Most Common Scams in Viet Nam (and How to Avoid Them)

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There are some common scams in Vietnam that you should be aware of, however unlikely you are to fall for them. After all, one bad incident is more than enough to put a huge damper on an otherwise enjoyable holiday so it’s a very good idea to educate yourself before you go. Some of these scams are quite obvious and can be avoided by a healthy level of scepticism, others are harder to detect. As with anywhere in the world, it’s a good idea to be aware of your surroundings, especially in places you’ve never been to before. The best way to avoid being scammed is to steer well clear of the likely situations in which they happen, so to help you out we’ve compiled some of the most common scams in Vietnam and tips you should know about so that you can enjoy Vietnam for the wonderful destination it is.

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Trading on popular names

How it works

When any company in the travel industry becomes popular / famous in Vietnam, there will be new companies popping up with similar sounding names and many have been scammed in the process.

For instance, good companies that have been a victim of their success include (the real sites have been hyperlinked) ODC Travel, Handspan, Kangaroo Café. The most notorious of the lot would be the dozens of Sinh Cafes around the country – the real one is now called the Sinh Tourist (http://www.thesinhtourist.vn/). Besides tour operators, this can happen to hotels and restaurants as well.

What to do

For tours and accommodation, only use legitimate booking platforms and look through the reviews. For licensed, reputable tour operators you can find online, see these platforms:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, etc can be found here – e.g. most popular tour:
  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – e.g. most popular tours include:
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

As for operators found offline, ask these questions to determine their legitimacy

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

As for accommodation, find them via:

  • Hotel and apartments: Agoda– leader in Asia with the best selection and rates here generally.
  • Staying with a local host: Luxstay – if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Vietnam by staying with a local host.

2. Overcharging and confusing currency

How it works

This scam is common around the world, but is much more easily executed here due to the large note denomination. Overcharging can occur in many different ways:

  • Over conversion of currency
  • Giving less change by rounding up / down
  • Not giving any change by insisting on a tip
  • Changing the fare once the service is completed!

Many places also quote in USD to make overcharging easier for them. This is done by rounding up to USD (higher than the value in Vietnamese Dong) or by demanding payment in Dong while using an unacceptable exchange rate. Also beware when a vendor tells you 10, it could mean 10 USD, 10,000 Dong or something else. Besides this, always ensure that the fee is for the whole group and not for each individual.

For popular tourist markets such as Ben Thanh Market or the Hoi An Night Market, prices are also marked up by a few multiples, more if you are a Caucasian.

The culture here is that they do not see “overcharging” as a scam, but something acceptable since you can afford to pay more.

What to do

Always clarify the price to be paid, in what currency and if it’s for the whole group. Also, always check your change.

Finally, at markets such as Ben Thanh Market, be ready to haggle, starting with 1/4 of the list price.

You can find out what is a fair price by checking out different stalls or by checking with your hotel / hostel staff.

If you do not wish to bargain, alternative options are:

  • Formal shopping malls or government owned shops  with fixed prices
  • Shopping tour through day tours platform like Klook (best in Asia)

3. Pickpockets

How it works

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.You can find them in the major cities such as Ho Chi Minh, Ha Noi and Da Nang.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored. Once they mark a target, they surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

What to do

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done. The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep wallets in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic) to cover loss of valuables.

4. Street vendors of all kinds

How it works

There are vendors who sell books in boxes at cheap prices. But alas, those books are photocopies. You would not know as these “books” are wrapped up. Some are also of low quality – e.g. errors in pages, etc.

There are also vendors who will invite you to take a photo with them. Once taken, they will demand a fee or that you purchase their products.

Also, you may come across fake beggars, such as fake cripples, hungry babies who are actually asleep due to alcohol and people who fake sickness and weakness.

Finally, avoid pesky photographers who offer to take photos of you. Firstly, they will take multiple photos and demand a much higher payment. Secondly, they will not deliver the photos to you as promised.

What to do

  • Avoid donating to street beggars and avoid engaging the fruit ladies, textile women and fake “photographers”.
  • Do be careful as some of them may work in groups, hound you, distract you and then steal from you.
  • To protect yourself conceal your valuables securely either in an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch.

5. Restaurants that do not display prices

How it works

Vietnam may be renowned for its delicious yet affordable delicacies, but there are some restaurants that con tourists into paying exorbitant prices for their meal. These dining venues often have staff who can’t converse in English (or pretend that they don’t), so if you ask for the price, they often answer vaguely or assure you that their food is cheap. As a result, the bill is usually much more expensive compared to the regular price. Of course, you’ll have no other choice than to pay for it as the food is already eaten.

What to do

Always ask for the menu and insist on knowing the prices before ordering. Alternatively, do your research beforehand and only visit restaurants with positive reviews.

6. Fake Silk or Pearls

How it works

When visiting a local market, you’re bound to come across stalls selling fake designer goods such as bags, wallets, and watches. But there are also vendors claiming to offer authentic silk, war relics, and pearls at attractive prices. You may get lucky, but, then again, you may be buying a cheap knock-off.

What to do

Always inspect your goods before purchasing, especially if they’re wrapped as vendors can easily swap them with fake ones.

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxis without Meters

How it works

Taxis are one of the fastest and most comfortable way of getting around Vietnam, as you can get to wherever you want in an air-conditioned vehicle instead of fighting for a seat on overcrowded buses. However, travellers often fall prey to unscrupulous taxi drivers, with common scams such as driving without using the meter, taking longer routes to maximise the fare, and offering a flat rate to your destination.

What to do

Only take a taxi if the cabbie agrees to turn on the meter, or look for taxis from reputable companies such as Vinasun and Mai Linh. If you’re departing from your hotel, ask the receptionist to book one for you.

2. Motorbike Rental Scams

How it works

Motorbike rentals can get pretty tricky in Vietnam. There is the standard scam, where the owner follows you, “steals” your bike back with a masterkey and then demand compensation from you for “losing” his bike.

Another common scam would be mechanical problems or even imaginary problems with the bike which the owner will demand a repair fee for. Also, note there are many fake Honda motorbikes around.

What to do

  • Rent your bike from a reputable place – check with your hotel / hostel staff.
  • Consider investing in your own lock so it can’t be “stolen” by the owner.
  • Also test the bike before signing any contract to identify any problems and sound out immediately.
  • It would be ideal to know your bike or to research the specs on the web before renting so that you are able to tell a fake Honda bike from a real one.
  • Do also note that a Vietnamese driving permit is needed to drive here.
  • If you are caught without one, your motorbike can be impounded for a month AND you would have to continue paying for the bike.

3. Train Ticket Scams

How it works

Popular amongst backpackers and long-term travellers, travelling by overnight trains is a cheap and efficient way of travelling across Vietnam. However, there are plenty of fake train travel websites offering attractive prices and then charging you extra once you’ve arrived the station. Another common scam is people approaching you at the entrance of train stations, often offering to buy a ticket for you at a discounted rate.

What to do

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Good online resources (Baolau, 12Asia)
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.