Laos is a beautiful and unique destination, but unfortunately it is also a place where locals take advantage of tourists. It is important to be aware of the common Laos Tourist Scams to ensure that your trip will be as safe as possible. In this post, I’ve collected some Laos Tourist Scams that happened to me and some other scams I’ve heard about. I hope that after reading this article, you know how to avoid the most common Laos tourist scams. Read carefully and safe travels!
Laos slow boat scam
If you’re planning to take the slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, it’s a good idea to read about the ‘slow boat scam’. When you are about to depart on the beautiful slow boat, a scammer will enter the boat and will tell you that there are no available accommodations left in Pakbeng. But, no worries! He knows someone in Pakbeng who has a hotel and can still arrange a room for you. You can pay the scammer on the slow boat and he will make sure that you get picked up from the Pakbeng dock and that you will get transferred to your hotel. The scammer will take your money and you will never get the promised pick-up or room.
How to avoid it: make sure to book your accommodation in Pakbeng in advance. We booked at the Monsavanh Guesthouse for $11.00 total (excluding breakfast). It was a fine stay and very near to the dock. Although there are plenty of accommodation options in Pakbeng, I do recommend booking one in advance. It’s great to be able to check in right away after a 6-hour slow boat trip and not have to spend time walking around and looking for accommodation first.
Shortchanging scam in Laos
Shortchanging basically happens when a vendor gives you back less money than you are owed after a purchase. This is usually done by giving back the wrong change or by undervaluing the currency. In Laos, you have a lot of small family shops and I often got insufficient money back at these kinds of stores. On my first day in Laos, I received 50.000 LAK insufficient at a store and unfortunately found this out when I was back at the hotel. This way your Laos travel costs will become expensive!
How to avoid it: be aware when dealing with unfamiliar vendors and carefully count the change you receive. Know the currency exchange rate.
Wrong exchange rate scam
Most businesses in Laos basically quote prices in US dollars, but customers have to pak in LAK. In my experience, many hotels in Laos use the wrong exchange rate when converting a payment into the local currency. This means that you are paying significantly more for your stay than you should. It has happened to me several times. Usually the hotels agreed right away to the current exchange rate I showed, but sometimes I had long discussions before we could agree on the correct exchange rate. This scam will also result in higher Laos travel costs.
How to avoid it: it is important to always double check the exchange rate when paying in LAK. Make sure you are getting the correct rate. I alway use XE.com to check the exchange rates.
Laos Tuk tuk scams
Tuk Tuk scams in Laos are quite common and basically involve tourists being charged a ridiculous rate for a tuk tuk ride or an extremely low price for a very long trip.
Overcharging happens a lot in touristy areas like Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Tuk tuk drivers know that tourists are more likely to pay a higher rate in these cities. Be aware of this and make sure to negotiate a low price before taking a tuk tuk ride.
Stopping halfway and asking ridiculous fees
Another tuk tuk scam in Laos is that drivers stop halfway the ride and ask you to pay at that specific moment. They refuse to drive further until you pay and sometimes they even charge 10x what you agreed to in advance. Unfortunately, this happened to me when I took a tuk tuk from Vang Vieng to Blue Lagoon 1. The driver stopped halfway in no man’s land and obliged me to pay a ridiculous amount. I refused and got out. The driver drove away and I had to wait for another tuk tuk coming by.
Offering extremely low prices
Sometimes tuk tuk drivers offer extremely low prices for long trips. Those trips often include showing the most important sights of the town for a ‘special price’. Often these drivers will then take you on a long trip and stop at various shops where you will be encouraged to purchase items. In some cases, the driver will take a commission for each item purchased, leading to inflated prices for goods. It is best to avoid purchasing goods from stores recommended by a driver.
How to avoid it: always negotiate a price before taking a tuk tuk ride and pay when you arrive at your destination. Be sure to be polite, but firm when dealing with locals and never accept the first offer they give you.
No prices on products/food items
Another common Laos tourist scam is that some vendors do not list prices on products or food items. I’ve seen this a lot in supermarkets and at restaurants. This leaves you vulnerable to being charged an exorbitant amount for something that could have cost much less. This means automatically paying more than locals do.
How to avoid it: only buy products at shops where you can see the product prices.Ask for a price before purchasing an item or agreeing to a service.
Be prepared to pay for non-existing things
When visiting the Orange Bridge in Vang Vieng, I first had to stop at a counter and pay a fee of 5000 LAK. I came by tuk tuk, so I had no scooter to park. The fee was not the entrance fee for the Orange Bridge, because I had to pay this later at the bridge itself. The lady at the counter couldn’t tell me what I was paying for, but nevertheless I had to pay the fee of 5000 LAK.
The Orange Bridge is by the way not fun to see. It collapsed and doesn’t exist anymore. There is a temporary bridge which you can use to reach the opposite of the river to visit Tham Chang. The view from the top at the Tham Chang Cave is amazing!
How to avoid it: you can’t. Just leave places like this if you don’t want to stimulate this.
