Asian Travel Scams to Avoid
“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary” – Jim Rohn
This is based on our first-hand experience.
We travelled through Asia for four months and encountered some devious attempts to release us of some extra cash. Here’s our list of Asian travel scams and how to avoid them.
Our definition of a scam is when someone’s sole intention is to gain a monetary advantage from an unsuspecting tourist. Not a scam: when someone charges you a little extra to get their cut. For example if you bought your bus tickets from your hotel and then someone on the bus tells you they got them cheaper, just shrug it off because everyone takes a little off the top for their own pocket.
Singapore | Trishaw scam
Already an expensive city but a safe one and great for families, a trip on a trishaw is fun but costly. A trishaw is basically a regular bicycle with a side cart, room enough for two adults. This unique but antiquated mode of transport is being fazed out, so we are told by many in Singapore and we wanted to try one. Trishaws are found mainly between Bugis Street and Little India, North of the Marina and East of Orchard Road.
There is only one registered trishaw business in Singapore called ‘Trishaw Uncle’, you cannot miss their signature green carts and yellow logo. We found this to be way too expensive for a family on a budget and so we approached an independent driver (mind you they also require registration and will have a card similar to a taxi drivers Id card).
The scam: The driver will negotiate the price and tell you the children are free and then ask for double at drop off.
We were told that all four of us could ride for $30 Singapore, which is $28 AUD from Bugis St to China Town. When we arrived the driver pulled out his registration card and turned it over to reveal ‘$30 per person’. We were pretty shocked because he definitely said $30 total and children free. I gave him two $20 bills and we all walked off. He got really angry and we thought he was going to follow us but he soon turned around and rode off.
How to avoid it: Pay a bit more and take a ride with Trishaw Uncle or pay up front when dealing with an independent driver.
I am sure the driver will tell you that you can pay on arrival but if you have negotiated the price down insist on paying first and he will have to take it or leave it. The other thing you could do is just pay $30 per person straight up and not push the price down.
Hoi An, Vietnam | Petrol pump scam
While in Vietnam we stayed in the small and picturesque town of Hoi An, South of Hanoi. Nearly every hotel in town offer free use of bicycles to guests. On top of that most will also have or offer to arrange motorbike rental. We hired two motorbikes for 24 hours for only $7 AUD dollars each. At such a bargain price we really couldn’t pass it up. We were also getting a bit bored and bum sore from the bikes and didn’t want to ride the 4 kilometres to the beach on them.
After getting the motorbikes and doing a few practice runs around the block we began our journey, only to find that they were completely empty and we needed to get fuel urgently if we were going to go anywhere. The hotel staff arrange a rider that we followed to the petrol station, great.
The scam: Petrol for all cause the tourist will pay.
We needed to fill the tanks and so asked for a fill up. The pump attendant was standing with the hose in his hands and said ‘ok wait’, he then filled a little into the tank of a locals bike, a little in one of our bikes and a little in another. He then asks for 100,000 Dong. Now we don’t even know how much was already on the dial before he started and we got pretty agitated about what just went down right in front of us. After a heated negotiation we eventually rode away only paying 80,000 Dong as a compromise but he was not happy. Later that day one of the bikes ran out of petrol and we resorted to getting two litres in plastic bottles from a street side shop costing us 58,000 Dong.
How to avoid it: Tell the pump operator to set the dial to zero before removing the hose from the pump and putting the nozzle in the tank.
The following day we needed to fuel both bikes up again so that we could travel around before having to return them. We went to the same petrol station and told them to set it to zero, which they were peeved about doing and one attendant actually walked away while the other did what we asked. We rode away paying almost the same amount as the day before (70,000 dong) but with full tanks. Mind you $1 AUD is 16,000 Dong and so you will be haggling over a few dollars in this scenario but it is the principle and if they do this all day they make a lot more than a few dollars.
Hoi An, Vietnam | Parking scam
Paid parking in any busy city is to be expected and Hoi An is no different. In the streets close to the fresh food market and all along the river front there are lines of restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. These are positioned so that the patron can enjoy the busy street life as is buzzes by. If you want to join them you should expect to pay for parking, it will be signed and there will be an attendant. BUT if there are no signs and no immediate attendant on a street in Hoi An, then parking is free.
Also expect to pay for parking in each of the beaches in Hoi An, An Bang and Cua Dua have bays with attendants, see image below.
The scam: Unsuspecting tourists that return to their bikes are asked by locals for a ‘parking fee’.
Each time we returned to our bicycles in the streets of Hoi An, a random person would walk up and ask for money for parking, in very clear English, don’t get me wrong we did not misinterpret a beggar.
How to avoid it: Well you could just park in signed payed parking bays or not pay the scammers.
Be firm with this one because they can get pushy or even have a second person repeating the ‘parking fee’ amount. We shook our heads emphatically, got the girls on the bikes quickly and would say ‘no’ in a very stern voice. We never paid for parking because we just locked them up in the free zones and walked around to fully appreciate the gorgeous streets.
Cambodia | Tuk tuk scam
There are thousands of tuk tuk’s in Cambodia and I am sure heaps of different scams but the most common one and moderately acceptable one is the ‘free trip’ trick. When you arrive in Cambodia someone will offer to arrange a tuk tuk to take you to your hotel and tell you they are a friend or brother or cousin and that they will not rip you off. You might think ‘what a nice thing to do’. The tuk tuk will drop you at your hotel and say no money no problem. What time tomorrow?
