Wednesday, 28 September 2016

VIETNAM: Scams Tourists Must Be Ready For

Vietnam was the place where I encountered my first travel scam and it will always be etched in my memory. In fact, it has even inspired the creation of this site!

A place of breath-taking natural beauty, Vietnam is also home to a sizeable bunch of shrewd scammers. Almost everyone who has been here has met one!

Here is a list of 24 common scams in Vietnam, categorised by the sections “tourist activities”, “transport”, “accommodation”, and “misc”.

Those three wheel bicycles/trishaws you see lining the streets at tourist attractions? Avoid them at all costs. What they do is they will approach you and offer a ride where you can pay as much as you want, or not at all! Now, alarm bells would have begun ringing for anyone with half a brain.

However, what they do next is brilliant. They will take out a notebook and show you all the positive reviews in it. You will find extremely detailed reviews praising the driver and the trip in different languages and in different handwriting. As someone who knows a few languages, I was able to verify a number of them.

The cyclo operator is also an extremely glib speaker. He is able to build rapport (this is easy, for instance, enquiry about your country and sharing some knowledge of it) and address any of your fears (such as allowing you to stop halfway if you wish). Once you get onto the cyclo, the driver will then attempt to build trust with you bit by bit.

End of the day, once all trust has been built, he will bring you somewhere secluded, fish out a list of prices based on hours of service and demand payment. You pretty much have no choice but to pay.

However, it must be said that a cyclo experience can be an interesting one. To protect yourself, agree a clear price before hiring one and make sure that you stop at a place you know.

This is common around the world, but it is much more easily implemented here due to the large note denomination.

Overcharging can occur in many different forms, such as over conversion of currency, giving less change by rounding up/down, not giving any change by insisting on a tip, or even changing the fare once the service is completed!

Many places also quote in USD to make overcharging easier for them – either by rounding up to USD (which is higher than the value in Vietnamese Dong) or by demanding payment in Dong while using an unacceptable exchange rate.

Also beware when a vendor tells you 10, it could mean 10 USD, 10,000 Dong or even something else! Besides this, always ensure that the fee is for everyone in the group and not for each individual.

For popular tourist markets such as Ben Thanh market, prices are also marked up a few HUNDRED times, more if you are a Caucasian. Be ready to haggle or not buy!

Finally, be extremely careful with the cash in your wallet, keep them out of sight from the public and from the shopkeepers.

There are some vendors who sell books in boxes at cheap prices. But alas, those books are photocopies! You would not know as these “books” are wrapped up. Some of those are also of low quality – errors in pages, etc.

Then, there are other vendors who will invite you to take a photo with them. Once taken, they will demand a fee, a tip, or a purchase of their products. Ignore, and you will be hounded until you pay.

For instance, we have the fruit ladies of Hanoi. They will offer to lend you a fruit basket and to take a photo of you. It’s difficult to escape if you have taken the bait as they work in large groups. Something worse that might happen is that you get pickpocketed in the process.

Also, you might come across fake beggars. Some examples are fake cripples, hungry babies are actually asleep due to alcohol and people fake sickness and weakness. Do not donate or you will be hounded as well.

Moving on to Sapa, we have the textile women who tries to guilt trip you. They accompany you on trips, share their life stories, build trust and rapport and at the end of it all, ask that you buy handicrafts from them while crying.

Finally, avoid those pesky photographers who offer to take photos of you. Firstly, they will take multiple photos and demand a much higher payment. Secondly, they will not deliver the photos to you as promised.

Unscrupulous Tour Companies, there are many of such black sheep in the industry.

For instance, some of them claim to provide snorkelling, island trips etc which they do, but only allow for a meagre amount of time for them. There are also many grey areas they could capitalise on such as allowing for overbooking of trips.

As mentioned earlier, also ensure that the price paid is for everyone in the group!

For boat trips, it is also important to buy return tickets rather than one way ones, as you might be exploited when you find no other means of return.

Thus, it is recommended to check out online reviews of the tour companies before committing.

Restaurants that Do Not Display Prices,avoid them, but if you must try, do ask about the prices before ordering. If all you get are vague replies, that’s the sign to leave.

Be careful of those that list prices in USD as well – they might demand payment in Vietnamese Dong and use some unreasonably expensive exchange rate

Overcharging by Restaurants,those nuts or fruits they serve you before the start of the meal? Reject them, as they cost an exorbitant amount.

