Congratulations on making the brave decision to venture into the wild and wonderful world of Vietnam. It’s an amazing country with a rich culture and a legendary food scene. It’s arguably one of the safest countries in South East Asia, but as with any new place, you might still be unlucky to come across some scams, dangers, and petty annoyances that can bring you down if you’re not clued in. Here are some common tourist scams in Vietnam to be aware of while travelling here.
500 and 20 VND Bills
Let’s start with this very simple one – they’re both blue.
The US Dollar is approximately 23,000 VND. The VND comes in several denominations including the 20K which is blue, and the 500K which is also blue. Don’t ask why, especially if you’re from somewhere that has everything in green.
Moral of the story: always check the notes that you’re giving, and the notes that you’re receiving. As an extra precaution, only keep your 500s in a separate pocket so that you don’t get confused.
20K VND will get you 2 to 3 beers if you know where to look. Read more:10 Nice Things You Can Buy in Vietnam for Under 10 Dollars
The Scenic Route
Other than fake buses between cities, fake taxis within the city are also a thing. And, even if you only stick with proper taxi operators (Vinasun and Mailin), you might still be taken down a more scenic route to your destination. Try to have your wits about you when you’re in any new city, and always have Google maps up and running when taking a taxi.
Or, moral of the story: just use apps like Grab or Gojek. Rates are fixed, and the drivers are vetted. They’ll even ask you for reviews! And as a reminder, just because the taxi is from the airport doesn’t mean they won’t try to scam you. Be careful.
This might sound funny… but only because it is. I have a British friend who runs popular restaurant in Saigon. Pretty famous and with a loyal clientele. He was of course very surprised to have people congratulate him on opening another store. He hadn’t it was a completely different operation with eerily similar branding, and a name that was just a few letters off the original.
In Phong Nha, there are 2 places called “The Pub with Cold Beer”. You’ll have to go there just to try both the authentic one, and the knockoff. Moral of the story: cross check between Google maps, as well as Facebook.
Another friend of mine was caught out by this one. He was staying at a hostel in Dalat, and they offered to organise a bus ticket for him to Nha Trang (a 6 hour journey). He accepted, paid, and went on with his day. When the time came to leave, he got in what looked like a big, comfortable sleeper bus.
10 minutes down the road, it became clear that this was not in fact a bus at all, but a van with some benches in the back. They drove for 6 hours, making many stops to pick up other passengers along the way, before finally arriving in Nha Trang.
Moral of the story: stick with the services of well reviewed agents, or at least record conversations where the ticket agent is clear about what you’re paying for. Getting a refund might be more of a pain in the ass though.
These are tuk tuks, but not the Thai version. These are old school man-powered vehicles, which (theoretically) can hold up to two passengers. They’re sort of still used in small towns, but only really seen in touristy parts of bigger cities, and they’re a bit of a tourist trap.
If you want to try one just for the experience, go ahead. It’s fund. But be sure to haggle hard, as the starting prices are always way too high. There are also potential scams here where the driver won’t let you off the cyclo until you pay a much higher price than what was agreed. “Oh, my English no good. You not hear right.”
Moral of the story, take a recording of the conversation and agree to a specific price. Repeat the price multiple times.
You’ve probably seen this on your friends’ Instagram. Them standing there, wearing a non la (those conical hats), carrying two baskets of fruit on a stick, in front of a picturesque lake with mountains in the background. One foot up, big smile. But there’s a catch.
Those aren’t free. You’ll have to pay for the right to use those props for your photoshoot. Moral of the story: choose a nice, kindly looking old lady. The older the bettert. If you’re gonna pay anyway, give the money to someone who needs it the most.
Driving around Vietnam is probably one of the best reasons to visit, or even live here long term. In order to do that though, you’ll need a bike. You can either buy one (and resell once you get to your destination), or you can rent. When renting though, make sure to study the bike carefully and note down any scratches, or bumps that are already there.
You don’t want to be charged extra when you return it, for something you don’t do. Moral of the story: take photos of the bike, especially where there’s already visible damage. Make sure the company renting out the bike is aware of this.
Thinking about buying a bike? Read this before plonking down any cashPractical Tips for Buying a Second Hand Motorbike in Vietnam
I know I just mentioned old ladies a few points up, but that’s probably the only time I will ever use the logic of “they need it more than you do”. Beggars are a completely different story. There’s a high risk that they’re managed by syndicates, especially if they’re kids. Any money you give to them will probably just be collected by their watcher.
Try giving them food, and they’ll most probably reject the offer. It’s an unfortunate reality, but moral of the story: during your trip, get involved with a local charity. These grass roots organizations know exactly where and whom to provide help. At most it’s 2 or 3 hours of your travel time spent packing food and giving it to those who need it the most. Go on, do it.
Have fun, but be aware. In general, Vietnam is a very safe country. I’ve never felt in danger here, even when walking around alone at night. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few dangers. Some of the more common ones are fake alcohol (which could leave you blind, or dead), drugged drinks, and people who are just a bit too friendly and smooth.
Moral of the story: try to go with a group, and don’t get too inebriated. I know that’s not fun to hear, but trust me, you’ll have more fun remembering things, rather than trying to remember what the hell happened. And yes, it’s fun meeting cute and interesting strangers, but please just keep your wits about you.
Thieves on Bikes
This is unfortunately relatively common thing, which happens to local and tourists alike. I’ve had two friends have their bags/phones snatched while driving, and I myself have been a victim of this. It’s usually done by someone on a motorbike, who will drive up next to you, and quickly grab whatever they can.
But oftentimes they can work in tandem, one riding shotgun. They’re quick, so it’s over before you know it. And unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Moral of the story, don’t stand around the sidewalk while using your phone, and try to avoid using purses that are easily snatched. If you must use a purse, wear it diagonally, with the straps going over your shoulder and across your chest.
Want to read more about personal safety?Safety Tips for Women New to Vietnam
This is just a small list of common scams and dangers in Vietnam. For the most part, it’s a very safe country to travel to. Just be aware of your surroundings, and use common sense, and you’ll be fine.
No, seriously, this is probably one of the only places where as a woman, it’s still possible to feel safe at night, while walking home, drunk and alone at 4am. But please, be responsible, and just keep your wits about.