Nobody wants to be a victim of scams that ruin their holiday. Scams in Hanoi are mostly a nuisance than dangerous. However, it will create disappointment and annoyance throughout your whole journey. These are some of the Hanoi scams you may encounter while traveling in Hanoi and some tips to avoid them.
1. Exchange rates - Scams in Hanoi
Exchanging money in Vietnam is a must for travelers since Vietnamese like to use cash rather than credit cards. Most of the everyday payment is made by cash. There are ways to exchange money in Vietnam.
When exchanging money in Hanoi, be careful of the exchange rates scam. You don’t need to worry about this if you exchange your money at banks. But if you exchange money at hotels or gold and jewelry stores, you should check the exact current exchange rates first. You may find this information on the internet or in smartphone apps.
Also, unscrupulous hotels quote rates in dollars, then when you want to pay in dong, inflate the exchange rate well up. For a long stay, you will waste a lot of money. Before booking, if possible, ask the price in the currency you are going to pay in.
If you’ve pre-booked, then check again when you arrive. If the rate is too high, ask them for an explanation beforehand over your passport or any other guarantee. Alternatively, pay in the currency they’ve quoted — usually dollars.
The updated exchange rates on July 2nd, 2019
2. Hotel scams - What to avoid in Hanoi?
Hotel scams are also one of the common Hanoi scams and there’re different kinds of scams.
When you arrive at the hotels, they might tell you that there has been a mistake and there are no rooms left. Then, they ask you to move to a sister hotel which has an equivalent room available. You may be too tired to look for something else and agree with the new hotel that later you find that it’s better compared to our usual hostels and guesthouses.
But beware, the scam here is that when you head to check out and pay the bill on your departure you’ll find that the room rate is $$$ per night and will end up in a nasty standoff with staff who will demand full payment.
Also, try to avoid leaving your passport as a deposit because it’s easier to walk away if they’re not holding your passport. Instead, if a guarantee is needed, pay in advance. It’s actually better to lose your money than have trouble with your passports.
The scam here is that in many examples when you head to check out and pay the bill on your departure you’ll find that the room rate is $$$ 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.
One more thing, be extremely careful when choosing your accommodations in Hanoi. Rogue hotels and guesthouses are popping up everywhere under the same exact names as the real ones. You may go to a fake hotel. To prevent this, check with Google map to make sure you arrive at the real hotels.
3. Fake Tours & Tour Agencies
Hanoi, like many touristy cities, is packed to the rafters with tour agencies. For example, tourist agencies may sell you a “deluxe” tour which is certainly not deluxe. They can use fake photos to present a rosier image than reality. However, this is easy to solve if you put in some effort. Rather than just picking a random agency in the Old Quarter, do some research on the Internet or with Tripadvisor.
Also, be aware that you may encounter the fake tour agency. A reputable tour agency or even a restaurant will be rebranded by other agencies to the same or a very similar name to try and get a slice of their business. This is a pretty visible problem when you’re looking for a specific company that has good reviews. One of the case it’s Sinh Tourist agency, which has at least 7 fake branches scattered around Hanoi. They are properly the fake ones, not the real one and not gonna provide you with the best service for sure.
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 travelers 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 are 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.
Fake tours and tour agencies are one of the common Hanoi scams. To avoid this scam, make sure you check with Google Map to go to the exact address of the agency.
4. Hanoi Taxi Scams
For getting around Hanoi, you might can’t avoid hailing a taxi to travel around. However, there are a couple of common problems that happen with the taxis in Hanoi and here are the ones to look out for.
The first and main concern is the taxi ride from the airport. I must say that the airport is a haven for potential scammers. If you get outside Noi Bai airport after the arrival, you will mostly be invited a ride by some taxi drivers. Most will try to demand a fixed fare that’s much higher than the normal rate. Ensure you get in a taxi that will agree to go by the meter (it should end up costing about $10-15 USD).
However, even the taxi has a meter, there’s still a chance that you get scammed. Their favorite ploy is to claim there were tolls on the way into the city. Note that this is not true, so be confident and only pay as the meter displays. But don’t get too aggressive overall since you won’t want to cause troubles with the locals.
To avoid taxi scams, there are several ways. You can book a GrabCar by using your smartphone. Or look for a reputable companies such as: Mai Linh Taxi (the remarkably green cab with its name “Mai Linh” on both sides, Taxi Van Xuan (the grey cab with a blue and a red line along both sides), Taxi Airport (the half white and half dark pink cab with its phone number on the front door).
If you have to use taxis, ask your hotel receptionist to help you. And make sure you are clear with the price first with the driver.
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 metered 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 Grap 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.
5. Watch Out The Free Donuts
Remember nothing is FREE.
You may see women wield baskets packed with mini donuts on skewers all over the Hanoi Old Quarter. Some of them will approach you with their wares and offer you free donuts before you buy. Free donuts sound pretty good, right?
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 categorize free donuts as too good to be true.
But here’s the thing. You will never, ever see anyone (especially a local) actually eating them! The donuts themselves aren’t that good, but they are used as a part of a scam. And even when you’re asked to try the donuts for free, say No to them.
Don't get in this strap!
Because after you accept it, the seller will demand that you pay her a large amount of money for the doughnut you just “bought. They can get aggressive and continue to follow you around until they get your money. This can create this an almighty and embarrassing scene.
Just say no to all of them immediately, and believe me, you will see a lot of them, especially in Hanoi Old Quarter.
6. Steer Clear of Free Photos Opportunity
When walking around the streets in Hanoi Old Quarter, you’ll see hawkers wearing typical Vietnamese conical hats and carrying hawker baskets across their shoulders. They will sometimes smile, wave at you and offer you to wear their hat or to take a picture with their baskets for free. But again, just like the free donuts, nothing is free here! If you agree to take a photo with them, they will demand you to pay for it after that.
Other than the hawkers with conical hats, you will also meet the street sellers carrying fruit and good who offer free pictures. Again, say no to them at first because there is nothing is free here. If you agree, you’ll likely have to face an embarrassing demand for payment later. They will follow you and create a scene.
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. Avoid everything you’re offered free since free things are not good things in Hanoi.
After this, they will follow you and demand for payment.
7. Pick Pocket and Bag Snatcher
Pickpocketing and bag snatching seems to have quietened down in Hanoi. However, for safety, you still need to watch out for it. Thieves would ride on motorbikes and steal your bags or if you go into crowded places, you will get pick-pocketed when you’re not paying much attention to your belongings.
For the motorbike thieves, you are particularly vulnerable if you are wearing a bag that is slung across your shoulder - sometimes this would lead to dragging the poor victim along the street as well, causing serious injury.
This is a horrible crime, but thankfully, this crime is now uncommon in Hanoi (and they were very open about all the current scams in the city). This is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City.
To avoid pickpocketing or bag snatching, I’d recommend to always use a bag with two straps, wear it properly while walking on the streets. Be careful and wear the bag in your chest while going into crowded places such as night markets. Keep your valuables in your hotel and always have an eye on your things.
Above are some of the common Hanoi scams that you most likely to encounter. Always watch out and don't be a victim of any Hanoi scams that ruin your holiday.