Don’t get us wrong, we adore Vietnam. The people are infectiously happy, the ancient cities are a treat to explore, and I could eat nothing but crunchy banh mi for days.
But like any country, especially one that has witnessed rapid economic and social growth, you’re bound to meet a few locals trying to get ahead with scams and tricks. While there’s nothing to fear, here are some words of advice to make sure you’re always one step ahead.
1. The eager cobbler
Picture this. You’re walking along in Hanoi when suddenly a man stops you on the footpath. He points at your shoes and is trying to tell you something but you don’t understand. The man lifts your foot, takes off your shoe, and before you know it you’re being handed a repair bill for your shoes (which were perfectly fine beforehand).
The eager cobbler is a common scam and it seems innocent enough. They stop you, try and find a fault with your footwear, and then charge for the cost of repairing it (or sell you a new pair of shoes).
How to avoid it: Unless your soles are worn down to rice paper, your best approach is to just keep on walking.
2. The dodgy taxi
Dodgy taxis are so common throughout Southeast Asia they’re pretty much an essential experience, but not if you’re clued in. While taxi licensing isn’t well regulated, there are still some signs you should look out for before getting into a cab. For instance, the Vietnamese pride themselves on providing professional services, and they’ll dress accordingly. If your taxi driver isn’t wearing a shirt, tie and slacks, it’s likely they’re not a licensed cab driver.
Similarly, some cabs will paint their cars to look like licensed taxis (which are usually green or white). They’ll also put a sign on their doors advertising they are ‘metred’. Ironically, this is done to attract tourists who might be worried about unmetered taxis. Once these hapless passengers get in, they quickly realise they’re being taken for a ride (and not the one they intended).
How to avoid it: Before climbing into a taxi, check for branding to make sure it is properly licensed operator (such as Vinasun Taxi), the driver is dressed professionally and the car isn’t spruiking its ‘metred’ services.
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3. The squeaky donut
Street food is everywhere in Vietnam (and it’s absolutely delicious), but there are a few street snacks you should be wary of. Occasionally you’ll walk past street vendors carrying plastic bags of little brown donuts. They’ll stop and ask if you’d like to try one for free (a universal red flag, people). If you say ‘yes’ and taste one, the vendor will gently pressure you into buying a small bag of donuts. On the surface this might seem simple enough; after all who doesn’t want a bag of crunchy fried donuts? The problem is the oil used to fry these donuts is unregulated. You don’t know where the oil has come from and it could go unchanged for days (or even weeks) at a time, meaning your donuts might have been cooked in unsanitary conditions. Many travellers have reported feeling sick after eating street donuts.
How to avoid it: With so many great street food options available, skip the donuts and opt for another street snack instead – like banh mi or banh xeo (stuffed pancakes).
4. The motorbike/cyclo tour
Walking down the street you might have a motorcyclist slow down and practice some small talk – ‘where are you from?’, ‘how do you like my city?’. Eventually they will ask where you’re going and offer you a ride for a small fee. If you agree and climb aboard, they’ll then charge you an inflated price once you arrive at your destination. Try to argue and they’ll say you misheard them when they first picked you up. It’s a common trick that takes advantage of curious tourists who want to experience the country’s famously frenetic traffic up close.
The motorbike scam can also be an invitation to see the rice paddies just outside town, or as a guided city tour (such as in Hue or Hoi An).
How to avoid it: If you’re tempted by the idea of a motorbike ride, talk to your tour leader or hotel reception about booking a tour with a licensed tour operator.
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5. The luggage handler
From Rome to Rio, the luggage handler is a common character around the world. If you’re getting ready for an overnight train, or simply loading your taxi for the airport, you might meet one. They’ll swoop in unexpectedly and pick up your bag, carry it to your carriage or car, and stow it for you. Meanwhile you’re left standing there wondering what just happened. As the luggage handler sees it, they just provided you with a service and should be tipped.
How to avoid it: The best thing you can do to prevent this is to keep a close eye on your bags around train platforms and ask the train station staff or taxi driver to help you lift your bags. If you’ve been stung, you could try hold your ground and refuse to offer a tip (although it might be better to give them something small to make them go away).
