Expect scams when you travel, and a lot of them. After a six month trip in Asia, I found myself getting ripped off many times. Here are 17 scams and how to avoid getting trapped in one. As much as we all love travelling to exotic places in Asia whether for a gap year, vacation, buisness or even for a honey moon, you should be aware of what’s waiting for you. Some locals are friendly and very helpful, some just see you as a pile of cash walking. So keep these in mind if you want your trip to go as a breeze without bringing back home any bad souvenirs.
You’re walking in people’s square looking at all the impressive architecture, it’s your second or third day in Shanghai, China, your friends have warned you already that it’s not as safe as you might think, and just when you see everyone has their unfriendly face on, a Chinese girl approaches you and asks you to take a picture of her friends, an exchange of thanks and a strike for small talk, but when you walk away, they ask you to join them on their tea ceremony as they are university students coming to Shanghai from another city.
Now if you are like me, then this time your curiosity might cause you trouble, the reason being you will accompany them to this nearby tea house, and soon enough you will be tasting different tea samples, before you leave they will pressure you into buying your favorite one, but when the bill comes, it might hit you like a lightning, or you might not even be sure if you’re being scammed or not since you’re not familiar yet with the new currency rates so you have two options either resist or give in and pay the extravagant part of the bill that would cost you not less than 700 RMB (110USD).
How to avoid the scam: You decline the offer since the start with a simple no, and never show hesitation so they won’t bother you with more lies trying to convince you.
While visiting the forbidden city in Beijing, the Grand palace in Bangkok, or Angkor what in Siem reap, you will encounter people asking you if you would like a guided tour, to mess with them ask if it is for free, because if you don’t and you show a curious face you will have a bundle of information that might not even be true costing you a ridiculous amount of money. What you should do instead is head to a tourist information office then ask for an official guide, if you don’t see one then keep note that the real guide would have a flag with a group around him unlike the fake one who only targets individuals.
How to avoid it: The same rule of thumb applies, decline the offer with a simple no.
This scam is often performed on solo western-looking men who just happen to be walking on the famous Nanjing road, Shanghai, a local Chinese would try to lure you into following him or her, after they tell you the cheapest price you can imagine for a happy ending massage. Actually this one shouldn’t even be listed among scams because if you fall for it , you’re the one looking for trouble, and trouble you will find my friend. Two or three large men will walk you to an ATM and take all the money you have,either that or you will have a policeman who not only will interrupt your happy time but also extort all your money claiming you’re doing illegal stuff.
How to avoid it: Keep walking, a firm no would suffice.
This one is just another version of the tea house scam. You’ll be approached by people on the street who often claim to be students. They will tell you about their studio and ask if you want to take a look at their paintings. Once inside, with their sales tactics they would pressure you into buying their outrageously overpriced artwork.
How to avoid it: Tell them you’re in a rush, or that you don’t like art. Or go and check out the art if you want without making any purchase.
You’re taking a walk trying to find something different than what you’ve been seeing in khaossan road, a few blocks away, some local person spots you and approaches you or gestures you to ask you a question, you’re here for the experience and you don’t want to close yourself off and miss every interaction with a seemingly friendly looking Thai so you answer their common questions, they ask you where are you going and they ask you how long have you been in Thailand to see if they can get you in their net, later they would call a tuk tuk to show you three or four different attractions, sounds all good until now and for the few cents you give the driver, you think you’re lucky but that will soon change if you plan all your trip with the travel agency you will have to go in,and even when you don’t, you’ll be forced to check out some stupid suit store where you have to act interested for nothing.
How to avoid it: As soon as some tuk tuk driver offers you a ride for as cheap as 20 baht or less 1/10 the real price, just ignore him.
When in touristic places, never catch a taxi right away, walk away from that zone then catch one, you just saved yourself from a rip off, for either they won’t use the meter and give you a fixed price that is double or triple the real one or would use a modified meter that runs faster than normal ones or even take a longer way they call “shortcut” to maximize the fare to your destination.
Tip: Try getting an idea from someone else of how much the fare would be before taking a taxi.
Naturally, most of the scams happen around famous attractions, this one is quite rare but very dangerous, here is the scenario, a young guy would be trying to enter the Grand palace in Bangkok, around noon a local would approach him and ask him if he wants to try some local food, the traveler declines but the Thai person insists and adds that if he accompanied him to his favorite restaurant he could eat for a cheaper price, with sympathy the traveler approves and later find himself drugged with the worst consequences imaginable, losing all his money, not only what he had on him but also what he has in his bank account. In Malaysia, you might be offered cookies and have the same outcome happen to you.
How to avoid it: this is when a very old advice from you mom is good to listen to, don’t accept food from strangers, strangers who approach you and not the other way around.
