Be Smart: Common transportation 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 transportation scams that happen in South East Asia and how to avoid them.

Taxi: hotel / attraction closed

Once you tell the destination to the taxi driver he’ll insist that the destination you want is closed today and he’ll offer and alternative. Frequently that alternative is either an expensive shop that he get’s commission from or a competing hotel that pays him.

Common in

Thailand and Vietnam, particularly Hanoi.

How to avoid

Insist on your destination no matter what he says. Just say no problem. If he says anything further, ask him to stop and get out of the car as soon as possible.

No meter, too long, wrong metered, fixed price

All kinds of nonsense while attempting to charge you more.

Common in

Pretty much everywhere

How to avoid

With the rise of Uber, Grab and Ola simply use those instead. Grab and Uber even use fixed fares for many places that you don’t have to think about. In addition, link your credit card to the app and even if you want to tip do it through the app. Make sure that you stay in the car till the driver marks the trip as complete.

Luggage theft

Drivers could hold your luggage hostage but refusing to open the doors or simply driving off with it.

How to avoid

If you don’t have a lot of luggage keep in on the back seat with you. If you do have to use the trunk, take the luggage out first, before doing anything else (that includes paying, or checking in or saying hello). If there’s two of you that’s even better, have one of you pay, while the other one immediately gets the luggage.

Per person charge

It’s not common for taxis to do this but tuk-tuks and minibuses. Just make sure to clear up the amount before hand and then adamantly refuse anything other then what you agreed upon.

Wrong currency

You’ll agree upon a set amount and then at the end of the ride the currency will suddenly change. For example, if you agreed on MYR20 (about USD6) at the end of the trip it might be USD20.

Common in

Used to be in Malaysia but not any more, India and Thailand but in extreme cases

How to avoid

Just pay in the actual agreed upon currency and walk away.

Free or cheap taxi / tours

Be very skeptical of any bus/taxi/tour that’s free or very cheap. Worst case scenario is that they’re a straight up funnel for robberies but the best case scenario is that your entire day is wasted being trucked around from factory to factory where you’re expected to buy things or you wouldn’t be allowed back on the bus.

These operators get commissions, of course, from all of the places they drop you off and the amount you pay initially is just to make it look like a good deal. They’ll make a lot more from the shops themselves.

In many places they’ll also drop you off to places that have fake items (clothes or gems) so be wary of deals that are too good to be true in general.

Common in

Thailand with tuk-tuks and tour minibuses and Vietnam and China with tours

How to avoid

So, if you aren’t using Uber etc. you need to categorically agree on what places you want to visit and the timetable and how much it’ll cost. In Cambodia we had a wonder experience with a tuk tuk driver where we agreed what time he should come to the hotel, where we’ll go, how long we’ll stay, and how much we’ll pay and everything went off without a hitch.

If however, you see you’re being taken for a ride, ask the driver to stop, or if you’re far away from anything wait till you reach, then pay for the part of the trip that you had already taken, thank him and walk away. I guarantee he’s going to come back and plead and say sorry and that he’ll continue and wont take you anywhere else but do not trust that. The next destination will be one of your choosing but the restaurant he’ll choose and it will be neither cheap nor good.

Rental car claims of damage

This happens mostly when you’re renting from people and not companies once you return the car they’ll claim that you scratched it etc etc.

Common in

Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam

How to avoid

To be super sure rent from smaller companies that preferably have a Facebook page or a website.

If you must rent from a person, once you pick up the car, but before that person leaves make sure to take photos of any damages and a video that shows the person who dropped of the car clearly before taking possession. If they question you, show them the video and refuse to pay.

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