The most common Scams in Vietnam and how to avoid them

The more tourist a place has, the more scammers, pickpockets or tourist trips you will probably find. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that, nowadays, with the rising amount of tourists, also the number of scams in Vietnam taking place every day is drastically increasing.

Here you can find, two scams they have tried on us (Yep, one we have felt for, and lost quite some money because of that) and even more popular scams that are quite common these days in Vietnam in order to avoid them.

Author’s note: Please don’t let this or other posts and stories about scams in Southeast Asia stop you from actually going there. We met so many kind and helpful people on our way. Those examples are just the exceptions of the usual and you are not sure to be scammed just by going there. Just read about those scams and be careful and I am sure you will have an amazing time.

Scams in Vietnam we (almost) fell for

Taxi from the airport

Already when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City from Japan, one of the taxi drivers saw his chance to get some extra money with us. Eduardo remembered from his last stay in Ho Chi Minh that the bus is the cheapest option to get to the city center from the airport. The only drawback that is was quite late already when we arrived in Vietnam and we weren’t exactly sure whether the busses were still running. Thus, beforehand we checked prices that would be fine to pay for a taxi to the city center. (We didn’t want to be scammed, you know)

Just two seconds after arriving at the bus station the first taxi driver approached us. Unsurprisingly, he was telling us that the busses wouldn’t be going anymore. Of course, we didn’t take for granted he was telling the truth. But it sounded reasonable at that time. And the thought of going to have a cold shower and going to sleep after such a long flight was just too tempting.

We negotiated with the taxi driver a little about the price until he was convinced and agreed to take us for that price, which was recommended on the internet. Perfect. And now just go to our room to sleep… Or maybe not…?

And here comes the scam

It started to get weird when he asked us to pay in advance. But he justified that by telling us he had to pay his parking tickets and he would give us the change as soon as he’d paid them. Usually, I wouldn’t do that. But you know, the thought of a cold shower and a comfy bed were all that fit in my mind after such a long flight. He paid his parking tickets and off we went.

When we asked for the change he reacted quite strange though and just gave us half of the money he actually owed us. And it turned out that he actually expected us to pay his parking tickets. (not only one but two of them for any reason) Since he has never said anything about any parking tickets before we entered his taxi and agreed on the price, we got quite upset about it obviously.

He tried to start a conversation asking where we were from to distract us from the trick he was just trying to play with us. By now we came back to reality from our dreams of cold showers and comfy beds. And the amount of money wasn’t just some Cents but actually around 5 Euro that we happened to pay more than the agreed price. It might not seem much but when traveling on a small budget it already can make a difference.

(If you are wondering how much it cost to travel in Vietnam, Tasha Amy’s Post about Vietnam Travel Cost might be helpful for you)

Thus, we demanded the money for the parking tickets back. If we would have taken a taxi on the street 5 meter further we wouldn’t have to pay any parking tickets either.

The taxi driver started to get annoyed and tried to convince us to just let go of that money. As we kept insisting he offered to go back to the airport and giving us our money back. We agreed. Looking back now, it was probably just meant to be a way of making us stop complaining. But at that moment it seemed to be the only way not to spend a price that was way over our budget.

And he really did go back to the airport. And surprisingly we indeed got our money back. I actually didn’t trust his word until I had my money back in my hands.

And even more surprisingly in this very moment, a bus drove around the corner. And we could finally make our way into the city center for just around one Dollar.

How to avoid this scam?

  • Make sure your taxi driver understands that you are just willing to pay the price you both agreed on
  • Don’t pay in advance
  • If the taxi driver demands more money mention that you might call the police for help. Vietnamese Taxi drivers are usually not really keen on getting involved with the police

Alleged helper in need

In the next example, our greenness again got taken advantage of. Sometimes you just like to believe in coincidences…

On our second day in Vietnam, we decided to take a small walk through Ho Chi Minh City after working all morning from our Airbnb. Typically for the raining season, the weather changed quite fast and it began to rain cat and dogs from one second to another. Since it was sunny when we left and the walk was just supposed to be small, of course, we didn’t bring our raincoats or anything. The only thing we brought was the camera and our phones. We took shelter in the next entrance that we could find waiting for the rain to stop.

The rain got stronger and stronger though. A man driving a motorcycle joined us in the entrance and started a long conversation on his phone.

monsoon ho chi minh vietnam vicki viaja
After we found shelter from the rain

Usually, we are not making such a drama about rain but as I said we had our camera with us and it was like crazy, we just didn’t want to risk anything to get wet. Thus, we’ve been waiting there for around half an hour but the rain just didn’t seem to stop anytime soon. As time went by, the ground we were standing on already got floated by the rainwater. And the strong wind didn’t actually help us trying to stay more or less dry. Not that kind of relaxing walk we’ve been hoping for, to be honest.

