In this guest article by James Prior of Asia Scams and Asia Sight See you’ll learn about how to avoid getting screwed over while traveling around Asia. James has spent the better part of the last 10 years traveling around all corners of Asia and definitely has some killer tips! There are hundreds of specific travel scams out there, though this guide will highlight the most prevalent “umbrella” scams.
1) Avoid Dirt Cheap Tour Providers and Fake Ticket Booths
Just showing up to a cool location can be spontaneous and fun sometimes, but when traveling to scammer infested areas then you must do research into how you will move between your hotel and the various sights and what to be on the lookout for at the different attractions. For example, it is good to know in advance that scammers will setup a fake ticket booth in front of the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The best case scenario is of course seeing the sights with a local friend, but if that isn’t an option and you insist on using a tour provider for part, or for some crazy reason all, of your trip then take heed and DO NOT go with a cheap tour. If you must do a tour, then fully research the outfit and look at an example itinerary to avoid scam tours. Cheap tours will spend little-to-no time at the real sights and instead take you to rip-off gift shops and fake ceremonies designed for naïve tourists.
2) Don’t Use Taxi Drivers that Solicit You
If you haven’t already arranged for transport, then for airports in Japan, Singapore, Brunei, South Korea, and Hong Kong simply find the taxi queue or train. For travelling in all other Asian countries where you are unfamiliar with the lay of the land, I advise setting up a car in advance through a trustworthy source. If you do you prefer taking a street taxi, then be aware of the average amount to your destination and consider negotiating the total fare (including “highway fees”) beforehand. To avoid real or fake confusion (notice how the English skill deteriorates during a fare dispute) have destination names – don’t forget your hotel – written in the local language.
Ignore anyone who approaches you near airport departure exits, and be aware that scammers will sometimes wear fake airport uniforms.
Without a doubt the most common way travelers are scammed is by their driver.
3) Use Legit Currency Exchange Providers
Never exchange money with an overly desperate teller trying to solicit your business – no matter how good the rates sound! Generally speaking you will get the best rates and avoid fake bills at legitimate banks. Fakes are generally not an issue in airports or hotels, but the rates at these two locations are often times not the best.
No matter where you exchange your money, you should have some idea of what to expect. Even if you aren’t good with exchange rates and numbers in general (know the approximate exchange rates and use a calculator), at least feign understanding by watching the teller closely while the money is being counted and handled. Once you have the money in-hand count it in front of the teller so they can see what you’re doing BEFORE you put any of the money away in your wallet. This gives you the chance to credibly dispute any discrepancies.
If a trustworthy currency exchange isn’t available (like a reputable international bank) and you have to use a ramshackle fly-by-night moneychanger, then at least double check the high value bills for counterfeits.
4) Know Hotels’ Tricks Beforehand
A hostel or two-star hotel in Japan or Singapore is very different from one in Cambodia or Indonesia. Get the bottom line price if you are staying at budget accommodations, as they can sometimes tack on hidden fees or play tricks such as the old “room rate is per person and not per room” scam.
If you are staying at a quality hotel, then make nice with the concierge. If he/she appears especially trustworthy and knowledgeable, then dole out a nice tip and ask for advice on both what to do and what not to do in the area.
5) Before Heading Out and Later At the Sights…
Before heading out to the attractions, glean as much information as possible regarding the sight itself and the surrounding locale(s). Arm yourself with various small banknote denominations (taxis never, ever have small change) of the local currency, a stealthy non-expensive looking camera, and an easy-to-read map. Its ok to look like a tourist, just don’t look like a naïve mark waiting to be fleeced of hard-earned money.
Once you’ve hit the sights, take in and enjoy everything but don’t listen to any friendly “helpers” or touts that come up to you. They are used to dealing with tourists and are working some kind of angle whether it is playing on your sympathy, fear, greed/lust, confusion, or desire to witness some kind of local customs/ceremony. These hucksters should not be confused with the regular, honest local folks.
If you liked James’ awesome article, check out 10 Best South-East Asia Destinations for Chill Budget Travel.