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Top 10 Scams to Avoid While Touring China
An insider's guide to touring China and Beijing
1. “Budget” or super-cheap tours
These tour prices are really cheap, but there is a reason for it – they will take you to shopping places that are not listed on your itinerary, and you may spend more time at these places than at the places that you intended to visit. Usually you will be herded on to an often overcrowded and dirty bus, headed to the Great Wall for example, and you will stop on the way there at a very touristy shopping stop for 45 minutes to an hour. You may also stop at a “tourist” site – which is actually just another shop disguised as a tourist site with horrible carnival-type acts that will expect tips once they have performed. You may also have to stop at a Chinese traditional medicine “clinic” (more on that one below.) You will also likely have someone yelling into an extra loud (and usually horrible sounding) loudspeaker on the bus, either in Chinese or barely understandable English. There is nothing really wrong with taking these types of “join-in” tours as long as you know what you are getting yourself into.
2. “Black” taxis
The term “black” here does not refer to the color of the taxis themselves, rather it refers to the illegal taxis or cars that are found all over China. You may first encounter them at the airport upon your arrival, where many men will approach you asking you “where are you going” or saying “taxi” to you. Don’t even talk to these people – they will not only overcharge you but there have been reports of tourists taken out into the middle of nowhere where several of the black taxi drivers friend showed up and took all of the tourists belongings. That is very rare though, and nothing to be scared of as long as you follow the signs and take the legal taxis that are plentiful in all Chinese cities.
3. The free “tour guide” scam
These people are commonly found in tourist-heavy areas of the major cities such as The Bund in Shanghai and the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square in Beijing. A young, attractive male or female will approach the tourist (always easy to spot the Western tourist in China) and offer to be a free tour guide and show you around “their” city. They may actually take you to a place or two, all the while learning more about you to find the best way to get your money. The actual way that they try to scam money from you will vary according to your personality – for some, it may be that they need money for a sick family member, for others, they may take you to a bar of a fellow scammer and run up a bill that runs into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a “free lunch”, nor are there truly free “tour guides” to be found in China.
4. The “tea shop or tea ceremony” scam
These people also haunt tourist-heavy areas looking for an unsuspecting Westerner. Usually female and attractive, they will approach the tourist and invite them to a traditional Chinese teashop or ceremony, and they will seem innocent and sincere. There will be a real teashop and real tea, maybe even with a ceremony, but the scam comes when it comes time to pay the bill, and it can again run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Do not fall for this one – there are real tea shops with real tea ceremonies but make sure that you only go to the legitimate ones that won’t hand you a huge bill for it at the end. The basic rule of thumb is to not follow any strangers anywhere in China.
5. The “art show/art student” scam
This scam involves young Chinese people approaching tourists and claiming to be art students having an art show nearby. They will lead you to a shop selling all kinds of various “art”, and of course they will show you the art that they have allegedly (and undoubtedly have not) produced. This one is usually more of a waste of your time than anything, and once you have realized that they are only selling the same “art” that you can find everywhere and that they are selling it at much higher prices, you can simply leave.
6. The Chinese Traditional Medicine Clinic scam
These can be found in numerous places and are often included as part of the “budget” or super-inexpensive tours that were discussed earlier. Your bus will unload in front of an alleged Chinese traditional medicine clinic, and everyone will be examined by a “doctor” of Chinese medicine, who will diagnose everyone with various ailments no matter how healthy they are. Luckily enough, they will have just the right traditional Chinese medicine for everyone’s problems, and they will sell it to you at over-inflated prices. Certainly there are real and effective Chinese medicines but only go to authorized shops with someone that you can trust.
Although found everywhere in the world, be especially careful around the major tourist sites with your wallets and bags. Thieves have been known to come up behind tourists while they are walking and unzip their backpacks to help themselves to whatever is inside. Always keep your eyes on your bags, and carry your wallets in a front pocket or a pocket inside your coat, and constantly be aware of people around you. If you have something especially valuable in your backpack, wear it on your front – no shame in that! This is one scam where a true tour guide is very helpful, as thieves will not target tourists with a tour guide that knows how to turn them in to the police.
8. Lady Bars
Found especially near the bar streets in major Chinese cities, such as Sanlitun in Beijing, men will stand around and yell “lady bar, massage” at any foreign men that happen to walk by. Definitely do not fall for this one – at best you will get a lousy massage at a massively inflated price, and at worst – we won’t even get into that discussion but you may lose your health as well as all of your money.
9. Child Beggars and Flower Sellers
Found just about everywhere that you can find tourists, these children will beg for money, sometimes even grabbing onto your legs until you pay them some money, or try to sell you flowers for your girlfriend or boyfriend (no matter who you are with.) There are reports that these children may have been kidnapped from other places specifically to be used for begging purposes, but regardless of the truthfulness of these accounts, these kids are forced to stay up far too late and do the dirty work of begging for adults who are too lazy to work. The best policy is just to ignore them, as any money that they are paid goes straight to the adults who are controlling them, and it just serves to further the problem by showing them that it is a profitable venture to enslave children this way. Furthermore, if you give money to one beggar, all of the others will flock to you to be paid off as well.
10. Bar tabs
Most bars frequented by foreigners are good about keeping proper bar tabs, but it never hurts to check to make sure that you are paying for exactly what you received. Better yet, pay as you go, without having to worry about whether you had four or five beers at that last stop.
China is an incredibly interesting place to visit, and crime here is probably no worse than any other tourist destination in the world. Violent crime is almost unheard of, but it can happen. The best advice is just to always be aware of yourself and your surroundings, and do not allow strangers to talk you into going anywhere with them or doing anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing, no matter how sweet and innocent they may seem. A good idea is to book your Beijing tour through a reputable tour company. Be careful, and enjoy your trip to the Middle Kingdom!