Like most places you’ll travel to, the majority of Beijing locals are friendly, helpful and genuine. But there are exceptions. After all, taking advantage of naive foreigners is a great way to make a quick buck. Here are some of the common Beijing scams to watch out for.
The “legit” airport taxi
Say hello to the first trick of your trip. You’ve just made it through customs. You’re tired, and wondering how you’re going to get to your hotel. And like an oasis in the desert, they appear – guys from the airport taxi service, calling out as you exit the arrivals gate. But they’re a mirage. They’ll take you to an unmarked car, and although drive you to your destination, charge you between four to 10 times the standard rate.
This hustle isn’t limited to Beijing airport, either. Always make sure to book your taxi through the official airport taxi service.
The tuk tuk trap
You’re going to do a lot of walking in Beijing, so the plethora of tuk tuks can be tempting. Most of them are good to go, but you’ll want to agree on the price (show them the money to avoid language barrier “mistakes” later on) before jumping in. And if they veer off down some twisted, Beijing backstreet, be prepared – they’re going to take you to the middle of nowhere and ask you to pay handsomely for it. Best to bail on these ones early.
The old switcheroo
Restaurants hyped up by the likes of Lonely Planet and GAB are like light bulbs to bugs. And where there are tourists, there are tricksters. They’ll approach you in front of famous food joints and say all sorts of things: that the restaurant has moved down the road, that it’s a fast food joint, or that they only sell cold food – just to convince you to follow them to their restaurant instead. Stick to your guns – your taste buds will thank you.
The tea lady
She’s sweet. She’s harmless. She’s out to rob you. It’s by far the strangest scam on this list, but it’s effective nonetheless.
Popular tourist destinations, like the food and bar area just north of Tiananmen Square, are haunted by Beijing’s smiling assassins. These seemingly sincere women will stop foreigners on the street, engage them in a bit of light-hearted banter, and invite them out for a drink or two. You were heading out for a drink anyway. Why not?
She’ll take you to an undecorated, silent, “authentic tea room”. She’ll order wine, food, and of course a pot of tea. Little do you know, you’ll be the one paying for it. It’s all ridiculously expensive – even the room comes with a feisty fee. Get out or get broke.
So there you have it: four standard Beijing swindles to steer clear of. Don’t worry if you’ve already fallen for one of them. After all, they make great stories. And if you’ve taken the bait for the lot, don’t despair – this article was written from experience.
By Jared Bedford