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Avoiding scams in South East Asia

Avoiding scams in South East Asia Global Grasshopper

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.

Avoiding scams in South East Asia Global Grasshopper

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.

Avoiding scams in South East Asia Global Grasshopper

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!

Avoiding scams in South East Asia Global Grasshopper

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!

Avoiding scams in South East Asia Global Grasshopper

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.

With itchy feet, an inquisitive nature and an ardent wanderlust, Emma Clair has always been a traveller at heart. Hailing from the Emerald Isle she calls a tiny coastal town near Dublin home, but has lived in a few countries including Saigon, Vietnam where she resided for over a year. She counts supping on Bloody Marys on a rooftop in Manhattan, downing Singapore slings at the Raffles Hotel, daring a paraglide on the Grand Cayman, spending an exotic Christmas in Malaysia and exploring the Angkor Wat Tomb Raider-style as her all time favourite travel moments. Although, she’ll always have a special place in her heart for the city where she makes her annual pilgrimages – Paris, her true city of lights.

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  • Helene

    6 February, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Very informative, still got scammed in Bangkok. I was late and hoped in a Tuk-Tuk. Of course he said he had to make a stop. I go out and was in the middle on nowhere. Fortunately for me there was a car dealer that was still open. I asked the girl to call me a cab. She was very nice and did. Never again you will see me in a Tuk-Tuk. I gave him $1 and left.

  • Riley Franks

    29 January, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    I’ve had plenty of scams tried on me when travelling round Asia from the gem shops to the taxis. The most important thing is to stay safe.

  • Emma

    29 January, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Guys, always rememebr ‘buyer beware’ but don’t sweat the small stuff and letnit ruin your day or holiday, do your research, read blogs or tourist info sites to get an idea of where to go, what to pay and how to get there! Haggling and market banter is usually a rite of passage in most Asian countries so jump right in there and get the best price!!

  • Angela

    28 January, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    I know Nick already commented here but I want to share our worst ‘scam’. We are still not sure what happened but somehow we ended up paying more than $8 for 6 tiny cans of tiger balm, worth about $0,50. Nothing big thank god and it makes a good story!

  • Hundekacke

    25 January, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Yeah, Tuk-Tuk in Thailand are really waste of time (and sometimes money). We spent half a day to visit “big buddah” and “lucky buddah” and couple other “main tourist” attractions and missed to visit imperial palest 🙁 Next day we were going to islands, so we hadn’t another day to visit really important stuff. Many thanks to Tut-Tuk driver.

    Actually they get paid from the owners of commercial shops for bringing tourists there. And most of those shops are situated in parts of Bangkok you don’t have to visit as a tourist.


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