Vietnam is a country full of beautiful scenery, fabulous food and a laid-back lifestyle that will entice you to sit in the sun and sip on iced coffee while snacking on a warm banh mi baguette stuffed with pate, meats and salad. But Vietnam also has a few scams up its sleeve. Waiting to play out on unknowing tourists. Scams that no Vietnam travel blog seem to tell you about.
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We stayed in Vietnam for a month as part of our year-long round the world backpacking trip and absolutely loved it. That is after we had become wise to a few of the Vietnamese backhanders.
We have been to India, where every man and his stray dog are trying to catch you out with some sort of trick, and then we went to Thailand where travelling was simple.
But Vietnam? We were conned on our very first day of landing and this continued until we hardened up and got wise to the tricks. Here are the scams you need to be one step ahead of.
7 Scams That I wasn’t Ready For. A Vietnam Travel Blog.
The old Taxi Fare Scam.
I’m sorry local taxi drivers, I know you are all complaining that Uber is stealing your business, but a small word of advice. Stop bloody ripping people off and maybe tourists would use you more.
It was pouring down with rain when we were dropped at the side of the road when getting the bus from Phong Nha to Hoi An. A taxi was waiting holding a colossal umbrella up for us so that our bags didn’t get more drenched than they already were. Because he was smiling (and it was pi*sing down) we threw all of our bags into his boot and got into his nice dry taxi. We stupidly didn’t think to ask how much he was going to charge us.
It was not until we were speeding down the road that he turned around and said: “This will cost you 200VND”. ($9) What a rip off! It was just five minutes down the road! I did consider opening the door and pushing the kids out onto the pavement but decided that instead, I would take this as an expensive lesson.
We should have argued, but we were tired and soaked through, so we paid it. Speaking to a local person afterwards, he told us that the fare should have been no more than 60VND ( $2.50). Grrrr.
When taking a taxi in Vietnam allow around 15,000VND per kilometre and you won’t be far wrong.
Syphoning petrol from your moped.
You will probably want to hire a moped when you are in Vietnam. They are a very popular mode of transport and are cheap to hire and good fun. We found the Vietnamese drivers to be extremely courteous to bike riders so always felt safe. (Just be careful in the rain though, the roads are dangerously slippy. We know.)
The average charge to hire a moped in Vietnam is around 150,000 VND a day which is about $6.50. Bargain! Yes, it is, but here is the scam to watch out for.
We hired two bikes from the hotel that we were staying in. We told them that we would want them for two or three days. We received the bikes empty of fuel but were taken to the petrol station around the corner to fill up. So far so good. We just thought they were being helpful.
With a full tank of fuel, we enjoyed a day driving around the countryside. Read more about our run-in with a Karaoke Vietnamese village in this post. Everyone knows how little fuel a moped uses and for the whole day, we must have used no more than a half a tank. We returned to the hotel where they said they would ‘look after the keys until tomorrow’.
The next day we excitedly hopped onto our bikes, ready for another day of adventure without the need to spend more dosh on fuel. Wrong. Both tanks were empty. Funny how the very same people who could speak acceptable English the day before were now incapable of understanding ‘why is the fuel tank empty?’
We had no choice but to go to the petrol station again only this time – because we are on such a tight budget and are trying to travel the world on next to nothing – we cannily put only $2 worth into the tank. Ha!
The following morning, like the elf and the shoemaker, I snuck downstairs at first light only to find the homeowner going along each moped syphoning the petrol out into a can! He must have been pretty annoyed when he got to ours and found it was running on fumes.
I wish I could tell you that I confronted him, but alas, I am a scaredy cat when it comes to arguments, and so I ran back upstairs and told Brian. Then I hid in the bathroom with my hands over my ears saying ‘la la la’.
If you hire a moped from a guest house or a hotel make sure you keep the keys until you have finished with the bike or else just fill it up in $2 increments. Just down run out of fuel half way up a mountain!
Smile for the photo!
This only happened to us once when we were in Vietnam but it is worth mentioning as it was a bit of a shock. If you go to Hoi An, you will no doubt hire a couple of bicycles and take the beautiful ride from the old town to the beach. This is what we did, and along the way, we came across a little of Vietnamese farmer taking a rest at the side of the road with his cow. ‘Oh! How quaint thought I, and what a perfect picture this would make for my Vietnam travel blog’. Silly girl Liz.
Don’t do it. Not unless you have money on you. And lot’s of it. Preferably American dollars.
I should have known about this scam. I have heard it mentioned time and time again but still, I fell for it, and it turned quite nasty. My family all went and patted the cow, and when the kind old Vietnamese man suggested that he give us a leg up so that we could sit on top of the cow and have a photograph, I jumped at the chance.
Little did I know when we were ready to say goodbye the little old man would suddenly transform into Bruce Banner and start shouting at us like a lunatic to pay him money. We were pretty shocked at the outburst and showed him that we only had big notes (like $20 worth notes). He wasn’t having any of it and pointed at the large amount, implying that he would just take that!
