Now don’t get me wrong, we loved Hanoi. From our beautiful little hotel in the old quarter to the amazing food, crazy streets full of mopeds whizzing past you and historic sights, we had a great 4 nights here. We did feel however, that we were constantly either getting scammed or narrowly avoiding it, more so than any other place we’ve visited with the exception of maybe Marrakech which was also pretty terrible.
I was really disappointed – after reading blog posts like this one and this one about people’s bad experiences in Vietnam and feeling like the locals were out to get them I was determined that we would love it and that we wouldn’t have those issues. But no, it turns out that in Hanoi at least there are seemingly scammers at every turn.
It started early – luckily having done some prior research I was prepared, but when we were crossing the border on our way on the bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, all locals were allowed to stay on the bus whilst us westerners had the door slammed in our faces and had to walk the 2km across the border in the freezing cold at 7am. I was prepared to be open minded about this, maybe it was just policy, but we happened to be travelling with a lovely British couple who had visible South East Asian heritage and were waved back onto the bus together with the locals. Call me cynical, as I’m not sure the driver realised they were fellow Brits but I’m inclined to think he didn’t.
As we arrived into Hanoi we immediately encountered an actual (very expensive) scam, followed by something that closely resembled a well known scam but luckily turned out not to be. Here’s how to avoid being scammed in Hanoi based on the most common incidents we spotted.
Don’t Use Taxis
Now I’m sure there are reputable companies but we didn’t find any and read, heard about and experienced various taxi scams. Our personal experience was arriving exhausted into Hanoi after a 25 hour journey and jumping into a metred taxi only to find the meter had been rigged and was shooting up faster than we could believe. A taxi ride that should have cost 5-6USD turned into a 30USD journey… we were too tired to argue and just parted with our hard earned cash and decamped into the hotel reception feeling a little stung to say the least.
There are tons of accounts of this happening so be really wary of using taxis unless you’ve researched a good company to use. Apparently hotels and other firms are often in cahoots so are no guarantee that you’ll end up with a trustworthy ride. The good news is that Hanoi has Uber which we found to be reliable, full of friendly drivers and ridiculously cheap. If only we’d known that when we arrived… not that we had SIM cards or wifi access but never mind.
Be Very Careful With Hotels
This one is one that I read about in Lonely Planet that I convinced myself would happen to us. Not only did we get ripped off after suffering a tortuous bus journey to Vietnam, when we arrived at the hotel we’d splashed out on for an anniversary treat we were told there had been a mistake and there were no rooms left. Conveniently they had a sister hotel down the road which had an equivalent room available for us. Again, too tired to find an alternative and unaware of the hotel room scam, we headed to the new hotel and found our room to be perfectly suitable and in fact rather awesome compared to our usual hostels and guest houses.
The scam here is that in many examples when this happens, when you head to check out and pay the bill on your departure you’ll find that the room rate is $$$ per night and will end up in a nasty stand off with staff who will demand full payment. As I said, we were lucky and paid the original price for an amazing room, but this is a pretty common scam apparently so take care.
Avoid Fake Tour Operators
This one is kind of crazy and again we would have fallen right for it had I not stumbled across a warning before we arrived. Hanoi, like many touristy cities, is packed to the rafters with tour agencies. They are on almost every street and all offer a massive range of popular tours which all seem to be very similar at first sight but actually do have subtle differences. We knew that our trip to Halong Bay would be one of the bigger expenses for us as we didn’t want a rock bottom backpacker budget priced tour so I picked a couple of agencies out for us to try.
Turns out that once a tour agency, or even a restaurant, gets a good reputation with travellers other agencies in the vicinity will rebrand to the same or a very similar name to try and get a slice of their business. No idea if there’s any copyright standards that deal with this but it’s a pretty visible problem when you’re looking for a specific company that has good reviews. Sinh Tourist is probably the best example with at least 7/8 fake branches scattered around Hanoi. It goes without saying that if an agency has to rebrand themselves they’re probably not the kind of company offering the best tours for you to pick from.
Watch Out For Free Donuts
Free donuts sound pretty good right? I thought so too although unusually for me I was smart enough not to take anyone up on the many offers we received. You’ll see this loads in Hanoi, especially in the Old Quarter, where women wield baskets packed with mini donuts on skewers. I never saw anyone eat any, and definitely not any locals which is highly unusual for street food. The women will approach you with their wares and offer you one free donut to try before you buy. They can be pretty aggressive about it too – I almost had a donut shoved in my face while sat outside a cafe one afternoon.
If you do happen to take them up on the offer of a free donut, unsurprisingly you’ll receive immediate demands for money. This can be up to 4/5USD and they have no shame in creating an almighty scene to try and embarrass you into paying. Remember, if it looks too good to be true it probably is and I’d definitely categorise free donuts as too good to be true.
Steer Clear of ‘Free’ Photo Opportunities
Very similar to the above, you will also get street sellers carrying fruit and other goods in traditional yokes who will offer you the chance to have a go at carrying them and take some pictures for free. Obviously it’s not free and again, you’ll face embarrassing demands for payment if you fall for this.
Again they can be very strong willed about getting you to give it a go – we saw a girl have one placed on her shoulder and have to duck out of the way to avoid being left holding it.
I’m sure there are a lot more scams in Hanoi. I’ve not even touched on the more generic scams that are commonplace worldwide, but these are all the ones we saw in our 3 short days in the city and either got stung by or had to avoid.