When you are traveling in Southeast Asia, it is likely that you will encounter some characters who just want to trick you out of your money. After a short while you will start to get a feeling as to how the scams work. This post might make you feel like everyone is trying to scam you – but that is simply not true. However, it might only take a couple of bad experiences to ruin your time in a place. Here are some tips and best practices for making sure you don’t get scammed.
The Best Way to Avoid South East Asia Scams
1. Don’t Be Greedy
Almost all good scams work on greed. A good example of this is the Gem shop scam popular with Bangkok Tuk Tuk drivers. In a scam that I’m still surprised ever worked they take you to a shop that sells “rare” and “special” gems that you can buy at a very good price. They will show you a list of what these gems are currently worth in the western world with the promise of guaranteed profit when you get back home. They are, of course, worthless but people who fall for this scam just see the potential money they can make.
2. Know Where You Are
Tuk Tuk and Taxi drivers usually have you at an advantage; they know where you are and where you want to go. This makes it hard to agree a price as you are often told your destination is a lot further than it actually is. I usually carried my phone so I could check my GPS, many Taxi drivers came unstuck when I corrected their estimation of 6K away to 1.5K. Many people will have you believe that places are not within walking distance and sometimes that’s true but always try to find out for yourself.
3. Try to Know the Price
It’s hard to negotiate a price when you don’t know what the price should be. Many people make the mistake of being happy because “we got the guy down from 80 to 50” which is great unless the price is 30 in the first place. If you know the what a good price looks like you can insist and settle on a fair price.
4. Ask Others what Things Cost
If you have just arrived somewhere don’t be shy in asking other people what they are paying for their hotel. If they have been on a trip you want to go on find out what they paid and what they got for their money. Other travellers are full of first hand experience and usually willing to share their knowledge and advice. If you find yourself with a good local staff at your hotel or guesthouse they are also a great source of information about local prices.
5. Know The Currency Conversion
I know this seems obvious but if you are going off a “rough” conversion when spending a lot of foreign money it really adds up. Sometimes you will see a guide price in dollars that does not match up to the local currency price that you pay with.
6. Take Unsolicited Advice with a Pinch of Salt
Strangers are liars it seems. The most famous version of this is the “The Grand Palace is closed today” trick where seemingly helpful people blatantly lie to you and suggest an alternative that directly or indirectly benefits them. Tuk Tuk drivers will tell you that there are no buses and you will get many recommendations of places to go from people obviously on commission.
7 . Always Agree A Price
Before you accept any form of service make sure you clarify the price. If you are staying at a hotel for 3 nights at 500 Baht, just confirm, “1500 total?” so they cannot claim that “First night 500, second nights were weekend so 1000”. Most of the time rooms are a fixed price but its always worth checking.
8. Lookout for Extras
This is less of a scam just something to watch out for. Just because a hotel has Wifi it doesn’t mean it is free. Kelly was not amused at having to pay for toilet roll at one of the cheaper guesthouses we stayed. The bottle of water on the side may or may not be complimentary and might cost triple the price it does in the shop next door.
9. Do Not Let People Carry Your Bags
Of course they expect a tip which is not a problem until they decide on how much they want to be tipped. I’m not against tipping but its a little forced if somebody picks up your bag without you requesting, walks 50 yards plonks it down and demands a decent amount of money.
10. Photo Opportunities Cost
You see people dressed in wonderful local costumes with colourful masks and they will run up next to you and order your companion to take a photo. Then they will name their price. That is their job. If you want the photo ask how much before you take it otherwise it could be more than you expected to pay.
11. Check Your Change
Another obvious one. Don’t be too embarrassed to check your change as soon as it is given. Short changing does happen, sometimes its a mistake, sometimes on purpose. Either way once you point it out they will claim it was a mistake, apologise and give you the correct change.
12 . Use Set Price or Metered Transport When Available
It’s almost always cheaper. For example, Bangkok taxis are all metered and usually work out at cheaper prices than most of the Tuk Tuk drivers will offer tourists. Often Bangkok Taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter and try to quote a price. Don’t bother negotiating when a metered taxi driver does this. He’s not doing you a favour and it is usually illegal. Just get another taxi.
13. Be Careful With “Happy Hour”
The term Happy Hour is used often but in a strange way in South East Asia. Some bars have “Every Day, All day, all night, Happy Hour” which makes no sense. Others have more traditional happy hours with cheaper drinks within set times. Some of the dodgy bars will not have times displayed and will not tell you happy hour is over and when you continue to drink you will be left with a much larger bill than you expected.
14. Take Photos of Anything You Rent When You Pick it up
From motorbikes to Jet Skis you only want to be held responsible for the damage you do. Take photos and point out obvious damage. Try to read reviews of the business if available because although the rental might be cheap, the big bill at the end may not be.
15. Pay in the Local Currency
Many places near borders accept the currency of neighbouring countries or USD. The exchange rate is almost always skewed highly in their favour and you can find yourself paying a good percentage more than you would usually. This makes sense as they will probably have to exchange it at some point.
Many places have their own local versions of scams. If they are a problem in the area they will usually show up on the Wikitravel destination page. You can also use Google to search for phrases like “common scams in Vietnam” or “common scams in Bangkok” and you will find many stories and warnings of things to look out for.
17. Be Careful Around Public Holidays
On public holidays hotels are bound to raise their prices but in Vietnam during Tet our $15 a night guesthouse decided suddenly they wanted $35 a night even though we had agreed our price. Stubbornly we checked out, most hotels were now full so it put us in a hard place and had we known sooner we could have prebooked somewhere else. I managed to talk another hotel owner into letting us stay in a room that was currently out of order for renovations for $10 but if we hadn’t have found that it may have been an expensive night. The transport will also fill up and price may increase to whatever the operators feel like on a public holiday. It might be worth prebooking and staying still for a day or two.
18. Use Your Instincts
If you think somebody is being a bit dodgy be careful. Listen to what your instincts tell you before handing money over to somebody.
19. Ask Plenty of Questions
Find out exactly what you are getting for your money. If its a tour, find out if entry to attractions is included. Just ask whether everything that you expect is included in the price. Try not to assume, its worth asking if you are not sure.
20. Don’t Break the Law
I got a little bored of hearing stories of people having to pay huge fines cause they got caught buying drugs. “The police are in on the scam” they say. They probably are, the dealer tells the police who he has sold drugs to, then the police stop and search that person. Its not right but it’s an easily avoidable scam. It’s really not worth getting caught breaking the law in these countries, many things are very cheap but the fines you have to pay if you get caught can be huge. That’s if they allow you to get off with a fine and don’t send you to jail.
A Few Things To Remember
- Many people feel its not worth the hassle to argue and simply pay up, scammers often rely on this mentality and it only encourages more scams.
- Don’t get yourself beat up over a few dollars. Argue your point all you can, don’t get angry and try not to let it become a fight. Scammers are dodgy people anyway, they could be violent too if tested. Nobody likes handing the money over but try to keep safe, especially for very small amounts of money.
- Have the number for the local tourist police for the more extreme cases. Use it if you need to, these officers are a lot more tourist friendly than the regular police might be.
- Don’t be paranoid, sometimes things just cost more, you are not always being scammed.
Have you been to South East Asia? Did you get scammed? What measures did you take to protect yourself? Let me know in the comments below.