Now, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that since travelling Asia I have had to forfeit many a bottle of wine because it is $12 over the budget. I will be damned if I’m going to hand over the same amount for a photo of a cow. We walked away but he was not happy, and at one point I felt threatened. When we left and rode away, I could see another group of unknowing American tourists heading his way saying “oh Look! How cute is that? Let’s get a photo!”
Be aware that the man and his cow at the side of the road in Hoi An will want to be paid for a photograph. If you haven’t got Vietnamese Dong, he will take American dollars
Parking Your Bike at the Beach in Hoi An.
This isn’t really a scam, but just another way of getting money out of tourists. While we are on the subject of Hoi an and the beach just know that you will be met by a host of touts telling you that you must park your bike (and pay of course) in one of their bike parks. Know that can save a couple of dollars by cycling down one of the little lanes to the side of the beach and parking up for free right by the beach. Yes, you have to walk further which my teenagers whined about, but we are talking money here people. I’d walk to Japan if it meant it saved me $3.
If you are cycling to the beach in Hoi an, don’t be intimidated by the parking lot owners who will tell you that there is only one place to park your bike (at a cost). Cycle down one of the side streets. They all lead to the beach, and you can park your bike for free.
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Two Menus. One for the Locals and One for the Tourists.
This only ever happened once, but it got right up my nose. We had gone to a local restaurant. It was full of Vietnamese families, and we were excited at the thought of eating authentically. You know how I love to make my family embrace the local culture. Whether they like it or not.
When we arrived there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the menu. Eventually, they brought us one menu between the four of us. I asked for another but was told that there was only one – even though I could quite plainly see that there were lots of other menus scattered around other tables.
Anybody who is travelling the world on a budget will know that you soon become accustomed to what prices should be. Our go-to comparison is usually a local beer (we like to get our priorities right) they tend to be the same all over – give or take a few dollars. Our menu was written in English, and everything seemed to be way overpriced. Almost double in some cases. I reached over and took another menu from a family sitting at the table next to ours and our suspicions were confirmed. Exactly the same things but with a few extra dollars thrown in for good measure.
We ordered from the local menu and paid the local price. Nothing was said, just a few looks were exchanged between the servers, and it never happened again.
If you are only offered one menu in a restaurant do a bit of snooping around. Look for another one, preferably one that the locals are ordering from. And if the prices do seem a little over the top compared to everywhere else, ask why!
Charging You Extra for Your Bags on the Bus.
Travelling by bus in Vietnam is an adventure all in itself, especially if, like us, you take the little private buses between places like Hoi An and Chiang Mai, but be aware. We paid for four tickets at the bus station, yet when we boarded the bus the driver’s helper (like a conductor but without the hat and who lays on the floor of the bus when he gets tired) pressed us for more money, insisting that we paid extra for our bags. We refused, and he shrugged and walked away. It is apparently something that they try on every private coach in Vietnam. Say no. The price you pay for the ticket includes your bag. Cheeky monkeys.
Luckily I had already been warned about this in a previous Vietnam travel blog, so I was ready for it. The price you pay for a bus ticket INCLUDES your bag. Don’t pay any extra to the driver or his helper once you are on the bus.
Playing the Haggling Game at the Markets.
It wasn’t until I stood beside some unknowing tourists at the markets and witnessed them paying double for their goods that I realised that perhaps not everyone is aware that you must haggle for your goods in Vietnam.
This is the rule in all markets in Asia and certainly in Vietnam. The stall owner will tell you the price, and it is always inflated.
Unlike Thailand where we found that if you offered the stall holder a low rate, you would genuinely offend them, Vietnamese traders like to play the bartering game with you. They will act as though they don’t – but do it anyway. Otherwise you are going to get ripped off.
As a rule of thumb offer your seller half (with a smile please, remember this is their living) Obviously they are not going to take it, but they will then go to a number that you can work with sensibly. It will take about five backward and forward exchanges. They will shake their head, you will look at your husband, they will lift the fish up and look underneath it, you will ask your son if he has cleaned his teeth. Eventually, after this little dance, you will come to the right price. I found that if they don’t call after you when you walk away, then you were getting a reasonable price. Go back, hand over your money and say thank you. Nicely.
A trip to the market should be fun. Make it this way by exchanging in friendly haggling. Start off at half the price and work your way up. If you walk away and the stall owner doesn’t call after you with a lower price you know that the price you were quoted was a good one.
Some of these scams are to be taken with a pinch of salt, and some (like the man and the cow who got quite nasty) need to be taken seriously. Every country has its way of getting money out of tourists and Vietnam is no exception. As a traveller, you expect to a certain extent to be taken for a little ride, but let’s face it, nobody likes to be sent whizzing down the highway with their wallet trailing behind them. Vietnam is an amazing country and overall the people that we met were generous, friendly and kind. It is worth mentioning that Vietnam is also the cheapest place we have travelled to in Asia so you are going to love it!
If you are in Vietnam and have been scammed let me know. And please tell me it didn’t happen twice. Happy travels.