For those who tend to stay long at restaurants, try to keep whatever you’ve ordered at your table be it empty plates or bottles. This is to collect evidence and prevent restaurants from overcharging you by asking you to pay for something that you did not order.

Always inspect your goods after purchase, especially those that are wrapped, as they might be swapped. The same goes for your change or if you were to change money at a money changer.

Also, note that a very common scam in Vietnam is that vendors will claim that something is free. Once you have used it (service, food, etc), payment will be demanded and you will be hounded until you pay.

Besides street vendors who peddle fake ware, there are many shops which sell fake stuff as well, such as silk and even war relics! So do know what you’re buying and make sure to verify them before buying.

Place is closed,a popular scam in Asia (Thailand especially), someone or anyone might approach you and inform you that a place is closed.

They will then offer to bring you somewhere else where they can get commission. Never trust anyone who tells you that, especially one who can speak good English.

Karaoke/Prostitution,Illegal in Vietnam,is a simple scam, yet one that many inexperienced male tourists fall for.

At the karoke, a male tourist might be approached by a hooker. Money is given to book a room but the hooker disappears. Next, the bill comes and the tourist is charged an obscene amount! If you refuse to pay, you will simply be beaten up by the mafia there.

As shared by a reader in the comments section below, even hookers a scam in themselves – pretty girls are advertised on flyers, but when push comes to shove, they do not turn out to be as advertised.

Massage scam,as generously shared by another reader, massage places in Hanoi are a big scam. They advertise a low price for their services, but when the bill comes, you will find that you are charged for a ton of ancillary products, such as water!

Motorbike rentals can get pretty tricky in Vietnam (especially in Nha Trang and Mui Ne). There are the common scams (common as in common globally), where the owner follows you and “steal” your rented bike back and demand compensation. Another common one would be mechanical problems in the bike which the owner will demand compensation by you.

Also, there are many fake Honda motorbikes around. It would be good to know your bike or to research the specs on the web before booking.

In Vietnam, you also require a Vietnamese driving permit. If you are caught without one, the motorbike can be impounded for a month and you would have to continue paying for the bike.

Some motorbike “taxis” might approach you with an offer, which they claim is cheaper than normal taxis. Or they might say don’t worry about the fee, just go first and if you’re happy, you pay how much you want.

They might even say that there is no bus to the place that you want to go! That is pretty much BS. Some others use the “cyclos scam”, where they claim to bring you around for free but in actual fact, bring you to a secluded spot and demand huge sums of money.

Do note that these people have no training or certification. This means that not only is your wallet at risk, but your life is at risk as well.

Speaking of taxis, there are taxis with tampered meters – do watch out for that at first instead of simply relaxing in your seat. Taxi meters are based on distances, not time, so if you see one jumping wildly even when you are stationary, you know it is a scam!

There are also some who demand tips and some who claim to take shortcuts but are in fact longer routes (good to know the location). In fact, there are even fake Taxis in Vietnam!

To prevent yourself from falling prey to those, only take cabs from Mai Linh (green taxi), Vinasun (white taxi) or Taxi Group. Also, never agree to a fixed fee.

For those who arrange for taxi transport from the airports through your hotel, do be wary as well! There are operators who learn the details of these arranged pick ups and pose as the assigned driver from the hotel. They pick you up, call their accomplice and then claim that the hotel is full. They will then bring you to another hotel which they get commissions from.

The rough cost: 10,000 Dong to exit airport; 150,000 Dong to get to the main tourist area. If you realise that you are scammed, do not pay. Instead, take a photo of his ID and meter and threaten that you will report it to his taxi company.

Purchase of Train Tickets from Private Travel Agents,These touts will approach you and claim that the mode of transport you taking is delayed and offer to help you get a new ticket. They tend to buy for you a cheaper ticket than the one you requested.

As most people do not know Vietnamese, they are unlikely to spot the difference. It is also pretty much impossible to demand a refund as by the time you realise the scam, you would have been on the train already.

There are also some who might offer to carry your luggage as the distance to the platform is rather far. Just ignore.

Purchase of Train Tickets Online, Would you believe it.. There are even fake train websites in Vietnam! A good resource for train planning is Seat 61 (http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm).

