Vietnam Tourist scam alerts and my experience of Vietnam Hospitality

Before my trip to Vietnam, I did some reading on the net and several articles alerted me to the high rate of tourist scams in the country. I was alerted to “Saigon Cowboys” – the motorcycle ridden thieves who would snatch your bag/phone etc and escape, about overcharging shopkeepers, who would say 10 (implying 10,000 VND or 0.5 USD before purchase and then claim they said 10 USD), of hotels that ask for double the price claiming price quoted was per person, of Vietnamese girls trying to honey trap foreign tourists and extract money from them and so on. One website even went on to describe “scamming tourists is a National Sport” in Vietnam.  All in all, the picture I got of Vietnam was not very comforting. Because of this, I entered Vietnam with extra caution, more alert to my surroundings, keeping an eye for any potential traps/frauds/theft attempts. However, after 1 week in Vietnam, I can happily say that I didn’t face any negative experience. Vietnamese hospitality was great and everyone in Vietnam seem to be making extra effort to make their guests n visitors more comfortable. It is possible that I was just lucky- there could be some bad apples, but with some basic precautions I think one can visit Vietnam without worry.
With Moi, a bike taxi operator who took me around a remove village in Vietnam

I am listing some of my experience and observations below:
1. ATMs display an image of card reader: ATMs in Vietnam display an image of card reader and ask customer to ensure that the card reader looks exactly like what is shown in the picture. This is to alert customers if anyone has fixed any skimmer/card reader device to steal customer’s card details. I withdrew twice, but was careful to use ATMs that are in safe area- like in malls, places with CCTV/security guards etc. Didn’t face any problem yet.’ So the ATM card skimming risk is there, but you should be good if you’re using ATMs in safe n well guarded places.

2. Hostels advising not to go out with original passport: A hostel I stayed had a sticker posted, advising not to go out with original passport. They offered to keep it in safe locker if I wish. This implies there is a real risk of someone snatching your bag/valuables. Be careful not to keep wallet or mobile in hip pocket and not to present yourself as a potential target, by flaunting expensive cloths/jewelry or gadgets.

3. Shopkeeper explaining the total count: I bought 4-5 souvenir items from a street side shop on a Sunday night near lake in Hanoi. The shopkeeper lady was extra careful to show me each item, show its price in a calculator, show me next item, its price and then finally the total amount. She could have simply shown me the total but I think she was trying to assure me that the amount is correct. Price she quoted were extremely reasonable (it was half the price displayed in touristy souvenir shops), so I didn’t bargain at all. So again if you can shop at places where locals shop- like streets in the city and avoid shops meant for tourists, you should be able to save some money. Every Saturday and Sunday night many streets in Hanoi are closed for vehicle traffic and night markets are setup. Locals buy from these so you should try too. Of course, check prices in multiple shops and do your assessment as to what price is fair.

Most shopkeepers where I bought various quoted reasonable prices. I didn’t face any situation where one would say 10 (10,000 VND) and later demand 10 USD. Again, I bought only bare essentials- there were some attempts to quote a higher price as it was obvious that I am a tourist, but that is common in any place. I wanted to buy a pair of earphones- lady at a small shop claimed 250000 VND (INR 700+) for a cheap model earphone-as I did a mental conversion to INR I realized that this cheap earphone is not worth 700 INR, so I refused the deal and walked out without bargaining, followed by the lady shouting a discounted price of 150000 VND. Later bought a branded (REMAX) earphone for 275000 VND, after checking that same item costs on Amazon.in some 800 Rs.

Another elderly lady noticed that was holding too many items, voluntarily gave me a large size cover when I bought a small item from her. So I conclude most shopkeepers in Vietnam are genuine hard working people with no intention to cheat. Just be watchful for a few who are not.

