A litany of scams: Laos and Vietnam
First published 19th November, 2008
In part two of our litany of scams series, Daniel McConnell discusses his experiences in Laos and Vietnam. These two countries are apples and oranges when it comes to scams -- in Laos they're few and far between, while Vietnam they come thick and fast. Read on to find out about some of the scams you may come across.
Laos in general was pretty laid back when it comes to scams -- sure there's the occasional dodgy money changer or an errant tuk tuk driver, but Laos is not a hotbed of scams on an industrial level. The only scam that really comes to mind could have been either a mistake or genuinely mischievous.
Laundry lost in Laos
During my travels in Laos, I lost a lot of clothes and believe it can all be traced back to partaking in the wicked trade of laundry services. On the upside, as my clothes vanished, my clothing accounting improved. Also, given my clothes are now being worn proudly from the waters of Don Dhet to the mountain trails of Phongsali I'm not completely aggrieved. I won't be surprised if, during my next trip to Laos, I see copies of all my t-shirts for sale.
If you wanted to dodge this scam; the easiest thing to do, is to count your clothes before you give them away. You could, in theory, take a quick digital photo of them laid out on a bed beforehand, but we'd suggest that would be taking things a bit far -- perhaps washing them yourself would be a better option.
When it comes to cutting edge scams, Vietnam is where it's at, and the capital city, Hanoi, is a veritable snake-pit of scam artists and con merchants. You'll need to have your wits about you to avoid being routinely financially liberated.
Hanoi taxi & hotel scam
Basically a taxi driver picks you up at the airport and follows one of the following tactics:
» Tells you your hotel is closed and takes you to a hotel that will pay a commission
» Takes you to a hotel with the same name as the one you requested, but with a different address.
» Pulls up at the hotel you requested, but then, a guy in front of the hotel comes to your window and tells you the hotel is full and directs you to their "sister" hotel.
» Some other random combination of the above!
Thankfully we knew enough about Vietnam to dodge this bullet but the lengths we needed to take are worth rewriting.
» Know where you are staying in advance and check the address carefully upon arrival.
» When you are dropped off at the wrong hotel check the name on the hotel
» Be forceful with the driver and get them to take you to your desired hotel
» Give the driver the money you agreed on not a new per person amount
» Have both currencies handy so you do not have to rely on a drivers dubious exchange calculation
Hanoi cheap cheap accommodation
More general advice here which is worth knowing about. If you go cheap in Hanoi you had better agree on going with the hotels tour services. This is because the super-cheap guesthouses make their money on the tours -- not the rooms. If you stay at a super-cheap place and don't use their tour services, you can count on having a hard time when you check out. It is worth paying a bit more and sorting out tours by yourself.
Be prepared to give your neck a thorough work out. A firm no and shake of a head is generally enough to discourage people but in tourist havens like Nha Trang the surge of salesmen is relentless. You are not even safe in a restaurant as they will come in and try to sell you all manner of things right at your table.
Watch out in particular for persistent street sellers who follow you along the street -- pick pocketing remains a serious problem in Vietnam, and a persistent merchant can distract you while your pockets are pilfered.
The ultimate confidence scam
To this day I do not know if this was a scam as it was so well executed. As often the case, it started with an innocent walk to find an internet cafe. I was gently accosted by a man who had mistaken me as a member of his New Zealand extended family. He proceeded to tell me he had a couple of hours to kill and would I come for a drink with him. Wanting to further my travelling experience I promptly hopped upon his scooter and we headed off to a river side bar.
A couple of bars later I had *learned* about this fellow's family, his interests and that he was also a writer or sorts. Being the first writer I had met on my travels this got me excited. Alarm bells should have rung when he told me he was a foreign currency collector and how he attempted an unsuccessful currency swap. As the session progressed, he got me to write his wife a happy birthday note for his book of writing, after all it was her birthday that very day. On our way home we stopped at a liquor store so he could buy his wife a bottle of wine. In my beer affected state I agreed to buy his wife a bottle of birthday wine which conveniently cost the total amount of money remaining in my wallet. I suspect the wine was exchanged back less a percentage after I was dropped off.
Genuine? ... perhaps -- but more likely a scam. The best scams out there leave you wondering if indeed you've been scammed at all. Tune in next week for Cambodia.
About the author
Daniel McConnell is a keen writer who used Travelfish extensively whilst preparing for and during a three month trip of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia with his wife. A litany of scams is an informative and sometimes humorous look at some things to look out for whilst travelling in this part of the world. Let the traveller beware!
Story by Don Morgan
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