Handling a Hong Kong Hoodwink: the Do’s and Don’ts of Surviving a Swindle

China, City Travel, Health & Safety — By on July 27, 2012 at 11:00 am

By Chantal and Carolyn Moclair
Exclusive to the Lost Girls

Hong Kong is easily one of our favorite places, but it didn’t always put smiles on our faces. After spending almost five months in this major city we came to know it quite well; from things that fascinated us, to the less-than-favorable flaws. One thing we were not prepared for was how to put up with the preying hands of pretenders, but over time we learned how to evade these sneaky scam artists. We’ve compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts on how to make the most of this destination without being deceived.

Don’t: Get into an Illegal Cab

Hong Kong Pink CabOne of the first lessons we learned (the hard way) upon our arrival in Hong Kong was not to get conned into taking an illegal taxi. The first time we set foot in Hong Kong International Airport, we were intimidated. The size of the airport is daunting, and figuring out what to do, where to go, and let alone, how to leave, became overwhelming. When we finally managed to get out, huge double decker buses greeted us, and little did we know, impeded our views of the blue, green pink, and especially red taxis (urban taxis for central Hong Kong) we were seeking. Illegal taxi drivers lurked off to the side, near the buses, preying on the lost and weary. We were the number one target. The small, dark-haired, friendly man waved us over, screaming: “Taxi? Taxi!” and assured us he’d take us to where we wanted to go. Between the language barrier and the driver’s incesent laughing, we were reminded us of a phrase commonly linked to traveling abroad: “You will be laughed at for reasons beyond your comprehension.” Trust us, we weren’t laughing.

As we drove to our hotel, we looked in awe at Hong Kong, a metropolis of sky-rise buildings and bright, flashing lights.  But the meter was also sky-high and we knew something wasn’t right.  It was a sketchy, gray van with no actual indicative signs that it was a taxi, which should have been the first clue.  Then the whopping bill upon arrival at our hotel was the clincher; we later learned this man charged us 500 more Hong Kong dollars than a legal taxi would have.  Plus, we were brought to a sketchy back entrance, and an employee asked us why we came through the 4th floor before directing us to the front desk of the hotel.  Lesson learned, and a tip for future travelers: Ask questions and do not, by any means, get into an illegal taxi.

Do: Take the Metro Rail 

When possible, take the Metro Rail, known as the MTR, everywhere you go.  It is inexpensive, fast, easy to navigate, and the countless routes take you wherever your heart desires.  From the East to the West Rail Line, or from Tung Chung to Tsuen Wan, the MTR is a Hong Kong hustler’s answer to a hassle-free way around.  And with an Airport Express that takes under twenty-five minutes to get to central Hong Kong, taking the MTR is the best way to avoid becoming an illegal cab driver’s next tourist target.

Don’t: Be Fooled by Fraudulent Monks

Fake Monks in Hong KongIn the Canadian suburbs, it’s rare to see a real monk, let alone fake ones. It’s the complete opposite in Hong Kong, where fake monks teem the streets where foreigners flock, hoping for handouts. Areas like Soho and Lan Kwai Fong are frequented by the fraudulent monks, but the favorite locations for them to lurk include popular tourist traps like the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. This Buddhist temple, located in Sha Tin, is in fact not a real monastery, as no legitimate monks reside there. Fake monks take advantage of this by dressing in robes and having their heads shaved, giving the appearance of real monks. Real monks don’t solicit for money; but the fake monks at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery park themselves at the entrance, selling bracelets and other goods to unsuspecting tourists by claiming the money will go to a good cause, and following the tourists up the steps until they buy something or donate money.

If you fall victim to the swindle, you will not find the helpful the sign at the top of the monastery saying “Beware of fake monks, they are not real!” A little late for that. It is important to ignore these imposters who are actually devoting their lives not to reflection, but to deception.  The practice of begging on the streets for donations and money by Buddhist monks is actually prohibited by The Hong Kong Buddhist Association, and every traveler to Hong Kong should be made aware of these scheming swindlers.

Do: Trust Your Instincts

If a situation strikes you as shady, use your better judgment.  If people are begging for money and you just don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t part with your pennies. More than likely, you are walking into a scam.

Don’t: Surrender to the First Sale Price

One of the joys (and pains) of going to a market, such as Hong Kong’s Temple Street night market, is bargaining with the sellers.  This hustling, bustling shopper’s haven can be a dream come true or a nightmare, thanks to the savvy stall operators that try to drain you of every dollar.  Sometimes people don’t have the energy or think they don’t have the knowledge of how to haggle properly, but we assure you, negotiating is necessary.  The salespeople purposely jack the prices because they expect tourists to bargain with them for a lower price, so never surrender to the original price offered for a coveted collectible.  We know it’s sometimes hard to haggle, especially because the emotions of the vendors run the gamut from the friendly thieves that start the price war rolling with a ludicrously high amount and wait only until you walk away to give you a slightly lower price, knowing you’re over paying anyway, to the one-word wonders that bark out one semi-fair price and don’t even blink at your threats to walk, and even to the guilt-trippers; the ones that make you aware you are paying a high price, but insist it is because they need to feed their families.  The last type is the sneakiest, because they try to manipulate you with guilt, and unfortunately sometimes succeed.  Stand your ground when bargaining, and use the helpful Cantonese phrase: “Peng Di La,” which means “make it cheaper.”

Do: Have Fun Haggling and Make the Most of the Market

Going to a market is supposed to be exciting and enjoyable, not a stressful situation.  Take the time, look around and locate what you love.  One of our favorite memories of Hong Kong was at Temple Street, when Carolyn was on the hunt for a jade Buddha necklace.  The salesman saw the one she was eyeing, snatched it, and put on a show for us.  He thrashed and smashed it on the ground, full force, and even set it on fire with his lighter, all in the quest to prove to us it was real jade.  It probably isn’t, but it’s now in Carolyn’s possession, because she negotiated a “fair” price and couldn’t leave it behind.  It was an exciting experience, and one we will not forget for a long time.

Being fooled is never fun, so hopefully future tourists take these tips into consideration and can ultimately avoid a Hong Kong Hoodwink.

Chantal and Carolyn Moclair are identical twin sisters with a great love of travel!  They were bitten by the travel bug at the early age of three months old while in Brazil for their first trip abroad.  Twenty two years later, they’ve traveled to 40 different countries with no plans of stopping. Recently graduated from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada with an undergraduate degree in Honors Sociology and a minor in Criminal Justice and Public Policy, they will soon be embarking on another adventure:  Completing a year-long Master’s Degree in Publishing at Kingston University in London, England.  They both have big plans for the future, hoping to embark on a Lost Girls journey of their own one day. Follow them on twitter @MoclairTwins.


Tags: ,


  • Gopal Das says:

    I think everybody should check out the Scam Detector app. I believe they’re online as well.

  • I simply couldn’t leave your web site before suggesting that I really loved the usual information an individual provide for your guests? Is gonna be again continuously in order to inspect new posts