8 Travel Scams to Avoid in South East Asia!

It is highly likely that whilst you have been planning your backpacking trip and reading through screeds of information on the Internet, you will have come across many warnings about scams that will separate you from your hard-earned money at an amazing speed.  

Many of these tales are true. When you arrive do not view everyone through a jaded lens. Many people that want to chat with you simply want to socialize. But beware there are many scammers that will think nothing of emptying your wallet or bank account if given half a chance.

Here are a few scams that you may well come across. Beware, if any of these happen to you simply walk away.


1. The Infamous Gem Scam

This scam is extremely well known. It is amazing that people are still taken in by it. It is most often tried in India, especially around Agra, but reports of it being tried elsewhere have also been received.

This scam starts with you being befriended by a local. He will offer to show you around and allow you to experience some local culture. When they think that they have gained your trust, they will ask you if you would like to be part of a business deal that they have.

This deal will involve a lot of precious stones that they will show you. But not allow you to really investigate. They will then explain that they cannot export them. As the taxes that local people must pay to export them are prohibitive. You, on the other hand, can take them out as part of your duty-free allowance. They then suggest that you buy them. When you arrive home, an agent of theirs will assist you to sell them. For around four times the amount you have paid for them. A different twist on this is that they do not ask you to buy the stones. But simply to take them, leaving your credit card number and a signature as surety as they will be “trusting” you to not abscond with their property.  

A different twist on this is that they do not ask you to buy the stones. But simply to take them, leaving your credit card number and a signature as surety as they will be “trusting” you to not abscond with their property.  

If you are foolish enough to actually buy the stones, you will arrive home and find that you have a handful of paste. If you are even more foolish to give them your credit card details, you will arrive home to a credit card account that looks like it should belong to a multi-millionaire!

Quick money deals anywhere in the world are a short road to destitution!


2. Suspect Food and the Waiters and Clinic Scam

This has to be one of the most callous scams. It does not need the traveler to be greedy or looking to make a quick buck nor does it need you to be particularly gullible, all it needs if for you to eat in a restaurant in India.

As you devour your biryani and naan bread, your tummy starts to feel a little queasy. You suspect that the dreaded ‘‘Delhi belly’ is about to hit you. The sympathetic waiters will surround you, then will offer to take you to a clinic that is close by for instant medical care. Suffering from nausea and dizziness means that you are not thinking straight. You allow them to take you to the clinic. Where they will give you several tablets and allow you to lie down.  

A few hours later you are feeling much better. Until they put the bill from the clinic down in front of you. At this point, the dizziness may well return as the exorbitant amount sinks in. Then you start to connect the dots. You realize that they tampered your food. The waiters and the clinic staff are all in the scam together.  

Now you need to decide what you intend to do, refuse to pay the extortionate amount, pay-up and live on dry crackers for the rest of the month or take to your heels. We recommend a quick exit, leaving the scammers empty handed.


3. Tuk Tuk drivers and the never ending ride

This is one of those scams that can be extremely difficult to detect, but it is unlikely that any traveler has not been driven a few extra kilometers to bump up the bill. If you have never been to a particular place, it is very difficult to decide if you are being taken ‘the long way’ round or if this is the actual route so be careful not to make accusations that you cannot substantiate.  

The tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand are notorious for telling passengers that the guesthouse that they wanted to book into is full, or the temple they wanted to see is closed. Then offering to take the fare to an alternative guesthouse or temple. Of course, the driver is simply trying to get his fare to a place that will pay him a commission for each person that he delivers to them!  


4. You have taken me where?

This is a scam prevalent in Bangkok. As most travelers know little about the city, it is an easy one to perpetrate. You will get in a taxi. Then instead of taking you to the nightclub, bar or restaurant you have requested, the driver will drop you off on the outskirts of the city. At a location filled with ladies of easy virtue and drinks of even more dubious origins. A taxi back to the city center or to your original destination, which of course is open unlike he told you, will cost you a fortune. A cartel of taxi drivers will share all the extra.


5. A common border scam

When you get to a border, do not be taken in by the travel agents and shops that advertise selling visas on the cheap. All that you will find is that when you get to the official immigration officers, other travelers are collecting visas at half the price you paid.  


6. Tell your fortune for US$140

Out of the shadows will creep this figure and whisper that he can tell you the name of your mother or your future spouse. Being on holiday, you are quick to take him up on this ludicrous offer, just for the fun of it.

He will probably lead you to his office. Once there, he will ask you to write down your three wishes. Along with your mother’s name on pieces of paper. which he will then scrunch up.  In typical three cups and a pea fashion, he will switch the papers. Finally, he will miraculously know your mother’s name.

If you now become suspicious that it’s a scam, which it is, and you try to leave. You will have to pay the full price. Probably around 5,000 baht (around US$140) for this ridiculous con. These fortune tellers are professionals. So just say no, rather than listen to generalizations that will fit any backpacker!


7. Card Sharps in Vietnam

This hoax takes time and effort to carry off. It often takes place in Vietnam.  A local will befriend you. He will tell you a sad tale of being ripped off at a local Casino by some hot-shot. He then offers to teach you his card techniques. You can then use these skills to make a lot of money playing Blackjack with his special code.

As you progress through your lessons another gentleman will appear, dressed in a sharp suit and carrying a suitcase full of money. He will offer to play you and your friend loans you a stake in the game. Your card playing skills are legendary, you are at the point of winning thousands when the suited gentlemen will ask you to prove you have the money.

Most backpackers don’t have hundreds of dollars, let alone thousands. Instead of walking away some will actually put down a credit card as surety. Then, oh dear, the code fails and you are marched off to draw the winnings from an ATM.  You have just been scammed out of a huge amount of cash.


8. Motorcycle Magic

Many young backpackers are able to ride a motorcycle. There is nothing better to get you out of the city for a while. Beware the motorcycle renter who may have an ulterior motive for renting you a bike. The rates will seem ridiculously cheap. You are happy to have a bike to ride for a while, but then when you get back, he will charge you for every nick, ding, and dent on the bike.

The moral of the story is look over your iron horse before you take it. Insist that everything is noted down. That way you do not pay for every dent that many before you have already paid for!


All these scams can dim the gloss on your holiday. But don’t let them discourage you. Remember the old adage that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Try to think logically before simply stepping into a situation. If you feel in the slightest bit unsure, walk away. Never give your credit card information to anyone. Stay away from games of chance with local inhabitants; they are likely to fleece you!  

On the flip side, don’t view everyone as con artists. Everywhere you go there will be many wonderful people who are justifiably proud of their city and would love to share it with you; you simply have to learn to separate the good from the bad.  

Any travel to a foreign country is a risky business. Think about medical emergencies or the loss of your pack or expensive possessions. There is no insurance policy for stupidity so think before you act. If something does go seriously wrong, know that your insurance company will be there to give you a hand. Do check out our travel insurance platform for a quotation.