6. The fruit seller
Less a scam and more a minor inconvenience. In Vietnam’s major cities, you’ll find fruit sellers walking around with long bamboo poles on their back; on each end there’ll be a tray loaded with local fruits, such as pineapples, rambutan, custard apples and mangosteen. If you buy fruit from a fruit seller, just be careful you’re not being overcharged. The real problem comes when they try to sell you a photo opportunity. It might be a snap with them, or one of you carrying their bamboo pole, but they’ll usually try and charge you once you’ve taken the picture.
How to avoid it: If you don’t want to pay for a picture, politely but firmly say ‘no’.
It’s important to remember that these tricks are few and far between and, while it’s something to be mindful of, they shouldn’t keep you from enjoying all the temples, street food and tea houses this beautiful country has to offer.
Now you’re all clued in, jump on one of our Vietnam adventures.
Great article. I find traveling in SEA the two best tools to avoid scams are GRAB and Google Reviews. Grab lets you travel around and report any sketchy activity by the drivers, which no traditional taxi company has. If a restaurant, hotel or any other services is scamming people people (like me) will report it on google reviews. Remember, mobile data is SUPER cheap in vietnam, get a SIM card as soon as possible and use google reviews whenever possible.
Thanks for sharing Justin! Would say the dodgy taxi is the most common, and it is so easy for an unknowing tourist to fall for a fake taxi or a rouge one. To avoid trouble, suggest using the Grab app, or use the established companies Vinasun and Mai Linh. Make sure to watch out for fake ones, as the differences can be really subtle.
Have also personally fell for the cyclo scam. I think they are fine for really short distances and where a price is agree beforehand. Do not take a tour with them as you will likely end up overcharged. Would say this is more common on HCMC especially at Ben Thanh Market.
As for the fruit seller scam, they are mainly at Hanoi (West Lake, Old Quarter) and HCMC.
Other common scams to be aware of include massage scam, bus scam, copycat tour companies. Hope this helps 🙂
I had an issue in Saigon where 2 ladys, who spoke perfect English, started chatting to me because they make t-shirts just like what I was wearing….
All of a sudden it turns out their sister is going to be a nurse where I’m from and wanted me to speak to her.
No doubt I would have been led away somewhere and bullied into withdrawing cash or something.
Another popular trick they do here in south east asia is the the Motorbike Scam. The bike owners will spoil your bike after you have paid for rental so that they can make you pay for it. Not many seems to be aware of this kind of scam so just a reminder! https://qompanion.my/articles/travel-scams-every-malaysian-could-fall-for-while-travelling-in-asia i found this article when i was looking for information about this topic, hopefully others will find it helpful too!
I used MotorVina to rent a scooter. They have a stellar rep and I highly recommend them. There’s even a one way rental where they will transport your luggage to your destination. Best way to get from Hue to Hoi An.
I have a few!
1. In Saigon we were stopped by several people who asked where we were going. We told them the War Remenants Museum and they would tell us it was closed or about to close for a lunch break and offered to take us on an alternative tour instead. One person even had a fake tourist events leaflet that had the opening times he told us but when we got to the museum it was open. Think the leaflet must have been an old one but it looked very legitimate.
2. Again in Saigon, someone helped us across the road (without us asking them to), he walked along with us for a bit then stopped to cut open coconuts for us. We refused but he insisted more and we felt to awkward to just walk away so paid for them.
3. Similar to the fruit scam but in Hoi An they seem to know that tourists don’t want to get tricked into paying for a photo. They come and give you the baskets of fruit on the stick and kind of force you into taking a photo while saying it’s free. Then they bag up a piece of each fruit and try to charge you loads! They tried to charge us over $20 for some bananas and other stuff. We kept saying no but the lady was nearly taking the money right out my purse for me! We eventually bought some bananas from her for a reasonable price out of awkwardness.
We have definitely learned our lesson from these scams haha
In Saigon a guy followed me for several blocks to Reunification Palace offering #4. I ultimately shook him off because I’m a normal person who has no interest in ditching my independent exploration of the city that I’ve been planning for 6 months in favor of some random guy on a bike.
Hotels in Vietnam are famous for “porters” diving on to the luggage and then asking for money to carry your bags for 10 metres to the front counter, which you could have easily done yourself, and didn’t ask them to do. The best way to avoid any confrontation is to stop the cab outside the property, pay him and then take your own bags into the property. The “porters” are less likely to take your bags from you, however given the chance, they will do that. You also need to be aware that these “porters” only earn about US$225 per month, despite the fact that the small amount of work they do, supports a family.