Be Smart: common hotel and restaurant scams in South East Asia and how to avoid them

In our Be Smart series we take a look at common things that you might encounter that seem strange that you should be informed about.

In this installment we take a look at common hotel and restaurant scams that happen in South East Asia and how to avoid them.


Before we start with hotels, we’d like to point out that these are mostly avoidable simply by booking through a booking website. Not 100% of the time, but 99% at least. Booking directly with the hotel, either through phone or website, or through a tour agency is much less reliable then it used to be.

Use of facilities

Some hotels may charge for use of facilities, from swimming pools to kettles. If not too inconvenient, the easiest way to deal with this is just to skip using them. To not get caught out by nonsense like this, make sure to double check terms and conditions and any fine print.

Common in

Vietnam. I think all the hotels in Vietnam we stayed in tried something like this. Even Ibis tried to charge us for two full breakfasts even though I was ill and wasn’t eating.

One hotel had full unopened bottles of shampoos and shower gels in the bathroom that we immediately realized they’d try to charge us for, so we bought our own. When it was time to check out, they had assumed we used them and charged us for them. Luckily there was no confrontation as we told them we didn’t use them and they can go check if they like but we aren’t paying for it. Price was ludicrous: something like USD20 for a bottle of Head and Shoulders.

Claims of damage

The hotel can claim damages for your room and present evidence from a contractor to repair that damage.

Common in

Once again, Vietnam.

We were staying at what seemed to be a decent hotel and when we were checking out the front desk presented a damages bill for some furniture and how they’ll have to replace it.

How to avoid

When we checked in, we were a bit suspicious of the staff since they were friendly but they didn’t seem genuine so when were shown to the room we took photos of everything and were able to show that we weren’t the ones that caused the damage.

Water not safe to drink and not free

Either the hotel will say that the water is not safe to drink or they wont mention anything so you would just assume. They would also have bottles of water in your room but they will not be marked as complementary and when you checkout you’ll be charged for them

Common in

China. After travelling for some 13 hours and reaching the hotel at 1am we had the water that we had assumed as complementary but ended up being charged USD5 for a bottle of water.

How to avoid

First of all, before going to any place make sure to check whether the water is drinkable or not. That holds true for every place.

Second of all, and once again this isnt just for the hotels but is good practice in general, always carry water with you. On your way back to the hotel always stop by the super market and get some water since it’ll be cheaper for sure and plus you’ll definitely need it the next day.

Finally, make sure that the water is complementary. Hotels will normally have a tag that they put on the bottles that says something to that effect.

In general

It’s good practice to leave your credit card as the deposit in hotels rather then cash. Cash they can just pocket but a credit card statement you can dispute and your case is especially good if you have any supporting evidence.


Restaurants are much easier to deal with then hotels since you can just walk away, just make sure to check before you sit down.

Two menus

Some restaurants can have two menus, one in the local language and one for the foreigners. Before you sit down make sure you’ll looking at the one that you’ll get at the table.

Menu with no price

If a restaurant has a menu with no prices, that’s an immediate red flag. Walk away.

Cover charges

Mostly applies when going out at night to bars etc but while looking at the menu simply ask if there’s any cover charge and unless explicitly said that there isn’t assume that there is.

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