How to Avoid Cyclo Scams

Getting There & Around

‘Cycle rickshaws’, ‘trishaws’ or ‘cyclos’ are an excellent way of getting around a city or compact area. They’re not suitable for very long trips (you can’t usually persuade a driver to take you too far, and anyway, who wants a sore rear from bad suspension). But they’re cheap and environmentally friendly because they’re powered completely by pedals.

This makes them particularly popular amongst budget travelers. In many places the locals use them as well; to commute to work or run errands.

cyclo with passengers
Cyclo with passengers

You can find cyclos all over the world in countries including Madagascar, Mexico, Cambodia, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal and, Vietnam, as well as in some parts of Europe, Australia and, North America.

However, there are several scams associated with cyclos that are prevalent in many regions. You shouldn’t be scared of using a cyclo, but it’s good to be clued up on the common scams, just in case you encounter them.

1. The Driver has Affiliations with Hotels

Sometimes the cyclo driver gets a commission from a guesthouse or hotel if he/she brings guests to it. So if you already have a reservation at a property (or already picked a property you want to stay at) and ask the driver to take you there, he may create an excuse to take you somewhere else instead (where he secretly gets a commission).

For example, it’s very common in Vietnam and Cambodia for you to ask the cyclo driver to take you to a specific guesthouse and for them to reply you can’t go there because there was a fire/the hot water boiler is broken/it’s closed down, etc – but they can take you somewhere else they know is open/good/better.

Stand firm and remain polite. It’s very unlikely any of these things happened to your guesthouse (particularly if you made a reservation the day before!). Try not to get angry, after all, the driver most probably has less money than you and doesn’t see anything wrong in a little white lie to make some cash for his family.

Particularly in Asia, the issue of ‘saving face’ is huge, so if you get into a disagreement, do not shout, try to keep smiling and firmly say you want to go to the location of your choice anyway. Usually, they’ll eventually give up trying to persuade you when they see you won’t be swayed.

An alternative idea is to say you were unaware of this but would like to see it with your own eyes anyway, then if it is indeed closed you’d be happy for them to show you their friend’s guesthouse.

Cyclo on nice street
Tourists and locals like using cyclos because they're affordable and fast

2. “That Restaurant is Closed”

Rather like in #1, this cyclo scam is similar in that the driver may get money from an acquaintance if he or she brings you to their restaurant. So if you ask them to take you to a specific restaurant or cafe, beware of any tall stories about food poisoning, it being dirty or it is shut, and then offering to take you somewhere ‘better’.

Of course, technically this could be the case, but use your own judgment on this one. You can usually check up-to-date restaurant reviews and opening times on websites such as TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp.

3. The ‘Foreign Face Price’

Always ask what the price will be before you get into the cyclo. You’re probably already aware that foreigners often pay a higher price than the local rate for goods and services, and that includes local transport like taxis and cyclos too.

You might not be able to get a ‘local rate’ for everything (and probably realize it’s not the end of the world if you don’t always get a bargain rate – after all, your income is probably many times higher than the average monthly salary in Asia or Mesoamerica) but of course, nobody likes getting ripped off.

Sometimes cyclo fares for foreigners can be three or more times higher than the standard fare. If you are traveling between two set locations, or want to know what the price should be per mile, you might be able to check travel forums such as TripAdvisor or guidebooks to see what the ‘best’ rate should be. This way you’ll know if you’re being offered a fair rate or not.

Usually, you have to haggle. A good idea is to ask what their price is, knock two-thirds off it, and then barter from there, unless the first price they give you is a lot of money anyway in your home country – in which case you know something’s up.

hanoi streets
Cyclos are one of the most convenient ways of getting around many cities, like Hanoi

4. Snatching Belongings

When you’re in a cyclo you’re quite exposed to the elements, as well as to passers-by. So keep hold of your belongings for the duration of the trip. Don’t put them on the floor unguarded or leave them on your lap without your hands firmly on them. A pedestrian or even somebody on a motorscooter could zoom past, reach out and grab them. This goes for bags as well as purses, phones, and cameras.

5. The Two Rides Rip-Off

Occasionally you’ll agree on a price, get in the cyclo then head off towards your destination only for the driver to run into a friend on a motorbike, stop and chat, then for them to head off, with the cyclo following the motorbike. At some point, the cyclo driver says he’s tired and suggests you jump on his friend’s motorbike instead.

If you get on the second motorbike, the cyclo driver then asks you to pay but wants three times as much as the price you initially agreed on. If he gets it will split it between himself and the motorcyclist. They often pull over in quiet alleys to have these ‘conversations’ so it can be quite alarming, which is why they often succeed in getting you to part with more money than you intended.

A good way to avoid this could be to use a cyclo driver recommended by the guesthouse or hotel you’re staying at.

penang cyclo
If you read up on common cyclo scams in advance, you've got a much better chance of avoiding them

6. Old Fashioned Extortion

Sometimes the scam in question is just plain extortion. This one has been noticed around Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City in particular) but can happen in other countries, too. You agree on a price, hop in a moto, get to your destination and the driver (sometimes joined by several other drivers who surround you) then tries to separate you from your companion if you have one and tells you he wants $50 from both of you. They can become quite aggressive, persistent, and physically intimidating, even if you’re totally ripped and are standing your ground.

If you’re aware of these common cyclo scams, it can help you avoid them, but it’s a good idea to also do a quick Google search for the location you’re in plus the phrase “cyclo scam” (or whichever local word they use for cyclo, such as “trishaw”, “bicitaxi”, “beca” or “trisikad” before you go anywhere else.

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