South East Asia has it all – sun, sea and 24 hour beach parties, but where there’s tourists/travellers there’s scammers and this part of the world definitely has more than its fair share (I think we averaged around three a day tried on us – taxis, gem shops, money exchange, sadly it’s one hell of a long list). Our writer Emma has been living in Vietnam and travelling around South East Asia for the last few months and here’s her latest advice to avoid those increasingly inventive scam artists:
When I began thinking about what to watch out for when in South East Asia, I immediately thought about the usual ‘scammers’ that target unwitting tourists like fake monks begging for money in Cambodia, corrupt police in Vietnam and counterfeit products in Thailand but my main advice is to keep your wits about you.
During my short time in Vietnam, my biggest challenge is getting taxi drivers to bring me straight to work with no detours to clock up the fare but in saying that, it usually just amounts to an extra couple of cents so as scams go, not a big deal, given that the average fare is about$1-$3. Another piece of advice, don’t buy those Prada sunglasses from the toothless street seller for $4 and then complain that they break a few days later- they’re not real! Unless, you are buying something from an actual branded shop (ie: an iPad from an Apple store or a Chanel bag from the Chanel store) none of the prolific designer items being sold throughout Asia are real. This is thanks for their non-recognition of any copyright laws, it’s perfectly legal to sell any fake goods- you have been warned.
In other parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam’s capital Hanoi having two prices on items in stores is commonplace- you pay the higher Westerner price, in case you were wondering. Also, haggling aggressively in the market is the norm, you can generally get your desired item for a third of their original asking price if you persevere.
A brief guide to avoid being scammed while living or travelling in South East Asia:
1) Get any visas from the country’s actual embassy/consulate to ensure authenticity. A lot of websites claim to sell visas at a bumped up price, they are not always genuine and the last thing you want is to arrive at the border and be refused entry because of a fake visa and pay a hefty fine for the privilege. Err on the side of caution and go directly to their individual embassy.
2) Make sure all taxi rides are on the meter. If you want to take a cycle around the city for a unique experience which, I recommend, negotiate the price before you hop on which, I also recommend as I did not follow my own advice here and paid the price for it. Literally. Also be very careful when getting into the taxi at airports and always negotiate the price before you get in. If you’re travelling alone be extra careful.
3) Do not (I repeat NOT!) hand your passport over to anyone masquerading as a cop, if you are unsure, tell them to meet you at your embassy to discuss the issue, if it’s genuine they will consent, if not- they’ll scarper!
4) If you are thinking of renting a moped in Vietnam please take note. They do NOT recognise an international driving licence so you are technically driving without a licence and liable to be pulled over by the many troops of street police. They will look for a bribe to release you- do not hand over any money. In my experience, if you argue, they will let you go as few of them speak English.
5) I feel the need to reiterate not accepting free lunches from locals- unless you know them, as more often than not there is a hidden cost and I have heard of people falling into this trap. After enjoying an all-expenses paid lunch, they have been asked to buy a bottle of wine or donate to the local temple which, greatly exceeds the cost of the lunch!
6) My go-to rule when buying anything in Asia, especially in markets, is to think about how much I would realistically pay for the item and go from there. Generally, food and drinks are about 1/3 cheaper than at home, so let that be your guide.
7) In Thailand in particular when getting hiring a tuk tuk they might tell you that the main sites are closed (the palace etc.) this probably means that they will take to you to their friends or uncles gem shop or (tailor’s) instead.
8) Worryingly people drugging your drinks in bars (to rob you later) is not unheard of. Be very careful when people you don’t know offer to buy you drinks and never leave your drinks unattended.
9) Be careful when going to money exchanges as there are plenty of money changes scams going on (some even involving the local police) a good tip is to go into the banks to change money.
10) Occasionally you’ll come across a scam that no one guide book can warn you against – scams are becoming increasingly more inventive. The best thing to do is ask other travellers in your hostel/hotel when you arrive what kind of things they have encountered.
My overall advice when spending time in Asia no matter how long or short, is to employ the old adage, let common sense prevail. If you’re offered something or asked to do something, think- would I do this at home? There’s credence in the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ so if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. When globetrotting, whether across Asia or any other continent, there will always be encounters of the rip off merchant kind, looking to make a quick dollar off unsuspecting tourists, the key to avoiding this? Well, don’t be unsuspecting. On the whole, however, by keeping your wits about you, you can have an enriching, exciting and enlightening journey, exactly how Asia intended.
Witten by regular contributor Emma Clair Kelly. Obviously if you’re planning a trip to anywhere definitely consider travel insurance. Most people take travel insurance lightly and never look into their holiday insurance cover properly. It is important to know what your travel insurance covers you against in the event of any unforeseen situations.