Going through forums, listening to travellers or reading articles you cannot help yourself but thinking that Vietnam must be the scam capital of SEA. I must admit, this reputation affected my decision to visit Vietnam. But I am glad I decided to experience it myself. So is it true, are there scams in Vietnam? Yes, no doubt about it. Will tourist experience some kind of hassle when travelling through Vietnam? Yes, in the touristic places. Is it as bad as I thought? That is a big no.
If you are prepared, knowing about the most common scams, and keep your common sense than you will be fine. If you travel unprepared and not use your brain, you will be taken advantage of at every single corner. It is that simple.
I have listed the most popular scams you might encounter in Vietnam. Most of them involves the various kind of transportation, so you have to specifically careful when organising a taxi etc.
Taxis are a popular mode of transportation, but unfortunately also a common theme when you hear about tourists being scammed. The biggest issue is that metres are rigged, so the fare per km goes up much faster than they should. There were reports that tourists were charged more than 500.000 Dong for a short taxi ride. To make things worse, the drivers might lock the doors and only let the passengers out after they paid. In some instances the drivers even got not just aggressive but turned violent. And finally, some will take any opportunities to get to your wallet without you realising it. Unfortunately these are not stories, but the reality in the tourist hotspots (where even the locals get scammed).
So how to avoid such experience? The best advise is to take only Mailinh or Vinsasun taxis. Both companies have a very good reputation. Mailinh is operating throughout Vietnam, while Vinasum is mainly based in HCMC. Another option is to let your accommodation order the taxi. Most hotels are too worried about bad reviews, and try their best to ensure that the customers have a pleasant stay. And if something goes wrong, the hotel knows who the driver was (or will know after a quick call).
Another important advise is never to take any taxis waiting in front of popular tourist sites, or in front of hotels. They usual look for easy prey for scams, aka tourist. Even walking around the corner to get a taxi will be better (again, try to get a Mailinh or Vinasun taxi).
One other problem area in Vietnam are the international airports, namely Hanoi and HCMC. Here you find most dodgy taxi drivers. In these airports it might be slightly more difficult to get a Mailinh or Vinasun taxi, and if you see one, other drivers tell you that you have to take the first taxi in the queue. Do not listen to them, try to get to that taxi. If required let other customers go first. If you arrive in Vietnam for the very first time, it might be a good idea either to arrange a pick up from your hotel. It might cost you $2 more, but at least you have not to worry about getting charged double or triple of the normal fare.
Also, never get a driver too close to your wallet. Only hold out notes towards the driver, and be suspicious if he uses a newspaper and ask to put the money on it, this might be a distraction to get to your wallet. Try to have smaller notes with you, as sometimes drivers pretend not to have any change. This could be a problem if you only have 500.000 Dongs note.
Obviously, do not take any risk if confronting the driver after a scam, if you feel threaten consider paying rather risking to be injured.
And finally, be aware of copy cats. Some drivers pretend to be a Mailinh or Vinsun taxi. Mailinh taxis are green, and all drivers have a green tie. Vinasun taxis are white with red and green stripes on the bottom of the car, and the drivers wear white shirts with red ties. In places like train station and airports there are usually marshals from these companies. Do not follow anyone who said he is a Driver for one of these companies and lead you away. Check the spelling, the scam artist use a slight variation of the spelling
However, if you follow the common guidelines you should be fine. Not every taxi driver is dodgy. I have taken a random taxi and it was fine. However, I always try to limit the risk and use the before mentioned taxis. In non-touristy places it is more difficult to get a Mailinh or Vinasun taxi. In that case speak to your accommodation about recommended taxi companies.
I think most people know the lovely pictures of tourists sitting in the back of a cyclo and enjoying a tour through Hanoi, Hoi An or HCMC. As it is popular and so famous it must be scam free, right? – Wrong. Cyclos is a high risk activity to be scammed. For many tourists this little activity turned out to become very expensive, when the fare is suddenly 1.500.000 Dong for a 30 minute ride. This happened to a couple I met in Hoi An when they took a cyclo in HCMC. Unfortunately this was not just one case. You will hear reports in different forums and travel sites. Often the cyclos stop in quiet lanes, where the tourists can not get help immediately – and often they end much more than agreed.
