Common Scams in Vietnam and practical ways to avoid them.
Having lived in Vietnam for 6 years, I will say that its an absolutely stunning country with amazing local food and beautifully friendly people. However, with the pains of developing, any country will come along with some unfortunate downsides, two of the most common complaints lodged against the country by tourists involve the large amounts of plastic trash and the increasing prevalence of scams. Here is a list of common scams and what to do to avoid them. Our very practical solutions involve a well-equipped smartphone and common sense
Airport Scams, Exchanging Money
Money Exchange and taxis are the biggest sources of theivery in the whole country, and it always takes places in airports, particularily the two biggest and most important: Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat and Hanoi’s Noi Ba. The people at money exchange booths are as crooked as a pickpockets.
Just’ dont exchange money at the airport. I rarely, if ever exchange money in any airports, anywhere. Bring USD/EURO and if you absolutely have to just change 10USD, have the total amount displayed on your phone calculator and show it to them so they know you are aware of the actual exchange rate.
Taxi Scams at the Airports in Vietnam
These are “pirate” taxi drivers that run their own meter, or run up their meter by taking you the long way around.
- Take the bus or, now both SGN and HNI airports have city buses which will take you into town.
- Buy a Sim card and book a Grab (the Uber of Asia) which has set prices
- Pre-book (and prepay) your ride via one of the kiosks located throughout the terminal exit. This may seem like the sketchiest solution, but to be honest i have done this various times and it always worked out. I paid about 300K to get into town and it was without hiccups
- Ask your hotel to pick you up
Border Scams, corrupt officials and “assistants”
The most common way to get across the sticky borders of south east Asia are by bus, and the bus company will take care of your visa stamps. This is the no hassle, no scammy way about it and the way we recommend. The bus companies on both sides of the border will collect a pile of passports halfway to the border and they do it for you. The problem is when you travel alone, by motorbike or you are doing a border run. In this case border guards wont stamp your passport unless there is a 50,000VND note in the passport. The upside of this? it’s only 2$ for an international border crossing bribe. One for the story books.
Restaurant Scams in Vietnam, Overcharging Tourists
Where does it happen? Most commonly in Nha Trang & Hanoi
In Saigon overcharging tourists is very rare. The places that this is more commonly found is in Hanoi and Nha Trang. Check google reviews first. That’s how simple it is to avoid scams at restaurants. It is more and more common these days for people to post unpleasant experiences on restaurant google maps listings under the review section. If a restaurant has below 4 stars and a row of negative reviews from foreigners complaining about getting the “foreign tax” then avoid like the plague.
Gas Station Scams in Hoi An
Gas station scams and fake parking guards are common in Hoi An only. There are 2 or 3 gas stations run by scum, specifically in Hoi An, which will routinely take a 500K bill and return change for a 20K bill, because they look slightly similar. They will also manipulate the machines so if you pay for 50K worth of fuel, they will only put 20K in. A solution is local insight. The group the Hoi An/Danang Oracle is a great resource where expats and locals regularly help each other out with advice, including the following advice on decent gas station recommendations where they wont rip you off:
Entrance Fee for a simple tourist attraction
Where can it happen? Hue and Hoi An
Again, the most common place this happens is in Hoi An, specifically by the Japanese bridge. If you have already paid your city entrance fee at the official government booths then you can ignore the occasional scum that tries to get you to pay the fake fee to cross the bridge. It’s rare as officials have been cracking down, but it happens enough that you should know.
Where does it happen? Most commonly in Hue
If you hired a bike to ride around the citadel of Hue, for example, sometimes you will meet a parking guy pretending to be an official security personnel telling you that “bicycles are not allowed” in a certain part of the city. This is clearly a rouse just to get you to park and pay his overblown parking prices. You can bike around 90% of the city, with the obvious exception of the citadel.
Solution? Pretend you don’t speak English and act as dumb as possible.
Traffic Police “scams”
Whether you call being pulled over and asking to pay a “bribe” when you yourself don’t have an international or Vietnamese license (which is the law”) a scam is debatable. Everyone has to pay these fines, sure foreigners are fleeced for higher amounts, but let’s not forget that 90% of these foreigners on scooters are in fact breaking the law by not having a license. The few times I have been pulled over and had to pay, I haven’t complained, as I justify it purely for the reason that it is cheaper and easier to pay a bribe from time to time then go through the paperwork process of getting a license. If you disagree however, and refuse to pay these bribes, the solution is simple: Don’t speak English and act as stupid as possible. The last thing a corrupt policeman wants to do, in any country, is waist his time with a dumb foreigner, when he can easily just wait for the next traffic infraction and get money from them.
The most common place this happens is in Mui Ne by the sand dunes (referred to as the sand dune trap). The solution? take a tour to the dunes to avoid the cops.
All the above being said, I have happily lived in Vietnam for over 7 years now and rarely have I been scammed. However I pay attention to my surroundings and I research my destinations comprehensively. I always use Grab to get around and I check google reviews of restaurants very carefully. The same rules can be applied for Cambodia, laos and Thailand which are also rife with tourist scams.