Whenever I talk to people that have visited Vietnam, most of the stories seem to revolve around people being scammed in one way or another. Even though there is a lot to like about Vietnam, we always felt like we had to be on our guard for the next scam. And hearing about so many others being scammed didn’t help either. Nothing disastrous or really scary happened to us, but the scams were more like constant minor annoyances. Added up, they were enough to make Vietnam one of the countries we don’t think we’ll return to in a hurry. So what happened to us?
Scam 1 – Wrong Visa Entered Into Passport
This could have been a simple mistake, but it was our very first experience in Vietnam. It was definitely not the welcome we had been expecting. We had paid around $110 each for 3-month Vietnam visas at the Vietnam Embassy in Bangkok, but when we arrived at Hanoi airport, I was told my the immigration officer to wait for 10-15 minutes while another officer took my passport away. I wasn’t told what was going on, but just told to wait. Eventually, the other officer said that the computer system showed I only had a 1-month visa, so the entry in my passport showing 3 months was a mistake. I pointed out that I had paid for a 3-month visa, and so it was the computer entry that was wrong, not my passport entry. The officer claimed the computer was always right and refused to do anything to rectify the situation. I was told that I could extend it while in Vietnam for around $100 extra. We were not happy at all.
Scam 2 – The Hanoi Currency Exchange Scam
Once through immigration, and not feeling too happy, I then tried to change a small amount of Laos currency to Vietnamese Dong. I was offered around half the rate that was on display, because the woman at the currency exchange said they didn’t want Laos currency that day. I had already tried another two currency exchange booths and neither wanted to exchange my Laos currency. As I only had a small amount I exchanged it anyway. I felt scammed again, although I could have refused and tried to exchange it later in the city. But I though that it would be more difficult in the city if it was this difficult at the airport. What a welcome to Vietnam.
Scam 3 – The Hanoi Shoe Repair Scam
This is one of the most bizarre of scams I’ve come across. After it happened to me I Googled it and found out that it’s fairly common in Hanoi. We were walking along the street when a young Vietnamese guy suddenly bent down in front of me and put what seemed like glue along the seam of my flip flips. He was so fast that he had done it before I had a chance to react. So I asked what he was doing, and he said that he could see my flip flops were about to break, so he was going to sew them for me for a small fee. In the time it took to say a sentence or two, he already had the thread out, so I thought I’d just let him continue, give him $1 and leave it at that.
But when he’d finished a few minutes later he demand around $10. I was wearing my old flip flops at the time and had been planning to throw them away soon, as I already had a new pair. So what was the point of paying $10 for something I was going to throw away? I explained this to him, but he started to get a little angry. So I gave him the equivalent of $1 and he refused to take it. As if by some divine intervention, a policeman appeared at the end of the street. I then said here’s the money, take it or leave it. He refused again and demanded $10 again. So I said I was going to call the policeman over and ask him to sort it out. He then snatched the $1 from my hand and called me a cheapskate. I replied that it was better being a cheapskate than a scam artists and he shouted something in Vietnamese. I later read that what they put on your shoes initially isn’t glue, but a solvent that dissolves stitches. They then claim the stitching is coming loose and offer to “repair” them.
Scam 4 – The Hanoi Hotel Scam
This might have been a misunderstanding or a mistake, but it really did feel like a scam at the time. We had booked our hotel for a few days with Agoda, and then extended for a few more days and paid cash. We were asked to pay the cash in advance, so it is fairly obvious that there shouldn’t be anything to pay when we checked out. But when we got down to reception to check out, the receptionist handed us an invoice for one night’s stay and asked us to pay it. I pointed out that we’d already paid and he asked to see my receipts. I explained that he could check the Agoda bookings on the computer that was right in front of him and check the other payment in the receipt book that was in the drawer in front of him. He said this would take too long and it would be better if I showed my receipts. I got the feeling he thought we’d just pay up, as we were in a hurry to get out train. So I sat down and said I’d wait for him to find the receipts. He then said it was all ok and didn’t bother checking anything. This made it seem even more like a scam.
Scam 5 – The Hanoi Train Station Scam
When we arrived at Hanoi train station to get the train to Hue, we were hassled by some guys with trolleys offering to carrying our bags to the platform, which was apparently very far away. They demanded $5 for this. I offered $1 but they refused. We then wheeled our suitcases roughly 20 meters to the platform. So their baggage charge amounted to $1 per 4 meters. Scam.
Scam 6 – The Hue Drugs Scam
This might not have been a scam, but what I read about it later suggested that it possibly was. I have lived in Southeast Asia for over four years and have only been offered illegal drugs three times. All those three times were by cyclo riders in Hue in Vietnam. And all in the space of two days. Obviously, I refused. I later read that some of them offer drugs to tourists, and if they tourists buy them, they then report them to the police. The police then reward the cyclo riders for the “tip-off”.
Scam 7 – The Saigon Taxi Scam
When we arrived at Saigon train station we tried to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. We asked lots of taxi drivers, but they all refused to use the meters and wanted to charge a flat rate fare. Eventually we found one that said of course he’d use the meter. So off we went to our hotel. It was only a few days later, after getting more familiar with the area that we realized that the taxi had taken us on a route that was about three times as long as the shortest route that he should have taken. Scammed again. This wasn’t the only taxi scam in Vietnam.
Scam 8 – The Saigon Immigration Scam
After the fiasco with our visas, we tried to sort it out at the immigration office in Saigon. We thought they could phone the Bangkok Embassy and check that we did indeed pay for 3-month visas, and then correct the entry in my passport. But they claimed it had nothing to do with them and that we should go back to Hanoi airport to sort it out. We pointed out that this was at the other end of the country, and so wasn’t really possible for us to go back there. In any case, they had refused to sort the problem out when we were there. The immigration officer still refused to help. So not really a scam on their part, but just showing no concern at all that a possible mistake or scam had happened.
These were indeed all fairly minor issues and quite possibly a mixture of genuine mistakes, misunderstandings and scams. But we didn’t have these sorts of issues in other countries we visited. As well as the above, there was also the almost constant hassle of people trying to sell us stuff that we just didn’t want. At times it seemed almost impossible to just relax and enjoy ourselves.
If you’ve been to Vietnam, did you encounter any scams?