When you travel, you should always be careful about what you do, who you talk to and what you agree to. After all, you are an outsider in a place you’ve never been before, you don’t know where you’re going, you may only be there for a few days, and there are always a few lowlifes who have no qualms about taking advantage of your vulnerable position as a hapless, ignorant, trusting tourist with pockets full of money.
I’ve encountered a few scams before too and have become the wiser for it. So today I thought I’d share a few of the typical scams that tourists face while traveling in China (though I don’t mean to pick on China, this kind of thing can happen in other Asian countries too!).
1. The Tea Scam — If you should ever find yourself visiting some famous attractions in China, do not talk to any smiley faced young people claiming to be ‘art students’. Here’s how the scam works: they come up to you and pretend to be keen on practicing their English. They ask you a few questions, where you’re from, what’s your name, are you married, tee hee hee, cute giggles. And tourists, not wanting to be rude to the locals, go along with it. They then invite you to a ‘tea house’ to go drink tea and talk some more. The tea arrives, you guys chat, whatever. But when the bill comes, it’s for hundreds of yuan. As a reference, you can buy a bottle of beer in China for 6 yuan. So just remember, art students + tea drinking = scam.
2. The Hotel Scam — You’ve just arrived at 3am, you’re tired, sweaty and possibly a bit jet lagged, and of course you don’t know where you’re going. So you get in a ‘taxi’ and give them the address of the hotel where you have a booking. Next thing you know, you’re outside a different hotel! Here’s how it works: the taxi drivers pick up some confused-looking new arrivals, call up their cousin/brother/auntie who runs a hotel, and says he’s bringing them some customers. The hope is that you will really decide to just stay at the hotel instead of insisting on being taken to YOUR hotel, so that he can get a commission. If you refuse to stay, you sometimes get left outside holding your bags and looking for another taxi, which is why at 3am some tourists just give in and stay at the damn hotel!
3. The Bike Scam — If you’re taking a taxi somewhere, be careful before opening the car door. While in Beijing I was getting out of a taxi, and after paying the driver I opened my door, and WHAMMO! an old man on a bike — who should NOT have been riding in the street anyways — slammed straight into the car door and went flying off his bike. This trick is apparently to make you feel so bad that you give the old man some money, or, even worse, give both the taxi driver AND the old man money for damages. So make sure to look out behind you before you get out the cab!
4. The Great Wall Scam — Do not engage in conversation with any locals when you go to the Great Wall of China. Trust me, they do not genuinely want to know where you came from, how old you are, or how long you are staying. And they are talking shit when they say, “You are so beautiful!” (some tourists will fall for anything). Most importantly, under no circumstances should you EVER give them your backpack to carry, no matter how heavy it is. There are lots of villagers who live along the Great Wall and walk it every single day, as fit as mountain goats. They start to follow tired-looking tourists and offer to carry their backpacks. Beware, they will expect a lot of money for this and they are very persistent. They will follow you for a good 20 minutes or more, trying to see if they can make some money off of you. Do NOT talk to them!
5. The Bus Scam — This is related to the Hotel Scam. Once while traveling in Sichuan province, I was on a bus with three other friends, all of us clearly tourists (i.e. a group of nervous looking whiteys clutching maps on a bus full of locals). The bus was supposed to go straight to the bus terminal in the town we were heading to. Instead, the bus suddenly stopped on the side of the road, and the bus driver signaled for the four of us to get off. He kept repeating the name of the town we were going to, so we figured we needed to change buses (and what the hell do we know?). We got off the bus on a dusty road with nothing but brick factories. Within seconds, a taxi pulled up, and started saying the name of the town we were heading to. We had no idea what to do but to get into the taxi. The taxi then drove a few minutes up the road and took us to, ta-daa! a scam hotel. Lucky for us, our REAL hotel was just around the corner.
But what can you do? Never leave your hometown to avoid these things? When you go to someone else’s country and don’t speak their language and don’t know the layout, you have to just go with the flow, I suppose. Sure, anything can happen. You’ll probably get ripped off a few times. Chances are nothing really bad will happen to you (though I have to admit I have heard about a New Years Scam in Thailand where someone jumps out of their car and… well… I won’t scare you…) But in general, these scams are minor inconveniences during the journey of exploring a far away land. Which is probably a small price to pay in the end.
Ah yes, adventures in Asia. It’s never a dull moment. Just remember, keep your eyes open, and your wallet closed!