If you want to explore Bangkok deeper and go out at night in places like Silom, the red district of the city, you will have countless people showing you their crazy menus, they would throw words like, ping pong show, no cover.. if you ask any question they would add that you will only pay a beer and enjoy the different shows, once inside and after you’ve seen enough disgusting stuff, though you might lie to yourself that it was worth the beer, you will get up to pay your tab at the counter but only to discover your 60 baht beer turned into a 2000 baht bill, when you shout that it wasn’t what you agreed on with the first guy, they say that watching the show is not included, they may get violent if you show fear or hesitance to leave the place.
How to avoid it: Act that you’re giving them all the money you got plus what you agreed on of course, then leave immediately.
I remember talking to a french guy in some van while travelling in Thailand, he had his two week trip all planned out with an eye popping amount of money which included only the transportation and basic accommodation, 30k baht
How to avoid it: Never take a deal like that even if they put it as packages and try to convince you that it’s cheaper. believe me it’s not, because a two weeks vacation in Thailand would only cost a person at around 7k baht.
Passing through the border from Thailand to Cambodia, you will arrive at an immigration office that won’t accept the 20 dollars official fee even if there it is clearly written on the office wall, they would aim for 40 dollars, and see if you lose patience and give them what they want.
How to avoid it: Stand your ground, refuse and be patient and repeat to them that you will pay 20 dollars just like it is shown in the Cambodian government website.
When you go to the islands you will rent bikes since it is a very convenient way to travel around, however, even experienced drivers out there have had problems when they would return the bike, either the owner would point out some scratches, new or old, and would charge you for the replacement of damaged parts which cost a fortune sometimes. Your best option if he already got you real passport and having signed some contract is to lower down the price as much as possible.
How to avoid it: If you wanna avoid this from the start, go to places where the bikes don’t look brand new , preferably a place where they can fix the scratched with no additional fees. if you can’t find it then give them an expired passport or at least a copy of your passport but never the real one so you won’t be trapped in such a messy case.
In southeast Asia, you might get pulled over driving your bike even if you have your helmet on and driving safely, if this happens you’re looking into some police looking for bribes. they would try to give you a fine if you don’t carry an international driver licence. and would ask you to pay a bribe labeled as a fine.
How to avoid it: You need to insist that your driver licence is indeed an international, just repeat that until they let you go. However, That won’t work in Bali,Indonesia, because policemen there have pictures of the real international licences from every country, therefore, you should pretend to be an expat studying or working there, so they know you’re not just passing by and can cause them problems.
Walking out from your hostel which happen to be close to where all the action happens whether at night or during the day you are going to have locals coming up to you and offering you drugs, always say no because if you don’t you can run into big trouble, BIG TROUBLE, when the transaction is complete, an undercover cop would be just waiting for such a victim and get you to bribe him, we’re talking big money here.
How to avoid it: Easy, just ignore the temptation, it is not worth jail time and money you don’t even own yourself, there is ways to get drugs but never do it on public.
You have a few hundred meters more to walk to get to the Grand palace in Bangkok when someone asks you, where you are going, you want to be friendly and you answer, the guy at ease tells you that it is closed and adds that you can’t go in shorts, so you naturally feel stupid because you didn’t do your homework, with a disappointed look on your face, he suggests you other attraction options to see, how helpful right, and suddenly you see a tuk tuk waiting for you who will on his turn perform the scam #5 on you.
How to avoid it: If you don’t see for yourself that the attraction is closed, it is not, Moreover, most famous temples provide extra clothes for visitors if they need to cover anything.
Since converting the Dong to Dollars is not quite simple, Vietnamese people take advantage of the situation and would shortchange you in money whether it is a taxi, a street seller, a shop or a restaurant.
How to avoid it: Never hop on illegal taxis, those guys have countless scams up their sleeve, and remember to take your time counting your change back.
Many people get ripped off In Laos when they pay a VIP bus to take them from town to town, the bus comes but it wouldn’t be VIP or a even sleeper. Bus stations sell VIP tickets after they convince you to go for an upgrade from the basic fare. but they put you on the cheapest one they can get anyway. As a result, you may be standing for hours before you reach your destination, it may even break down in the middle of nowhere and be asked to push it,
How to avoid it: ask people who are also buying tickets to buy you a sleeper or buy it with the hostel or hotel you are staying at.
Buy precious stones from Asia and make profit by selling it back home, sounds just like the movies right, the bad news is that those sparkling Gems you bought for no less than 2500 USD is actually fake, and the receipt, money back guarantee and certificate of authenticity can’t get more fake.
How to avoid it: If a stranger is convincing to buy valuable stones, just say No.
With all this in mind, you can now go enjoy the best time of your life, a trip to Asia is what you’ve been dreaming of for quite some time already and it’s time to live the adventure.
It goes without saying that, common sense is what’s going to alert you if you’re looking into a scam in action, remember to ask for the price first, and that following a stranger somewhere might turn into the worst souvenir of your whole trip.
Travelling to foreign land is risky and if you’re still unsure about taking that decision these three books will convince you that it’s all worth it more that I can.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”- Ibn Battuta”
Featured photo credit: raybay via unsplash.com
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