Vietnam Street

Be Scam-Wise in Vietnam

We’ve all heard the horror stories about Vietnam’s world-renowned rip-off merchants; the scam artists and con-men waiting on street corners for naive and unsuspecting tourists to pass by.

Well unfortunately, it’s all true. Without wanting to encourage mass panic among the hoards of already paranoid backpackers, it’s fair to say that Vietnam has more than its share of crafty crooks, especially in the big cities. While there are hundreds of genuine, honest Vietnamese people offering their services to the world’s travellers, there are enough dodgy tour guides and crooked taxi drivers to give the place a pretty bad name.

But it’s not worth missing out on the amazing experiences Vietnam has to offer, or being put off by the few dishonest people marring the country’s tourist industry. It’s an amazing place and there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy it, as long as you’re prepared and you know what to look out for. This list of the most popular scams in Vietnam should help prevent you falling foul of the latest tricks, leaving you free to enjoy all the wonderful things that Vietnam has to offer.

Taxi Scams

Vietnam Street

There’s an extremely lengthy list of cunning methods used by taxi drivers to rip-off tourists. From simple things such as deliberately short-changing people to the more sophisticated methods of nabbing your cash, they are notorious for their money-grabbing schemes.

Illegal Cabs and High Prices:

To begin with, there are a number of illegal cabs operating in Vietnam, especially in the big cities and around major airports and train stations. They don’t follow regulations on metering, and they’ll usually try and charge you a fortune when you arrive at your destination. If the taxi you’re getting in doesn’t have a meter, you should ALWAYS agree your fair before you set off. And even if they do, it’s still good practice as it will prevent you paying over the odds when you’ve finished your journey.

A Change of Heart:

Even if you’ve agreed your fare in advance, they’ll still try and make a few extra dollars out of an unsuspecting tourist. Sometimes, it’s as blatant as drivers changing their mind about how much you owe once you reach your destination. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t pay more than you agreed. It’s always a good idea to keep the right change on you so you can pay what you owe and leave.

Short-Changing:

Another common trick is to purposefully short-change customers, and this isn’t restricted to taxi-drivers. One simple and common way to short change you without you noticing is to quote you a fee in one currency, but give you the change back in another. By the time you’ve worked out you’ve been short-changed, the taxi driver is long gone and he’s taken your cash with him. You should be confident about the conversion rates and it’s a good idea to keep a list of conversions with you, so you can instantly spot if you’ve not been given the right change.

Dodgy Deals:

A lot of taxi drivers also have deals with hotels or travel agents, who give the drivers money or drinks for dropping tourists off by their doorsteps. They may tell you your hotel has closed down or been relocated in order to take you somewhere they got a commission from. If someone else gets in the taxi saying the hotel is full, or the driver gets a mysterious phone call half way through the journey telling him it’s booked up, it’s a sure sign that something dodgy is going on.

Deviations:

Always keep a map with you and have an idea of where you’re supposed to be headed, so you know whether your driver’s deviating from his real destination. Often you’ll get where you want to go in the end, but you’ll be taken via a jewellery factory or a tour office that’s miles in the other direction. Backpackers fall for this all the time because the drivers quote such cheap prices - they don’t need your money because they’re getting paid elsewhere, and you’ll be badgered to buy tours or jewellery at whatever institute they drop you off at. If you’ve got a bit of spare time, you want a cheap fare, and you fancy a free orange juice at a random factory, get in the taxi. But if you’ve got a plane to catch and you want to be there on time, go with a driver charging a realistic fare.

Street sellers

Vietnam Street Seller

Street sellers are just as crafty as taxi drivers, and often use many of the same tricks. They’ll still try and short change you, confuse you with the currency and make you pay over the odds for what they are selling. But they also come with their own range of hazards.

Diversion:

Street sellers are often a diversion for pickpockets, and are usually working alongside the pickpockets themselves. While you’re engaged in a conversation, a friend will be hovering close by, or a small child will come up to you, and you are guaranteed that, by the time you get away, you’ll be a wallet shorter. Not all pickpockets are very good at it, and some of them are opportunists, so if you feel someone brush past you, check your bag quickly. Obviously, you should keep your money well hidden and never carry too much with you, but remember to keep an eye out when talking to street sellers in particular.

