Phu QUOC scams & island safety

Avoid these commons scams and travel ethically.

Phu Quoc Scams

As Vietnams’ newest tourist destination, Phu Quoc unfortunately attracts unsavory characters looking to exploit uninformed tourists and new expats from their hard earned income.  Some even openly violate Vietnam and International Law as enforcement on the island can be taken care of by bribing local officials to look the other way.  After a 4 year joint investigation with the Kien Giang Provincial Administration, the following page lists the current scams, bait-and-switch marketing tactics, counterfeit product distributors, and other deceitful and evil acts that occur in Vietnam’s “paradise” island.

Last updated: July 7, 2018

Phu Quoc Island Scams - An Introduction

All tourist destinations have its fair share of scams, and Phu Quoc is no exception.  The seven things you need to know about Phu Quoc are:

  1. Price gouging, bait and switch products/services, and false advertisements are common in Phu Quoc.  The best way to protect yourself is to do your research online and/or by joining this Phu Quoc Facebook Group.
  2. Laws are not enforced.
  3. Fake products are everywhere – from fake coffee concentrate imported from China (made from chemicals and dyes), fake cigars, fake New Zealand Ice Cream, to fake Phu Quoc pearls, pepper, and fish sauce. Counterfeit products are a big problem not only in Phu Quoc but across Vietnam.
  4. There is no “Better Business Bureau” or marketing standard in place on the island.  Businesses can make any claim they want without any consequences.  The only checks & balances that exist today are via TripAdvisor/Facebook/Google reviews.
  5. Local unethical businesses know that the average tourist stays in Phu Quoc for less than 3 days and that only 1 out of every 1,400 visitor will leave a review on social media.  The odds are in their favor to do whatever it takes to extract as much money from you as possible, consequence free.
  6. The average monthly salary of a local is just $250.00USD
  7. Businesses who get caught scamming tourists often bribe their way out or simply lie and deny it.

It is also worth pointing out that scammers are not limited to Vietnamese locals – expats are just as culpable and often rely on their nationality to gain your trust before raiding your wallet.  In fact, it is an influential old island expat who takes the top spot in our Phu Quoc Scams To Be Aware Of list.

1. Fake "Official Phu Quoc Tourist Information Center" Scam

If you want to be a responsible tourist then avoid this business. For years a local Ice Cream Shop that goes by “Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe” (which could be a fake name)  has made the claim that their small mom and pop business is also a government approved “Official” Tourist Information Center in Phu Quoc“.  Vietnam is a communist country and official tourism centers are managed by the different levels of the government, not *for-profit* small businesses.

The scam was first discovered by visitor reviews via TripAdvisor and later validated by locals, expats, and visitors alike.  This false claim is aimed at getting naive tourists to visit the fake tourism center, spend their hard earned money on overpriced food items while being exposed to a wall of advertisements and business cards in which the shop receives some sort of commission — which is hauntingly similar to the Thailand gold & gem shop scams, but this one is the brainchild of an expat in his late 60's who has been on the island before the islands transformation. 

Buddy Ice Cream Phu Quoc Scam

The shops signage even displays a giant “i” symbol, which is the universal symbol designating a government approved and trusted tourism board.  In the past, this deceptive business benefited from fake positive reviews posted on various travel sites, as it is relatively simple to ask friends or hire locals to post 5 star reviews – muddying the waters for those looking for authentic reviews.  Fortunately, review sites such as Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor have caught on and have implemented counter-measures to prevent fake reviews from being posted in order to provide users more transparency.

This scheming small business also creates a “visitor guide and map” and have incorporated infringed material in them in the past… including ours! Greed knows no bounds, and Vietnam currently does not enforce DMCA.

green washing in Phu Quoc

Validation of Phu Quoc Scam:

In 2018, investigative journalists contacted the Peoples Committee of Kien Giang Province, Phu Quoc's governing body,  who confirmed that “Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe's” is not the “official” tourist information center is just another retail business in Phu Quoc, one of many.  The business owners do not even own the land, but rather lease it – and by engaging in this type of deception, lease agreements can be deemed null and void.  False advertisements & bait and switch scams like this are not rare in Vietnam, but they are rare in Phu Quoc.  Not surprisingly, the aforementioned business owners have also misrepresented themselves on two other known and documented occasions – a) promoting a non-existent island environmental committee called “Keep Phu Quoc Green Committee aka KPQGC” and b) Phu Quoc Chamber of Commerce also called Phu Quoc Cham.  Their aim is to receive sponsorship money under the false premise of sounding like a government entity or island experts.  Considering that the individuals behind “Buddy Ice Cream” go to such great lengths to get you into their door, its best to avoid this venue at all costs.  In the past, the manager was even banned from TripAdvisor for excessive spamming among other things.

