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Scams and traps travelers should avoid in Vietnam

Emerging as a popular destination in Asia, Tailor-made Vietnam vacations is famous for beautiful natural sceneries and diversified culture. However after over 20 years since Vietnam tourism was opened to the world, there are still problems in Vietnam that make tourists unhappy. In this entry I want to list some of the scams and traps that foreign visitors shoud be aware when travelling Vietnam

1 - Taxi scams
This is one of the most complaints we have received from foreign travelers, especially those whoe come to Vietnam for the first time. A friend of mine, after 30 years living in the Europe and went back to Vietnam on a holiday trip. He hadn't booked a hotel in Hanoi before the trip and when he arrived at Hanoi airport he was approached by a man who asked to take him to Hanoi in his taxi, my friend told him to bring to the hotel he was recommended before, to his disappointment the driver told him that this hotel has been closed for maintenance and suggested that he went to another hotel of the same level, it was late in the evening and my friend agreed to take his advice to go to another hotel, the hotel is fine however it is located far from city centre and to visit the Old Quarter it took him half an hour by taxi, he stayed at this hotel one night and found out that the hotel paid commission to taxi drivers to bring customers to them. To avoid this, you are recommended to arrange a transfer in advance, you can just arrange the transfer through the hotel where you book the rooms. If you want to arrange a taxi yourself there is something I want to note:
- Agree on the price before jumping in the car, it cost about 15 usd from Hanoi airport and 10 usd from Sai Gon airport to the city centre, don't pay by meter as they may run very fast with an trick from the driver.
- When you need to travel around in the city or to airport, please tell the hotel or the restaurant staff to catch a taxi for you, they are certainly know which taxi is reliable and which to avoid, if you stop a taxi on the street you may get ripped off by his tricks.
- From train station to your hotel: most train stations in Vietnam are located right in the city centre, it cost only 2 or 3 usd for a taxi from train station to your hotel and most drivers are not happy to drive you with a short distance, some of my passengers were refused by taxi driver saying that they were waiting for somebody else. In this case my tip is have about 50.000 vnd (around 2.5 usd) in hand and tell the taxi driver to bring you to your hotel.

2 - Eating
Some restaurants, especially those in tourist areas like Sam Son beach, Hai Phong, Vung Tau, Perfume pagoda, Hung King temples cheat customers by putting in the bill some dishes that you did not order or give you a menu without prices and then raise the bill to an awful number , the identity of these restaurants is that they are small, out of the place, few or nobody are eating. Sometime ago a man said on his Facebook about how he was forced to pay 200.000 vnd (10 usd) for a bowl of Pho (noodle soup), this is very common situation near the public places like pagodas or temples in holidays, a friend of mine took her family to a small restaurant near Tay Ho temple for lunch, they ordered 10 bowls of beef vermicelli soup and then astonished to find out the bill as 1.200.000 vnd (60 usd).
Another friend of mine told her story when she and her classmates visited Do Son beach in Hai Phong last year, one evening they went to a karaoke bar, they agreed with the bar to pay 10 usd for 1 hour singing however when the bill came out they were amazed to see the number as 2 million vnd (nearly 100 usd), they were charged 50.000 vnd for a small bag of snack, 35 usd for 2 tiny plates of fruit with water melon, and what made her surprised was they drank only 2 bottles of beer however the bar staff took out a bunch of empty cans under the table and put them all in the bill.
What should you do if you are in this situation?, argue with the restaurant and find the frienly owner turns out to be an agressive bully. My advice is stay away from the tiny restaurants especially if you don't see people eating inside, ask about prices before you order, and remember to check carefully and compare prices in the bill with the menu and if you are under threat just go to the a nearby police station.

3 - Taking photos
One of the places notorious for overcharging tourists is Sam Son beach in Thanh Hoa province, and for a long time this beautiful beach had been a terror to tourists. A woman visitor from Hanoi told that when her family was taking a walk along the beach her son saw a sandy castle built on the beach and stop to take picture, the castle was very small and looked like it was built by a child. After taking about 10 photos for her son there came 2 young men asking her to pay 200.000 vnd (10 usd), they said that she had to pay 1 usd for each photo she took, the men looked very cruel and violent and she had no way but paid them.

Even in the capital city Hanoi many tourists have been cheated by vendors selling fruit. On an afternoon, my colleagues and I were walking to take pictures in the Old Quarter, from Hoan Kiem lake to Cau Go street we saw many very disturbing images, some women dressed neatly wearing sport shoes, conical hats on their heads, each carrying some banana bunch, some pineapple trying to invite foreign visitors to take photos by putting the shoulder pole on their shoulders, some people didn't understand and tried to get away, the others thought that the friendly vendors were asking them to take a picture, however when the pole was returned to the vendors the foreigners were forced to buy 2 bags of pineapple for 3 usd, when a tourist responded, a number of "colleagues" of the woman vendor came in on her side, the tourists were resigned, paid the money and went away with frustration.

When you come to Sapa, remember to ask before taking a photo of a little boy sitting on a buffalo back or you will be surprised to find out later that you are charged 1 usd for each photo. Another place you need to be cautious is Tam Coc where there are photographers rowing alongside your boat asking to take a picture of you, don't think that they take picture of you just for fun because at the end of the trip you will be charged 10.000 vnd for a photo.

My advice for you in this case is to say "no" firmly to these people, don't show any interest if you don't want to buy their stuff or use their service, and remember to ask clearly how much you have to pay before using service.

4 - Travel agents
One of my colleagues who is manager of a well known travel company told that he met an acquaintance at a party and was said that this had worked with staff from his company in central Vietnam, this man also said that my friend' company has a branch in Thai Binh. On hearing the story my friend was astonished for his company had never had any affiliate in Thai Binh and not organized any trip to the central in recent time. However, after understanding the situation, he knows that there is a tour company in Thai Binh that has the same name as his company. He was very upset for the name he has put a lot of effort to build has been faked by someone else. However we are unable to bring them to court because his company is legally licensed by Thai Binh tourism department, they even threaten to sue our company for false accusation
Among tour companies in Vietnam, Sinh Cafe is not a strange name for budget travelers because of it's popularity. Beside Sai Gon, Sinh Cafe has set up offices in other tourist destinations in Vietnam, their brand name has been multipled in Hanoi for years, quality and service is really a problem.

Vietnam travel agencyDespite informed before we were surprised with the row of offices named Sinh cafe in Luong Ngoc Quyen street. If you look into the brochures and itineraries you will see all the same stuff, and if you ask the office employees at the offices the answer is same "we are real Sinh cafe". One of my client had a bad experience with this, they booked and made a down payment for a trip to Vietnam, the balance should be settled when they come to Vietnam. When they arrived in Hanoi, they came to the address stated in the voucher and was confused at the row of Sinh Cafe offices, they showed the voucher to a girl she said "you found the right address, the tour is booked with my company" and took them to her office, my clients paid the balance the payment without any doubt and had one of the most terrible trip. Luckily for them when they finish the first part with a 2 day tour to Halong bay, they called the number on the voucher complaining about the trip and found out that they were cheated by bad people, they came back to the fake Sinh Cafe office asking for a refund and after a long and harsh arguement with the office staff they got the refund for the rest of their trip.

My advice is check carefully information before you make a booking, for Sapa or Halong bay there is no need to arrange in advance, it is pretty easty to book the tour when you come to Hanoi, just shopping around before making your decision. Never make full payment before the trip start, just make a deposit about 10% total cost and pay the balance when the tour finishes.

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