in the taxi or tuk-tuk, confirm how much you are prepared to pay with the driver.

— Tim, AmazonCreek

 

Bait and Swap scam in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place, but like anywhere there are a lot of tourists you have to be careful about being scammed. I am quite a seasoned traveler, so was stunned when I got caught out myself. The scam was a simple one.

My nephew likes gaming consoles, so it seemed like a good idea to buy him one that would be a bit different to the ones his friends owned. I had a look in the bigger electronic shops, but the prices were high. So, when I saw a GPD XD RK GamePad advertised for USD 195, I went in to take a look.

The assistant was helpful but only spoke Cantonese. After much gesturing, he understood I wanted the special offer. I walked out of the shop having bought what I thought was a bargain. In reality what was in the box was not a GPD XD RK. It was a much lower specification GPD XD that was only worth about USD 180, and there was no charger.

When I got back to the hotel, I realized the product was not what I had paid for. Naturally, I went straight back, but could not get my money back or swap the product. The item I had looked at was still on display, and the poster was still up, but the shopkeeper would not accept that he had given me the wrong item.

Talking to someone in a bar later I realized I had probably been scammed. What happened to me is known as the “bait and swap” scam. Shopkeepers bait customers with high-end products sold at a discount but give them much cheaper older models that look similar but are nowhere near as good.

— Chris, Victoria Harbour

 

Grand Palace and Buddha scam in Thailand

The Grand Palace/Buddha scam all starts the same way.

A tuk-tuk driver or in our case, a stranger, told us that the Grand Palace was closed that morning and we should go on a river cruise instead and visit other temples. Since it was “buddha day”, he said that all temples are free. So he hailed the nearest tuk-tuk driver who took us to the river cruise, which for 500 baht then took us to two temples, which was free.

The first place we went to was the tallest buddha, then the sitting buddha. At the second temple, a stranger then approached us and told us there is a very well known jewelry shop that was having a sale. He then told us he bought his ring for this amount, and bought a ring for his mother for this amount, convincing us that we should go. After that, the tuk-tuk driver then took us to a restaurant for “authentic thai dining experience”, which was mmm-okay, not that bad. He then took us to the jewelry shop for our last stop before he dropped us off at the grand palace. We paid the tuk-tuk driver around 150-200 baht (USD 4.50 – 5.99) each.

We only realised that it was scam a week after we got home when I remembered that I read something about the scam before we even made the trip. LOL.

— Jane, Moments with Jane

 

Taxi & Siklo Tour scams in Vietnam

(Now here comes my personal experience)

Taxi

Everyone is a millionaire in Vietnam because of the too many zeros in their currency. Due to inflation, Vietnam printed more money to cope with a global financial crisis. This resulted to devaluation of the Vietnam Dong. If you are not used to handling money of this kind, chances are, you will be confused. And when you do, you might just lose a million over some taxi driver’s ploy of misleading a passenger.

The tactic goes like this; upon reaching your destination, you will be told to look at the taxi meter. When you pay the amount that you think would cover the bill, the driver would say that it’s not enough. The driver would then ask to see how much money you got. Do not, under any circumstances, show your money because he would most definitely pick the highest bill and claim that that’s how much you owe him. All it takes is one moment of confusion and you will be duped out of your money.

Most of the locals and tourists recommend Mai Lihn taxi over Vina Sun. Take this advice or if you are not too sure, get a local sim card so you can book through Grab Car or Uber. They are proven to be much more reliable and honest, at least according to tourists.

Siklo

Ho Chi Minh is a bustling city with many points of interests, such as Cu Chi Tunnel, Independence Palace, Pham Ngu Lao Street, among others. Indeed, there are many places to discover and one of the easiest ways to tour around the city is by riding a siklo. Siklo is a three-wheeled vehicle that resembles a tuktuk (auto rickshaw), but on reverse; the passenger seat is at the anterior while the driver pedals from behind. Because of its unique structure, it allows the tourist to have the best seat to view the city.

Siklo drivers can be seen practically everywhere, offering a tour of the city that usually lasts for an hour or two. The tour covers spots that are frequented by tourists, such as War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Loan Bao Tin Mung (also known as the pink Catholic church), Saigon Square, etc. [Read: The Fun and Scam of Siklo Tour in Ho Chi Minh]

Many tourists have fallen prey to this scheme and it goes like this; A siklo driver would approach you, ask your country of origin, and show you a notebook that contains glowing reviews from previous passengers. He would make sure to show you the review written by your countrymen in your local language. Remember that this is part of the trick to lure customers in.

