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Tourist Beware! Common Travel Scams In Asia

Asia is a vibrant travel destination but there are plenty of unscrupulous individuals trying to make a quick buck out of unsuspecting tourists. Be smart and don’t be caught unawares.

You’ve heard many horror stories of tourists getting scammed as they travel around Asia. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes, much worse than that.

asis travel scams

Know before you go: Check travel guide books for scams or read up tourist guide in travel websites.

Of course, you always think that you’re smart enough not to get conned.

But are you?

Touts have perfected the art of scamming so well that it is very easy to fall into their traps. Being an avid traveler myself, I find the warnings in Lonely Planet guides very helpful. The guides usually have Danger and Annoyances sections for each country as well as for specific cities.
Source: The Star

Here are some common scams you should be aware of:

Gem Scam in Bangkok, Thailand

“This is one of the oldest thriving scams in Bangkok. Many travel warnings have been issued but people still fall for this trick, even myself,” jokes Samuel Prabhakaran, 48, who has been working in Bangkok as a general manager for an ICT company for 1½ years.

Samuel explains that the scam usually takes place around the Grand Palace where a “uniformed official” will tell you that the palace is closed because the King is there or some special ceremony is going on. He will then suggest visiting another temple first with a tuk-tuk driver (who’ll conveniently be there) and to return to the Grand Palace later.

The friendly tuk-tuk driver will start telling you about a special government promotion on gems just for the day or an ultra-exclusive closing down sale that he knows of. He will then bring you to a store where you will be tricked into buying worthless pieces of glass that are being passed off as gems.

“The scam works with other products, too, such as gold, silver, silk or whatever you are interested in. The drivers get a commission from the shop owners if the customers buy something. I was with my sister, and my sister bought some gems. Till now, we do not know if they are real or not,” says Samuel.

Writer Andrew Sia, another avid traveler in his 40s, was fortunate enough not to get duped as he was already aware of the scam.

“I was heading towards the palace when someone approached me saying that the palace was closed. I ignored him and continued walking as I had read about the scam from Lonely Planet,” says Sia.

Sia thinks that the intervention of the government and the tourism board is essential in curbing and reducing scams.

gems scams

Be careful when buying gems in Bangkok.

“I am very impressed with what Thailand is doing as they have large signboards in front of popular tourist attractions warning people of possible scams. The gem scam was explained on a board in front of MBK Shopping Centre, a famous mall in Bangkok. There were signs at popular temples, too, warning people of fake guides who would lead you to shops for the gem scam or to purchase other products for commission,” adds Sia.

Samuel advises travelers not to believe outright what these “uniformed officials” say as they are all in the scam together.

“What you can do is go up to the main entrance and enquire for yourself. Many times, you will find that the Grand Palace is open for tourist visits, despite what you’re told.”

Batik Scam in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Yogyakarta is known for its arts and crafts, but beware of the many scams here. Lonely Planet warns of a batik scam that is quite common in the area but teacher Christina Fernandez, 40, found out about it too late.

She was at a magazine shop with a friend when they were approached by a well-dressed man who spoke good English. The man said he was with a government-funded batik gallery and offered to take them to see the paintings which were just down the street.

The gallery was quite impressive with the batik paintings exhibited under A-Z categories, A being the top grade. The man even did the “real/fake batik test” by immersing the batik in water.

Batik Scams

It is important to gain some knowledge on batik before buying in Yogyakarta.

“He told us you could tell fake from real batik by submerging it in water as real batik doesn’t run but we found out later from Lonely Planet that the operators have become more sophisticated in faking batik art by using a permanent dying process,” recalls Christina.

She ended up buying two batik pieces for about RM80 each.

“Until today, I don’t know if my batik pieces are fake or not but I felt that they were worth it because I really liked them. The designs are abstract, modern and unique. I guess you should pay what you are comfortable with. We were lucky as the officials at the tourist office said that some have been cheated of a huge sum of money.”

Tuk-tuk/Taxi Dcams in Bangkok, Jakarta, Cambodia, Vietnam, Manila, Kuala Lumpur

This scam happens almost throughout Asia. You hail a tuk-tuk or a taxi, the driver brings you to your destination, and there is disagreement over the fare.

“Make sure you agree on the price BEFORE you get on the tuk-tuk,” says project manager Edmund Lou who has been based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for more than half a year.

He stresses that you must agree beforehand on the price, the number of destinations, the duration of the ride and the number of passengers.

tutuk scams

Travel scams: Use metered taxis whenever possible or agree on the price before you get on a tuk-tuk to avoid any altercations.

“If you want to go to several places, make sure you clarify it with the driver and tell him how long you’ll be at each place. Also, clarify if the price is for the whole tuk-tuk or one person. The driver might get rude and aggressive if there is a disagreement and get his friends to surround you.”

Sia experienced this show of aggression when he was in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

“We agreed on the price to Chinatown with our cyclo driver beforehand but when we arrived at our destination, he quoted us double what we had agreed upon,” recalls Sia.

A shouting match ensued soon after.

“It was quite scary as there was a risk that he could harm us. A crowd was gathering because of the commotion, but luckily, I overheard some locals speaking in Cantonese. So I explained to the locals my side of the story and they scolded the driver instead. The driver relented in the end and agreed on the original fare.”

