Asia is wonderful. When you travel there, you can expect to see so many amazing things, from sacred temples and incredible architecture, to stunning nature and delicious food. You'll also be surprised to see so many nice and friendly people, who enjoy their lives, even though they probably don't have all the comforts we're used to. Due to these and many other reasons, I like traveling to Asia so much.
But, like any other part of the world, Asia isn't perfect. Even though it has so many friendly and helpful people, who can become your real friends, it also has quite a few of those, who see tourists as bags of cash. A huge amount of swindles are targeted at tourists in Asia. In any trip of yours, you are likely to meet at least one or two persons, who'll want to get some more money from you than they should. Sometimes it's just a small amount you pay them for an overpriced taxi ride, but in some cases it can be thousands of dollars for fake jewelry.
Of course, the presence of these swindles doesn't mean that you shouldn't travel to Asia or avoid communicating with anyone there. Just the opposite - make sure to go there at least once in a lifetime. Who knows, perhaps you're going to fall in love with it at first sight (like I did) and want to come back there again and again. Just remember the most common swindle scenarios listed below, be watchful, and know what to do to avoid losing your money.
20 "We'll Agree On The Fare, When We Get To The Destination"
Wherever you are in Asia, keep in mind that you always have to watch out for the drivers, because they will want to cheat you more often than not. One of the main things they will want to do is increase your fare and the easiest way to do it is to tell you how much you have to pay for the ride, when you arrive.
To avoid this kind of scam, always agree on the fare before starting the trip and remember to haggle on the price, especially if you know how much the ride actually has to cost. Don't be afraid of insisting on lowering the price and find another driver, in case you can't settle on a price with one of them.
19 "Meter Doesn't Work"
Another common scam on behalf of taxi drivers is saying that their meter doesn't work. I, personally, faced this kind of swindle, when I was in Thailand. I stopped a taxi in Bangkok and asked to drive me to the bus station. The driver gladly agreed and called the price right away. I said, "No, this is not the right price. Turn on the meter." The driver smiled and murmured something about his meter not working well. Then I said, "Okay", took my bag and prepared to leave and find another car. Immediately, the driver turned on the meter.
Do I have to tell you that the price the met showed in the end of the ride was much lower than the one he named right away?
So always ask to turn on the meter and if they don't agree, find another driver.
18 "You Didn't Hear It Right, Sir (or Mam)!"
This kind of scam is wide-spread in Sri Lanka. You find a taxi or a tuk-tuk and agree on a price right away. Say, you agree on paying "fifteen" rupees. But when you arrive, the driver wants you to pay "fifty" and says that you didn't hear him right in the beginning and, probably, you should work on your English language skills.
This might sound funny, unless you get into a similar situation.
To avoid it, it's better to write the price down and show it to the driver, when you're negotiating it. In this case, he won't be able to say that you didn't hear something right.
17 "This Place Is Closed/Gone/Nonexistent"
Now, this one is all over the place in Asia, so you should look out for it during your trip. Again, it comes from the cunning drivers. Trying to look like a nice guy, your driver might tell you that the place you need is closed, not working, or doesn't exist at all. If you believe him, he'll tell you that he knows another great place nearby and can take you there. But what he won't tell you is that he's going to get a fee for bringing you there and you'll have to pay a higher price.
So don't believe the driver, when they something similar and just ask them to drive you to the place you need. Be sure, it's actually working.
16 "I'll Guide You To This Place/Show You Around For Free"
Imagine that you're walking along the streets of the Asian city you're visiting and enjoying the views. Suddenly, a local man approaches you, asks you where you're from (it's the usual stuff, don't be afraid of it) and offers to guide you and show you some interesting places. Of course, the good guy wants to do it for free. But as soon as he's done "guiding" you, it turns out that he actually wants you to pay (often in a form of "donation").
To avoid falling for it, don't agree to take "free" tours from the people you don't know. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't communicate with the locals. In fact, you should, because there're a lot of nice people in Asia. Just remember to be careful.
15 "Please Join Our Tea Ceremony"
This kind of scam is common in China and it starts similarly to the previous one. A seemingly friendly local comes by and asks you to take a photo with them (this one is fine, all Asians want to take photos with Europeans). After a small talk, they offer you to take part in an authentic tea ceremony. Everything looks great until they convince you to buy an overpriced tea you just drank...