As a result I would highly recommend only getting a cyclo from your accommodation or reputable travel agencies. Do not take any cyclos from the street. One area where you should avoid cyclos at all costs is Ben Than market in District 1, HCMC. The chances to get an honest cyclo in that area is very slim.
So resist the temptation of a quick ride to your hotel – it could end up a very expensive activities that will leave a bitter taste of your stay in Vietnam. So I can only repeat and repat the same warning: DO NOT GET ON A CYCLO FROM THE STREET
Motorbike taxis are also a very popular mean to get from A to B in Vietnam, especially for shorter journeys. But the same scams as for taxis and cyclos exist. This includes demanding a ridiculous high fee or stopping in dark alleys to extort money. So the already mentioned precautions should be followed here as well. Do not use Xe Oms waiting at popular tourist spots or in front of hotels. Ask your accommodation to organise one for you. If you think you might take a Xe Om later on check with your hotel what an appropriate price is. And definitely agree a price before you get onto the bike. It seems the warnings about Xe Oms already had an impact. One driver asking if I need a ride complained that more and more tourists decline his offer, and wondered what happened. Considering his attitude and that it was 2am I am not surprised he got hardly any customers.
While I advice to be cautious, I just want to re-emphasise that not all drivers are scam artist. But unfortunately the action of some impacts everyone. Hence the warning about these practises.
This is not about safety of bus journeys, but some bad practise in Vietnam by several bus companies. There are plenty of very honest and good bus companies like Futa, The Original Sinh Cafe or Kumho Samco. However, others are trying to get milk most money out of tourists. Popular methods they use are
- telling customers that they have arrived, but it is miles away from the actual destination. Luckily some friendly Xe Om drivers can bring the customers into town (for a high price obviously)
- Drivers being aggressive towards tourists when challenging seat allocation.
- Passengers are not picked up at hotel – without a chance to get a refund
This is only a small list of possible things that could go wrong. So make sure you check what bus companies an agency is using. And if you are happy with the company, make sure the ticket names that specific company. If you have an issue, stand your ground. But please always assess the situation as well – as some drivers might turn violent. THis might be more important for female travellers.
Best idea is to travel with recommended bus companies only. But again, make sure you do not deal with any copy cat business (i.e. after the success of Sinh Cafe there were suddenly several companies with the same name =- now the original one is called the Original Sinh Cafe.
Another area to be a little bit careful are street vendors and shops. Always ask about the price first. Very often they want to put something into your hand and suddenly ask for a ridiculous high price. Never let them near your money. When I arrived in Hanoi for the very first time I was unfamiliar with the money and checked the notes, and the vendor suddenly took 200.000 Dong from my hand – for a corn and a roll! I had to stand in front of the stall with my hand open until I received half of it back. Avoid the hassle and carry small notes with you, and keep hold of your money. If someone took too much money from you, stand in front of the person, with your hands open. They do not like it when tourists attract attention, and will hand back the right amount of money. Do not just walk away.
Be careful when local women with the carrying pole approach you. Without asking they like to just hand over the carrying pole to take a picture, and want money straight away – or that you buy some overpriced juice. If you like a picture with you and the carrying pole ask how much first, and then enjoy. However, if you are not interested at all, just say no, and walk away. One woman thought she was clever and just put the pole on my shoulder. I just took a step forward and the pole fell down. She should have asked first like everyone before. But some of these women think that they can force tourist into paying through a guilt trip. Stand your ground and do not feel forced to give money or buy something if you haven’t agreed for a picture. But if you do take picture, then do the right thing and give her money or buy something from her. Honesty and respect goes both ways.
One important note
Yes, there are scams that could cost you a fortune. But not think that every one tries to scam you. By guarding you the whole time when someone approaches you, it could lead to some strange situations. After dealing with some touts a woman approach me, and I said “No, thank you ” straight away, to the surprise of the woman. She actually just wanted to ask if I could take a picture of her. Very often locals just want to have a chat with you to practise their English. So be aware of some typical scams, but do not let the worry about it ruin your trip. The majority of Vietnamese are honest, hard-working and very friendly. A trip to Vietnam without getting to know the Vietnamese is not complete.
If you are aware of any popular scams that should be added, please let me know and I can add them to the list.