Collusion on Phu Quoc Island?

Only a handful of expats, who have lived on the island for over 5 years, know the scheming nature of Buddy Ice Cream – and yet do not say or do anything about it.  Not surprisingly, these expats are all males and are genuinely good people except they lack the courage to help keep Phu Quoc honest. 

Responsible Tourism & Why you should avoid Buddy Ice Cream

There are a lot of locally owned and operated cafes and ice cream shops who operate ethically on Phu Quoc Island and have been hurt by the marketing scheme created by the aforementioned business.  They have better food, coffee, and ice cream – they just lack an online presence.  If you want to practice responsible tourism and support locals, please avoid this business and their affiliated products.

Method of validation:

1) Contacting the Vietnamese Government.
2) Traveler reviews on Social Media websites.
3) 4 years of observation.
4) Interviews with the islands locals and long term expats.
5) Archived data.

2. Counterfeit Products & Human Trafficking

Buddy Boutique Phu Quoc

Another unlawful scam, by the same business listed above – Buddy Ice Cream – is the sale and distribution of counterfeit products through their subsidiary business called “Buddy Boutique“. Counterfeit products are illegal and you cannot bring these products back with you to your home country.  These fake fashion products may be confiscated and you could even face a stiff fine and imprisonment.

It’s this human cost (child labor, human trafficking, etc) that makes fake goods one of the most insidiously dangerous criminal activities in the world today.  It is very disheartening to know that individuals like this exist on Phu Quoc Island.

Recommendation: Reiterating avoiding Buddy Ice Cream and practice ethical tourism.  Asian children are not beneath western children.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Vietnam IP Law review.
3) Contacting international brands for verification.
4) International IP Treaty Review
5) Feedback from International Airport Authorities.

3. Beach Access Fee & "Private Beach" Scam

Phu Quoc Public Beach

Vietnam is a communist country and many Vietnamese fought, and died, to keep the land out of private hands. As such, over 90% of the beaches found in Phu Quoc are public beaches.  The rare exceptions being a few tiny islets located off the coast of An Thoi Town and military zones.  However certain beach front establishments employ staff to bully or threaten non-guests from using the beach near their property while some unlawfully charge a “usage fee” or will place signs claiming that the beach is reserved for their guests only. 

Method of validation:

1) Vietnam Law review.

4. Phu Quoc Night Market Seafood Scam

Phu Quoc Night Market

The Phu Quoc Night Market is a famous tourist landmark found next to the Duong Dong River in the heart of Duong Dong Town, which is Phu Quoc’s economic capital. The market consists of a few streets lined with street vendors, souvenir stalls, bars, and seafood restaurants – the latter being the subject of this scam.  Every evening, these Phu Quoc seafood restaurants display their menu items on a bed of ice. All claim that their seafood is “fresh”.  However, it is to be noted that nothing is wasted in Vietnam and that seafood on display may not always be truly “fresh”. Fish can be frozen and defrosted nightly until it is sold – some scheming restaurants even apply chemicals and preservatives to prevent seafood from decomposing or change color. Then there is the “bait-and-switch” technique where fresh seafood is on display for the consumer, but switched with an older fish by the cooks in the back.  Eating older seafood can cause extreme stomach cramps and ruin your vacation.

Tip: When dining at the Phu Quoc Night Market, look for restaurants with a large customer base – this usually indicates high turnover.  Choose locally sourced seafood such as squid, bonito, cobia, and crab over imported varieties.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

5. Phu Quoc Taxi Scam

phu quoc forest roads

For the most part, taxi drivers working in Phu Quoc are honest.  There are, however, some who will take advantage of customers by driving around and racking up fares. The more scheming ones will bring you somewhere secluded and then demand an exorbitant amount to send you back. To counter this, it is best to use your smartphones GPS device and Google Maps and show the taxi driver exactly where you want to go.   

What to do?

