Common Travel Scams in Vietnam – Know it before you come

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Credit: Stefan Tärnell via Flickr

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Scams is everywhere, getting annoyed is unavoidable when you travel. Accept it as a part of the game will make you happier but it also help once you prepare for yourself some knowledge and tips about the destinations. As a local insider of Vietnam, below is some travel common scams and tips to avoid it.

Common Travel Scams in Vietnam

1. Rickshaw / Cyclo scam

Cyclo, Xích Lô in Vietnamese is often seen in the city center in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. A cyclo driver may approach you and offer a ride then overcharge or demand big tips. What they do is very well-prepared. A notebook with all well-wishes and bright reviews from his old customers will be shown to you to get you on his cyclo then he will find all the ways to get your money. What the cyclo drivers do is that they may take you out of the city which is far away or drop you off in the middle to have the reason for the “waiting time” money.

And before the argument starts, you will leave them some good words about their services in their notebook. Then they give you a list of prices with hidden cost like “waiting time”, demand extra payment and tips.

I’ve talked to travelers who experience the cyclo scams before. Drivers said each costs 15,000 vnd but upon dropping off he demanded 500,000 vnd. Another case is that a traveler was happy with the ride then went for another hour. He was shocked when the driver asked for 1,500,000 vnd which makes him really frustrating.

If you see the cyclos around the landmarks like Ben Thanh market, the Opera House or other tourist sites without uniform, beware!

common travel scams in Vietnam with cyclo drivers

Cyclo drivers with uniform are trust-worthy

There are cyclo drivers who belongs to a company or a club. I know some clubs of cyclo drivers who are very trust-worthy. The majority of them are above 30 years old, some are mid-aged or older but quite easy-going and often makes guests very happy. If you find the ones who work hard for their family and express the good working ethics, don’t forget to give them a small tip. I recommend a note of 50,000 vnd or 100,000 for the service satisfaction. The public price for the cyclo ride is often range 150,000 vnd to 200,000 vnd per hour. If the fare is beyond that, I suggest that you give it a no.

2. The Coconut Scam

The most common travel scams in Vietnam is related to the coconut sellers. Walking around in the city center without knowing this can make you regret. The street hawkers who carrying coconuts box on foot seems very friendly when making the signs that you should take photos with his coconut thing. Once you touch his coconut baskets, busy with photo taking then suddenly he turned his face and demand money. Then you notice that he already chopped and opened the coconuts and you have to pay for that.

3. Taxi Scam

common travel scams how to avoid ho chi minh city vietnam motorbike bike scooter food tour saigon by night after dark shopping guide propaganda shop

Credit: Stefan Tärnell via Flickr

There are a few fake taxies in Vietnam. You should learn to notice the trustworthy taxi brands. Choose Mai Linh, Vinasun brand or use your phone to book with Grab drivers.

Learn more: How to get around in Ho Chi Minh City

4. Restaurants Scams

The scams rarely happen for restaurants but for a smooth travel trip, choose the restaurants that looks clean and avoid the ones without or very few customers. The smaller the restaurants are, the higher possibility you are ripped-off. Trust your gut and choose to leave if needed.

5. Merchants Scams

You can be overcharged and they do it in different ways, such as over conversion of currency between US Dollar and Vietnam Dong, rounding up or down money or tricking you with hidden costs. They can also tell you the price in Dong then charge you in Dollar (USD $1 ~ 22,700 Dong). For example, they say the price of one meal is 100, then they charge you 100 US Dollar which is 2,227,000 Vietnam Dong which is a rip-off.

Getting confused with Vietnam local currency, read the money talk about Vietnam Dong

When you marvel around Ben Thanh market, other tourist attractions or in restaurants, for your own sake, be clear about the price, which currency they charge, with gratitudes or without. If you are not someone who feel comfortable with the “bargain stuff”, choose the products or services with fixed prices and no hidden costs.

6. Shopping Scam

This is common not in Vietnam but also in Asia. The seller can say that it’s free but once you used it, they ask for money and bother you until you pay.
Some shops sell fake goods such as fake silks, fake luxury brands and even war relics. Trust the reputable establishments and get recommendations from your hotel receptionists before you give it a go.

7. Massage scam

Never trust the massage services if you haven’t make it clear about the total price in advance. Like the low-cost airlines, seeing the low price first but the final bill will go big with all the ancillary products or services like water, bigger couch or bigger bed, more convenient room, v.v…
Ask for the recommendations from your hotel receptionists first before you go.

