We have all been there or heard of a traveller’s sorry tale. Be it card skimming in Chile, balloons for birthday parties in Cuba, or tuk-tuk sightseeing scams in Bangkok ending with a $200 seafood lunch. The list goes on and for many of us, it will determine whether we take happy memories home or a lighter wallet filled with cynical attitude.
So how about Vietnam?
Or as Vietnam’s Department of Tourism would like to describe it “Charming Vietnam“.
We are also aware that ‘charming’ could be said sarcastically when you are on the wrong end of a taxi transaction and you feel like you are getting fleeced.
If there ever was a reason for tourism to Vietnam to dive-bomb month-to-month, then I would have to say it has a lot to do with the scams.
BUT you can enjoy this magical, fast-changing and beautiful country if you arm yourself with a bit of knowledge of what to look out for.
Here’s Tripmashers guide to the most common Vietnam travel scams
Taxi from airport scams
It’s like the movie, Point Break . “They’ll get you when you come in.”
First off the rank (pun totally intended) is to watch out for the numerous cab companies lining up to take your dreary carbon cut-out to your accommodation. Seek out Mai Linh (green taxi) or Vina sun (white taxi) for the most legit companies around. Always ask for the meter to go on. Ask your accommodation or research it in advance how much your cab fare should be. Upon arrival in Vietnam, we knew to seek out a Mai Linh cab. We knew the fare was to be about 140 – 160,000 VND*. But what we didn’t realise is that the cab driver would not have the correct change (or at least feigned he didn’t) from a 500,000 note. So carry small notes or do what we did and take the money back and run around to numerous stores until we got some change, only then did we pay the cabbie.
For other taxi scams to watch out for here’s a story about our personal experience in Ho Chi Minh city. Late one night, we were travelling back from the backpacker district when we got caught out by a taxi fare which ended up being double the normal rate. Meters can be rigged. and run at twice the rate. There’s not a lot you can do, other than get out and walk the rest of the way (we did!)
For general getting around, register and book with Uber. We found these guys great in the major cities.
Coconut vendor/ general street food scams
Don’t know why the coconut vendors get all the glory for this one, because there is a Banh Mi cart in Hoi An I could definitely call out. Anyways, the drill is they don’t tell you the price and when the bill comes you are quoted a ‘special tourist price’. We got caught out a couple times. Don’t know why we didn’t bother asking for the price, it’s not like we walk into any store, pick something up without knowing what it may cost.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ask “how much?” or “bao niew”. We rarely use Vietnamese as we struggle to understand the numbers spoken back to us, in any case, we gesture for them to show us from their money wallet what notes we are talking about.
Restaurants in general
When it comes to street food and small restaurants, there is likely a local price and a tourist price. If you look at the menu and are not happy with the prices (or don’t see any and can’t be bothered asking), walk away.
Note too, that anything extra that comes with your order like a side of spring rolls (to note at Lunch Lady in Saigon), mineral water (mainly South Vietnam) and packets of wet towelettes (across Vietnam) you will be charged for it. Sometimes is minimal like 4,oooVND*, but sometimes, it can be double your meal bill.
Xe Om motorbike scams
We used Uber to get around, but if you are a solo traveller or fancy getting on the back of a bike then be weary, particularly late at night. Motorbike guys n gals (Xe Om drivers) are unlicensed motor taxis and there are often instances where the price quoted suddenly doubles or you are dropped off at an incorrect location forcing you to pay more to get you where you need to go. Other than using your common sense and negotiating a firm price at the beginning, I can only suggest getting Google maps offline and track where you are going. If it looks wrong, ask to get off the bike and somewhere where there are people milling about. Check out Grab Taxi for Saigon and Hanoi and Xe Om Da Nang in Da Nang and Hoi An. You can always ask your accommodation for recommended drivers.
I would also go so far as to say that you can assume the above scams work with Cyclos as well. You know those bicycle-pedaled rickshaw things, often hovering around the old towns of Hoi An and Hue. It could totally be a unique experience for you, but it could also be a fast lesson in fleecing. They attract you with their smiles, good English and knowledge of the area, but if you are not careful, your half day trip could turn costly. So, as with everything 1) agree a price in advance 2) agree the route 3) agree the drop-off spot in a public place 4) pay with exact money. Of course, if you had the most amazing day and want to tip your rider, by all means.
It can be common to be short-changed in Vietnam. Although yesterday we were handed back extra money (which we handed back of course!) So swings and roundabouts. But the general rule of thumb is to be super vigilant about what notes you are handing over and what change you receive in return. Do not walk away and count your money. Stand there and count your change, so there is no confusion. Like anywhere in the world, carry small notes. If you are trying to break a 500,000VND note make sure the person you are transacting with (eg cab driver, restaurant, attractions) has the correct change, otherwise you have given them a mighty generous ‘tip’.
Do also to try and split up your money in a few sections of your wallet and on your person. Nothing screams novice like when you open your wallet and flash numerous 500,000 bills and ask “how much?”
Thankfully, we have been very careful (and lucky) to avoid this experience. Unfortunately, we have heard some nightmare stories from other travellers with their backpacks opened up as they stroll through the Chợ Bến Thành market in Saigon or having an iPad stolen from overnight buses during a meal break. These things can happen and to be honest, can happen anywhere in the world.
Other Transport scams – Overnight buses and train tickets
If you are backpacking across Vietnam, the likelihood is that you will be opting for a couple of overnight bus journeys. Between popular destinations, we opted for Sinh Tourist bus travel and for lesser known routes (eg to Phong Nha and Ha Giang we Tripadvisor’d the crap out of bus companies). Now the thing with overnight bus journeys generally has more to do with the driving than the scamming, but on occasion, you can be dropped off somewhere where a night’s accommodation in the only hotel in town may happen. To be honest, this was more of a thing in Myanmar.
If you are lucky enough to have time to take the train via Central Vietnam via the Hai Van Pass, then also be weary about train ticket bookings through agents as you may pay for a higher class seat, but instead, get issued a ticket for a lesser class. We loved Bao Lau for train bookings. International cards accepted and the email confirmation was enough to exchange at the train ticket office for tickets.
Shoe polish scams
So apparently this is a thing. Don’t know why you’d be needing this in the first place, but hey if you feel the need for a buffing, chaps in Hanoi generally located on street corners will often entice you in with a figure of 20,000 VND. Then, after the polish and some ‘essential repairs’ were made, you can expect to pay 200,000 VND. Still only $10US dollars, but if this irks you then don’t bother with the shoe polish and go scuffed.
Sinh Tourist or Sinh Cafe?
A lot of dodgy companies mimic the names of reputable companies. Think Guccy handbags but in tourism. This goes for bus companies, accommodation, tours and restaurants too. Do your research online and make sure you have the right address for the business you are after. In Hanoi, I must have counted 20 versions of Sinh Tourist travel on every street corner all offering some version of an ‘amazing’ Ha Long Bay junk boat trip. The official guys are here.
Generally speaking, if someone is running towards you offering up a conical cone hat for your head and fruit baskets…expect to fork out some money. I suggest to go to Hanoi’s Vietnamese Women’s Museum and try the display version for free. NB: there is an entry fee to the museum, but so worth it.
So while your wits may be sharpened about Vietnam’s travel scams, please continue to be the respectful, polite traveller we know you are and enjoy the great things this country has to offer.
Remember: a smile and a hello go a long way to paving many travel adventures.
Have you experienced other crafty tactics while travelling through Vietnam? Share with your fellow wanderlusters your story.
*1USD = 22,000 VND
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