Having read what we’ve written here on scams in Hanoi and scams in Saigon and listened to a few sorry traveller tales of “Vietscam”, I thought maybe it was time to lift the lid on all the terrible things that go on in the sleepy little pocket of Central Vietnam where I live. So I have mingled with backpackers, chatted up tour desk staff, exchanged a few dollars at the gold shop, a hotel and the bank, and taken a taxi, alone, while a bit squiffy where I left my phone. My phone was immediately returned and the exchange rate slightly inconsistent, but what’s a few thousand dong when the banks are closed and you need some cash?
So I upped my ante. I hung around at the bus station incognito, hustled with the ladies at the market: they waved carrots at me, does that count? I went to all the wrong bars, tracked down the leader of ‘the motorbike taxi mafia’ I was warned of in one of those establishments, and scraped the barrel with a couple of things you might want to watch out for.
So, the top two Hoi An scams! If you are arriving in Hoi An after a very long bus journey either very early or very late, you will be met by a charming welcome committee offering a free lift into town. Take it, it’s a 15-minute walk otherwise. Your ride will drop you off outside a row of the most unbelievably good value $10 guesthouses, with swimming pools, air-con and promises of meeting all the needs of guests. Alas, the $10 rooms are only available to the most talented negotiator. The rest are priced from $15 up, the swimming pool is a good 10 minutes’ away, the air-con is always broken and I have trouble imagining that meeting all needs of guests is a bathroom with more mould than a good Gorgonzola and a swindling receptionist.
This street is called Ly Thuong Kiet. The two top abusers are Vinh Huy and Hoa My Hotels, but the third one is best avoided as well — something very wrong with the sewers. Still they aren’t bad, until you start looking for an alternative. Hoi An’s hotels are slightly more expensive than some other areas in Vietnam, but the standards are an awful lot higher. Once you get off your free bus, walk straight back to the traffic lights and turn left on to Hai Ba Trung, which leads around to Ba Trieu. Here you will find the quality backpacker hotels where your $15 will get you an incredibly good value room and sometimes even breakfast. It’s a five-minute walk and there are plenty of great cafes to sit down with a Vietnamese coffee to kick you into gear before hitting the hotels.
The second scam involves the “wrong bars” and it really isn’t a scam, but is something very new to this town that you should be aware of. Over the last month a couple of girls have had their drinks spiked; fortunately they were with friends who realised what had happened and were taken straight back to their hotels, but if you are planning on going to a late-night bar – which are the ones that stay open when all the others shut and are located on the outskirts of town — do be careful. Follow all the rules of buying your own drinks at the bar, never leaving your glass unattended and watching out for the females in your group. It’s easy to let your guard down after a few La Rues. Don’t.
Hoi An it would seem is a rather relaxed little safety net that has the tendency to mop people’s minds of the big city scams. This is why, I guess, many people end up staying a lot longer than the few days they had planned and it’s the reason many city folk move here when they have kids. Do read our warnings about Hanoi and Saigon — learn the things to look out for when travelling in a new country. My own believe is that Vietnam gets very bad press for very little reason, and its people are judged upon that. This country only opened its doors to tourism about 16 years ago and the Vietnamese were understandably wary of foreigners. Yet they have embraced tourism and in the less touristic areas you will meet the warmest and most open local people on your travels.
If everyone arrives here with preconceived ideas that they will certainly get ripped off, it will likely show in their treatment of the people they meet. Did your mum ever tell you to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself? Perhaps remember that, while still keeping a bit of street savvy about you, and maybe then after your trip you can fill a forum about the truly wonderful Vietnamese people you met here, rather than grumbling about the fact you paid 10,000 VND more for your bus ticket than an old lady that sat on a plastic stool in the aisle.