After leaving London drunk on freedom and adventure we had seriously let our guard down. We had such a fantastic time on the Trans Siberian and had met so many cool young Chinese in hostels on our travels in China, that by the time we got to Shanghai we just assumed everyone in China was friendly, chatty and worldly.

The tea house scam

teahouse scammer

The tea house scam has been running in China for years, something that has survived generations and generations because of severe lack of awareness. There were zero warnings in any hostels and hotels, the police know it happens but do nothing, so a new bunch of fresh faced tourists are scammed practically every day in the major Chinese cities. We met a lot of people in our hostel who were either scammed, were approached by scammers or had friends who had been scammed.

This blogger talks about his story here

There’s much discussion about the scam on TripAdvisor here and here.

Our experience was the same, we were originally ‘picked up’ by our scammers in People’s Park who were well rehearsed in what to say to tourists. They always start with “Can you please take a photo for me?” before springing into a full blown conversation afterwards. They were exactly like the cool Chinese we met in the hostels and we suspected nothing, we even had a great time with them. However, later that day when we bumped into two of the girls and they ‘blanked us’ we knew something was awry. After going back and immediately Googling our experience we then became aware that we were scammed.

Picture of the people that scammed us:
teahouse scammers

The following few days left in Shanghai we realised that these scammers were literally everywhere like packs of greedy vultures populating the tourist hotspots ready to pounce on the unsuspecting traveller. Seeing so many of them made us feel sick, we made a point of trying to ‘save’ as many tourists as possible every time we saw a group of scammers approach them. We were lucky because we managed to find the tea house again the next day and demanded our money back. We managed to get £70 of the £100 they scammed from us back which was great. A lot of people don’t have the time to retrace their footsteps to get their money back. Hopefully being made aware of the scams means other travellers can be more vigilant and less likely to fall for it.

James and Jim’s blog also writes of the exact same place we had been conned (the Champs Elysee Mall in Shanghai), read how they managed to get some of their money back too here.

China Mike website have usefully summarised all the usual scams that occur in China here.

The moral of the story is… if someone is being too friendly and too complementary they’re up to no good! And if it sounds like it’s too good to be true… it usually is!

Sad as it may sound, if we had understood Chinese culture and mentality more, we would realise that the ‘average’ Chinese wouldn’t be so open with foreigners (aside from shopkeepers and tourist information etc) because by nature they are quite a distrusting lot – especially to strangers. The ones who are too willing to help, or are eager to invite you out for tea, food or drink – AVOID and politely excuse yourself and leave. Never follow anyone that invites you to a place of their choosing.

We never let our experience of the tea house scam ruin our holiday, nor did we ever become paranoid and cynical that every Chinese person was out to get us! Just be aware of the different scams that happen and enjoy yourself. We did!