The man that has arrived shortly after now finished his conversation and looked as desperate about the pouring rain as we did. We moved nearer to the exit trying to take a glimpse at the sky looking for some blue sky on the way to us. Nada! Just black and grey clouds.

First Contact

The man that still stayed there with us started asking where we wanted to go. We explained that basically we just wanted to take a walk but we were considering going to the museum nearby just to do something besides standing in this entrance. He informed us that actually the museum was about to close in around 45 minutes but we could still make it if we’d take a taxi. Considering what bad experience we have made with the taxi driver from the airport we rather decided to visit the museum another day instead and keep waiting for the rain to stop.

But the weather just stayed like that for another 20 minutes. By now the man told us that his friend was a taxi driver and he just called him to pick him up as the weather would stay like that all day. 

This being said he fished up a raincoat out of his motorcycle but just hang it near the entrance without actually wearing it. Just seconds later a taxi stopped in front of the entrance.

Eduardo suddenly started considering sharing the taxi with this man. Maybe it was our only chance to get away from here more or less dry in case it really didn’t stop raining.

And since we actually didn’t really have much time to think about it I agreed spontaneously.

Aaand welcome to the scam

Some moments later we found ourselves in the back of the taxi. But what does the taxi driver do? From the window we could see him putting on the raincoat, getting on the motorcycle and drive away with it. What happened?

The man that waited with us before, on the other hand, sat down on the driver space and started the motor. So he was our taxi driver now? We were super confused and didn’t really understand what was going on. 

He told us a price with which we were totally fine. (We were still used to Japanese prices. I guess we would have agreed to any price)

However, the drama started when we arrived. (Well, basically he didn’t even drive us to our Airbnb or where we told him to leave us, but a 5-minute walk away from it) He didn’t have any change. And we just had large bills with us that we just got from the ATM. So what do we do?

While I was still looking through my bills whether there was any small money left that I might have overseen before, the taxi driver reacted much faster. Within the blink of an eye, he had taken all the money I had out of my hands looking through it now by himself. I had a weird feeling about it trying to follow every move he did not losing sight of my money in his hands. It was obvious he was much more familiar with this currency than me as he was looking through it super fast. After realizing that indeed I didn’t have enough small money he took two small bills and showed them to me telling us that he would give us a discount. After we left the taxi still happy about bringing the camera home more or less dry just by paying 77 Cents, the taxi driver drove away with one Million Dong (about 40 Euro) that he just has taken from my money while looking through my money without any of us noticing.  

And to be honest it took us one day to realize how much money was actually missing. (At that time I was carrying around 50 Euro in Dong with me, from which he had taken 40) And still, I just realized when buying some water the next day noticing I was running out of money after paying our breakfast and lunch. How could that be? What did we buy for 40 Euro? And then it hit me like a brick.

We looked through our whole room and counted all the money we have spent so far. But no. This 1 Million Dong was definitely missing. And the taxi driver was the only one having had access to it. I never felt so stupid before.

How to avoid this scam?

  • Don’t let anyone touch your purse or money
  • Just carry small amounts of money with you (not more than you need during the day)
  • Check your change every time you get it back
  • Be careful as the Vietnamese money contains a lot of large bills
  • If you get overwhelmed by the Dongs just change your money into US Dollars as they get accepted almost everywhere in very touristy places
  • Only use taxis from the official taxi companies Mailinh and Vinasun

Money Changing Scams

Another scam in which they take advantage of the huge bills that are used in their currency is this one. When paying something, the scammer changes bills fastly while you are not paying attention. Either he is giving you the wrong amount of change or he pretends that you have just given him way too few money. Really popular with this scam are the bills of 500.000 Dong and 20.000 Dong as they are both blue.

How to avoid this scam?

  • Get familiar with the Bills as soon as you arrive in Vietnam
  • Make sure exactly which bills you are giving when paying something
  • Always count your change as soon as you receive it
  • Try to change your huge bills into smaller bills and pay with those (it’s just too easy to lose tracks with all those Zeros on the bills)

More Taxi Scams

taxi

As you can already tell, most scams take place when taking a taxi or other types of transport. Here are some more common Taxi Scams taking place in Vietnam.

The Classic

This trick is probably as old as taximeters and can happen to you, in any touristy place. (It happened to me already in China and Morocco). The driver might take way longer streets than necessary, sometimes even driving in circles just to make you pay more. This way, he takes advantage of you not knowing the area.

How to avoid this scam

  • Use an Uber or Grab
  • Use your phone (Google Maps etc.) to check the fastest route and tell your driver if he uses a route that is way off

Broken Taximeter

If you have traveled in Southeast Asia before, you have probably heard it like a million times. “The Taximeter is broken”. Never get into a taxi without a taximeter running as you most probably pay way more than the trip is actually worth.

