No-one likes that rotten, burning feeling you get in your belly when you realise you've just been scammed.
Being scammed can leave you feeling like an idiot. Or raging angry. On the other hand, some victims of scams are left confused and dazed, wondering if they've messed something up. All of these things feel truly awful.
The best way to avoid any Vietnam scams is to prevent them as best you can in the first place. After having spent a month in Vietnam for Around The World + Kids, we were fortunate to only get scammed once. However, you only have to google to find blogs of travellers vowing not to return, due to constant scamming that left them miserable.
Don't let it put you off visiting Vietnam. Having read about Vietnam scams before I arrived, I ended up terrified that I was going to be robbed blind from every angle. But it's all about being a smart traveller. If you know what to look out for, you can relax and enjoy the vibrant, colourful and culture packed country that is Vietnam. We loved it, and you will too. Just keep the below common scams in mind and you'll be perfectly fine.
Remember too that you could be scammed anywhere — even online in our home countries. According to an ACCC report, romance and dating scams robbed unsuspecting Australians of 25 million dollars in 2013. So, like anything, be prepared and you'll be able to relax. On that note, here are my 10 best tips to avoid Vietnam scams.
How To Avoid Vietnam Scams
Especially if you're travelling with children and have your attention split between what's going on and your children, it's important to know how to avoid Vietnam scams. Here are the best ways you can avoid the scams and truly enjoy your trip as we did.
Vietnam Scams: #1: Tourist Visas
If you need a visa for entry into Vietnam (which you will from Australia), then make sure you either organise your visa at the Embassy in Australia, or line up for a visa on arrival at your point of entry. There are a plethora of websites, fake and genuine, offering tourist visas. Many people get caught out. It costs more to have your visa processed by the embassy, but in turn you don't have to line up at the visa office when you arrive. However, having a visa on arrival is cheaper and sometimes the line moves very quick.
Vietnam Scams: #2: Transfers and Taxis
Especially on arrival at the airport, you'll be confronted with a host of transfer options. If you can arrange a transfer through your accommodation, you can be assured of a fixed price and that you wont get the run around. This can be more expensive than getting a taxi, and you will likely be charged in US dollars. However, taxi transfers are not an ordeal if you know what to look for.
There is a fee of $10,000 dong to exit the airport, which the driver will add to the total of your fare. The cost to get to most hotels in the tourist area will cost you around $150,000 dong (including the airport fee) which equates to around $8.97 AUD ($6.96 USD).
When you get to the taxi rank at the airport, which is to the left as you exit the doors, look for specific taxi chains who use metered taxis. Never agree to a fixed rate, and always ask them to use the meter before you get into the car. Trustworthy brands that use a meter include Vinasun (white taxis), Mai Linh (green taxis). Many people experience scam taxi drivers outside Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City. Avoid catching a taxi right outside the market, and walk somewhere to find a genuine taxi driver. If you organise a taxi through your hotel, they will usually call Vinasun or Mai Linh.
If a taxi driver doesn't put on a meter, tell him to stop and get out. If you're in the situation where the taxi driver is trying to rip you off, do not pay. Simply take a photo of his ID and the meter, and tell the driver you will call the taxi company. If you have to, call the company.
Vietnam Scams: #3: Cash Scams
Especially if you're paying for a low cost item (including taxi fares), avoid handing over big denominations. Travellers can end up with the wrong change, the business owner just walking off, or being told they don't have enough change.
We experienced a cash scam where we happened to have a heap of notes (everyone is a millionaire in Vietnam), and were counting out our money. The shopkeeper grabbed our money out of our hands, so we had no idea how much she had and what was left to pay. She told us an amount, to which I refused, we knew we had counted more than that. The whole store got involved with translating the saga, and I asked for my money back, but she did not give me all the money back. It was a painful, infuriating stalemate, and since our bus was leaving, we had to go. But we surely felt the sting of being ripped off that day. Lesson learnt.
Try to have correct money where you can, and keep the money out of their reach until you're ready to hand it over.
Vietnam Scams: #4: Train Tickets
Catching the train in Vietnam offers a very cheap and efficient way to travel long distances – and for overnight travel, trains are much safer than buses. However, just like the fake visa websites, there are fake train travel websites.