Keep in mind that this scam is much more likely to occur to the travelers, who have just arrived to the country and don't know the real prices for tea. So be especially careful during the first days of your trip.
14 "I'm A Monk/Sadhu, So Give Me A Donation"
In any Asian country, you're likely to see multiple sadhus and monks. Many of them will ask you to give them a donation, perhaps saying that it's for the temple or ashram, where they live. But, in fact, some of these sadhus and monks are only dressed like holy people, while they actually just want to rip you off.
Unfortunately, it's not easy to say real sadhus and monks from impostors. But there're a couple of things you can do. First, if they want a donation for a temple, go to this temple and leave your donation there, instead of handing it to this person. Second, just look them in the eyes (they can actually tell you a lot) and try to understand if you see a person, who meditates for hours every day, or not.
13 "The Motorbike You Rented Is Damaged/Stolen"
This is a common swindle in Thailand, where a lot of tourists take motorbikes for rent. When they take it, everything seems to be fine. But when they return it, the rent shop owner finds a series of things that are wrong with this bike. They tell you that there're scratches here and there, that the seat isn't well-adjusted, etc. Then they want you to pay for it all, saying that you took a perfect bike from them and caused all this damage.
To avoid it, take lots of photos of the bike right after you rent it, before driving away on it. Then you'll be able to prove that you didn't do anything and that your bike already had all these scratches, bad seats, and so on.
12 "I'll Exchange Your Money"
You can find a myriad of currency exchange places in Asia. They're all over the place - in shops, hotels, cafes, and even right in the streets. Even though it might seem to be convenient, keep in mind that you're going to be swindled in most of these places and given a wrong amount of the currency you need.
So when you're in Asia, always exchange your money in banks and other licensed exchanges. Avoid doing it in shops, cafes, and especially in the street. Besides, you should always know the current exchange rate and calculate how much local money you'll get for the foreign currency you're giving.
11 "I Work At A (Fake) Tourist Information Office"
Most tourists tend to believe the people working at Tourist Information Offices. But when you're in Asia, you shouldn't blindly trust them. Most of the so-called Tourist Information Offices (especially in India) are illegal. One of the things they'll do is send you to a particular shop, hotel or restaurant, where you'll be overcharged and these Tourist Information Office guys will get commission for it. Besides, they can tell you that the place you need is closed or unavailable, just because it's not in their network, and send you to another one.
Before going into a similar office, check online if it's legitimate. When you do it, you're going to be surprised how many illegal offices there are in the country you're visiting.
10 "I Sell Gemstones For Export"
In this scenario, you meet a guy who claims to be a jewelry export business owner. This guy wants to save on export fees and you, an unlucky tourist, can help him. And you don't even have to pay for the gems. Sounds safe, right? Just post the stones to your home country and when you come back there, give them to the recipient (you're even promised to get a reward for it). But when you do it, you're suddenly at risk of getting theft charges and have to pay for the gems. And when you come to your home country, it turns out that there's no recipient and the gems are actually fake.
In fact, this is one of the most common scams in India (especially in Goa, Jaipur and Agra). Keep it in mind and if someone offers you to buy gemstones, just say no.
9 "Buy A VIP Bus Ticket From Us"
Imagine a tourist buying a bus ticket at a bus station. Suddenly, they're being persuaded to upgrade for a VIP bus, because it's evidently much more comfortable. But when this tourist comes to the bus stop before departure, they see nothing but a cheap regular bus. Of course, it's not comfortable at all. If the tourist asks what happened to the VIP bus, it turns out that it has just broken down and it's impossible to get the refund of the fare difference.
Avoiding this scam is simple: just don't agree to upgrade for a VIP bus, buying tickets at a bus station. If you want a VIP bus, buy it from a reputable travel agency or your hotel.
8 "I'm A Sweet Child, So Give Me Some Money"
When I was walking along the Ganges River in Rishikesh, I frequently saw kids, running after me and other tourists and offering to buy pooja flowers from them (or just asking to give them some money).