If possible, only get your tickets from your hotel or reputable travel agents.

This is a very common transport option taken by backpackers wishing to travel from the North to South or vice versa. However, there are also many scams associated and it is important to only buy from reputable companies!

Besides booking a lower quality bus than you had paid for, some buses might even stop unexpectedly at night and force you to stay elsewhere. Lo and behold, there is only one hotel in the vicinity and the owner is more than ready to accept you.

Another version is that they stop at a petrol station and force you off. So coincidentally, someone at the petrol station will extort you to pay an amount to take a cab to somewhere to transfer to another bus.

Luggage Fee,sometimes, you might be asked to pay more because you have a larger or heavier bag by bus or train staff. It is pure nonsense, there is no such rule.

When any company in the travel industry becomes popular/famous in Vietnam, there will be new companies popping up with similar sounding names and many have been scammed in the process.

For instance, ODC Travel, Handspan, Kangaroo CafĂ©. The most notorious of the lot would be the dozens of Sinh Cafes around the country – the real one is now called the Sinh Tourist (http://www.thesinhtourist.vn/)!

Fake Hotel Scam,today’s online world, it is easy for unscrupulous hotels to create fake reviews. Some hotels also advertise low room fees online, but when you arrive, they will claim that the low fees were for the standard rooms which have been fully booked. To book the higher end rooms, you will have to pay a lot more.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, there are many copycats hotels which trade on popular names. Thus, to verify a hotel, check its location in addition to its name.

Hotel Fee Scam,some hotels also demand that you pay more (usually double) as the fee advertised was for one person and not for one room (usually double rooms). If your passport is held at the reception, your bargaining power is further reduced. To prevent this, always confirm your rates upon arrival.

Besides this, some hotels might advertise certain facilities online, such as a fireplace or air conditioning. However, to use them in your room, they will demand additional fees!

Pickpockets and Snatch Theft,as with places with crowds, pickpockets and snatch theft are common and one must always be alert and careful.

This is more common in Ho Chi Minh City, where the bag snatchers even have a name for themselves, which is the Saigon Cowboys. Watch out for child pickpockets as well!

Sometimes, pickpockets work with street touts. A street tout talks to and distracts you, while the pickpocket swipes your valuables. Be wary in such situations and check your bag if you feel someone brush against you.

Do note that other cities such as Hanoi and Nha Trang face situations too.

Hanoi Shoe Repair,This is a less common scam, though watch out if you are wearing worn out shoes!

For this scam, some guy approaches you out of nowhere and applies glue to your shoes. Next, he would take out a thread and tell you that your shoes are about to fall apart, which he can repair for $1.

If you didn’t realise, that glue is actually a solvent that dissolves stitches! Should you say yes, he would then proceed. However, the trouble does not end when the job is completed, as he will be demanding $10 or more!

Drugs in Hue, if you are offered drugs, do NOT take them. You will be reported to the police and the “reporters” will be rewarded for tipping the police off.

Invitation to a Card Game,this is a pretty common scam around the world, such as in Europe and have personally encountered this in Morocco.

Anyhow, the script is similar. Firstly, a friendly man approaches you, asks where you’re from and remarks that his sister/daughter will be going there either to work or study!

In this context, rapport is easily built as it feels that you have found someone close in a land of strangers. There will be also be this urge to share more about your home country, which the scammer will tap on. He will invite you over to his house where you could share helpful advice over a meal. But upon reaching the house, lo and behold, the man’s sister/daughter is not there!

Instead, you find the man’s brother/uncle who will get you to play some card game such as blackjack or Poker. You might also be taught some tricks so as to work together to cheat other visitors who will be coming soon. Regardless of the situation, you will lose. Here’s a fascinating recount of an experience with this scam.

Internet Cafes,keyboard loggers, viruses, spywares and what have you are common in Internet cafes. Do not do anything in there that can potentially expose your personal or financial data.

Paying Excessively More when Buying through Agents,as kindly shared by one of our readers, Frank, he paid 290k VND for a SIM card through an agent at the airport. It was supposed to provide 30 days unlimited 3G access, but died after 5 days. When he went down to the official store, that was when he realized that the plan he had purchased was a 90k VND plan.

Getting help, Emergency numbers:
Police: 113

Fire: 114

Ambulance: 115