Indonesian TV host Mahartansyah Leksmana Indra, 28, advises tourists to make sure the taxis in Jakarta use the meter the moment they get into the ¬vehicle.

“There are a few taxi companies that use meters but if you are in Jakarta, I would advice you to go with Bluebird as they are the most reliable.”

RS Balan, 47, business development director of loyalty card Orient Rewards, advises travelers to deal with reputable and reliable companies to avoid unnecessary hassle.

“We always tell our clients to find the hotel concierge if they want to arrange for any tour packages, or hire taxis or rental cars. Our hotel partners are trustworthy so our clients would not be cheated (by them),” says Balan.

Overweight luggage Scam in China

This scam mainly happens in China at transportation hubs. Travel writer Tom Glaister (www.tomthumb.org), 32, was walking along the streets of Kunming when he was approached by a friendly guy who introduced himself as the manager of the local bus station and said he wanted to improve his English.

bag scams

Oversize or overweight luggage can attract touts in China. If something seems amiss, insist on calling the authorities.

“During our small talk, stupid me, I gave out the details of my departure to Vietnam the next day,” recalls Glaister. “I had forgotten about the guy until I saw him waiting for me at the bus station. He was very happy to see me and boarded the bus to show me where my berth was for the night.”

The “manager” took his ticket and said that everything was in order except for one thing — his backpack was overweight.

“This raised a red flag as I was in a bus, not a plane! He wanted me to pay for the excess weight, and I refused to cooperate or believe him, branding him a con. He said I could talk to the bus station security (they were certainly involved in the con, as was the waiting bus driver), but I insisted on calling the police.”

After verbally abusing, intimidating and even trying to hit him with a chain, the “manager” gave up after 30 minutes and the bus drove off.

“I was quite scared as I didn’t know whether he tampered with or removed my luggage or if the bus driver would drop me off in the middle of nowhere since I did not have my ticket any more. Later on, almost every backpacker I met who had taken the same route told me they had been conned by that same man!”

Writer Abby Lu, 29, was a victim of the overweight scam as well when she traveled around China for work two years ago.

“I was at the Guangzhou Airport when this guy with an official-looking tag approached me at the check-in counter,” says Lu. “I was checking in this big, red suitcase which was slightly overweight, but in my experience, domestic flights were never particular about weight anyway.”

The guy told her she had to pay for the excess weight but he could “settle” it for her at a reduced price as he had connections.
“The check-in girl was in on the scam, too, because she said the same thing. She allowed me to check in my luggage but told me I had to follow the guy to pay the excess charges.”

Lu then asked whom she had to pay and the guy said to pay to him.

“At that moment, I knew I was being conned but since I was alone, I didn’t want to risk any trouble and gave him half of what he demanded.

“My Chinese colleagues later confirmed my suspicions and said that domestic flights didn’t charge for excess weight. They advised me to ignore these people and report them to airport authorities if I was ever approached again.”

Nightclub Scam in Patpong, Bangkok, Thailand

This scam has been going on for a very long time, ensnaring many unsuspecting victims in the red light district of Patpong, Bangkok, into parting with their cash. The modus operandi is simple: After being bombarded with promotions by sleazy characters, you will be approached by a decent-looking elderly lady who seems to offer a good deal.

Be very cautious when visiting nightclubs, especially those featuring adult entertainment in Patpong, the red light district of Bangkok. Ask about all hidden costs before going into any of these joints.

“We were bombarded left and right with offers to see Patpong’s famous ‘tiger shows’ but we ignored all these dubious characters. However, curiosity got the better of us and we relented after this nice older-looking lady approached us and told us we could go in for free if we paid 100 baht (RM10) for a beer each,” recalls sales manager Koay Sue-Lyn, 30.

“The girls there were the ugliest we had ever seen and the place was really shoddy. We decided to call for the bill.”

The party of four had a shock when the bill came to around 8,000 baht (RM800).

night club scams

Night club scams in Thailand

“The waitress showed us a small card on our table stating that it was 1,500 baht (RM150) to look and 500 baht (RM50) for a bottle of beer each!

“We didn’t have that much money with us so we argued with them, and that’s when the big bouncers came and surrounded us. It was either we paid our bill, or we wouldn’t see daylight again.”

Koay and her friends managed to reduce the price to about 5,000 baht (RM500).

“It was a very expensive lesson indeed, the most I ever paid for a bottle of beer. I found out later that some of my other friends and even my father fell for this same scam,” she says.

“We are aware of this scam but we don’t warn the customers as that is how the club makes money,” says Mongkun Nuntharat, 25, a nightclub bouncer in Bangkok.

“Many still fall for it as they are curious to see the shows. But we do have legitimate clubs that display all the prices. My advice is to trust your gut instinct and ask about all the hidden costs before agreeing to follow anyone.”

Real Life Experience Submitted by Readers!

Other commons travel scams told by others

  • Asia Travel Scams – You’ve heard many horror stories of tourists getting scammed as they travel around Asia. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes, much worse than that.
  • How to avoid taxi scams – It is really sad to read news again about a lady who is a tourist from the United State got robbed and raped by two men after being taken on a 80km terror ride in a taxi.
  • Ensure a safe and happy vacation – The last thing you need when on holiday is to be mugged or robbed. Taking certain precautions will definitely make your holiday a happy one.
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