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As amazing as South East Asia is, it is inevitable that at some point on your travels, someone will target you and take advantage of at least one of these notorious scams. As a traveler/tourist in a foreign country, you are the easy target. Looking back on my travels of Asia, there were countless times that I’ve been ripped off. I was completely unaware of these scams and how they could have been avoided had I done a little bit of research prior. It only takes one or two of these experiences to leave a bad taste in your mouth and put a downer on your trip. These tips will give you a heads up on what to look out for and make it less likely for you to fall for them.
Transportation hubs are a scammers paradise and already have the upper hand if you haven’t done your homework beforehand. Before you get into any transportation vehicle, negotiate a price, and clarify it so they cannot claim anything else. (If you can get a taxi with a meter reader than even better).
I used my GPS or Maps Me to follow our location to our destination so there was no chance the driver was having the upper hand over me.
This one is definitely learned from experience. It was right at the beginning of my trip and my first solo destination, Bali. After bonding over a few drinks, my new travel buddies and I ended up in the popular nightclub Sky Garden (Kuta). Luckily, the tour guide had told me to leave behind my cards and I am ever so grateful I took her advice as my purse was swiped right underneath my eyes from my bag. Thank god I had spent most of my money and the purse was a freebie anyway. Nonetheless, it could have been a disastrous start had I not listened. Lesson learned!
Make sure you have a zipper pocket in your bag or invest in a bum bag (fanny pack) or a money belt.
This also leads to my next scam of the Scooter Snatcher. I had met a lovely Canadian in Vietnam, who had her bag practically ripped off her shoulder with her passport and purse in. As you can imagine, this put a big downer on her trip. She had to go through so much hassle to get a temporary passport. I’ve heard so many horror stories of travelers flashing their phones about only to be grabbed out of her hand as they drive by.
Don’t risk it, keep all valuables out of sight!
Speaking of scooters, the best way to explore a new destination in South East Asia is by scooter/motorbike. It’s cheap/convenient and one of the most popular ways amongst travelers. You’ve had a great day of exploring and return the scooter only to be told that there appears to be a ‘scratch’ on the scooter that you are fully liable for and need to pay up a ridiculous amount for the damage. I’ve known backpackers that have given their passport as a deposit and the company has refused to return it unless the amount is given.
Never give your real passport, a copy should be fine and always, always, always inspect and take photos of the scooter prior to you driving it.
International Drivers Licence
This also interlinks with my next scam of the ‘international drivers license’. This is when the police of South East Asia will pull you over regardless of your fantastic driving skills, simply because you look like a tourist. Of course, if you don’t have one you’ll then be bribed into paying a ‘fine’ unless you can convince them that the license you hold is actually an international driver’s license. Good luck with that one!
Boarding Crossing scams
Border crossing scams are notorious within South East Asia. Even though you might think you are getting a bargain saving on air fees, you’re the perfect target and could get caught up by these opportunists who are always going to try their luck. When I was taking the border crossing from Siem Riep back into Thailand, I was so hungover, I was unaware that I was being cheated. I was definitely a victim of the currency change scam as I was told I won’t be able to exchange my leftover Cambodian Riel and excepted a shockingly bad exchange rate.
Research and calculate your travel expenses prior to reaching the border crossing. Or like myself, you’ll end up with a financial loss which is not the best of feelings when you are trying to stick to a backpacker budget.
This one is very well known within Vietnam (especially Hanoi & Saigon). Sadly my travel buddy Grace fell into this trap and was ripped off without even realizing. After walking the lake in Hanoi we were making our way back to the hostel when a man approach Grace. He pretty much took the shoe off her foot and started to repair the shoe (gluing soles onto her shoe) before she could say no. Demanding money they then threatened us if we did not pay up! After negotiating she gave him the money and waited for change only to realize later that he had shortchanged her by a generous amount.
Get to know the currency and always check your change when given.
Fake Tour Company Scams
This is one of the hot scams of Hanoi Vietnam at the moment, especially in regards to the Castaway tour (Halong Bay Booze Cruise). Tours can be a great highlight of a trip and can offer a unique experience, take away the stress, and deal with the fundamentals for you. However, there are many places setting up fake agencies, even fake websites to get you to believe that this tour is exactly what you are looking for. In regards to the Castaway tour, it’s one of the most expensive tours to Halong Bay. If you think you are getting a great discount it’s probably too good to be true.
Go to downtown or the original backpackers and book directly with the hostel.
The Student Art Gallery Scams
Another one I happen to encounter in Bali, you are approached by an individual claiming to be a student who will start telling you about their paintings and ask if you would like to take a look. If you do decide to do this, with their clever sales tactics. Don’t fall for the sob story! They will end up pressuring you into buying an extremely overpriced painting.
Tell them you don’t like art.
Most of the kids in South East Asia are the friendliest, happiest kids I’ve ever encountered. However, there are a hand full who have been exploited to take advantage (don’t be fooled by those puppy dog eyes). This particular scam seems to be increasingly popular within Cambodia, with the kids asking for milk instead of money for their baby brother/sister. We’re human beings and even the most cold-hearted person would feel an ounce of sympathy for these kids. It’s in our nature to help those in need. However, once you purchase the milk in a ridiculously overpriced shop they return it back to the shop and the profits are split between the shopkeeper.
Don’t fall for it and as hard as it is, JUST SAY NO!
This is a BIG NO in foreign countries! As fun as it may seem at the time and the fact that it’s available everywhere should raise red flags immediately. The famous magic mushrooms are a big contender in this category. As soon as you purchase them you are instantly at risk of the police hunting you down as they are usually in on the scams. In some countries in South East Asia, they use the death penalty for certain drug offenses!
Think twice about ruining your life as there really is little way out once you are caught.
These are just some of the scams that I happen to encounter or be warned of by other travelers. I highly suggest doing your research prior as they really can be easily prevented. One piece of advice that I will say to travelers is to use your intuition and gut instinct if something doesn’t feel right then get yourself out of that situation. However, don’t let this post put you off traveling, as the people of South East Asia are amongst the most genuine and friendliest I have ever encountered. Don’t be afraid, just use your common sense, do your research beforehand and get educated by other travelers who are in the same boat as you.
Let me know if you’ve experienced any scams on your travels, share your stories, and let’s educate our fellow travelers.