Your Guide to Travel Scams in China

June 26, 2015
Your Guide to Travel Scams in China

When traveling in China, you will most likely encounter some scams in the popular tourist sites. Before I traveled to Yunnan province, a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity, I did as much research as possible. Though I enjoyed the local culture and the beautiful scenery enormously, I was frequently suspicious of others and lost my cool a few times.  If you’re heading to Yunnan (and I definitely recommend you do!), I hope you will learn from my experiences with travel scams.

Your Guide to Travel Scams in China

Scenario #1: Not all drivers are scamming you.

When I first arrived in Dali City, Yunnan, my guesthouse arranged a friendly driver to pick us up. I had just started the trip then, and I was ready for the scams. So when the driver mentioned the best places to go and where to buy the best silver in the old town, I immediately became suspicious.

Yet, I later realized that he might have been the most genuine guy I met during my whole trip. He showed me a price list of where we could go, and explained that he could create custom day trips for us based on our preferences.

Lesson learned: He was indeed a nice guy and very clear in his pricing. The hotels and guesthouses arrange reliable drivers to look after their customers.

Scenario #2: Don’t trust the random people near the ticket offices/stations/tourist sites.

These people are easy to spot, and they come after you as soon as you land at a ticket office, station or tourist site. They will shout at you in Chinese, asking if you want a ride, some tickets, a guided tour, some local food or an accommodation.

It is a tricky task to tell who is offering something real, and who is not. Sometimes they will give you a decent ride to your hotel without charging a lot more. However, there are other people who will promise one thing and do something entirely different.

Your Guide to Travel Scams in China

One day, we wanted to travel to an island by boat in Dali. We arrived at the harbor too late and there were no more boats scheduled for that day. A local man approached me and asked where I wanted to go.

After I told him, and he offered a lower price to take us to the island. We agreed on the price and he drove us around for a long time. Then, he told us that there were no more boats scheduled for that day and he asked for double the price we owed him before he took us to another area where we could get a boat.

Lessons learned: Stick with the official ticket offices. They won’t rip you off.

Scenario #3: Be aware of the ambiguous ticket pricing schedule.

You can generally trust the official ticket office at Chinese tourist sites. However, there are two obstacles I faced when dealing with them.

First, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you are standing at the official ticketing office or not. Generally, at the official ticketing office, you’ll find officers in uniforms looking authoritative. However, sometimes there are locals present who are just pretending to be in charge. One guy we encountered set up a ladder near the mountain for tourists to climb. In order to use the ladder, we had to pay.

Most people pay the price just to avoid a confrontation.There are also ticket offices on the way to different destinations that seem real until someone asks you to pay just so that you can keep driving.  Yet, some of these may still be real ticket offices.

The hidden costs are another obstacle I faced when traveling. When I was traveling in West Hill Park in Kunming, I found that there were multiple ticket offices along the way. If you wish to take the gondola or walk further up to the hill, you’ll find ticket offices at each turn. Although this is not a common practice in Yunnan, the trip did cost me more than I had expected.

Lessons learned: Always take more cash with you than you think you’ll need.

Scenario #4: Bargain for merchandise at tourist sites.

At tourist sites, merchandise is almost always more expensive. If you’re looking to buy something from one of the individual stalls, be sure to bargain until both you and the vendor are satisfied. You can also check the product’s price outside of the tourist site. Unless you are looking for something only offered in a particular shop, most of the souvenirs that you’ll find can also be found outside of the tourist area.

Lessons learned: Bargain, bargain, bargain. Remember, you are in a tourist area and there are lots of shops selling similar goods. You will not run out of options.

Scenario #5: Stick to international hospitals.

When I had skin problems and needed to see a doctor, I visited a public hospital hoping that, as an established institution, I would get the help I needed. Unfortunately that was not the case. The doctor offered me different types of treatments for different problems, never actually explaining my diagnosis. Sadly, it became apparent that the doctor wanted me to pay a high price for whatever treatment she mentioned, even though it wasn’t the right treatment for me.

If you have a health problem when traveling and absolutely need to see a doctor, it always helps to investigate the problem online beforehand, so you have some idea of what a reasonable treatment might be. If you have a local friend, ask him/her to come with you. Also, there are international hospitals in the bigger cities, which you can search for online. If you can wait, I recommend waiting until you can visit one of these.

Lessons learned: Always buy travel insurance.


Your Guide to Travel Scams in China

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Your Guide to Travel Scams in China photo credits: Unsplash.

About Faye Zhang

Faye was living and working in New Zealand for the past eight years and recently came to live in China. She hopes sharing stories about her time living in China with the Pink Pangea community will help women who are interested in traveling there!

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