The driver would then offer a deal, for example, VND 250,00 (USD 11.00) for two persons. After the tour, you will be asked to pay double the price. The driver would insist that the agreement is 250,000 dong for each person, per hour. So if you did the tour for 2 hours, you will each have to pay 500,000 dong (USD 22.00).

Let this be a reminder to you to take extra precaution when booking a tour with the siklo drivers in Ho Chi Minh. If you have to take a picture or record a video or audio of the transaction, do it, just so you have some proof about the deal that you are making prior to the tour. Do not sign up for anything until you are completely sure — and again backed by some proof — that the rate they are giving would stand to the end of the tour.

To avoid this scam, do not take the siklo tour. You’d be able to save more if you go on foot or if you take  a bus or a taxi. If you’re determined to experience siklo however, take a video of the entire transaction so you have a physical evidence and the driver will have no choice but to keep the deal.

 

23 Comments

  • Reply
    Alexander Popkov
    October 25, 2017 at 7:11 PM

    Thank you! That is an important information for any traveler going to Asia. I normally search for such things, before I go for a trip, but now I know it in advance… 🙂

  • Reply
    Suruchi
    September 9, 2017 at 4:16 PM

    Really interesting post. So many difffrent types of scam. Your post can really help one in avoiding scams at these particular places. And i think the taxi scam is common thoughout Asia.

  • Reply
    Married With Passports
    August 31, 2017 at 5:43 AM

    Very comprehensive guide! A friend of mine got duped into the taxi scam. I can’t remember the figure exactly however he ended up paying over USD30 for a 20 minute taxi ride in Vietnam which was surely way over priced. As always, good quality writing there!

  • Reply
    Tanya Korteling
    August 31, 2017 at 1:58 AM

    Useful list; I’ve always prided myself on not getting scammed but my husband and I were caught out when we bought local SIM cards in Mumbai last year. We paid for a certain amount of credit only to find out later that less than half of that had been credited to the card!

    We live in Cambodia now and a big tourist scam here is the baby milk scam – you’re approached on the street by a young woman with a poorly looking baby (often borrowed) who ask you to buy the baby milk forums! You agree and they take you to a store where you buy them expensive formula. As soon as you leave they return it to the shop and the money is split between them and the owner! Don’t fall for that one!

  • Reply
    Cathy
    August 30, 2017 at 3:03 PM

    Scam is just like a regular practice in most touristic areas around the world. I’ve never been scammed but I always try to be careful and pay attention all the time. It pays to be well informed! Eh, good compilation of scam stories, Marge!

  • Reply
    Thelittlelai: Beyond limitss
    August 30, 2017 at 10:09 AM

    This is really happening wherever we are. I’ve been scammed in the Philippines many times, even I grew up here because I sound silly sometimes. Anyway, I’ve read several stories like this as well, but how you have written it is very specific which I would keep it in mind after reading. I can really from what you have experienced in Hong Kong, the good thing was, I decided not to buy the item that was offered to me cause I was really struggling in communicating with the sales girl inside the small stall. Thank you so much for sharing your experienced with us, I can truly learn from all of these. Have a safe trip always Marge.

  • Reply
    Ambuj Saxena
    August 30, 2017 at 8:08 AM

    Scams are the worst thing to happen to a traveler! I am glad you have pointed them out in this blog post! I wish to share your blog post in my upcoming book on Tourism and Hospitality in India where there is a section on Role of Social Media in Tourism.

  • Reply
    Mikee Pascual
    August 30, 2017 at 7:27 AM

    Damn, thanks for the heads up! Just when I thought taxi drivers are notorious only in the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam showed up their respective dark colors through your presence. I hope you become more vigilant next time to keep yourself off from these unfortunate events.

  • Reply
    Blaine is Lost
    August 30, 2017 at 1:43 AM

    Whew. I also heard the same stories from a friend who went in Vietnam wherein they were scammed by the taxi driver of paying double because the driver was in a hurry or something. I really hate it when people take advantage of these things. We also have travel scams in the Philippines and we can be victims of our own country too. I think it is important for us to be vigilant and alert at all times and never be too convinced in discounted offers of some sort. Since I haven’t visited any countries around Asia yet, I think this list is really helpful and informative.

