Jul 10 2012

Avoiding scams in Hanoi

Published by at 5:18 am under Health & safety

Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular, has been getting a bit of a bashing in the Travelfish.org forum recently. While I can’t really counter the “Vietnamese are unfriendly” comments with any practical advice, I can try to address bad experiences caused by scams in Hanoi and suggest ways to avoid them.

Keep an eye on your dong

Keep an eye on your dong.

First, let’s get some definitions agreed, as I feel the word “scam” is overused. The dictionary defines a scam as “a confidence game or other fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit; swindle”.  So a scam is not someone trying to charge you 100,000 VND for a silk scarf when you know your friend bought one for 50,000 VND yesterday — that’s just good business sense, and you can always say no. A scam is someone doing something wrong/illegal/underhand in order to cheat someone out of money.

Based on that definition the main scams involve transport — particularly taxis to and from transport hubs like stations and airports. They’re scams because you are being blatantly overcharged and cheated by dodgy meters, or by drivers taking long routes or going to the wrong hotel. As it’s such a concern for visitors, I’m going to focus on that alone in my next post, and deal with the other scams here first up.

Exchange rates
One scam to watch for, which I have personal experience of, is the exchange rate con. Unscrupulous hotels quote rates in dollars, then when you want to pay in dong, inflate the exchange rate well up. For a long stay, this can really sting. It’s easily countered, however. Before booking, if possible, ask the price in the currency you are going to pay in. If you’ve pre-booked, then check again when you arrive. If the rate is too high, then get that out in the open before you hand over your passport or any other guarantee. Alternatively, pay in the currency they’ve quoted — usually dollars. In any case, carefully check your bill before paying up.

Other hotel issues
So the hotel puts you in a room with a broken shower/ cracked TV/ripped bedding, and then when you go to check out they try to charge you for the damage. Avoid this by ensuring you inform reception immediately of any damage when you check into a room. If you’re at all suspicious of their motives or attitude, get them to write it down, or fix it straight away.

Also — and this isn’t just related to the above scam — avoid leaving your passport as a deposit. If things get nasty for any reason, it’s easier to walk away if they’re not holding your passport. Instead, if they need a guarantee, pay in advance — you might lose a bit of cash but that’s nowhere near as much hassle as losing your passport.

And make sure you do your research on the hotel you’re staying at first so you don’t end up suffering the same fate as those before you.

Do your research and ask for recommendations

Do your research and ask for recommendations.

Tours can sometimes cause problems. For instance, hotels and travel agents may sell you a “deluxe” Halong Bay tour which is certainly not deluxe, or use fake photos to present a rosier image than the reality. The only way to avoid this is to get recommendations from other travellers or online and shop around, but it’s still a tricky area and one that has no fail-safe solution. This applies for tours and travel booking — the rates that agents charge for train tickets is far higher than the face value and varies by quite a bit between agents.

Although I am keen to differentiate between scams and general over-charging — when you can say no/negotiate/go elsewhere — being over-charged for something you don’t know the fair price of could be classified as a scam in some instances. I’m thinking particularly of visa extensions: the agent or hotel wants US$50. Is that a reasonable price or expensive?

Visa prices change regularly, and differ by nationality and other factors, but Lai, at True Colour Tour, is currently charging US$38 to extend a one-month C1 visa, and US$65 for a three-month B3, so there’s a starting point for you. Whatever you do, make sure you shop around rather than accepting the first price you get. In theory it’s possible to go to Immigration and do it yourself, but having been there, I recommend you pay a bit extra for an agent to do it for you.

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Avoiding scams in Hanoi”

  1. Hanson 10 Jul 2012 at 6:41 am

    Isn’t it that the hotels need to register their clients by the local police and thus require a passport?
    One can always check exchange rate online. The receiver of your dollars will alway get VND in a gold shop and make extra bucks.
    If I take a taxi in an unfamiliar city, I use my maps and GPS to check on the driver.

  2. Sarah Turneron 10 Jul 2012 at 6:44 am

    Yes, hotels need to register you, but they don’t need to keep your passport to do that, they just need the details. A photocopy should be adequate as well.

  3. Lisaon 10 Jul 2012 at 7:49 am

    For the entire month that I spent in Vietnam, I always handed over a laminated photocopy of my passport (just the photo page that included my passport number). Every single hotel accepted in instead of my actual passport except for one. Many still wanted to see my passport – to get the visa number, I think.

  4. Maryon 10 Jul 2012 at 9:14 am

    I have been touring around SE Asia for 8 months now and staying in hotels nearly the entire time. They always ask to make a copy of a passport but aside from renting a scooter they have never even asked to hold onto the passport!

  5. Sarah Turneron 10 Jul 2012 at 9:22 am

    That’s very unusual – most hotels will take and keep hold of your passport, as a guarantee more than needing it for the information. Do you pay up front?

  6. Steve Stoneon 13 Jul 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I read advice that most of the places in VN visited by tourists a photocopy will be accepted in lieu of your original passbook. However, there are guesthouses in less touristed towns eg through the central highlands, that will only accept holding your original passbook. This is because if the police enter the guesthouse and the GH cannot produce original passbooks (as per VN law) then the GH owner is fined. So if your not prepared to abide by the law then don’t go there.

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