Notorious China Tourist Traps

Shaolin Temple. Main scam: Tourists are charged 6,000 yuan (US$980) to burn a stick of incense. It’s tantamount to robbery. (Screenshot from Secret China)
Shaolin Temple. Main scam: Tourists are charged 6,000 yuan (US$980) to burn a stick of incense. It’s tantamount to robbery. (Screenshot from Secret China)

Chinese netizens recently voted the top nine notorious China tourist traps. The list below reflects the experiences of many who have visited famous attractions in China.

1st: Shaolin Temple

Scam level rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Main scam: Tourists are charged 6,000 yuan (US$980) to burn a stick of incense. It’s tantamount to robbery.

At nearly 4 feet, the smallest incense stick burning in front of the Grand Hall of the Shaolin Temple is longer than an arm, while the biggest one is wider than a rice bowl. The abbot usually encourages tourists to burn a stick of incense, but the cheapest one is 600 yuan (US$98), and the most expensive is 6,000 yuan.

At those prices, burning incense is just like burning money. In truth, no real Buddhism is still practiced at this once legendary temple.

2nd: Yuangshou

Scam level rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Main scam: Tourists are displayed fake warmth while being charged 2,000 yuan (US$327) for a soft drink.

In Yangshuo, many tourists seeking romance are taken to local bars or pubs, where bar girls ask them to order a high-class drink. The drink is nothing more than a blend of Sprite and Coke.

Although the actual cost of a soda is just dozens of cents, the tourists pay 100 to 200 yuan (US$16-33) for the drink, while paying at least 600 to 800 yuan (US$98-$131) for a “special service.” The average price for that special service is 2,000 yuan (US$325), but it can go over 3,000 yuan (US$490). If you choose not to pay it, they won’t let you leave…

3rd: Mount Emei

Scam level rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆

Main scam: Whether burning incense, praying to the gods, or taking photos, all come with extremely high price tags.

At the “Grand Consecration Ceremony,” the lowest price for a thumb-sized deity statue is 80 yuan (US$13). Prior to consecration, you must burn incense for 60 yuan (US$10), 190 yuan (US$31) if you want to include the family. For photos taken of you with the incense, expect to pay 15 yuan ($2.50) for a single shot, and 90 yuan (US$15) for a set.

When the ceremony finally begins, as soon as you open your mouth to greet the master, you are charged 50 yuan (US$8) per person. After that, the “master” tells you to bow down to him. Although the ceremony is advertised as being free, many tourists end up leaving 700-800 yuan (US$ 114-$131) lighter.

4th: Laoshan

Scam level rating: ★ ★ ★

Main scam: Fake priests tugging at you for donations.

Once a tour guide takes you to a house on this mysterious mountain, seven or eight mountain dwellers dressed as priests immediately surround you and honor you as their master. They will flatter you and tell you to expect great fortune.

They will write auspicious words on some kind of lucky charm for you, and then expect you to return their small kindness with a large donation. When they show you the Virtuous Deeds Book, known by tourists as the Donation Scam Book, you will find previous tourists who “donated” at least 1,000 yuan (US$163).

Most tourists “donated” from 2,000 yuan (US$327) to 3,900 yuan (US$637). Don’t feel like donating? These “priests” have endless options in choosing ways to express their disappointment.

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