8. Karaoke scam

Karaoke singing is fun and you might want to give it a try. But if a prostitute, hooker or a pretty girl approach you. My advice is just say no or run away. Their set-up is always put you in a situation where you’re alone like a hotel room then they will force you to pay for the big bill. If you want to sing karaoke, ask your hotel for the reputable ones.

9. Pickpockets and snatch theft

This is common in Vietnam, especially in the big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang. Foreigners are often under their radar for victims. Purse, bag with money, camera, cellphone, they follow you for hours before taking actions.

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Cre: Saigon Kiss Tours

There are cases that “lucky” victims got their passports back when the thefts return the purse in place they got it after a few hours. Be careful when using your cellphones on the streets and avoid wearing expensive jewelry.

10. Sob story and fake beggars

With tired faces, women holding a small baby in her arms approach you to beg for money. How to deal with them is simply ignore and walk away. You don’t know if the new-born is her kid or a poor kid that is drugged for sleep all day with her on the streets.

11. Motorbike scam

This happened to me once some years ago when I was still a university student. Repeat that I’m a local. Agreed that the ride is 70,000 Dong before hopping on the motorbike, I gave the driver 500,000 Dong and when waiting to get the exchange from him. With the shock, he ran away in front of my eyes with “fast and furious” speed without giving me the exchange. Should I blame myself because I’m a girl that he thought that he can easily steal my money or should I free myself from the negative thinking and lost my faith in humanity?

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Cre: vietnamonline.com

12. Shoe shine or repair scam

A local man approaches you. He insists to polish and repair your shoes with you asking him. Although you say no many times but he will do what he want to do with a friendly smile on his face. He pull out a toothbrush and start cleaning your shoes. Once it’s finished, you will be rewarded with a pair of polished shoes and a big bill to pay. If you’re unlucky to be in that situation, refuse to pay too much. Only give him 50,000 vnd then calmly walk away.

Emergency numbers

Before you visit Vietnam, write down in your notebook and bring it with you

  • Police: 113
  • Fire: 114
  • Ambulance: 115

Stay alert and be aware of your surrounding

When travel, bring with you the open attitude but be mindful of the environment. The majority of travelers who visit Vietnam will have no problem with the safety and security in general. The politics is stable. Although the street crime can be a problem in the main cities like the pick-pocketing or the snatch incidents, the country is safe in general and the terrorism is non-existent.

But it’s not abundant to exercise normal precautions. Stay alert and be mindful with the surroundings. I apply this rule wherever I am, even in my home country.

The motorbike is a phenomenon in Vietnam and having an experience on the back of the bikes can be your life-time memories but be cautious for the travel scams. Deal the price with the drivers first and refuse to overpay when finish. Getting Grab driver is an excellent option since from the apps, you both agree the price in advance. You can also do the motorbike tour which is highly recommended when traveling to big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. But make sure you choose the trust-worth tour operator.

female drivers with saigon kiss tours helmets

#GirlPower scooter rider of Kiss Tours

Breathtaking natural beauty, unique heritages and paradise of mouth-watering street food, Vietnam is a must-go destination. However, it’s might also the place you can encounter travel scams. But travel anyway, Southeast Asia is fantastic. You will get much more than you can expect.

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Natalie Vo
Natalie Vo
100% Vietnamese, my passion is traveling and running projects related to tourism. I'm here to share what I know about Vietnam for travelers.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Natalie! All these scams are indeed very valid and helpful to know for tourists who do not know the tricks used here.

    Would say definitely watch out for the fake taxis – sometimes they are so subtle it may be difficult to tell. Would suggest using the Grab app or making sure it the cab you take is a legit Vinasun or Mai Linh. Also, for the coconut/fruit seller photo scam, much of it is in Hanoi and some in HCMC. As for the others, if something sounds too good to be true (e.g. the cyclo scam), it really is.

    • Natalie Vo says:

      Hi David,

      It’s true that if something is too good, time to take a step back and think for a while.
      In the media that encourages solo traveling and spontaneous adventure, caution is never abundant.
      In the article, I write about grab app as an option for bike or taxi. Currently in Vietnam, besides Grab we have GoViet too. But Grab is more popular be shared in the article.

      Thank you for sharing your opinions!

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