Top 10 travel scams in South-East Asia

Long term travel means you are constantly watching what you spend, so avoiding being scammed out of your life savings is a big deal.

 

More often than not, you rarely lose more than a few pounds, but it’s difficult to find the balance between wanting to help someone out who is genuinely worse off than you, and not having the feeling of being ripped off constantly.

Here are the top scams we either experienced or heard of along the way.

1. TAXI METER SCAMS
Several variations of this scam, from claiming the meter doesn’t work so they can charge a higher fixed fee, to rigging the meter so that the price rises at a much more rapid rate.

Our experience:
Our worst experiences with taxis was in Bangkok. We never had the rapidly rising meter scam but were often told “Meter broken” or “No meter today, meter tomorrow.” The worst offenders are at Suvarnabhumi Airport, only once did we agree to pay a fixed fare, after that we always demanded the meter. If they said no we would go to remove our bags from the car until they said ok and we’d have to suffer the wrath of an angry driver for 20 minutes.

Taxis in Bangkok are so stressful that we would often walk for 30-40 minutes to avoid having to take one! In the grand scheme of things, the extra money they ask for probably only equates to less than £5, but it’s tough knowing when to fight out of principle or accept being ripped off for an easy life!

2. ATTRACTION CLOSED
Getting a taxi or tuk tuk and the driver claims the attraction you want to go to is closed – Instead he will offer to take you to other attractions in the area, including his friends jewellery store which is always open! This is a common scam around the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which is never closed no matter what anyone tells you. Just walk away and more often than not the attraction will have miraculously re-opened and they will take you there.

3. MILK POWDER/STARVING BABY SCAM
Common in Cambodia, Mothers or children approach tourists asking for Milk Powder for their starving children or siblings.

Our experience:We had a lot of women come up to us in Siem Reap with very sleepy looking babies, begging for us to buy them milk powder. One child latched on to one of our friends and said “Please, I don’t want money, I just want milk powder for my baby brother.” He followed her for ages until eventually she went into the shop with him. She bought him some milk and biscuits, and he got angrier and angrier “NO, I want milk powder, milk powder!” When we eventually left the shop he threw the milk and biscuits she had bought him and picked up a large rock that looked to be coming our way. We made a hasty exit.Unfortunately this is a scam that uses children to get tourists to buy milk powder in the shop which is unpriced on the shelf but when taken to the till costs $50! They rely on tourists feeling so bad that they pay the money, then when they have left, the children sell the milk powder back to the shop, receiving a small cut for themselves.

Sadly, while these children should be in school, they are kept on the streets to earn money for their parents scamming tourists.

4. MOPED SCAMS
Many countries ask you to leave a passport as a deposit when renting a scooter or motorbike. This is the best leverage they could have to pull a scam. Common ones are claiming there is damage to the bike and demanding you pay an extortionate fee before the return of your passport. Less common but still not unheard of is to rent you the bike then send someone to follow you and steal it when you have parked up – you now owe them one full scooter!

Our experience:
We’ve never rented a bike from anywhere that you have to leave your passport as a deposit. It’s your most valuable possession when traveling! We usually just rent from whoever we are staying with, or find a company who are happy for a small monetary deposit .

5. VIP SERVICE NOT VIP
You book a nice VIP bus so you don’t have to sit with all the live chickens but when you get there you’re in the luggage compartment with no air-con and no one speaks English! Ok, maybe it’s not always to this degree but when you book VIP or First Class in South-East Asia, it’s generally not what you would be accustomed to in the West.

6. FAKE STUDENT SURVEY
Students approach you with a survey to practise their English. Variations include a timeshare scam, where they are trying to get your details to see if you qualify to buy a timeshare. Others are just after your personal information (never give out details of where you are staying).

Our experience:
Of course these surveys are not always a scam, sometimes people genuinely want to practice their English. I was stopped and agreed to answer some questions, I was of course suspicious but they only asked me my name and country then some questions about what I thought about Thailand. I spent the whole rest of the afternoon worrying about what they could do with this information! Realistically I think they were just students.

7. THE HELPFUL LOCAL
“What are you looking for, can I help? Where are you from? Oh England, my cousin goes to school there! I would love for you to come and have dinner with me, lets stop by this shop and get some whiskey, I’ll buy the dinner if you buy the whiskey yes?” Before you know it you’re $50 down on a bottle of whiskey that your new mate has driven off with before returning to sell back to the shopkeeper and keep a cut of the profit.

