The shady taxi ride
This notorious scam is common all across popular travel destinations and you can avoid this in Vietnam easily with some simple steps. The keyword here is the ‘meter’- you should always check if a taxi has one or the driver has turned it on properly before getting into the vehicle. Remember that it is often harder to negotiate or withdraw the price if your journey has already started or almost ended. If you, unfortunately, have already gone into one of these scam taxis and hence presented a ridiculously expensive bill, simply refuse to pay, take photos of the car’s license plate and the driver’s plate in order to report to authorities.
As importantly, make yourself aware of official taxi companies before visiting, for example, Vinasun Taxi or Mai Linh Corp which are the two main taxi companies everywhere in Vietnam. Independent drivers or dubious companies can pretend to be legitimate taxis and charge you overwhelmingly. These people can often be encountered at airports or stations; they will try to ask if you need transport and try taking you to a separate parking space. When this happens, simply ignore the pushiness and come to the airport’s official taxi queue where an operator from legitimate taxi companies will ask where you are headed and assign you a vehicle with a proper meter system.
To be extra safe, you can negotiate with the taxi driver before starting your journey on an approximate price- keeping in mind that there is usually an extra exit fee from airports of around 10,000 VND. Moreover, even if a taxi has a working meter, it is very common for drivers especially in Hanoi to drive through further paths instead of the most convenient one to your destination in order to increase the meter price. When you are a tourist, it is usual to be clueless about the city map and directions, therefore it would be very useful if you have 3G wifi connection in order to keep track of your ongoing journey via Google Maps. This way, you would be able to see if the driver is going the further way and question them about it.
Finally, you can use the Grab application which is like Asia’s Uber- the fares are often cheaper than traditional taxi prices and you won’t have to worry about negotiating prices and stressing out about the driver’s integrity as the fare is precalculated. Motorcycle/Scooter taxi is also available via Grab Bike, which would be a very interesting experience for foreigners and a must do in Vietnam.
Where’s your bike?
Usually encountered in Nha Trang and Mui Ne, the motorbike scam is an unfortunate one to fall victim of as experiencing Vietnam by bike is certainly a joy not to be missed. Usually, all would appear well at first, before the rental company owner ‘robs’ back your bike and demand you to pay a whopping fee for the ‘lost’ vehicle. Another direction to this scam is that the owner will give you a bike rigged with mechanical problems which you will have to pay for upon the return date. Even worse, it could even contain ‘made up’ issues from which a payment will be demanded.
To be as safe as possible, make sure a thorough testing of your bike is carried out right after renting it. In addition, an investment in your own bike lock would be worth it, in case no one other than its own owner wants to ‘steal’ it back. The lock would also be useful if you plan to park your bike outside of houses or shops since thieves are known to steal bikes or their components when you’re least cautious, even during midday. Ensure that you do careful research on the rental company and other people’s past experiences before renting and make sure you always have a Vietnamese driving permit in hand- if you get in trouble with authorities without it the bike can be confiscated up to a month and the costs could be high.
The snatch and flee
When you’re in the middle of a busy street or marketplace, your belongings could be gone in a matter of seconds without caution. Handbag thieves and pickpockets could be an issue when you’re exploring crowded touristy areas, therefore the way you keep your valuables and important documents is important to note. If your hotel room has a security safe, it is best to leave important documents such as your ID and passport in there and only carry copies around- we have learned this from the countless incidents when tourists lost everything when they store most of their lives in a single bag. It is also wise to store half of the cash you have or some emergency cash in the secured safe, in case of the worst case scenario.
Always close your bags and purses carefully and keep an eye on them whenever you’re walking through a busy area where a pickpocketer can slip in quicker than you can detect something went wrong. The snatching of bags and belongings can be dangerous physically as many tourists fall trying to protect their bag or simply because they were off guard. Therefore, be cautious of your surroundings and do not get distracted too often; you can even use a small lock on your backpack’s zippers or wear your handbag in front of your belly for safety. While sightseeing on foot around the city and taking photos is fun and interesting, it is also important to stay cautious and be safe than sorry.
Cash and currency scams
While it is acceptable to hand over large denominations, always be careful of the change you receive back from shops and restaurants. There are various incidents when tourists are given less change than they were supposed to get or the vendors claim that they don’t have enough change. Or worse, the seller can walk away with your money before you can say anything. Therefore, ensure you keep some smaller denominations in hand in case you buy a low-value item or simply get used to the Vietnamese dong currency and count your change carefully. Vendors can even go as far as to snatch the pile of cash you have in your hands, assuming that a foreigner is unaware of the local currency and swap out similar notes with fake or lesser value ones. (For example, a 20,000 VND and 500,000 VND note look quite similar as they are both blue)
When getting your prices or rates quoted, always remember to confirm the currency as some sellers or hotels are known to switch currencies which make the price increase substantially. For example, ‘5’ could either mean 5 USD which is roughly 116,000 VND or simply 5,000 VND which is only 20 cents in USD. Additionally, whenever you want to exchange currencies, make sure to research reputable locations and exchangers before you go as exchange rates can fluctuate and differ in various hotels and airports.
Bus and train tickets scam
While buses and trains are great and affordable options for long distance travel within Vietnam, it can be possible that you might experience ticket scamming. Going on long-haul trips with questionable companies could have you kicked out of the bus unexpectedly at midnight and nowhere else to go, as various past incidents have shown. The bus driver can simply force you off the bus at a petrol station or rest stop and magically a hotel is nearby, ready to take in the confused passengers. You could also encounter fake train ticket websites in Vietnam, which can sell invalid tickets at higher prices than in reality.
In order to avoid unwanted scams, you can visit Vietnam railway’s official website which is a trustworthy train travel website, commonly used by travelers in order to gain useful information and reliable sources to plan your long distance trips. It is advised to avoid anyone that tries to approach you in front of train and bus stations, claiming that your bus has been canceled or delayed and offering you a different ticket.
Moreover, if anyone approaches you and offers a seat upgrade, simply ignore this common scam and check your ticket information carefully when buying from a verified source. Your safest bet would be to purchase tickets directly from your accommodation or reliable travel agents/websites. Moreover, if someone tries to offer help with carrying your luggage across the platform, kindly reject their advances as a certain fee or luggage swap could occur.