If you feel like you are getting scammed by the taxi driver, you can contact the Phu Quoc Police: 84 297 3846 051.  Text them your GPS location as well, which you can find in Google Maps.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

6. Dinh Cau Temple Touts

Dinh Cau Temple

The Dinh Cau Temple is one of Phu Quoc's most iconic landmarks and admission is free.  However at the steps that lead to the top of the temple there sometimes will be touts, mostly children or older women, who will try to earn some money off you with a myriad of ways.   Some may claim that you have to pay an entrance fee or claim that the temple is closed however if you pay a certain amount, you will be allowed in.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

7. Motorbike Rental Scam

motorbike accident phu quoc

The motorbike scam involves rental shops renting out a broken motorbike and then claim that you broke it and ask for excessive fees.  They may even get a local police officer involved, who will be in on the scam. 

What to do?

To avoid the hassle – make sure you carefully inspect the motorbike, and take a lot of pictures on your phone before committing to the rental.  Also try to rent a motorbike from your resort.  If they do not have one available, then try finding a place that exclusively rents out motorbikes – most of which can be found in Long Beach Village.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

8. Credit & Debit Card Scams

ATM skimming devices are becoming more common in remote areas of the island.  To avoid being scammed, withdraw money from Duong Dong Town, Bai Ong Lang, at the Phu Quoc International Airport, or at Long Beach Village.  All these areas have cameras and transactions for the most part are secure.  

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

9. Phu Quoc Visa Scam

International tourists who visit Phu Quoc Island via a direct or indirect flight, and plan on only staying in Phu Quoc and no other destination in Vietnam are eligible for a 30 day Vietnam Visa exemption. 

The scam here involves fining individuals who are eligible for the Phu Quoc Visa exemption, which normally occurs in either China or Thailand.  Most of the time this is mainly due to lack of training – not everyone working in travel is aware that Phu Quoc is a visa-free region, the only visa free region in all of Vietnam.   As such, we have provided an International Air Transport Association (IATA) screen that states that Phu Quoc is indeed a visa exempt region in Vietnam.  Guests only need to remind the airline check-in counter employees to review their IATA terminal for Phu Quoc to verify.

Then there are those who will fine tourists in order to exploit their fears – without paying the fine, tourists will not be allowed on the flight, and thus forfeit and expensive airplane ticket and vacation.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

10. "Local" Guide Scam

best phu quoc street food guide

Although discovering all of Phu Quoc's major attractions can be seen without a dedicated guide, especially with the aide of PQ Places App, there are those travelers who like the comfort of having a “local” guide with them.  It is important to note that “local guides” are something new to Phu Quoc and that most “guides” have immigrated to Phu Quoc from mainland Vietnam.  Anyone who is “Vietnamese” can claim to be a local guide, and the ones who speak fluid English have a competitive advantage over those who don't.

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

11. "Duggy Dugong" Scam

Duggy Dugong Scam In Phu Quoc

The “Duggy Dugong” scam is commonly referred to as the “idiot scam” by the local people of Phu Quoc.  The scam involves businesses on the island of Phu Quoc placing  recycling and other green logos on their flyers, maps, etc hoping to capitalize on the “green tourism” movement.  A “racist yellow-face sea cow” aka Dugong (marine animal), is the symbol for this scam.

Sadly, as of 2018, there is no recycling on Phu Quoc Island. 

Method of validation:

1) Tourist feedback.
2) Field observation.

12. Fake "non-for-profit" scam

Phu Quoc Cham Scam

Phu Quoc Cham” or “Phu Quoc Chamber of Commerce” is a business networking / meetup style event that occurs on Phu Quoc Island.  The founder of the event is an elder Australian national, the same person managing “Buddy Ice Cream In Phu Quoc” and one who has a historical record of deceptive marketing tactics.  He claims that this group is a “not-for-profit”, however the local government, provincial government, and central government all have confirmed that “Phu Quoc Cham” and “Phu Quoc Chamber of Commerce” a) does not exist and b)it is not a registered legal entity.  The socialist/communist government also informed us that any not-for-profits in Vietnam must be initiated by Vietnamese people to meet the requirements of existing legal frameworks.  They also mentioned that it is in violation of Vietnam law to promote activities as “not-for-profit” if proper registration and paperwork have not been filed.

As the Australian national has not provided any transparency or business/non-profit registration information  to validate “Phu Quoc Cham” not-for-profit status, and given his past history, this “not-for-profit” does not legally exists and patrons should be careful when making any donations.  We are unsure why “Phu Quoc Cham” has been branded as “not-for-profit” and not just a “Business Networking Group”, unless there is some deceptive monetization strategy involved.   Learn more about not-for-profit scams.

 

Method of validation:

1) Contacting the Vietnamese Government.
2) Traveler reviews on Social Media websites.
3) 4 years of observation.
4) Interviews with the islands locals and long term expats.

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