4. Travel agency staff being extra informative: The lady at the agency from where I booked my Cu Chi tunnel trip wrote her personal number on the confirmation slip and said “You’ll be picked up between 8 to 8.20 AM. If you’re not picked up even by 8.40 AM, call me on this personal number”. In another agency, the lady made it very clear that their shop will be closed next day but tour bus will operate and I will be picked up from the shop. All the tours I took in Vietnam happened on time, as per promised itinerary. There was no attempt to squeeze extra money from tourists or trying to cut cost. The operators maintained good level of transparency, which is appreciated. If you walk into a shop and book in person I guess you are much less likely to be cheated. If you’re booking online or through 3rd party then be careful.
Kim Travel is one of the popular tour operators in Ho Chi Minh City

However for some tours- like Halong Bay trip, I saw different shops selling one day tour for price ranging from 23 USD to 55 USD per person. I am not very sure what’s the reason for such huge gap. Few reasons could be a) excluded items -cheaper ticket may not include kayaking/bamboo boat ride or lunch etc b) seat in a big bus is usually cheaper than minibus or van. You might want to cross check what’s included in the package before opting for cheapest option.
Friendly people: Everyone I spoke to were very accommodation and friendly. Almost everyone open conversation with "First visit to Vietnam? How many days?" followed by "One week is too little!". Not everyone speaks good English but that doesn't hamper basic conversation.

There were 2 instances of random people trying to begin a conversation n being unnecessarily friendly- like speaking in Hindi sensing that I could be from India etc. I ignored them completely and walked ahead as if I didn’t even hear them. There’re scams in which people invite tourists home in the name of a card game or some celebration and then use multiple tricks to cheat/rob tourists.

Genuine people and institutions in Vietnam are aware of these scams so they are taking whatever initiative they can, to protect their guests from scams or make them feel more comfortable.
Vietnam, like most South East Asian countries, has a good % of poor people. Some of them might resort to theft or cheating to earn money. Yes, there is a risk but this tourist scam risk exist in many countries around the world, not just Vietnam. But the probability of encountering a fraud doesn’t seem to be so high that you’ve to reconsider visiting Vietnam. You can still enjoy your trip, but take some precautions

Precautions to take in Vietnam (applies to several other countries as well)
  • Walk in right side of the road facing oncoming traffic. Difficult for bikers to come from behind, snatch something and speed away.
  • Do not present yourself as a prospective target- by means of expensive cloths, gadgets or other actions that make it easy for observers to zero in on you as their target. Be simple, be alert.
  • Do not get lost on phone, with camera etc while in public place. Keep your stuff safe, stay vigilant.
  • Avoid middle men/3rd party agencies to the extent possible.  Book directly with tour operator etc where possible
  • Avoid carrying excess cash or all cash in one place. Split and keep only minimum amount in wallet, to minimize risk of theft.
  • I don’t drink alcohol so I am usually immune from various scams that are triggered in a bar/pub etc- such as spiking your drinks, honey trap etc. If you frequent bars, you need to be extra careful of such scams.
  • Where possible buy from shops that have displayed their price upfront. This means no scope for misunderstanding or dispute.
SimilarMalaysia fake police experience * What happens when your inflight purchase goes bad? * Surviving credit card fraud- my experience * Axis Bank ATM fraud- my experience * 10 things to check before booking Scuba diving *

12 comments:

  1. In general people are good everywhere. Just a few bad experiences (which is slightly more for Vietnam) tend to bring bad name for the entire population.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's helpful post Shrini. Do you have any travel guide on Vietnam and Cambodia?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome. Cambodia I have not been to yet.
      Vietnam haven't made a formal guide, but have posts on budget, planning etc etc/

      http://www.enidhi.net/search/label/Vietnam

      Delete
  3. Comprehensive and very real. Every place has two kinds of people and sadly only the negative gets highlighted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. There're many good hard working people. Blaming entire country because of few cheats is not right.

      Delete
  4. Yes , it is always better to be safe than sorry.Helpful guidelines ,thanks !

    ReplyDelete
  5. Loved reading your blog. Its about vietnam but it in general it applies to all the places in the world.... Good people / bad people everywhere...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ubed.

      Yes, applies everywhere, but the risk projection was very high for Vietnam, in some online articles..

      Delete

Appreciate your efforts and interests to comment. Comments may be moderated due to increased spam. Will ideally respond to comments within few days- Shrinidhi

Powered by Blogger.