Tips on booking tours, hotels, currency exchange and avoiding scams for tourists

Visitors to my blog often ask me about booking tours , currency exchange, hotels etc, buying souvenirs etc.. I am consolidating all the tips from those replies here. 

How to find a tour company or a hotel or some other travel service?

Open TripAdvisor.com on your browser. Run a search on the service that you looking for (say island hopping tour) and the destination (perhaps Phuket). 

Look for the search results and read the reviews. Often hotels and services hire "fake reviewers". If you find a overtly positive or negative reviews, looks for other reviews by that reviewer, just to make sure that they are not a "fake reviewer".

While you are at it, run a Google search for the tour company you end up picking with the word "scam" next to it. 

Also, run a search for the scams in the destination you are going to. This way you'll be prepared when someone want to sell you those gems.

For currency exchange, check the rate on Google. You can type in the currency codes and the amount of money you want to change, for example if I want to know how much Thai Bahts will I get for 5000 Indian Rupees, I will type in the following in Google search box.

5000 INR to THB  

I usually Google for the price of meals, cafe, hotels or hostels, local transport and add a buffer of around 20 USD per day. For example for a city like Bangkok, I can live comfortably on 30 USD per day.  I will add a buffer of 20 USD to make it 50USD per day. So for a four days trip, I will carry 200 USD. 

Using Credit or Debit cards In most of South East Asia, China and India, you can use the ATMs to withdraw money as a backup. Myanmar is probably the only place where I still carry extra cash when I am visiting smaller towns. However, the exchange rate that you get at the ATM is pretty bad. And usually the banks charge you a transaction fee for using a foreign card on their ATM. Call your bank to enable your credit or debit card for overseas trip before you leave.  While paying with credit card, insist that they do the card transaction in front of you. If the shop says that they do not have the machine and have to go next doors to do the transaction, ask to go with them. There have been cases where naughty employees copy down the card and cvv numbers and later use the data to buy stuff online. Once you are back home, pay extra attention to your credit card bill to see if there's is some charge that you don't recognize. 

Buying stuff for back home (AKA souvenirs)

Don't waste your money, most of the souvenirs are a racket. Don't even indulge the folks selling precious stones etc. If you really need to buy something precious, get a local friend to recommend a place where they buy thing from. 

Another option to go to a local supermarket and buy some local sweets, coffee or tea - the packaging is attractive and it is something unique and hopefully the people you are gifting to can actually consume the stuff.