Scam Culture Part 2: Is Vietnam Even Worth the Trouble?
If you read our recent article about what seems to many to be a cultural propensity for scamming foreigners in Vietnam, you already know that if you do plan to go there you can expect to be cheated, overcharged, constantly touted, and possible even intimidated and abused. I personally still think a visit to Vietnam can be worth it, depending on what you are looking for – thought it’s not for everybody (read the last article here to find out if it’s really a trip for you).
But if you recognize the perceived problems in Vietnam and want to give it a go and form your own opinion, or just think it’s still worth the extra effort and energy, the question on your mind is likely: “So how do I minimize or otherwise deal with this issue?”
Great question, so let’s look at the situation from a practical traveler’s perspective.
It’s hard to say exactly how to avoid being scammed, cheated, and overcharged in Vietnam. Unfortunately, I’m strongly of the opinion that you will not avoid it – people who go the politically-correct route and insist they were treated with nothing but kindness and never overcharged are, in my opinion, not paying attention.
One thing I noticed in Vietnam is that if you never argue a bill or bargain or pay attention to being overcharged, the locals are more than happy to scam you with a smile. So you can have a very good time as long as you’re willing to just plop down the money and go on with your day, not blinking an eyelid – hiding behind rose-tinted glasses, so to speak.
As an example of what I mean, I sat down to dinner with plenty of foreigners who were sporting their own rose-tinted glasses and rolled my eyes as they smiled through the scams, didn’t even look at the bill, and thought nothing at paying two times what they should have paid. All the while proclaiming how they couldn’t understand why people had a problem with traveling in Vietnam…
Well, of course they didn’t understand. Never mind the tips they eagerly threw down that were equal to 5 – 10 days a local’s salary (for very sub-standard service). Is it any wonder that people robbed them with a smile when there was money spilling out of their pockets and a dazed grin on their face?
To reiterate, I read a story online about a man who was approached even “off the beaten track” and hounded for 10 minutes as he walked down the street by a lady trying to sell him something. He finally gave her some money to stop bothering him and she demanded twice the amount!
This all goes back to the Vietnamese cultural idea that foreigners owe them something. They seem to believe we have an obligation to go there and pay, pay, pay. They seem to have the idea we are all rich and can afford it because they don’t understand our own cultural realities.
So if you just want to go through your travels with no problems and aren’t opposed to being cheated, then don’t study your bill, don’t argue obvious scams, and spend your heart out. Keep in mind, however, that this attitude does nothing but empty your pocketbook unfairly and make it more difficult for future travelers.
Or, perhaps an even more sensible option is to be a tourist in Vietnam instead of a traveler.
I never recommend this anywhere, but due to my personal observations of traveling in Vietnam, I’m of the opinion you are better off spending extra money to stay in more luxury hotels, go on more luxury tours, and have guides that get paid well to care about your better interest. On a similar vein, by sticking to nicer restaurants, you at least know the price you’re going to pay and don’t have to wonder if you will be extorted.
It’s right there on the menu, and they don’t usually have a different one just for foreigners.
In my opinion, if you want to experience Vietnam but don’t want to be cheated, paying higher prices is simply insurance on having a good time and enjoying the country.
Otherwise, just accept what is going to happen to you and take preventative measures by always agreeing on prices ahead of time, double checking every bill, and relying on the experiences of other travelers so you can stick with trustworthy venues. And be very, very patient.
You will get scammed and overcharged no matter what, but you can at least minimize the damage (and the begrudging attitude you may struggle with from time to time). And if you’re in a situation where you’ve been obviously cheated, you can often just hand them what you should owe them and walk away. Just be prepared to give in if a physical threat ensues.
It’s an ugly picture, I know, and I hate to fear monger, but my own opinion of Vietnam (a country I will visit again, by the way) suggests that you should either prepare for some practical measures or avoid it completely. And if you want a nice, peaceful vacation rather than immersion in a fascinating yet trying cultural experience, try Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, or the Philippines. You’ll still get scammed from time to time, but it’s not done with such a vengeance, and it’s easier to avoid.