Morning Alms Rice Scam in Laos
A popular tourist scam in Laos is the Morning Alms Rice scam. This is an ancient tradition in which locals donate food to monks. It is considered an honorable thing to participate in. As a tourist, you can also participate in the ceremony and buy small packets of rice to give to the monks. However, you will be charged a fee to join the ceremony. You most likely have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a seat or for the items that you can give to the monks. When I was looking at the morning alms, I was accosted by several locals and sometimes forced to buy items.
How to avoid it: if you decide to visit the morning alms, please remember that participating in the morning alms is never a requirement. It is best to politely decline the offer and avoid being scammed. If you decide to participate in it, make sure to agree on a good price.
Happy Restaurant Drug Scams in Laos
Unfortunately many customers get scammed at restaurants, bars, and cafes in Laos. The “happy restaurant drug scam” is basically a scam where the waiter will offer you a special drink or food item that is supposed to make you “happy”. In reality, the “happy” drink or food item is just a drug, like marijuana or opium that is laced with other drugs. After consuming the “happy” item, you will become disoriented and confused. Waiters will take advantage of this and try to get you to sign up for expensive tours or activities. This scam is most common in the cities of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng.
In other cases, they will pressure you to buy drugs or, on the contrary, tell you that it’s safe to smoke opium in their restaurant. However, opium is not legal in Laos. Smoking opium is punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison. Possession of less than a kilogram can bring a sentence of 2 to 7 years. I know tourists in Vang Vieng who used opium in a restaurant and were stopped by a police officer the same night. They had to pay a ridiculous fine.
How to avoid it: be aware of this scam and never accept a special offer from a restaurant or bar. And please… Don’t do any drugs in Laos. It’s illegal!
Ripped Bank Note Scams In Laos
Another Laos tourist scam is receiving ripped bank notes. The scammer will try to convince you that you can still use the money or will refuse to change it for a new note. I have on occasion received banknotes that were stuck together through tape or bills that had drawings drawn on them. Stores can reject these and then you are left with the money.
How to avoid it: always carefully check the banknotes you receive and reject them if they do not look good. If you do have a bad banknote, it is best to try turning it in at night, for example to a tuk tuk driver. When you pay the driver there is often poor light and the drivers do not check the banknotes.
Motorbike Rental Scams in Laos
One of the most common tourist scams in Laos are motorbike rental scams. You may be offered a motorbike for a very low price and then be told that you must pay a large deposit to rent it. When you return the motorbike, you are told that you have caused damage to it and then you must pay a large fee. Alternatively, you may not be able to get your deposit back at all. Never give your passport as a deposit. In some cases, I have heard that travelers had to pay a ridiculous amount of money to get their passports back. You don’t want to have to negotiate for your passport!
Another motorbike scam in Laos is that the motorbikes are “stolen back” by rental companies during the night. That’s why in Laos a lot of motorbikes are parked inside in the evening and night.
How to avoid it: only rent motorbikes from reputable companies (read reviews!). Make sure you get a receipt or copy of the documentation and carefully take photos of the scooter. Park your motorbike inside your hotel during the evening and night.
The ‘you dropped my phone’ tourist scam
Another Laos scam is the ‘you dropped my phone’ scam. This involves a local coming up to you and asking you to take a photo. When the local hands his phone over to you, he drops it and accuses you of it. The scammer will then demand money for the phone, as compensation for the supposed lost phone.
How to avoid it: follow your gut! Of course, there are also plenty of local people who normally hand over their phones to you and who don’t want to do anything bad at all. Be careful and accept a phone with 2 hands.
Hotel Theft Scams In Laos
Hotel theft is another scam that happens a lot in Laos. It usually involves someone working in a hotel, such as the housekeeping- or reception staff, who will enter your room and steal items such as money and electronics. They will often distract you by asking questions or offering services, while they search for items to steal..
How to avoid it: I recommend to keep your room locked at all times and to never leave any valuables out in the open. It is also advisable to keep your passport stored in a safe location and to only use reputable ho(s)tels. Make sure to read reviews before booking your ho(s)tel.
Is Laos safe for Female Travelers ?
After reading about the above Laos tourist scams you might be wondering if Laos is safe for female travelers. Yes, Laos is generally a safe place for female travelers as long as you take certain precautions. Don’t do drugs, dress modestly to avoid unwanted attention, always count and check your money and be aware of your surroundings.
Is Laos dangerous for Backpackers ?
Laos is generally a safe and friendly place for backpackers, but there have been reports of scams and other criminal activities in some areas. It is important to be aware of the above mentioned tourist scams in Laos to avoid becoming a victim.
Hopefully I didn’t scare you too much with this article on the Laos Tourist Scams. Laos is still a beautiful country to visit and I definitely recommend it. You don’t have to look for an alternative country to visit. It is still very unspoiled and therefore very cool to visit. Just be careful and use your wits. Safe travels!
If you have any questions about the above mentioned information, please let me know in the comment section below. I’m happy to help you.
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