Common Scams in Vietnam and how to Protect yourself

Intro

From my personal experience, Vietnam is much more problematic than Thailand in that regard. Most of the scams I experienced in Vietnam were minor (like not giving me the exact change, for little sums) but I had also a very bad experience in Halong Bay, the popular tourist destination in the north, an experience that ruined my visit to a wonderful site. You can read about this later, on this page. As you can imagine, there are endless possible combinations and variations of scams and the good news is that you were not “born yesterday” and there are also scams going on in your own country, in some degree, so your good instincts may work also in Vietnam. On this page, I want to concentrate about how to avoid the scams in Vietnam, and how to adopt a “common sense” in order to reduce the chance that you will be victim of one.
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Your Passport

They have a bad habit in Vietnam, to keep your passport at the reception of the hotel (also if you rent a motorbike, but that’s another story).
Leaving your passport at the reception may sound, at first, like a good idea (to avoid theft or losses) but it is not.
When you are in a foreign country and someone hold your passport, you are at his mercy. You can not leave the country without your passport. If the hotel decides to make a scam on you, like for example claiming that you need to pay extra for your room because it is special in some way, then you will be under a lot of pressure, when they hold your passport.
The bad experience that I had in Halong Bay, was basically possible because they had my passport.
The possible solution to this :
Pay the hotel in advance and then you can keep your passport. You don’t necessarily need to pay all your stay in advance, but day by day.
In Thailand, they don’t use to keep your passport at the reception (nor in other countries) and I don’t see a reason why it should be in Vietnam (one funny guy at the reception told me that they keep the passport because there are a lot of frauds by guests). By the way : You need to show your passport in order to change currency, in town. So, here is another reason to keep your passport with you.

Be on your guard, in Vietnam

In your own country, you are certainly on your guard to avoid scams and thefts, so in Vietnam you should be even more alert. For example, you should double check the change you receive when you pay for something.

Avoid “trapped” situations

For example, if you are a male, you will often be approached by a stranger offering you prostitution services. Do you really want to arrive to an isolated place where you don’t know anyone, with the obvious risk of theft and fraud ?
The same goes with drugs. Avoid these people.

Reputation

An hotel that is listed in a known reservation website like Booking.com, is less likely to make scams because of the comments of the guests. They need to keep their reputation (but it can still happen). So use known companies wherever possible. For example, with Taxis, use Venisun.

Keep your receipts

It happened to me that an hotel “lost records” that I have paid the first day of stay. Fortunately, I found the receipt.

Ask the price in advance

Anywhere : Hotels, restaurants, moto-taxi etc.

Check your change when you pay

Even at official places like entrance to museums.

The good news about the scams in Vietnam

They are usually for small amount of money and there’s no violence.
Other good news is that tourism in Vietnam is developing and improving and you have a smartphone connected to Internet and you can read about bad places in advance.

My bad experience in Halong Bay, Vietnam (scam)

Halong Bay is a very popular and beautiful tourist destination, a Unesco world heritage. You sail on a boat between impressive big rocks and mountains.
saigon
There are organized tours going to Halong Bay from the capital Hanoi. I chose a tour of 2 days with a sleep on an island (you could also choose to sleep on the boat). I admit, I took a very cheap tour. All the tours offer about the same program so I took a cheap one with a simple room to sleep (the hotel was specified in the brochure with photos).
On the first morning we travelled by bus from Hanoi to the shore. After a lot of waiting we were put on different boats. The organizer collected our passports. At the time, I was not sensitive about this issue and anyway I supposed that the person with my passport is going to pass the night in the same location as me (but it was not so). After a long day of sailing and visiting caves we finally arrived to the island where we were supposed to sleep. They made us wait for a very long time inside a bus before it started to move on the island towards the town and the hotel. We arrived in the evening and we were very hungry and tired. When I was given the key to my room, to my surprise, I discovered that there was a bag on one of the beds in the room. Apparently, they were locating 2 people in 1 room, even with people who don’t know each other. At the reception the communication was very difficult, they pretended that they don’t understand english and if I wanted a private room I needed to pay extra (of course that the brochure or the agency did not mention a shared room). When I asked about my passport, they told me it was with the organizer who was sleeping on the boat, some hundreds Km away from where I was. I then realized that even if I wanted, I could not go to sleep in another hotel because I did not have my passport with me. I could not move anywhere now, a very bad situation. I was super angry.
The story ended like this : I went to the police station in town (difficult to find) and took a photo of it. I then returned to the hotel and showed the photo to the bad guys and began to walk again towards town. They came to me and offered me a private room. Yes , I finally had a room but overall, my visit was ruined, I barely slept at night and the next day was useless (even though the scenery was very beautiful). Yes, I got my passport the next day.
I then searched on Internet and discovered that a lot of tourists had this bad experience in Halong Bay (you can do a Google search “halong bay fraud”).
My conclusion from this Halong Bay experience :

  1. Never leave your passport- They can make a photocopy of it, if they want.
  2. Inform yourself – read on forums (like TripAdvisor) the experience of other travelers. Some companies are known to be bad.
  3. I would now consider doing this tour on my own and not organized.

Nagging and Harassment in Vietnam

It is just annoying a little bit, not something you will not be able to handle.

By the street Vendors

Just be prepared. If you are a tourist, you are very conspicuous on the streets. While walking, You will be addressed every few minutes (or seconds) by shop vendors, motorcycles drivers who want to take you elsewhere, drug dealers and prostitute dealers.
If you are in good mood, you can answer to each one of them. If not, try to ignore them (very difficult).

By Hotel staff

The cleaning staff want a Tip from you and they are aggressive in their attitude. They will wait behind your hotel room in the morning to greet you hello. They will “forget” to put toilet paper or a towel in your room, so that you will need to ask for it and meet the person who is cleaning your room. They may clean your room even when you put the red sign “please do not disturb” on the door. They may arrive to clean your room in the afternoon, exactly when you return from your day. They have a lot of other little tricks to put pressure on you.
It happened to me in all the hotels. On the other hand, it never happened to me that they stole something from my room.

star More on Saigon and Vietnam :

star  On Thailand :

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star If you find incorrect data in this page, like a restaurant has closed or a big river has moved or you want to tell me something, please write me at contact.
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