6 Scams in Southeast Asia to Be Aware Of

Photo Credit: Didier Baertschiger

When you think of Southeast Asia, I bet beaches, parties and ladyboys come to mind. However, what many people don't know are the various scams that target travellers and their wallets.

I've heard my fair share of horror stories. After traveling around Southeast Asia extensively over the past few years, I've heard of backpackers getting ripped off and tourists losing a lot of money through deception and lies. In fact, someone close to me just fell victim to an elaborate scam in Vietnam and lost a thousand dollars. Make sure this doesn't happen to you. Here are six scams in Southeast Asia you need to know about.

Fake gems and jewellery 

Photo Credit: HollyEma

If someone is telling you that you can make a lot of money in a short amount of time, run far away! Usually, this scam involves a friendly and smooth talking local who tries to sell you "precious" gems. They'll say these gems are very valuable in your country and that you could make a lot of money selling them at home. Also, they'll explain how they can't sell the jewels themselves because they can't afford to pay the import taxes. Don't fall for this. The gems are fake and you'll only lose money buying them.

Expensive and dishonest taxis 

Photo Credit: BriYYZ

Always, always, ALWAYS negotiate the taxi fare before getting into the vehicle. Haggle and reach a compromise before the ride starts. If you don't, the driver will charge you an exuberant amount when you reach your destination.

Some taxis will also say their meter is broken. They'll want you to pay a ridiculously high flat rate. Either deny their offer and find another taxi with a meter or bargain them down to a price you both agree on.

At airports, ignore all the private transportation companies trying to give you a lift. These guys are a big rip-off. Head to the regular taxi line outside the airport and you'll pay a much more affordable rate.

Card game scam 

Photo Credit: Sam_Catch

This complex scam happens mainly in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. A local will approach you and make innocent small talk. Once they've gained your trust, they'll invite you to their house for dinner. After enjoying a home cooked meal, the local will tell you that they're an experienced card game dealer and show you a few "tricks" to make sure you always win. Out of the blue, a rich businessman will come into the picture and want to play with you. Your local "friend" encourages you to play promising that you'll win money because of the "secrets" you've been shown. 

I can tell you now that you'll never win these games. You'll only get scammed and lose a small fortune. If you find yourself in this situation, tell the locals you don't have cash and get out of there as soon as possible! 

People begging or asking for donations

Photo Credit: Greg Younger

Some scam artists will try to tug on your heart strings. Men may dress up in monk robes and ask for donations for their temples. Women may dress their children in rags and make them appear dirty so that you'll feel bad and give money. Many beggars (including children) in China work for the Triads. If you give them cash, it will only go towards organized crime. However, don't let this deter you from doing good. Give donations directly to legitimate charities and temples. You could also spend time volunteering and work with the less fortunate. 

Shady activity at border crossings 

Photo Credit: swifant

If you opt to bus between countries, beware of corruption at border crossings. Here, officials will try to charge you double or triple the price for your travel visa. They may also make you pay a "processing fee" as well. 

When traveling around Southeast Asia, try to fly with low-cost carriers. It will save you a lot of time and hassle. Click here for my extensive guide on how to find and book cheap flights. 

"Closed" attractions 

Photo Credit: Bryan Mills
This scam happens when you're on your way to see a famous attraction. Your taxi driver or an official looking person near the entrance will tell you that the place is closed for a variety of reasons (i.e. construction, religious ceremony). Then, they'll recommend a shop or business nearby where you can visit until the place opens again.

Don't waste your time or money at these alternative destinations because the places you want to visit will be open. Ignore these people and head directly to the ticket booth. Better yet, research the attraction's hours of operation before leaving your hotel.

When traveling anywhere, always be aware of your surroundings. Also, if something seems fishy or too good to be true, it probably is. Get out of the situation immediately and always trust your gut!

Do you know of other scams in Southeast Asia? Leave a comment below and let me know!


I’m a Canadian girl on a quest to step foot in every continent before I’m 30. You’ll most likely find me chowing down on Japanese ramen, partying at a music festival, hiking to the top of a scenic lookout, cuddling with cats, or chilling out at the beach. I’ve visited over 60 countries so far and hope to inspire you to do the same.

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