Southeast Asia, what a magical place. Full of beautiful scenery, friendly people and a few scams here and there 🙂 Lucky for you, we spent 8-months in Southeast Asia and we’d like to think we experienced enough scams to give you a solid list of 10 scams to avoid in Southeast Asia. A little know before you go to make sure your hard earned dollars stay with you.
1) The Tuk-Tuk Ride Scam
Who doesn’t love flying through the chaotic streets and weaving in and out of traffic?! Ha, well tuk-tuks do just that.
One of our favorite ways to get around Asia is by tuk-tuk. However, they can be a MAJOR rip off.
We like to think you pay a little extra fee for “fun” but taxi’s usually are cheaper.
However, we firmly believe that you MUST ride a tuk-tuk at some point in Southeast Asia so we’re going to give you some tips on how not to get screwed.
- Tip 1: Search out for the “lone tuk-tuk driver.” Avoid tuk-tuks that are in large groups of other tuk-tuk drivers. Why? You have better bargaining power when he doesn’t have his buddies around him to back him up on the price he just gave you.
- Tip 2: If you are going to be in a place for a few days and want to see the sites and are thinking to yourself “seeing it all by tuk-tuk would be fun!” (which we don’t blame you) ask what the going day rate is FIRST and then begin your negotiations. After you know the day rate, you can negotiate for a better day rate since you’ll be using him for multiple days. Also, NEVER EVER pay upfront. NEVER. Say you’ll pay him once the job is done.
- Tip 3: The more the merrier! Get buddies to join you in the tuk-tuk. Not only will it make it more fun, but splitting the cost is fun for the wallet too!
2) The “It’s Closed” Scam
When we were in Bangkok, someone offered to help us as they could tell we were clearly lost. We told them we were trying to get to Chinatown. The person looked at us with sheer distraught on their face and with a heavy heart told us “Chinatown is closed….”
It’s Chinatown dude. It can’t be closed. We soon realized it was a scam once he tried to get us to go somewhere else. We politely decline and carried on. Chinatown was in fact very, very much “open.”
This happened to us a few other times with temples, museums, etc. Understand that unless it’s a national holiday or holy day, the likelihood of it being close is slim to none. The red flag is if they offer you another option. Kindly decline and keep on going with your original plan.
3) The Rental Scam
Thankfully nothing ever happened to us where we got ripped off, but whatever you rent, be it a car or scooter, take pictures of it.
Why? So you have evidence in case they try and rip you off. Let’s say you rent a scooter for the day and at the end of the day you return the scooter on time and in the same condition (meaning no accidents).
All of a sudden the shop points to an already existing scratch or dent and accuses you. This is the point where you whip out your phone and say “No, no, no bro! That was there before.” Boom. Mic-drop. You’re on your way.
TIP: It’s even better if the shop owner see’s you taking pictures of video. He’ll know not to mess with you.
4) The Taxi Scam
Do NOT, we repeat, do NOT get into a cab without asking the cabbie to turn on the meter. If he refuses, catch the next one. They’ll give you a flat rate which always is more expensive than if they turned on the meter.
Just be polite and if the cabbie refuses to use the meter, get out and wait for the next one. There are plenty to choose from!
5) Crossing The Border Scam
If you’re planning on crossing any borders via overland travel (ex: bus) understand that you’ll have to change busses.
For example, we were traveling from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to Phenom Pehn in Cambodia. The bus we left on (Vietnam bus) stopped at the border and then we go on another bus (a Cambodian bus) and we were on our way.
During this transfer, do NOT let anyone carry your bags for you across the border. No, no, no! Don’t think drug smuggling or anything like that, but they will ask you for some crazy fee for carrying your bag. If anyone tries to pick up your bag, it is not because the company you booked through has bellboys, it’s locals trying to make some money off you.
6) The Shopping Scam
We hate to say it but tourists in Southeast Asia come with the tag of “you have money.”
So, when you are buying a souvenir, whatever price they give you, cut it in half and begin your negotiations from there!
They’ll laugh in your face and possibly be slightly offended at the price you just offered but if anything, they’ll know your “with the game” their playing.
7) Overing Paying Scam
Okay, mission-critical tips for booking any day tour or multi-day excursion in Southeast Asia are below.
- First, decide if there is a group of people wanting to do the same day trip or excursion as you. If there are, great, but do NOT let them come with you to book! Instead, get the head out and book it yourself.
- You arrive at the place to book. Tell the person you’re interested in “x” day trip and want to know the price. Since it is only you, that person will give you the price for one person. Make sense, right? As soon as they give you a price, you instantly have won.
- As soon as you have the per person price, automatically come in with your head count and negotiate that price hard! You say look at all these people I am bringing you. You need to give me a better price per person.
You see, you know the per person price already so you know absolutely what not to pay. Let’s say the guy gave you $20 as the per person price. If you have a group of 4, you should definitely not pay $80.
Haggle, haggle and haggle some more! Haggle until you get the price you want. We promise if he/she doesn’t give you the price you want, there are other shops in town that offer the same tour and someone is bound to give you a better deal. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Like we said, there are other shops in town…
8) Thailand’s Gems and Silk Factories Scam
An epic tuk-tuk scam we fell for! Shame, Jesse and Lauren, SHAME!
We know, we know (currently holding face in hands). But, we’re here to tell you about it so you don’t fall for it…
A tuk-tuk driver promised to take us to 3 or 4 sites in Bangkok we were wanting to see. He gave us a crazy cheap fee so without hesitation we jumped in.
He was really friendly and on our way to Wat Pho he pulled into a parking lot where they sell Thai silk suits. He said it’s on the way and he thought we would like to see it. “Ok??”, we thought but got out and went in.
We’ll keep it short but just know he never took us to the temples we wanted to see.
He kept taking us to Thai Silk Suit shops and Gem shops until we finally told him we were not getting back in the tuk-tuk!
We paid him as to not cause a scene (he was getting angry) and off we went looking for another ride to take us to the sites we wanted to see.
Don’t fall for any tuk-tuk scams like we did. The scam is that if we were to buy anything from any of these shops, the driver would get a cut because he “brought” the sale to the shop. It’s more annoying and a waste of your time if anything but still a scam nonetheless.
9) Random Helpers Scam
While they do work for it, they are not upfront about it.
What are we talking about? Random helpers, of course. What do we mean by random helpers? Think people who are “tour guides.”
When we were at Baphuon in Angkor’s Archeological Site, a kid just started following us around telling us random facts about the temple we were visiting. We never really engaged with him but he was adamant on not letting us out of his site.
As we started to leave, he asked Jesse for some money. Jesse gave a few Reals (hardly anything) and we went on our way. The kid was clearly annoyed and kept saying it wasn’t enough. We ignored him and carried on.
Now, please don’t think we’re cruel. We will get to why we did that in the next scam tip. We hate to say it but be a little wary of folks so willing to help.
10) The Kids Scam
As smiley and as sweet as those faces are please do not give them any money. Sadly, adults, be it their parents or some other figure in their life, use these kids as ploys in a larger money making game.
Fake orphanages in Cambodia, amputee kids begging or moms holding a baby asking for food, all of these are tricks to tug at your heart strings to get money.
These kids are being pulled out of school to beg tourists for money instead of getting a proper education with the hopes of making something of themselves.
This is probably the biggest scam in all of Southeast Asia and the one you’ll be faced with the most.
It is tough to not give them money. Really, it is but we as travelers do not want to encourage begging as a way to make a living.
Something to think about the next time your faced with a sweet, smiling face.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)