While traveling it’s almost a rite of passage to be scammed or swindled or stolen from. It’s honestly just one of the things to expect and you just have to learn to let it go when it happens. Southeast Asia almost broke me with the number of times I was lied to, pressured into buying something, and scammed. It certainly is not the only part of the world that has scammed or taken advantage of me. I have been scammed in countries all over the world, and honestly I have no one to blame but myself.
- The Fruit lady scam: This is the scam when an older woman dressed in traditional garb carrying fruit baskets on both ends of a stick that she is balancing on her shoulder, will place it on your shoulders and then place her wooden hat on your head and offer to take a picture. Immediately after she will demand you pay her for the fruit. It’s similar to your typical busker ploy like in Hollywood or NYC. I saw this one happen in Hanoi and was almost the recipient of it on a different day. Luckily for me I had my 30 pound backpack strapped to my back and was sweating out of every pore, so I was in no mood for shenanigans. Instead of allowing her to place the pole on me I just dipped my shoulder and quickly continued walking.
- The change in taxi fare scam: Although I don’t recommend it sometimes a cab driver will try and negotiate a price with you (always use the meter). I only ever agree to this when I have just entered a new country and I am still getting my bearings or if I’m dead tired and just want to get somewhere without constantly fighting a taxi driver for a fair price. When my friend and I first landed in Vietnam, we did everything wrong, including allowing ourselves to be picked up by someone that is not a licensed taxi driver. He said he would drive us to our hotel for $20. That seemed a fair price for a forty minute drive so we agreed. However, he changed the price halfway there to $25. Granted it wasn’t a huge price increase but it’s still frustrating. This same thing happened to me in Zanzibar, in fact that cab driver scammed me twice. Which leads me to the next scam.
- A taxi or tuk tuk driver will try and convince you that the place you are going is closed or that it is a terrible place to go: The same man in Zanzibar that changed the taxi fare halfway through the trip also talked me and my friend out of staying at the place we had booked. He filled our heads with how awful the place was and that no one ever goes to that part of the beach. But not to worry he knows a much better place for us to stay at. A wonderful place that was twice the price of our original booking, a fact he never mentioned to us. This is also used by tuk tuk drivers who will stop you on your way to whatever tourist destination you have chosen and try to convince you that the place is closed. For example, on our way to the royal Palace in Phnom Penh, one tuk tuk driver tried to convince us it was closed that day and that we would very much like to see the butterfly garden instead and he was the man to take us there. My friend and I stood firm in our desire though and had no problem getting into the palace. So just be wary whenever someone tells you that a tourist attraction you are visiting is closed or when a taxi driver tries to convince you that you’ve chosen a bad hotel. It’s probably not true.
- Cops will tell you that you are not legally allowed to drive a 250 cc motorcycle because you’re a foreigner: So when it comes to cops and they want a bribe, always pay them, avoid the hassle. However, children are allowed to drive 250 cc motor engines without a license in Southeast Asia and I can assure you that foreigners can drive one legally in Cambodia as well. I think we only ended up giving him $10, which is one of the cheapest bribes I have ever gotten away with.
- It Is a Very Special Day in Thailand: If you hear those words, walk very quickly in the opposite direction. It is not a special day in Thailand, and those Tuk Tuk drivers that will drive you anywhere you want for free are actually going to drive you to a few select places that they get commissions for. After being led around to a bunch of different places trying to sell me things, I didn’t want at a reasonable price, I ended up just paying the Tuk Tuk driver to take me back to Khao San Road.
- Whatever tour you bought was not all inclusive: There will always be extra fees or hidden costs that you learn about when you get on the boat, train, or bus. For example, if you want to go to this Island it’s an extra $20, or there is an additional park fee. Or the tiny asian women that held your hand while hiking down a muddy rice terrace to save you from sliding down that whole mountain will immediately try to sell you personal items that she has made once you stop for lunch. To be fair I was planning on tipping this woman a large amount for essentially saving my life, so buying something in return was simple enough.
- Nothing is free: Never accept anything that is offered to you. In Rome someone offered me a rose when I was out walking on the Spanish Steps (see pictured). Not yet being acquainted with gypsies, I foolishly accepted it. The man then went right up to my friend and asked him for money. It was doubly embarrassing for me since I had just met that guy that morning. So I quickly shoved a couple of Euros in his hand to just get him away from me and my newly made friend. After that the rose was tainted for me. So I tried to give it someone else, who very quickly refused and shied away from me. If only I had been that smart. Eventually I just set it on a pillar and left it.
- It’s ok to haggle: This isn’t really a scam in the truest sense, but when you see a price on anything in Southeast Asia it’s actually negotiable and expected for you to haggle. I hate it, and unfortunately for me even when I decide I don’t actually want something they keep lowering the price to the point that I just end up buying it. Those elephant pants you saw for $10, I can guarantee you that you’ll find them somewhere for $3. It’s not wrong to pay the sticker price for anything, and I did it many times, but it’s better to try haggle because you’ll hate yourself later when you find out that you overpaid by a lot for that way cool souvenir you just bought.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, and I have certainly left out a fair number, but you can read about those on other blogs. These are the ones that I ran into the most while traveling overseas or had run on me. Sometimes I think travel has made me a more paranoid and untrusting person. However, it’s also while traveling I have met some of the most amazing, kind, and generous people. So like anything in life, you accept the good with the bad.