Common Scams To Watch Out For In Vietnam

We met a lot of nice people in Vietnam, but like everywhere, there are regular scams that some locals try on many tourists. Here are a few that we came across.

First up, I just want to remind us that when Westerners go to countries like Vietnam, everything seems cheap. But to the locals, it isn’t cheap. They work really hard for very little pay. Sometimes you have to remember that it’s only a few cents your arguing over, and ask yourself whether it’s worth it. Maybe you just pay the little bit extra and count that as your good deed for the day, rather than feeling scammed (even though you might have been).

The Coconut Scam

This YouTuber shows it perfectly, so I’d recommend watching to see it in action. But basically the sellers will put the pole on your shoulder and let you walk with it and take photos. Then they’ll start opening coconuts and charge you a crazy fee for them.

We also had fruit sellers trying to do this to both myself and my partner. They would physically try to put the poles on us as we walked past. We found this quite invasive of our personal space and wouldn’t buy from these people because we don’t want to encourage that sort of treatment.

The Donut Scam

In the Old Quarter of Hanoi, you will see ladies walking around with baskets of little round donuts. They’ll offer you one for ‘free,’ but DO NOT TAKE IT. If you do, they’ll ask you to pay somewhere between 150K to 200K VND, which turns into a very expensive sample. We didn’t fall for this, because we’re very wary of free things. If you want to buy donuts, you’re probably better off buying them from the roadside vendors who are making them fresh.

Donut seller with basket offering to tourists
Donut seller

The Shoe Shine Scam

These guys walk around with a basket of shoe polishing gear. They can do a good job and for a decent price. We actually watched the guy pictured give a good shoe shine to a Japanese tourist for 20,000 VND total. He did, however, try to change the price to 200,000VND, and then he tried to say it was 20,000 VND per shoe. But we all stood firm and told him it was 20,000 VND or nothing, and after pouting a little, he took the money, gave us a smile, and left.

Shoe shine vendor
Shoe shine vendor

The scam with these guys is they’ll either start working on your shoes, or take them if possible. Then they’ll give you these thongs or sandles to wear and they’ll shine your shoes nearby and demand an extreme price afterwards. If you’re unlucky, they might also pretend to fix something on your shoe and demand payment for that. Always agree on a price beforehand and make sure you stick with that price.

Video of tourists who got scammed by a shoe shine guy

The Grab Airport Issues

We had a lot of trouble getting a Grab from Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport. I’ve written more about that incident in another post. We did check out the taxis, but their prices were double what we would have paid for a Grab. I’ve read that taxi scams are common at the airport, so if you can get your host or hotel to organize a taxi at a decent price, I would go with that option.

This video shows someone experiencing a taxi scam in Vietnam.

In the above video, the tourist had trouble with two taxi drivers. The first tried to charge him way too much. The second changed the price on them when they got into the taxi, took them to the wrong hotel, and then tried to keep their luggage.

Something to think about…

When you’re a foreigner, the locals often assume you have a lot of money. Just because things are cheap to you, doesn’t mean you should flaunt your money or expensive items because it could make you a target for scammers.

Take care when out drinking, we’ve seen a lot of scammers approaching people who’ve had a bit too much because they’re easy pickings. Perhaps the best way is to only take your drinking budget out with you and leave your spare cash in your room so you don’t spend it all. They can’t scam you out of something you don’t have!

We also found that most vendors would quote us at least double the price of what locals pay. We both hate bartering, so often would just walk away if the price seemed ridiculous. Often they’d call out half the price as we were leaving, and sometimes we’d go back and accept that.

Make sure you don’t hand over your money until you get the items you agreed on. Once they’ve got your money, they can easily change the deal. We had this happen to us when buying some snacks. We pointed and agreed on a price and then the lady proceeded to take some out once we’d handed the money over. It’s really hard to get it back then because you can’t just grab it and make a scene. These ladies have no problems yelling and making you look like the bad guy. The easiest way is to hold onto your cash tightly until they’ve handed you the items you want.

And beware, they do grab for the money. Stand your ground. But also keep in mind that these people do work really hard for not a lot of money. If you like the person and the way they’re treating you, maybe it’s not work bartering so much over a few cents.

For us, if anyone treated us badly and tried to rip us off too much, we’d just walk away because we don’t want to encourage that sort of behaviour. If anyone gave us a reasonable price, we’d go back and be repeat customers often. We even bought gifts for our favourite vendors who were very kind to us and wouldn’t accept extra money even when we offered it to them.

I actually had an experience where a vendor took my hat and put it on his head. He was so fast, I didn’t have a chance to stop him. And then I thought he would just give it back, silly me. My partner eventually took the hat back and the guy started protesting and even followed us to get my hat back, because apparently it was his hat now. So just beware of your belongings and try to avoid letting people grab them.

And remember…

Everyone you come across are people just like you are, and they’re just trying to make a living. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it also doesn’t mean you have to be rude to them. Most scammers left us alone after we politely declined their offers.

We did feel a bit more annoyed at those who invaded our personal space, poking, grabbing, or blocking our pathway. But we had to keep taking deep breaths and remind ourselves that we’re in a different country and we should keep calm because losing our temper could get us into trouble.

Just be polite, but firm in refusing their offers, and if possible, don’t make eye contact with them when walking past. Walk like you know where you’re going and don’t stop. Don’t let them physically block you into any sort of space because then it’s a lot harder for you to get away. And definitely don’t take anything from them, let them put anything on you or let them take anything from you. Just keep walking or know the price you’re willing to pay and stick firm with that price or leave.

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