He Said/She Said: Getting Screwed by a 10-Year Old

He Said/She Said: Getting Screwed by a 10-Year Old


I understand that people need to make a buck and that vendors, drivers, and others do provide tourists with essential goods and services, but I am against their scams.  If we agree on a price, that’s what I pay.  If you don’t deliver, you don’t get paid.  The rules are simple, yet while traveling it can create some awkward situations as I am not here to be the pawn of the cheats and liars that fill the tourist destinations.

The most common “petty thefts” in SE Asia are:

  • Incorrect change.  You will buy something for 6,000 kip with a 10,000 kip bill.  You get back 2,000 kip in change.
  • Magically changing prices.  You ordered something off the menu for 30 baht, when your bill comes it says it was 45 baht.
  • Not providing services as promised.  You paid for a bus to go to a city, instead the bus stops 5km outside the city and makes you pay a tuk-tuk driver to get where you had paid to go.

Other than the last one, if you are on your toes you can avoid the scam.  The best way is to always ask the price before you purchase something, or even better, go to places with posted prices.  The title of this article, “getting screwed by a 10-year old” is from the last time we didn’t ask the price. We were eating on the street in Hanoi when we ordered pho, which usually costs between 15,000-25,000 per bowl.  We were served by a friendly girl, who after the meal told us it was 50,000 each.  This is not what a bowl of street pho costs.

People would quickly respond, “but it’s only a dollar.”  I have to ask, “what lesson is it that you are teaching with your dollar?”  The lesson appears to be, if it is a foreigner, you can make more money by taking advantage of us.  The lessons we teach in accepting incorrect change is that we are inattentive and this behavior is OK.  The lessons in allowing vendors to change prices is that this behavior is acceptable, and beneficial to them.

Every city we have visited in Asia has had the same issues.  Thankfully, I have never had these issues while traveling anywhere else.  Even better, Asians are easy to get your money back from because their cultures’ discourage direct confrontation.  Just fight back and they give in, usually knowing they are in the wrong.  LOCAVORista hates the argument, but if we don’t fight for ourselves, who will?


I am an eternal optimist and therefore I always look at life through rose colored glasses. When traveling your optimism is constantly challenged as it seems like everyone from the old man driving your tuk tuk to the 10 year old girl selling you Pho is trying to make an extra buck.  Yet I always come to the defense of the tuk tuk driver and the 10 year old.  The tuk tuk driver is just bringing  you to the tailor shop because he gets a free gas coupon, not much to ask you to make a stop on their behalf for 15 minutes when he is spending his whole day driving you around for only $2.  The 10 year old just gave you the wrong change because they work at their mother’s noodle shop rather than going to school so math doesn’t come easy.  Besides all the bills look the same maybe she grabbed a 1,000 kip bill rather than a 10,000 kip bill accidentally.

Of course you might just call me naive, but know that I do call the girl on it when she gives me the wrong change and you can ask thinkCHUA about how I was so firm with a tuk tuk driver in Bangkok that even he was surprised.  My point is that I don’t want to believe that I was screwed by a 10 year old.  I would much rather believe that I helped her with her math by writing out on a piece of paper what each item costed, how much I gave them and therefore the proper change she should bring me.

In one particular case in Vietnam we sat down for lunch and ordered food at a street stall without even asking the price, which we don’t typically do.  Once we had polished off two bowls of pho, which usually run about 20,000 dong each (roughly $1 at .96 dollars to 20,000 dong), the young girl told us it would be 100,000 dong total (roughly $5).  Shocked by the price we explained again what we had purchased and asked for clarification on the price.  She stood firm at her 100,000 dong price tag.  We payed the seemingly inflated price and as we walked away thinkCHUA was fuming while I justified the price increase.  It was the day before Tet after all and very few street vendors were operating so she was simply up-charging for the inconvenience of her being open during a holiday period.  Surely he could understand the laws of supply and demand, being an economist and all I thought to myself.

I also argued that it was really only $3 more than what we had expected to pay, which to us is nothing and to her and her family that money makes a huge difference.  My final argument when thinkCHUA insisted that the anger was due to the principle not the price was;  maybe this is there regular price, we hadn’t ever eaten at this particular street stall, so how would we know if they charged more?  Whether you travel with eternal optimism or have a healthy dose of skepticism it is good to keep everything in perspective and getting conned out of a mere $3 doesn’t constitute “getting screwed” in my eyes.

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» Kate C :
Mar 23, 2011

Ugh, I agree with you both! I always, always want to believe the best from people. All people. But, like Matt, I have never experienced anything like Asia in terms of money and scams in all my travels. Other countries barter, but never have I had to be so scam wary and constantly ward off people, including children, selling everything and anything. It’s constant. I felt that Laos and Cambodia were nicer in that aspect. Vietnam was the worst, as we realized that you pretty much never get exactly what you were expecting/told, but that just became part of the routine. You figure it out and learn how to work with it, I guess.

» Mom A :
Mar 24, 2011

Brace yourself for Angkor Wat, I have never been surrounded by so many sales children in my life! I’d be interested to know how different this all is compared to your trip to Africa given that it is third world/different continent. However, my first experience like these was with a waiter in Paris. That makes me much angrier to this day because he was clearly being arrogant and nasty, we actually got a picture of him and you should see the look on his face! This was so long ago it was before LOCAVORista! When it isn’t printed and I don’t ask, I just consider it a reminder to do so, if I am not charged the going rate. But it is often worth arguing for the price you thought you should be paying, if you have the energy for it vs the price difference.

» dad :
Mar 28, 2011

mr. naive here and partially if not totally responsible for LOCAVORrista life/peoples perspective, “personal perspective” is; as world travelers i am somewhat surprised this comes as a surprise……i have experienced many a scam in my limited travels and have a $50. Russian Rubel note from China as change for my never delivered Mao watch, which actually has become a treasured souvenir/reminder that there are scammers everywhere…..not that i tolerate it, but one only need look/read daily paper of the madoff’s/petter’s/hecker’s to be reminded of the real thieves who surround us and that this is hardly a S.E. Asian issue…..to me it is all about Karma (bad for them!!), being smart, being thankful for all we have and keeping things in perspective……..remember, i am the one one who usually gives money to the “panhandlers”……..the price of believing in the good (karma) of people will someday overcome all of the worlds evil…….excuse me, while i adjust my rose colored glasses……be safe, be smart and continue to celebrate the worlds/our differences……..great stuff…..am pleased you packed your brains, along with your shorts……peace….dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, I hope that believing in the good will someday overcome all the worlds evil and I knew you would agree with me on this one. Again I would rather just spend my time believing in the good in people than worrying incessantly about being scammed for a dollar or two. However, your Russian rubel story is hilarious I don’t think I had heard that one before.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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