A fantastic website which is incredibly helpful for planning train travel is The Man In Seat 61. It's in english, trustworthy and will tell you everything you need to know. It's also regularly updated. You should buy train tickets through your hotel, a reputable travel agent, or online via a reputable travel agent website. Vietnam Impressive is trusted by many travellers.
Once you arrive at the station, if someone asks you to pay extra for an upgrade, or asks you to pay additional fees, you should refuse.
Vietnam Scams: #5: Motorbikes
If you want to experience Vietnam on a bike, which is probably a bit less likely if you have young children — do it through your hotel. Unaware tourists have been caught in the traps of shady operators, who try to sting them for costs after the hire, or damage to the motorbike that “wasn't there before”. Your hotel will have it's best interests in teaming up with a good company. But if you want to protect yourself even further, be sure to take photos of the bike before you take it.
Make sure you have a driving permit at all costs. If you don't have one and the police stop you, they can impound the bike, leaving your pocket a little more empty than you expected.
Vietnam Scams #6: Pricing Scams
When agreeing to buy anything, make sure you confirm the price before you take it. For example, they may try and charge you another currency (like USD!) or may hike up the price you expected. Before using a service or buying a product, confirm the exact amount and say ‘dong' if you believe it's in Vietnamese currency. Some shopkeepers will put the numbers into a calculator to show you the final price. You can always do this on your phone and say ‘dong'.
Vietnam Scams #7: Attraction Scams
Always do your research when planning to visit attractions. Tourists have been faced with kids or adults telling them there is a fee to see certain areas of attractions when there isn't. For example, the fairy springs in Mui Ne. A quick search will uncover if the places you plan to visit have any fees, additional costs for certain features, and if the area is known for scammers.
Vietnam Scams #8: Hotel Booking Scams
Always book your hotels through reputable sources with fixed, agreed upon prices. Check all bills (including room service) and make yourself aware of items in your minibar.
Booking.com is not only a highly reputable hotel booking service, but they offer a customer service team to manage any issues you may have with the hotel booking. You can find very cheap accommodation right through to five star luxury, with the comfort of seeing lots of reviews and feedback. Opt for hotels with a high rating and take note of comments from previous guests. Make sure the hotel will meet your most important needs to ensure a good stay.
Vietnam Scams #9: Bus Scams
It's important to do your research and choose reputable bus companies, especially for long haul bus trips. Travellers have ended up with unscheduled stops in the middle of the night, only to be told they have to go and find somewhere to stay. Cue the enthusiastic hotel owners waiting outside the bus, ready to accept their booking at the only hotel nearby.
Vietnamese roads are often full of pot holes and under construction. At night, there are trucks and other bus drivers who are breaking the law driving for longer periods than they should. Needless to say, night bus travel is extremely dangerous and shocking accidents happen. It should be avoided at all costs.
The Sinh Tourist is a reputable travel company, transporting tourists throughout Vietnam for a great price. They can even take you to Cambodia! Avoid Hanh Cafe at all costs. The amount of online complaints about this company is astounding.
Vietnam Scams #10: Tips After Paying Fees
Some tourists end up with demands or requests for tips after paying for a certain service, for example, a massage in a spa. To avoid these kinds of scams, use spas within your own hotel, or ask your hotel for recommendations.
At the end of the day, putting a little effort into choosing where you go and what services you use can really pay off. Not only will they help you to avoid Vietnam scams, but you'll enjoy your experience and be able to see the beauty that is abundant in Vietnam.
Other helpful tips:
- When shopping, be sure that you get the very item you chose. Some shopkeepers have been known to switch the chosen item over for a cheap fake.
- Make sure you have internet access on your phone so you have access to GPS. In Vietnam, you can purchase a very cheap sim card at the airport that will give you 1.5 gig for around $9 AUD. Use it every time you get into a taxi, to show them the address of where you're going, and or, where to go. That way you can be sure that you're headed in the right direction, and the driver knows exactly where to go.
Have you experienced any Vietnam scams? Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section below.