Bare-faced Cheek:

Do not open your purse or wallet in public, especially if you’re next to a street seller. They’ll dive straight in and help themselves, shoving a bag of fruit in your hand and taking fifty quid for it. Or they’ll take out a hefty wad of notes and claim they only took what you agreed as payment. Often working in groups, you won’t know what’s happened till four pairs of hands have descended on you and left you dry. If you want to buy something, keep your wallet close, know exactly how much you need so you can take it out quickly, and put your money straight away afterwards.

Fruit Ladies:

Vietnam Fruit Lady

Hanoi’s fruit ladies will often approach tourists, load them up with baskets of fruit, take a photo using your camera, and then expect payment for it. At the very least, they’ll expect you to buy a bag of pineapple for an extortionate price and won’t leave till you’ve coughed up. Working in large groups, it can be quite hard to stop them doing it, and even harder to get away. Perhaps it’s worth the novelty photo of you carrying a fruit basket, and if you actually want some fruit, you’re onto a winner. Just make sure you keep your money hidden so they can’t help themselves; be prepared for a long argument about paying twenty dollars for a bit of mango, keep your fingers crossed that you get your camera back, and try not to get pick pocketed in the process. Or, if you see a group of fruit ladies heading in your direction - just run!

Sapa’s Textile Women:

Sapa's Textile Women

The handicraft women in Sapa are possibly the most notorious street sellers. They’ll meet you in the village, walk with you on a four-hour trek, tell you their life stories and make you gifts from plants and sticks along the way. Then, when you feel like you know them pretty well and you’re impressed that nobody has tried to sell you anything, they pounce. “Buy from me! Buy from me!” is a phrase you’ll never want to hear again. They’ll offer you bags of handicraft products and literally cry until you buy something. And if you buy from one, they’ll play the guilt card until you buy from another. It’s hard to resist, but it really is better if you buy from nobody. Many of the young girls who do this are skipping school because they think they’ll get more money this way, so it’s better for everyone if you just don’t buy anything.

Books:

And we’re onto book sellers. Basically, if a book is in a wrapper and you can’t see inside, then it’s probably a photocopy. The sellers will try to charge you more than you’d pay back at home, but it will be a poor quality version of the book you think you’re buying. So you’re approached by a seller, you’ve spotted that book you’ve been dying to read, and you’re thinking, so what if it’s a photocopy? That’s fine, as long as you don’t mind wonky photocopying, missing sentences, and a host of blank pages just as you’re getting to the good bit!

Package Wrapping Scam:

Keep an eye on your purchases when they are being wrapped. A favourite trick is to swap the item you thought you were buying for a much cheaper one. You get given a wrapped item and don’t notice that it’s been swapped until it’s far too late.

Hotels and Travel Cafes

Copycats:

Hanoi Main Post Office

You’ve done your research, you’ve picked out a good hotel and you know which travel agents have the best reviews. It’s still not enough. Copycats use the same names and the branding of reputable places, and pay drivers a commission to drop tourists there. You won’t necessarily realise at first, but you will wonder why your hot showers and rooftop pools have been traded in for stained sheets and broken air-con. When you ask a driver to take you somewhere, make sure you give the address as well as the name of the hotel, and keep one eye on that map at all times.

Poor Tours:

Avoid buying tours from the hotel reception. They usually buy vouchers for tours from real travel agents, but bump up the price so you get a rubbish deal. Also be wary of what’s offered with your tour. You’ll often be shown images of places you won’t see and hotels you certainly won’t be staying at. Question everything and make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Expensive Pen Pals

This is a pretty mean trick as far as Vietnamese scams go, but it’s one you need to know about. If a nice Vietnamese person strikes up a conversation, and you exchange email addresses to keep in touch, beware of any requests for money when you get back home. There’ll often be a sob story about stolen money for a school trip or something along those lines – it’s actually just a con to get you to pay up, so don’t send anything!

If Things Go Wrong

If you do fall for a scam, don’t worry – it happens to the best of us. If you’ve lost a lot of money or are particularly concerned about a scam, you can report it to Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. They hate scams as much as the tourists do, so they’ll be happy to help you make a complaint.

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