Asia has long been a backpacker haven; its well beaten path promises adventure, some amazing views, the best beach life around and bustling cityscapes.
As a whole, Asia is a safe route to take for any trip – I’ve always found the local people to be extremely helpful, friendly and welcoming. And I’ve been very lucky not to have any negative experience while travelling around Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.
But with anywhere in the world, there are opportunists who can try take advantage of travellers. Just being aware of these common travel scams can help you avoid being victim to one on your next trip.
1. The overpriced tuk tuk
For countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, tuk tuks are the most common way to get around. And while they will squeeze more people in there than you think is safe or humanly possible to save you money, you might end up paying far more than the going rate. Here are some things you can do to avoid overpaying:
- If you know where you’re going, to a specific temple for example, ask your hotel/hostel how much they would expect to pay for that journey
- Always ask to be on the meter or at the very least agree the price of the journey before you get in
- Ask the receptionist or doorman from your hotel to flag a tuk tuk for you and agree a price on the journey (and please tip the doorman for that too!)
- Have the exact cash ready if possible, it’s a common story to be told that the driver has just started their shift and has no change.
2. The cheaper ride with a ‘stop off’
Sometimes when you book a taxi, or a tour the driver can offer you a cheaper price if you agree to stop off at a gift store, tour desk or restaurant along the way. Sometimes they won’t ask you and bring you there anyway. The scam here is that either your meter in the taxi is still running, or that the driver has a deal with his friend running the gift store/information stand/cafe that you will spend money there too. Politely decline from buying anything (if you don’t want to) and tell your driver that you are in a rush.
3. The card cloning
This scam is everywhere in the world, but it’s more troublesome to get a replacement card when you’re travelling. Your bank card can be very easily cloned from ATM machines or in restaurants and some cheeky hotels. Here’s how to stay protected:
- Bring two bank cards; one top up travel card (I use this one from MyTravelCash) that is not linked to your bank account, and one emergency card, like a credit card.
- Don’t carry these cards in the same place; keep one hidden!
- Use your travel card as much as possible and try to find ATM machines that are within bank buildings, or have CCTV camera above it.
- Run your finger for the card slot on the machine, if anything feels loose or about to come away, don’t insert your card.
- ALWAYS cover your pin!
4. The slash and grab
This is unfortunately very common travel scam in Asia, particularly Ho Chi Minh city. People on mopeds can whiz by and cut your bag from your shoulder in seconds. There is very little you can do if this happens as it will probably happen so quickly that moped will be in the distance before you realise what happened. My tip? Wear a bumbag…trust me on this! It’s the safest way to carry your valuables, it’s right there in front of you so pick-pocketing chances are slim, it would take a bit of manoeuvring to cut it off/ unbuckle it if you have t-shirt on over the strap and who doesn’t like hands free dancing on a night out? Go buy one now!
5. The ‘very precious’ gem scam
This is probably the most talked about travel scam in Asia, and very common in places like Agra, India and Bangkok, Thailand. A lot of places we stayed in even had posters up warning tourists about this scam, so please don’t ignore their warnings and fall for it!
It can start with a local person being very friendly and gains your trust, he/she will then offer you a business opportunity to invest in some precious jewels. They usually say that the gems are worth a lot of money outside of their country, but they themselves cannot afford the taxes to export them. But if you were to buy them from them for a ‘cheap’ price, export them under your duty free allowance, you could sell them on for a ‘huge’ profit and they’ll even have a buyer waiting at the airport for you to sell them on immediately – sounds like a win-win situation right? Wrong! These ‘jewels’ are no more than coloured glass or plastic pieces, and there won’t be anyone at the airport waiting for you to take them off your hands either.
Also please don’t be fooled in to buying diamonds, rubies, emeralds or any other precious stone from jewellers or (you wouldn’t believe!) market stalls. Most likely these are fake and you’re paying what seems to be a cheap price for diamonds, but actually an extortionate amount for shards of glass.
6. The short-changed currency exchange
Being a little bit organised with your cash can make a huge difference to being ripped off. Before getting any currency changed, know exactly how much money you should receive back and what a ‘good’ exchange rate is. I use the XE app on my phone to quickly check before any transaction. Also try to use currency exchanges in hotels or hostel, or at airports and banks. Their rates might be a bit high, but there is less chance of you being short changed or ripped off.
In Cambodia, it’s very common to pay for things – drinks, tours, dinners, food shopping, night stays – in US dollars, and receive the change in Riel. The currency itself if very confusing, so it’s very easy to miss when you’ve been given 100 Riel back instead of 1,000! Double check your change and don’t be afraid to hold up the queue by checking if it was correct!
7. Bother at the border
When you cross borders by land, the process can seem overwhelming. There’s a few things that can happen which might result in you paying a ‘fine’ (which is actually a bribe) to just get through the border.
Firstly, someone could approach you before getting to the border, offering to process your visa faster, of course for a fee. Please don’t trust anyone who says they can do this, it simply is not true.
Secondly, when you get an immigration card, there is an entry and exit slip that is stamped by the borders. When you enter a new country, you can have the exit slip of your previous country stapled into your passport. Unstaple this exit slip before passing it over to the passport control. What can happen is that there are usually 2 or 3 people checking passport, the first person might rip that exit slip off, tearing a page in your passport on purpose, so that when you’re at person 3 (who should be giving your final send off into the new country) he/she tells you that your passport is damaged and you need to pay a ‘fine’. And your passport will be damaged and need replacing when you get home, it might also get questioned again along the way at other borders.
While all of this sounds like Asia is full of scams, I promise you I felt so safe travelling around and no one travelling with me had anything more serious than being short changed or having a bank card cloned. Just be sensible and trust your gut if you find yourself in a situation that you don’t like the feeling of. And most importantly, have fun!
If you have any other tips for avoiding travel scams in Asia please pop them in the comments box below!