My shoes when they were brand new

The Shoe Cleaning Scam in Hanoi

Now, I like to consider myself a fairly savvy traveller. I pay attention to my belongings, I take safety precautions and I read up on local scams to stay safe and vigilant. Despite this, my sister and I almost fell for the shoe cleaning scam in Hanoi. Luckily, we didn’t lose any money but it was still a stressful situation. It is similar to the shoe shine scam in Istanbul. If you are getting people to work on your shoes, then be careful where you go.

The Shoe Cleaning Scam

Usually, the scam works by convincing you to let them cheaply clean your shoes or fix some loose stitching. Then, they’ll discover additional things that need fixing, and ramp the price up for all the extra work. Alternatively, they’ll say the price was per shoe rather than the total. Either way, they’ll find reasons to extort more money out of you so the best thing to do is just avoid the shoe cleaners.

How I almost got scammed

Our seats in the cafe where the scammer approached us.
Our seats in the cafe where the scammer approached us

Our scammer was extra sneaky. He got us while we were in a cafe waiting for a bus to Cat Ba. As we sat down, a man came along with slippers for us to wear. Naturally, we assumed he was a staff member and that they didn’t want guest wearing shoes inside. Once we’d taken off our shoes, the guy then returned, took our shoes and walked right out of the cafe!

We immediately alerted the waiter who took our order who tried to find the guy, but he’d disappeared. He reassured us that we would get our shoes back but that didn’t help much. Luckily it was only about 5 minutes when he brought them back, now fully cleaned.

After the shoe cleaning scam they certainly did look almost new again
How my shoes looked at the end of the trip after being cleaned

Now, our shoes were pretty filthy as we’d worn them while abseiling in Da Lat, so it was immediately noticeable that they’d been cleaned. Of course, we hadn’t asked for this and so we weren’t going to pay him anything. I grabbed our shoes back immediately and immediately made it clear we were unhappy with him. After repeatedly saying “No” the guy eventually gave up. We stayed firm in our refusal as we felt giving him money would encourage him to continue his behaviour. If you’re alone and don’t feel confident enough to handle it, giving just a few dollars should also be enough to get them to leave.

The waiter was very apologetic and tried to help us, despite the language barrier. He told us that he hoped it didn’t give us a bad impression of Vietnam, and luckily it was the only negative encounter we had while in Hanoi.

Have you ever fallen for travel scams or had close calls? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. I was totally scammed in Saigon! I was just walking down the street and someone pointed to my shoes and practically took them off my feet. Then I had to stand there without shoes while he went and cleaned them. Totally ruined the rest of my day.

    1. Yeah, I wasn’t really looking forward about returning to Hanoi after that experience, but luckily had a wonderful walking tour when we got back that managed to make up for it and show me how lovely it can be.

  2. What a weird scam! I can see how you would just end up paying for the shoe cleaning even though you hadn’t asked for it if you were in a different country and there was a language barrier! I am glad you stuck to your guns and didn’t pay him hopefully it will make him think again before cleaning someone shoes without being asked.

  3. There are similar scams here in the Philippines, but mostly up on Manila. Glad you did’t lose any money!

  4. Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know such a scam existed. Glad you got your shoes back in the end!

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