They might look like the sweetest creatures in the world, but still it's a bad idea to give money to them. Why? Because in the end of the day they'll bring this money to their guardians, who make them beg daily. Since this kind of "business" is profitable for them, they'll never use this money to give education to these children.
So what to do? Ignore these kids, however hard it is, or give them some treats instead of money.
7 "You Have To Pay To Make This Photo!"
This one is well-spread in Sri Lanka. You're walking along the city and take out a camera, for example to take a photo of Lankan fishermen (like the one you see above). As soon as you take it, some guy appears out of nowhere and says that you're not allowed to take such photos for free and have to pay for it now.
If it happens, just ignore this guy and proceed on your walk. Keep in mind that no law forbids to take any photos in public places, so he's a scammer, who wants to rip tourists off and make some extra money.
6 "I Work At Your Hotel! Don't You Remember Me?"
In this scenario, a tourist might be approached by someone they don't know, but who seems to know them. This local person usually says something like, "Hi! Do you remember me? I work in the guest house, where you live." They look so friendly and convincing that the poor tourist might start thinking that something happened to their memory. The next moment, this friendly person asks the tourist to lend them some money, promising that the guest house staff will reimburse them.
If you get into a similar situation, just ask the name of your guest house. Next thing you know, this friendly guy is disappearing in the crowd.
5 "This Herb Will Help You, So You Must Buy It Right Now!"
This swindle is wide-spread among the so-called Traditional Chinese Medicine clinics in China. People in these tourist-oriented clinics act very persuasively. Doctors wear white lab coats and you're even given free foot massages.
Establishing trust with the client, the "doctor" measures the patient's pulse and then suggests common factors (like sleeping late nights, which is common for everyone today) and offers to buy their special (read - useless and overpriced) medicine that'll supposedly help overcome or prevent some health problems.
If you want to try Traditional Chinese Medicine, go to reputable clinics and avoid tourist-oriented ones. Any clinic you choose should be checked online beforehand. Be sure to read reviews from previous clients.
4 "I'm A Teacher At A Very Poor School. Could Your Help Us Out?"
The next scenario shows us a local guy approaching a tourist (again) in an attempt to have a conversation. This guy says that he's a teacher at a local school and would like to communicate with this tourist to practice their English skills. He might even state right away that he's not after money. Just wants to talk. During the conversation, he mentions that the school he works at is very poor and needs money for maintenance, offering the tourist to give a small donation for the sake of the kids, who study there.
You can guess what to do in this case. Firmly reject and go away.
3 "This Is The Best Produce, That's Why It's So Expensive"
Anywhere in Asia, every shop owner will tell you that he sells the best produce ever. This is okay, just don't take it seriously. But some shop owners go further and say that the product you chose is (suddenly) the best one in their shop and they can't even haggle on it.
I faced a similar situation, when buying a bedspread in New Delhi. The seller wanted 400 rupees for it and I wanted to pay no more than 200. But he said, "If you wanted to buy a red, orange, yellow, or blue one, I'd give you this price. But you want green, and green is the most difficult color, so I can't lower the price!" Umm, what?
Best advice is: keep on haggling!
2 "Here's A Free Gift For You!"
Imagine that you're starting a conversation with a local person, who seems to be extremely friendly and doesn't seem to want anything from you. But all of a sudden, they say that they want to give you a gift and tie a string or bracelet on your forearm. Immediately after it, they say that you have to pay for it and you find that it's impossible to even remove this string from your forearm without their help.
Do communicate with locals, but still be very careful until you know them well enough to trust them. And if you see right away that they have something to do with the things that can be "free gifts" for you (like bracelets, flags, etc), just ignore them.
1 "Let Me Give You A Blessing"
When I was in India, I was sad to see scammers in temples and other places that are considered to be holy. I even fell for their tricks a couple of times, when they wanted to give me a blessing (absolutely "for free") and then requested to make a donation for a temple. It'd be okay, if the donation amount wasn't fixed. It seemed to be more of a payment for their "free" blessing than a voluntary donation. Some of them would even "curse" those tourists, who refused to pay this donation. How holy is that?
Remember the men who do it are not holy and avoid them at all costs.
Again, remember that Asia is wonderful, despite these swindle risks. Travel there, enjoy your stay, and just be careful.