Ok so, this isn’t always the case, but some people just see you as a walking cash machine so you have to be careful who you trust.

Our experience:
We found that we became suspicious of everyone and it was having a negative effect on our trip. We could have potentially turned down opportunities that led to amazing experiences, or offended someone that genuinely wanted to help. We had a guy befriend us on the bus to Kuala Lumpur. He was asking us lots of questions but we just didn’t trust him. When we got off the bus he wanted to show us where to get a taxi from, we followed him with suspicion but in the end he hailed us a taxi, told the driver to put the meter on and waved us on our way without even asking for a donation for his services!

I think you have to trust your instincts, don’t be rude to people, but have your wits about you and if you can see it taking a turn for the worse then make your excuses and leave.

8. VISA ‘PROCESS FEE’
You know the visa fee is $20 but immigration are demanding $30 and won’t back down.

Our experience:
We faced something similar on the boat crossing from Vietnam into Cambodia. We knew the visa was $20 and we’d been told the boat operators would ask for more and that it would end up in their back pocket. When it came round to it he asked for $23 and as we were at the beginning of our trip we just paid it. You can refuse to pay it but we heard one story of someone who had done this and their passport was then mysteriously “forgotten” to be stamped out of Vietnam, so they had to go back and it delayed the whole trip.

9. CAN I HAVE A $1 SOUVENIR?
A local teenager comes up to you, asks you where you’re traveling and what countries you’ve been to, you list off where you’ve already been. He then pulls out a book with “souvenir” bank notes from many countries…except he doesn’t have one for a few of the places you’ve visited! Amazing, you can now give him all your leftover money for his collection.

Ok, so this isn’t a huge scam, it’s more a kid pushing his luck and more than likely you’ll know what’s happening and perhaps hand him a leftover 50 baht note.

Our experience:
This exact situation happened to us in a temple in Bagan, Myanmar. When he pulled out the book we just laughed and said “ha ha, good one” and he looked a bit miffed and walked off. The kid seemed nice, but unfortunately we didn’t have any money on us.

10. HAVE THIS FREE! NO WAIT, NOW PAY!
From a lady placing a basket of fruit on your shoulders so you can pose for a photo, to a monk placing a friendship bracelet around your wrist…these things are never free! They will act like it is, until you are holding the object and their hand is demanding you pay for it or tip for the photo opportunity. Basically, never take anything from anyone unless you expect to pay for it!

Our experience:
This happens everywhere and we only fell for it a few times. In Angkor Wat a guy showed us the way to light incense and say a prayer, before rolling back a blanket to reveal a pile of money. “$10 will be enough” he said. Absolutely no chance! In Cambodia in general this happens a lot, even if someone tells you something is free, it never is.


Of course, common sense goes a long way, don’t let the constant worry of being ripped off ruin your trip and definitely don’t let it stop you from going in the first place! South-East Asia is an incredible place and we met so many amazing and friendly people.

Have you ever fallen for one of these or have you come across any others? Let us know!

11 Comments

  • Moritz October 27, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Very nice selection. The thing with scam is that experienced travelers will rarely stumble upon problems like these. All the scam mainly aims on travelers which are “new” to this world. Common sense is all you need! 🙂

    Reply
    • travelchowdown October 28, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Very true, none of these are particularly dangerous and wouldn’t ruin your trip, just a slight annoyance if they do happen!

      Reply
      • Moritz October 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm

        Absolutely. Avoiding them is never a bad thing 🙂

        Reply
  • Roselinde December 19, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Wish more people made lists like these! 🙂 I like to read posts exactly like these when preparing for a trip.

    Reply
  • travelchowdown December 19, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks Roselinde! It’s the type of thing we look for too 🙂

    Reply
  • Smiling Notes January 1, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    This is a great post! Every traveller should keep these points in mind 🙂

    Reply
  • travelchowdown January 1, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks! It’s always good to know what to look out for 🙂

    Reply
  • Rebecca January 10, 2016 at 9:02 am

    I’m so glad I got to read this post just before I fly out. It was an extremely helpful read, thanks for the great tips!

    Reply
    • travelchowdown January 10, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      No problem, hope you have an amazing trip! Where is your first stop?

      Reply
      • Rebecca January 12, 2016 at 9:46 am

        We’ve just arrived in Auckland and we’re spending the first month touring the country in a camper van 😊

        Reply
      • Rebecca January 12, 2016 at 9:46 am

        And thank you! I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing adventure 😄

        Reply

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