Traveling is undoubtedly fun and exciting. Until you get hit by a scam.
Southeast Asia is a beautiful region, rich in culture and heritage. But, remain vigilant as scams targeting travelers are not uncommon. Countless travelers have warned against scams they’ve fallen for, which range from minor monetary extortion to something much more serious like theft, being drugged, and even imprisonment!. Here are some tricky tourist scams to avoid while traveling in Southeast Asia.
Tourist Scams in Asia
1) Taxi and Tuk Tuks : A Cautionary Tale
An example of a tuk tuk / Source: Ji-Elle
Tuk Tuks are some of the most iconic ways to travel in some Southeast Asian countries. But they’ve almost become an exclusive tourist trap.
- Without metered fares, its easy for tuk tuk drivers to bump up the price for unsuspecting tourists.
- Taxis sometimes refuse to switch their meter on. Instead, they’ll offer a flat fare – way higher than the metered fare would be.
- Insist using the meter, or haggle like a boss.
- Use ride-sharing apps such as Uber, Grab, or GoJek to get a car hassle free. You can also determine the estimated fare from UberCab or GrabTaxi before hailing a cab.
- Getting a 3G/4G SIM card at the airport or a portable wifi router before departing for your Southeast Asian destination will be very helpful. Especially if you’ll be using maps and/or the ride-sharing apps suggested.
2) Imaginary Scuffs on Rented Scooters
Don’t scuff these scooters! / Source: Pahan
Dangers of riding scooters in a foreign country aside, be very cautious when renting scooters. There are some scams designed to rip tourists off when you rent a bike or scooter.
- A common scam is the imaginary scuff when returning your scooter. Scammers may falsely claim that returned scooters have been scratched or damaged, and will ask for an exorbitant sum as compensation.
- Try to rent an older, more scuffed scooter where scratches are not as noticeable.
- Check and test your scooter well before agreeing to the rental
- Keep an eye out for happy tourists returning their scooters without a hitch. Choose that shop over others.
3) This isn’t my hotel!
Make sure you have the correct hotel / Source: Audree
Yikes. You’re tired having just landed at your destination. When you turn up, your hotel looks nothing like it did in the pictures. The horror!
- Your hotels looks nothing like it does in the photos
- Sometimes, ‘copycat’ hotels imitate popular ones, and taxis can send you there by accident.
- You get to a hotel and they claim to not have your booking. They’ve extorted you and you’ve got nowhere to stay.
- Having a data/wifi connection (from either a purchased SIM or a portable router) will be very useful. You can give your driver the correct destination beforehand to avoid this.
- Book hotels through trusted sites like Expedia instead for safe and secure hotel bookings. Show your booking reflected in the app, or your email confirmation.
- Email the confirmation to yourself. Carry a print-out to prove your case.
4) Beware Fake Gems!
Touts often try to up-sell fake gems to tourists / Source: James DeMers
Beware the gem scam (that rhymes). At popular tourists attractions, touts will entice you for a chance at instant and immense wealth.
- ‘Cheap’, ‘wholesale’ gems will be sold to you that you can resell at a huge profit back in your home country. The gems are usually nothing more than colored glass.
- If you were scammed, contact the tourist police and file a police report. You may be able to submit this for insurance claims.
- Always make sure to buy travel insurance beforehand. For some assistance in picking your travel insurance, try out this guide.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall for random get rich quick stories on random, unfamiliar streets.
5) Shady Money Exchangers
Make sure your bills aren’t fake or damaged! / Source: AMISOM
The mother of all tourist scams – be wary of exchanging money at on the streets in Southeast Asia.
- The wrong exchange rate is displayed.
- You may be provided with false/damaged bills which stores will reject later when you try to use it.
- Always exchange money in trusted local establishments like banks and airports. They may cost more but you can trust them.
- Use ATMs at banks as well, rather than at standalone ATMs.
- Banks aren’t always conveniently close. So be attentive. Avoid rickety small money changers that give you even a hint of doubt.
- Again, a 3G/4G SIM or portable wifi will come in handy here, as you can easily check the exchange rate online before agreeing to a transaction.
- Ask the front desk at your accommodation. Or pop into the nearest hotel and ask there.
6) Random Visa Offices at State Borders
Crossing borders can be stressful and confusing even without being conned.
- Near border crossing, touts may offer to process your visa saying its cheaper and easier.
- The border crossing may just charge you a higher price than the one stipulated.
- Do your visa paperwork beforehand.
- Just process your paperwork at the border rather than going through a middle-man.
7) The Lone Tourist Information Office
Spot a lonely tourist information office in the middle of nowhere? Do yourself a favor and don’t go in.
- These are mostly fake.
- They may lead you to places that charge higher prices to pay the middle-man and to pay their commission.
- You can always ask for recommendations from your hotel.
- Check out some of Expedia’s travel guides. Here are some of Bangkok, Hanoi, Siam Reap. There’s tons more on Expedia.com.sg!
8) ‘Cheap’ or VIP Should Not Be In Your Vocabulary: Bus Tickets
A bus in Thailand. Source: Ian Fuller
These cheap bus tickets or that great VIP upgrade sound too good to be true? They probably are.
- Drivers/Companies advertise low fares to undercut competitors. When they’re full, they deliberately stall till the border crossings/terminals have closed, where they’ll deposit you at hotels/guest houses where they earn commission.
- VIP upgrades for bus tickets are usually meaningless. You normally wind up on a regular bus with no fare refund.
- Book your bus tickets through hotels.
- Keep your belongings with you at all times. Make sure your valuables, such as wallet, phone, and passport are within arms reach.
- Don’t bother with VIP upgrades especially if they sound too good to be true.
Have any of these happened with you? Or do you have any personal tips to avoid getting scammed? Share them with us below!
Feature Image CC 2.0 / Brian Jeffery Beggerly