PHOTO: One of the best ways to enjoy Southeast Asia is by scooter. Just be sure to check it before you take off. (Photos by Shannon Wolf)
When it comes to scams; knowledge is power but common sense can get you even further.
Cabs/Tuk Tuk Drivers:
First and foremost, always confirm a fixed price before getting into a cab and try to get them to run a meter if possible. Secondly, be aware of the direction you’re headed. They may drive a longer way around saying it’s a shortcut or try to make an extra commission by bringing you to a hotel they are in cahoots with; telling you your chosen hotel was closed down, etc.
To avoid all these potential issues; be sure to have smaller change on you in order to not have to deal with breaking large bills and use a free offline map such as MapsMe to track your route.
Any reputation for corruption aside, one of the dangers of Southeast Asia is imposter police officers. You will be pulled over and fined for any reason they can think of in which you will have to bribe your way out of. Simply put; if they try to pull you over, just keep going. (Unless, of course, you know you’re in the wrong)
One thing that can be easily missed is being given the incorrect change or counterfeit money from vendors, bus and taxi drivers. The simplest way to avoid this is by counting your change to make sure it’s correct or to use a currency converter to double check the amount.
Thai/Cambodia Bus and Border Crossing:
Whether it’s a government-run bus or a travel company, if you’re not aware; it’s likely you will run into the issue of being dropped off at a fake travel agency and charged exuberant prices for a visa-on-arrival.
Don’t buy your Cambodian visa before you get stamped out of Thailand – do it at the official border crossing into Cambodia only.
Other border crossing scams include paying an extra fee of about $3 which is more or less unavoidable, being told you can’t exchange your Thai currency in Cambodia, getting on the “official” bus heading to the tourist bus station where you will pay far more to get to Siem Reap.
To avoid these scams, take the early morning train as explained in my previous article. And follow your gut. If you feel like you’re being scammed; you probably are.
Always be sure to check your rental before driving off. Take photographs of every mark, scratch and dent to document damages along with reading over the paperwork you sign before driving off.
A motorbike company (whether they look reputable or not) may try to charge you for previous “damages” once the bike is returned and unless you have proof, it could cost you a lot more than you initially bargained for.
Kindness of Strangers Scam
This scam entails a local befriending you; asking to go for drinks/dinner/party and then stiffing you with the bill at the end of the night. If you want to hang out with locals, you can run the risk of getting scammed but it’s not an overly common occurrence.
To avoid this, follow your gut and stand your ground.
My friend Victor who had traveled through Vietnam once explained, “I was walking down the street in Hue and a few locals asked me to join them for a few drinks as locals tend to do so of course, I said yes. I had a few beers with them and then they drove me to a sketchy looking area and was brought to a Karaoke club. We had a steady flow of beers with the guys and it became uncomfortable after a while so I decided to settle my tab and leave.
“When I asked what I owed, they told me it was 2000 dong; resulting in an argument and one of the guys in the group tried to intimate me by showing me his tattoos saying ‘do you know who I am?’ announcing that he was part of a Vietnamese gang and that I couldn’t leave until I paid them.
“One of the owners came up to me after I sat on the couch for a while unwilling to comply and explained that these guys do this scam all the time to unsuspecting tourists and If I didn’t pay, the gang would wreck the place. Needless to say, I don’t know if she was a part of the scam or not but after a while I got fed up, paid 1000 dong and left. The next day, I met other locals and had an incredible time so it’s not to say every local is a scam artist but I did learn that you should always follow your instincts.”