A special thanks to 1stforeverything.com for allowing me to write about my experiences in Southeast Asia on their site. I love Kirsten’s take on all things travel, and wish I could stick some of those killer yoga moves she does so well! If you haven’t read her Southeast Asia Itinerary on what to do when traveling in the area—check it out next! It’s a treasure trove (and a 4-month long one at that!) for what to see, taste and do!
Travel Scams in Southeast Asia and How to Avoid Them
You can hardly blame them. You’re like a beacon wearing that backpack, those foreign made clothes and trademark Chacos (don’t get me wrong, I love them for travel, but they do make you stand out). So when you’re stopped on the side of the street or wrangled into an expensive unauthenticated tour or pulled over by the police, you almost have to ask yourself: could I have avoided this?
While the truth about Southeast Asia is that there are plenty of ways the locals wrangle money out of the tourists, it’s easy enough for you to get around it if you know what you’re looking for and get back to the real reason for your adventure: exquisite temples, stunning landscapes and exotic beaches for relaxing and catching some sun!
Motorbikes are both a thrilling and dangerous pastime of my misadventures, and I’m here to share some of my hard earned tips.
First, never leave your passport when renting a bike, take a copy with you. Second, if you’re planning on renting, go for the older looking ones, so you won’t get strapped with “Hey, there’s a new scratch on it” when you return it. If you’re buying, I suggest you agree on a test run of sorts before you pay cash; otherwise, it might break down on you, and you’re out your investment. And lastly, be careful where you park. Some vendors will come by and steal their own vehicles back so you have to pay for the bike. If possible, make sure you can see the bike from your destination.
2. Beggars, Monks & Children
Is there anything more adorable than the smiling faces of children in the street? What about reverential monks praying and handing out blessings as they walk? Or down on their luck beggars resting in the shade, waiting for a kind person to take pity?
Friends, these are all tried and true scams, and it’s better to walk away from it all. Don’t accept favors of prayer cards from monks. Don’t take pictures of any children and their friends; they might invite you somewhere later, where you’ll be strapped with the bill. And just keep walking by requests for money. Your best weapon is your ability to say no, and I suggest you exercise it!
3. Unauthentic Guides
Always go looking for an official guide (if you want one) at the big tourist attractions because otherwise all of the uncertified guides will find you and start telling you more information than you’ll know what to do with (and some of it not even true) before you can get in a word in edgewise. If you’re approached, smile and ask if its free before hand; this will most likely get everyone off your back.
My advice is to leave the guide out of it; just get a SIM card and use your maps and apps to get around. You don’t even need a guide for that, just a Virtual Private Network to access sites closed due to geo-blocking. Hearplanet is one of my favorite resources for self-guided tours – just pop in the headphones and you can be on your way.
4. Attraction Hours
If you’re two hundred yards away from a destination and a man stops you on the street telling you the temple is closed, seek a second opinion. Most of the time these guys are promoting other attractions, excursions or restaurants, and as soon as you give them a second of your time, they’ll whip a tuk tuk around and have you whisked off to some alternative site. If you haven’t seen the actual “closed” sign on the door, don’t believe it.
5. International Driver’s License
As I mentioned before, sometimes tourists are really easy to spot in Southeast Asia, and it’s not just because they’re holding maps. And funny enough, cops will notice this too. If you’re driving a motorbike around, there’s a good chance a policeman will stop you and ask to see your international license and a bribe. Best way out of it: get an international license before you head out of town, then you won’t have to fork over any cash.
6. Visa Offices at the Border
A lot of taxi drivers taking you over the border of countries in the area will make unrequested stops at a visa office. While they may seem helpful, they’re going to charge you for services that are free at the border office. Don’t fall for it!
Also, anything labeled tourist information in a busy city is most likely NOT legitimately owned by the state government or anything of that sort. It’s likely just people trying to filter you into restaurants, hotels or excursions where you will have to give the guy at the desk a commission when you pay the higher prices. Do all your research before you head out, make an agenda and stick to it!
7. Taxi and Tuk Tuk Drivers
While I have a general distrust of taxi drivers in most places anyway (and prefer Uber whenever possible), I do have to make a special statement in regard to taxis and tuk tuks in Southeast Asia: settle on a price before you head off for your destination!
Even metered taxis can swindle you, so it’s better to settle on a price before you get in so you aren’t blindsided by an expensive fare after the driver “accidentally” misses the front entrance and takes you all around the neighborhood to get back. If you’re visiting, you don’t know the best routes, so if you settle on a price before, you don’t have to know. So don’t be afraid to do a little research and then negotiate!
If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, it’s probably to cross the amazing region off your bucket list, which is why you can take these tips to heart. Then get back to the things you really want to be doing, such as wandering around ancient ruins, getting lost in the rainforest and feeling the sea air in your hair from an island hopping boat. Happy travels!
About the Author: Jess Signet is a blogger who writes about technology, traveling and technology needed when traveling. Having visited places all over the globe, traveling is both her love and addiction. Please, no intervention! Check out her site at tripelio.com
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