The most dangerous thing for tourists to worry about in Hoi An are motorbike accidents and spending too much money shopping. However, as an extremely popular tourist destination, petty theft is a common nuisance and the town is rife with scams. Perhaps the city’s cute facade lulls travellers into complacency. Sometimes travellers go to the other extreme, and assume everyone is out to trick them; this is not so, and street savvy doesn’t mean you need to be rude. So use some common sense, and read this laundry list of dangers and scams and be prepared without going overboard in the cynicism stakes.
Petty theft occurs in Hoi An mostly out of opportunity. Try to park your bicycle or motorbike in a highly visible area and always lock them up. If there’s organised paid parking, for example like at An Bang Beach, use it. For 5,000-10,000 dong, someone will ensure your bike is there when you return. Most motorbike rentals provide cheap helmets but keep in mind that any helmet worth more than US$20 may get nicked. If your helmet looks decent, lock it inside the compartment. Most motorbikes also have a locking hook in front of the seat, or you can place the helmet strap half in the compartment and shut the seat on it. Someone could always cut the strap but it’s usually good enough as a deterrent.
When riding a bicycle don’t keep valuables in the front basket. If you’re walking around with a bag or purse, beware of bag snatchings by people zipping past on motorbike.
The ol’ gas scam: always fill up at a proper petrol station and be very careful to check that the pump is at 0 before the refill starts. Give the attendant an amount – for example, 30,000 dong -- rather than asking to fill it up or buy a certain number of litres. Then watch that it is filled correctly. A motorbike tank usually doesn’t take more than 50,000 dong to fill. The stations on Cua Dai Road and Hai Ba Trung Street (on the way to An Bang Beach) are notorious for overcharging tourists. It’s best to avoid them altogether. The most trustworthy station is near the public bus station on Le Huong Phong Street. We also haven't had any problems at the Petrolimex station on Phan Boi Chau Street, the river road east of town/Anantara Resort. And unless you are absolutely desperate, do not fill up at an informal roadside pumps as these may use illegal fuel – there have been reports of vehicles exploding. If you must, just buy enough to get you to the next petrol station.
Arriving in Hoi An after a 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 unless you want a 15-minute walk to town. Your ride will drop you off outside a row of the most unbelievably good value US$10 guesthouses, with swimming pool, air-con and promises of meeting all the needs of guests. Alas, the US$10 rooms are full. The rest are priced from US$20 up, the swimming pool is a good 10 minutes away and the air-con is always broken. This street is called Ly Thuong Kiet. The two top abusers are Vinh Huy and Hoa My Hotels. They aren’t bad until you see the alternatives. Hoi An hotels are more expensive than some other tourist destinations in Vietnam, but the standards are a lot higher. So once you get off the free bus, walk straight back to the traffic lights and turn left on to Hai Ba Trung Street, which leads around to Ba Trieu. This street is chock full of backpacker accommodation, where US$15-20 will get you a better value room with breakfast (like Thien Nga Hotel) or a decent US$9 hostel like Tribee.
Commission – it’s what makes Vietnam tick. It’s not necessarily a scam per se. Just be aware that when a guide, hotel reception, taxi driver, random person on the street recommends a tailor shop, lantern shop, restaurant, or whatever, more often than not they are getting a kickback. That’s not to say the hotel’s recommendation isn’t truthful. But by eliminating the middleman, you can negotiate a better price since the shop isn’t factoring commission into it.
Here's an interesting scenario: you get befriended by a local or your family-run guesthouse, who invites you to join them for a home-cooked dinner. They feed you, make you feel part of the family, give you shots of rice whiskey and everything is merry; they refuse to take any money for the meal. Then your new friends want to take you out to a local bar to show you the real Hoi An – great! At the bar suddenly his or her friends start showing up and ordering drinks – drinks that you don’t want and don’t order but they insist and everyone is toasting to you -- because at the end, you are stuck with the bill, drinks costing an outrageous amount. Everyone including the guesthouse and bar is in on it. And if you refuse to pay, that “friend” will turn aggressive. Unfortunately we’ve heard a couple of stories like this from travellers -- so you've been warned.
Late night revellers, have fun but beware of the usual tricks. Men: flirt with that pretty woman who asks you to buy her drink after drink and you can get stuck with an enormous bill, both bar and woman cashing in. In general, don’t do bar tabs. Pay as you go.
The old quarter promptly shut down at 22:00 and most travellers head across the river to the row of bars on An Hoi Islet serving bucket drinks and round-the-clock happy hours. The usual common sense applies: leave valuables at home, never leave your glass unattended, watch out for each other and don’t let your guard down.
Even An Hoi has to close up at midnight and gangs of motorbike taxis will eagerly await to take you to a late-night joint located in the outskirts of town. Be extremely sceptical when it comes to these motorbike taxis and after-hour bars, which work in cahoots with each other. Bars take advantage of the drunk and confused and we’ve heard disturbing stories about gangs waiting to pounce outside these establishments.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.