How to avoid this scam

  • Never enter a taxi without a taximeter – The next taxi is right around the corner
  • Take an Uber or Grab

The false Taximeter

But even if you insist on using a taximeter, some taxis have theirs prepared to run much faster then they should. So in the end, you have to pay much more than the trip is worth. However, it’s really hard to tell or even to prove that the taximeter isn’t working correctly.

How to avoid this scam

  • Use Uber or Grab
  • Only use taxis from the official taxi companies Mailinh and Vinasun

The misheard price

This happens with taxis, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles that approach you on the street. They offer you a ride for a good price. But when you agree and arrive at the place, they suddenly charge you way more than you have agreed on and pretend you must have misunderstood the price. Often travelers rather pay the price than making a big scene.

How to avoid this scam

  • Always use a taximeter when taking a taxi
  • Use Uber or Grab

Bus Scams

traveling by bus, what bus to take

Not only when using taxis, but also with buses you might come across a scam or two. Here are the most common Vietnam Scams for Busses.

False Company

The big companies are usually free of scams, but for every real company, there are at least two fake ones that sell overpriced tickets.

How to avoid this scam

  • Buy your ticket directly at the office of the agency you have chosen instead of using third-party sellers
  • We found the Sapaco Tourist Company to be reliable
  • If you are not sure about the ticket you are going to purchase check online for reviews

Baggage Fee

Some of the corrupt bus companies like to tell foreigner to pay a baggage fee in order to carry their luggage with them or inside of the bus. Many travelers pay without questioning it when asked to do so. The same happened to us in Indonesia.

How to avoid this scam

  • Simply don’t pay for it, there is no such thing as a baggage fee

Smaller but still annoying Vietnam Scams

Shoe Shine Scam

This scam usually happens to men. A man approaches you on the street. He usually points at your shoes, kneeling down or lifting your leg and taking off your shoe. Now he either starts cleaning it or repairing it. And while you are still wondering what is going on, you will be handed a bill for the service.

How to avoid this scam

  • If you’re being approached simply keep walking and don’t let them take off your shoes

The Tissue or snack

This is a small scam that only costs you a few cents but is still pretty annoying. You can find this scam in many parts of Southeast Asia. When eating, the water puts some extra wet towels, tissues or little snacks on your table, which Westerners usually assume it’s for free. But when asking for the bill, you realize that you actually get charged for those.

How to avoid this scam

  • Don’t eat or use anything that you haven’t ordered
  • If you are unsure whether a product is included in the price, just ask
  • One of the things to know before going to Vietnam is that nothing really is free of charge

Two Menus

I am not sure whether this is a common scam in Vietnam, but it happened to us with one street food stall in the market of Ho Chi Minh.

At first, we got the menu to compare prices and as the prices seemed fine, we ordered. Later when receiving the bill, we wondered why the bill is much higher as what we have ordered. The waitress denied and pretended that those were the normal prices of the food we ordered and handed me a menu to check. And indeed, suddenly the prices were way higher than before. Luckily, another traveler that was just looked through the first menu that we also looked at when arriving at the first place and of course, the prices were way lower in the first menu.

How to avoid this scam

  • Make sure to remember how much you should be paying more or less, so you realize if the price is suddenly higher
  • If they ask you to check in the menu for the prices, make sure to check the menu they give to the arriving people and not the one they hand to you

Beautiful Girl Scam

This scam usually happens to men. A beautiful girl approaches you on the street, starting to flirt with you and offering you a massage for a price that is way higher than the usual. If you follow her inside and get ready for your massage, the women giving you a massage is suddenly a different girl, usually older and not attractive.

How to avoid this scam

  • If you are looking for a massage, better book one in a more trustworthy place and not after being approached by young girls on the street

General safety instructions and precautions for traveling in Vietnam

  • Really Important: Under no circumstances let your belongings out of sight
  • Try to show your valuables as little as possible – so leave your laptop inside your bag and your expensive jewelry at home
  • If you are approached on the street, do not blindly trust anyone in the first place
  • Only use the official taxi companies Mailinh and Vinasun or take a Grab or Uber
  • Hold your bag/ belongings on the site pointing away from the street as passing by drivers might snatch it from you
  • When bargaining always make sure that you talk about the same currency, as you can often also pay with USD (e.g. 5 USD or 5.000 Dong)
  • Have a bag/backpack that can not be opened without your knowledge, e.g. a theft-proof backpack
  • Wear as little valuables with you as possible
  • Take only as much money with you as you need for the day
  • Make copies of your passport/ ID card or other important documents and keep them in different locations
  • Try to appear self-confident, because if you look lost, pickpockets might get attracted
  • Be sure to get good travel insurance before your trip – World Nomads, e.g. also insures you against thefts while traveling

More Vietnam?

Have you heard about the Beachtown Mui Ne? Find the best things to do in Mui Ne here.

How about a 14-days trip through North- and Central Vietnam?

About me

Vicki

Hi, my name is Vicki. Here you can accompany my boyfriend Eduardo and me on our way through different countries of this world. Let's travel together!

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