The scam: They take you free to your hotel, now they know where you staying, and expect paid services for the rest of your stay.
They will come by your hotel at a time they think you will want to head out and offer to take you to the sights. If they seemed nice on the first trip you will probably not reject the offer. But this is the scam. The driver wont ask you for money on the first trip but they will expect you to use them exclusively for subsequent trips and only take payment from you when you both look like parting or you are leaving the city. The hard part about this scam is that having a decent tuk tuk driver in the busy cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is actually comforting and so you will more than likely stick with your guy. However, if you don’t want to take them then you will have to come up with payment. Knowing how much to pay a dedicated driver is just as hard as finding a good honest driver in Cambodia but you can ask people at your hotel or other travellers. We paid our driver in Phnom Penh $20 US for one full day and one half day and in Siem Reap $20 US for one full day and two half days. Both great guys, money well spent.
How to avoid it: Reject the good will gesture at the outset and seek out your own tuk tuk driver and negotiate an immediate payment.
Alternatively do some local research about what a reasonable price would be for a half day or full day tour with your hotel reception or other travellers and then pay your exclusive driver accordingly on your parting.
Thailand-Cambodia | Border crossing scam
From my online research I have realised that this is one of the most scammed of all country border crossings in Asia. There is just a plethora of scams reported online by tourists each year.
When we needed a bus to take us across the border we went direct to a travel agent and bought tickets for a minivan to take us from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Bangkok in Thailand (we were hoping that they would be the same as the nice seats we had from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap). Now remember we don’t believe a scam is something that you walk eyes wide open into. I never ask others what they paid for their tickets and don’t share what we paid.
Apart from the bus being a run down old Hyundai instead of the flash new Hiace in the photo, the tight confines of our bus and the fact that our luggage was literally all over us it was nothing too far from what we had experienced prior BUT it was definitely not as nice as the bus from Phnom Penh.
The scam: These tickets are not valid!
Our bus stopped 10 minutes from the Cambodian border, apparently for the driver and passengers to eat due to the impending long wait at customs on the border. A man was waiting for us as we got off the bus, he took our tickets, ripped the stubs off and gave them back to each passenger. He then gave each person a small white sticker to place on their shirt as evidence that they were continuing with the same bus company to Bangkok (you can choose to change buses or take a taxi if you like).
After being dropped at the Cambodian border, walking through ‘no-mans-land’ and joining the lengthy ‘foreigner’ customs line we finally walked to an unmarked waiting spot on the Thailand side, with other bewildered Western tourists. When the bus operators arrived they took all tickets and checked them against their schedule. When the first person looked at the stubs we provided him he held them up and only one stub had the perforated edge and was an actual stub but the other three, all under the valid stub, where merely pieces torn off the top of the original tickets. He turned to us and angrily says, ‘you only have one valid ticket, you need three more valid tickets’. We were bewildered but adamant that we were not going to let them get this over us. We could see straight away that the tickets were doctored to enable this scam and as such we were not backing down. We fought with him and his more senior and aggressive boss for a good 10 minutes.
We explained to them that there was no way we would even have any section of a ticket if we had not have purchased them in the first place and then pointed to our white stickers. At one stage it seemed as though they would not back down but then they just stopped talking to us. When a minivan arrived with enough seats for 17 but 25 waiting passengers, we really did think they were going to leave us at the border. Worse case scenario is we would have had to purchase four more tickets on a different bus company. Fortunately for us we got on and made it to Bangkok that night, 10 hours after we left Siem Reap, not the 6 hours they told us it would take but we didn’t care we were so happy to have made it.
How to avoid it: I really don’t think there is an indefinite way of avoiding scams on this land border crossing. Apparently flights from Siem Reap to Bangkok are cheap and if you are not on a strict budget like us, fly across the border.
As for land travellers, the best thing you can do is stay vigilant. Be confident that you have done the right thing, i.e. bought a valid ticket with hard earned cash, so don’t give in to them. We could have checked the returned torn stubs and questioned the guy at the stop in Cambodia but he might have just said ‘no problem, they are the tickets you need for your bus in Thailand’. We might have accepted this and still have encountered the scam. We think about that and how horrible it felt to be in that situation with our daughters all the time. We are just glad that we didn’t let the scammers have a win at our expense.
What we know NOW:
In each of these scenarios the locals know they are doing the wrong thing.
If tourists are aware of the scams before travelling they are able to arm themselves with an extra dose of confidence/courage to face them. If you appear more confident than them they will back down and will have to accept the loss.
Scams happen everywhere.
This should not frighten travellers from visiting countries because they are only a small bump in the journey.
Scams happen to everyone.
No-one is immune, solo traveller, couple travellers and family travellers equally encounter the dubious scammer.
It annoyed us in Thailand that they targeted a family but then they might have thought we would give in and buy the three extra tickets because we had children.
Whatever you do: Don’t stop travelling or change your travel plans because there is too much to see and enjoy in the world.
We hoped we contributed to your adventure, please let us know by commenting.
Have a safe and enjoyable journey.