As a foreigner getting scammed in South East Asia is always a concern.
Vietnam, especially the bigger cities can be overwhelming at first especially if you’ve just flown 15 hours and are not used to the heat and chaos. There are a few well known scams in Vietnam that the first time visitor should be aware of. I’ve detailed these below taken from my own experience and that of some of my friends who’ve been here a while.
Taxi Scams In Vietnam
Many taxi drivers in Vietnam just can’t resist trying it on when they pick up a Westerner. Before I go into the types of taxi scams you’re likely to come across here it’s worth mentioning that there are only two reputable taxi firms throughout Vietnam that you should consider using. Vinasun Taxis are the first, easily identifiable by their all white cabs with some red detailing and Mai Linh Cars which are all green. These are the best of a somewhat shady bunch, and should be reasonably honest 80% of the time. Avoid like the plague any others, especially Saigon Airport Taxis (silver cars) or Saigon Tourist Cars.
These guys are professional scammers that will attempt to pick you up from the airport then try and rip you off via various means.
The typical fare from Saigon Airport to District 1 (D1) the main tourist area, at time of writing, should be between 130-170k VND depending on traffic and time of day. I’ve heard of tourists being charged upwards of 500K for this trip by these unscrupulous firms and often demanding over 1 million VND. They know if they can catch a tired traveller or someone they can easily intimidate that they will get their money, and they often do. So stick to Vinasun and Mai Linh and you should be ok most of the time.
I’ve been ripped off once by Mai Linh, where I was taken on a huge detour after being picked up from Lush in Saigon at around 2am. Even with my basic Vietnamese the guy still tried it on and I almost had to kick my way out of the car at 2.30am down some back alley in district 1. Suffice to say I had to pay more than what I should have but got out unscathed.
The classic Saigon Airport Taxi scam is to get you just as you are leaving the airport arrivals terminal. They will offer to help with your luggage and often speak excellent English. Once in the car the small talk begins, but you will find they drive very slow and suddenly pretend that your hotel is closed or the road is blocked. You will be taken on a huge detour around the city and then taken somewhere on the outskirts, doors locked and asked to pay a hugely inflated fare to be let out.
Motorbike Rental (Xe May) Scams in Vietnam
There’s nothing better than hiring a scooter or motorbike in Vietnam to experience the scenic roads and to dabble in the crazy city centre traffic. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos on online of Saigon and Hanoi traffic. It’s fairly scary, with the largest vehicles ruling the road, no real regard for any road laws and the use of horns somewhat overwhelming.
If you do decide to hire a bike in Vietnam either short term or longer term as an expat many of the companies are reputable, however there are a few golden rules you should abide by. Never hand over your passport and always offer a photocopy instead. They should be happy to accept this and anyone who doesn’t should not be trusted. I’ve heard stories of tourists having their bikes stolen in the night from their hotels resulting in the person having to pay a highly inflated price to replace the bike. Remember that the police are often in on these scams and will rarely help you, let alone speak English in many cases.
Take note of all damage before driving the bike away. I normally go round with my phone snapping all the marks and scratches then showing the guy at the hire shop. As the photos will be dated this should suffice if they claim that you have damaged the bike and you haven’t. It also shows that you are being more careful by taking in account any already apparent damage and he will be less likely to try and scam you when you return the bike. As I have already mentioned most motorbike places are reputable but there are a few bad apples out there.
Bar & Restaurant Scams
Often you will be charged more as a foreigner until you get to know the area or become more friendly with the bar and restaurant owners I your town. Know one should ever leave their drink unattended at any time, or ask someone you have just met to look after your drink when you use the toilet or go outside to smoke.
Spiking with Rohypnol and various other tranquilizers is not unheard of here, and although not as prevalent as in the tourist areas of Thailand I think you should be particularly careful in the tourist areas of Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao in D1 Saigon where the majority of tourist orientated bars and restaurants can be found. Although rare, I have heard reports of tourists having their drinks spiked and then being robbed either in the bar or at their hotels and waking up the next day with an empty wallet and no cell phone. Whether they were actually robbed after being drugged or they got pissed and took a hooker home who then robbed them is often a grey area however…
Always check you receipts, especially when using your credit or debit cards. Many places have been known to ‘double charge’ your bill so check your statement as well. Often other items you didn’t have will ‘magically’ appear on your bill so be careful of this also.
If you’ve experienced a scam here in Vietnam or elsewhere in South East Asia let me know below guys.