  • Reply
    Noel
    August 30, 2017 at 12:51 AM

    Wow! Some of these are unexpected and this has definitely opened our eyes. Thank you for sharing these experiences and information on these scams. Travellers like us need to be really careful and I am just glad we have someone like you that shared these to us.

  • Reply
    Karie
    August 29, 2017 at 4:16 PM

    Whoa this is actually scary as I had no idea about these scams. I’m so glad you have shared this post. Few taxi and rickshaw drivers scam tourists in India too. It’s really unfortunate that you and others got scammed. I guess we have to be more alert and it’s a good option to pre book transport whenever possible.

  • Reply
    neha
    August 29, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    Its very informative. It’s important to be aware of scams when you visit a place to be able to protect yourself. i heard the taxi scam also exists in Indonesia, particularly ubud and bali. I had read about scams in Europe before visiting there through some blog posts like yours and it really helped us evade some when we were there.

  • Reply
    Kim
    August 25, 2017 at 1:02 AM

    So many scams in this world….so sad! I don’t think that there is anywhere in the world free of scam artists. I know in the US us natives of the country probably get scammed the most!

  • Reply
    Mimi's Migration
    August 11, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    Thank you for posting this. All around the world there are scams and it is good to know what to look out for. In Romania it is the same with the taxis at the airpot, they sometimes charge you three times the price. Not making that mistake again!

  • Reply
    Raphael Alexander Zoren
    August 9, 2017 at 5:14 PM

    Great article!!! Another common scam I found in SE Asia (more specifically, Thailand) was the Tuk Tuk scam in which the driver offers you a free ride as long as you agree to visit one souvenir shop to another (including jewelry and tailor shops) in order for him to get a commission (even if you don’t buy anything).

  • Reply
    Jerny
    August 7, 2017 at 1:53 PM

    Glad I had never become a victim of scams yet. It’s not that I research well regarding those before heading out but I get used to asking people about how much questions or how to’ s before doing or buying something. For the Thailand, not sure if this could be treated as a scam but we really would like to ride a tuktuk in Thailand which cost us 200 baht from the Grand Palace to the train station whereas taxis who are only charging by the meter and only cost us more or less 50 baht! lol

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      August 7, 2017 at 2:30 PM

      It’s a scam because the tuktuk drivers would tell you that the Grand Palace is closed (when in fact, it is not) and try to convince you to take a tour with them instead. This is a well-known scam in Thailand, and I know a few people who have already been victimized by this.

  • Reply
    Johna
    August 5, 2017 at 1:37 PM

    Definitely taking note of all these scams! Thank goodness I haven’t experience any yet and I hope I never do! 😀

  • Reply
    Arni
    August 5, 2017 at 6:08 AM

    I learned a lot from this post. It pays to know these in advance to better prepare myself when I do visit these places. Great tip in using the local sim card for booking Grab or Uber in Vietnam. I remember haggling a lot with rickshaw drivers in India before hopping in. My foreign husband often becomes a scam target but little did they know, he won’t give in that easily. When we found a reliable taxi driver in India, we took his number and we pre-booked him for a day for out of town trips or whenever we required a taxi. I used to do the same whenever I travel for business in the past. I have phone numbers of taxi drivers from each country I often visit and I always call them whenever I am in town. I got some of these contacts from colleagues who highly recommended them.

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      August 5, 2017 at 6:15 AM

      That’s a good tip right there Arni. Better to have a reliable contact person.

  • Reply
    Katchutravels
    August 4, 2017 at 5:42 AM

    This is crazy! I know how it feels to be scammed. I have been part of the Tuk Tuk trail in Bangkok in 2009. This is a good compilation to be aware of in various countries. Regarding the taxi, i think its a constant in most parts of Asia. I have seen such scams regularly in Airports in India

  • Reply
    michymichymoo
    August 3, 2017 at 8:01 PM

    I’ve been watching “Scam City” on Netflix and they featured Bangkok’s Buddha scam. Luckily for me, I have never been scammed in Bangkok whenever I’m there. I guess it pays to be prepared and know that you can always walk away. 🙂

  • Reply
    Swayam Tiwari
    August 3, 2017 at 3:41 PM

    Thankfully, India is not on this list. Ha ha ha..Scams happen in most parts of the world and your post will be of great help who are planning to go to Laos, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand.
    Though I have been to Thailand and Nepal earlier, I don’t think I have been scammed in these countries-thanks to us being scammed by fellow Indians, every day )))

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