Scams I Witnessed in Asia

As the above Tuk Tuk jewelry scam points out, there are a number of not so clever scams that Tuk Tuks, and other people tried to pull on me in Asia.

In Vietnam, I really do advise taking a taxi rather than a cyclo driver, which is the equivalent of the Thai and Cambodian Tuk Tuks, although the Tuk Tuks in Cambodia are gas powered now, and actually very efficient and safe. Nevertheless, nearly every experience with cyclos in Vietnam ended in dispute. We wanted to go up and down to Tan Son Nhut airbase from around the New World Hotel. This is a very long journey, but we intended to pay them well. One of the cyclo drivers found another one to pair up with-- they always find another driver to make sure of their work. They will pay other cyclo drivers off if they think the pay will be worth it too. The one who took my father was older, and even though 2/3 of the Vietnam population were born after the Vietnam War, this man was obviously around during the war, and seemed to possess an air of indignance.

We showed them a map, and they agreed, although map or not, they would have agreed to anything. The eagerness of the cyclos lets you know the randomness of this world, and how the womb you ended up in impacts your plight so intensely. The old guy was having trouble pedaling my father, and soon stopped off at a handicrafts store. This is a common scam, and as aforementioned, the cyclo driver gets a commission if you walk into the store. My father would not go in, and asked to keep going. My father was in Vietnam during the war, and had been back twice since his tour of duty. He knew where Tan Son Nhut was supposed to be, and even pointed out the old military hangars that have not moved since United States occupation, from the airplane on our way into country. So when he saw the old man begin to drive us in a circle, he demanded him to stop. We got out, and my father directed me to walk away.

The old man started cursing loudly, and threatened to go to the police. My father exclaimed: "Ok, let's go to the police then," and marched over to a police station. I was a bit scared being in a communist country, where we could not accurately transmit our story due to the language barrier, but he assured me, he had been there many times, and knew how to deal with this situation. Sure enough, we found a one-way street, got into a taxi, and that was the end of it. We ate at a so-so Chinese Restaurant, and watched the afternoon monsoon rain down. We assumed the cyclo drivers were hanging around The New World Hotel waiting for us, since they picked us up in that area, but we were staying at another hotel across Saigon

Another very interesting story, which I cannot say with certainty was a scam, has to do with lacquerware. We took a guided tour down to the Mekong Delta, where my father used to drive combat trucks up and down from. There is one main road down, which you stay on for about two hours, but we stopped off at smaller villages and temples to take pictures so often that it took four hours before we finally made it. Our guide’s name was Tri, and he could tell we were sympathetic to the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and we were friendly, offering an American Spirit cigarette, which you cannot find anywhere in Asia outside of Japan, and a Tiger Beer at lunch. I also ask a lot of questions, and am pretty knowledgeable about the history of Vietnam, so the relationship was smooth except for our constant requests to stop for pictures on the ride to the Mekong and back.

However, early in the day, the guide, who worked out of the Sofitel, spoke fair English, and appeared genial, started to mention how he helps out at a handicapped house, where the people make crafts out of eggshells, and some other special processes. He claimed it was Sunday so it might be closed, but he was adamant that we see the handicapped people, and made it sound like we would appreciate it because we were so… sensitive. We agreed, and at the end of the day, we went into what appeared to be a little factory, and we saw maybe one handicapped person sitting by a vat of water, appearing to be doing something- what I could not discern. Tri claimed it was Sunday so most people were not there, but the store was open. Now this was not a small-scale craft shop, this was a huge room with hundreds and hundreds of lacquerware pictures, about a hundred pieces of furniture, and thousands of little trinkets like bowls and carvings.

Lacquerware is very pretty, and we ended up buying a few pieces off the street vendors later in the trip. We did not buy it from this handicapped house though. The handicapped house store was charging hundreds for their pictures- the bigger the piece, the higher the price, and some came close to $1000USD. We were skeptical, and decided to browse the street vendors the next day. Well, to our surprise, we found the same pieces, mass produced, for $5USD-$100USD depending on size. My father thinks perhaps these are knock-offs, but it seems highly likely that this is a scam for the tourists staying at the hotels who have not seen the vendors in the streets. Especially considering that $200USD is an incredible sum of money in Vietnam. This just goes to show you how elaborate the scam may become, seeing that this was a hotel tour guide who seemed to be trustworthy, and a store and building that really could fool you due to its size and amount of merchandise. But, I suppose that is just what it is- a very large store.

In Cambodia, and this does not involve Tuk Tuks, we were at one of the smaller Angkor Wat temples when a police officer attempted to sell his “official” badge to us. We knew right away that it was a scam, and when we asked our tour guide, he said this is a common scam, and that they have a bag of plastic badges. Another time my father bought postcards off one of the young kids, put them in his back pocket, and came to realize later they yanked them right back out.

All I can say about Thai taxi drivers is to watch out! These guys do it all- on the way to the airport from the Sheraton our taxi driver got caught without the meter on. This may seem like a benefit for the tourist, but on Samui for instance, they do not use meters, and they never want to talk about the fare cost until they actually take you to your destination. They figure you will give them the money they demand to avoid conflict. After we asked him to put it on, he just touched the radio. After we called him on it, he took us twenty minutes out of the way, and started driving 150km/hr on the highway, and said “Good taxi huh,” and every other story is similar. Be careful with them, they are highly aggressive, and will try to screw you any which way they can- they are very good at playing “the lost game” too, I mean one of them should have gotten an academy award. Not to be redundant, but be careful, even if they come from the hotels.