Like anywhere in the world that’s popular with tourists, Thailand has its share of scams. Nobody likes being played for a fool, and being scammed leaves you bitter, and for some people, broke. Fortunately, most of the scams in Thailand are easy to avoid and not all that common either. Here are the ones you’re most likely to run into, and the best ways to avoid falling for them.
Bangkok tuk-tuk scams
Most drivers of Bangkok’s famous three-wheeled tuk-tuks will overcharge you, and maybe take you to a restaurant where they get a commission, but a small minority of them will try to outright scam you. These drivers wait near touristy areas like Khao San Road or the Royal Palace looking for marks. They then tell you that whatever destination you ask to be taken to is closed for renovation or a holiday, and that they have somewhere better to show you. They might even offer to take you for free, but with a quick stop first.
These drivers will take you from place to place, each of which pays them a flat fee plus commission on anything you buy. There will be at least a tailor shop, a gem and jewelry store, and a restaurant. They will range from merely poor quality to outright fraudulent. The gems may be fake, the tailors use the worst synthetic fabrics, and some of these restaurants will bring a check for ten times what you expected to pay, and then bring back a different menu than what you ordered off of when you complain. Many of these scams are backed by corrupt police so once you’ve fallen for it, your only options are to pay, or to be threatened, beaten up, and then pay.
Luckily, these scams are easily avoided by only using tuk-tuks for A to B journeys, not full day tours. In general, they’re slower than the trains and more expensive than taxis, but they are a true part of Bangkok and every visitor should at least try them out. Just keep your wits about you and never believe a driver telling you your destination is closed. Also, you should bargain as the first price they give you will almost always be too high. Never get in a tuk-tuk without first agreeing on the fare. For more on getting around Bangkok, see our post on transportation in Bangkok.
The jet ski scam
This one is extremely common in Pattaya and has been known to happen in Phuket and some smaller islands as well. The way this one works is this: after you’ve been out enjoying yourself on a jet ski, you return it and some minor cosmetic damage is pointed out by the renter. You are blamed even though you both know it wasn’t you who caused the damage, and extortionate repair fees are demanded. If the situation escalates at all, a cop will show up to help you, and by help you I mean drive you to an ATM and probably threaten you with arrest or violence if you don’t pay up.
This scam is so common in Pattaya that’d I’d advise against renting a jet ski there at all. In other places, check some online reviews and ask at your hotel for a recommendation for an honest rental place. If you do fall for the scam, you can be polite but insistent that you did not cause the damage and will not pay. You will probably be safe doing this as long as you are out in a public place. Don’t go anywhere with them, and don’t get physically or verbally abusive even though you are in the right. Technically, property damage would be a civil issue, not a criminal one and you should not be arrested even if you did cause the damage. Just know that these criminals make their living doing this and will be very persuasive and threatening. It may be best to just pay, but at least try calling the tourist police at 1155.
Transportation booking scams
This one is less of a regular scam and more of an unsavory business practice. In Thailand it’s quite common for travelers to book all-inclusive transportation to their next destination either with their hotel or a nearby travel agent. While most of these are legitimate businesses doing things the honest way, some will say anything to get you to buy so they can get their commission. Usually this would mean telling you everything is included only for you to find out later that you have to purchase your own ferry ticket, or that you only arrive at the island but still have to get a taxi to your hotel. By this point, you are out of sight, out of mind to the seller.
This one is pretty easy to avoid too. Anytime you book travel that is in any way complicated or has transfers, make sure everything that you are told is included is also written on your ticket or receipt. The receipt should have the company name and phone number on it, and really should also have their travel agent license number too. If they seem hesitant to write this for you, go book somewhere else.
Some of the dirt cheap buses that run between Khao San Road and the islands in the South are able to keep their prices so low by stealing from their passengers. While you are sleeping through the long journey, someone is down below the bus combing through your luggage. This doesn’t happen on normal transportation in Thailand, just these backpacker buses so avoiding them should ensure this doesn’t happen to you. Also, never keep cash, credit cards, electronics or any other valuables in your non-carry on bag. For more, see our post Travelling with valuables and keeping them safe
Go go bar and ping pong show scams
In red light district areas, especially in Bangkok, a common scam is for promoters on the street to invite you in for a free preview of a ping pong show (just in case you don’t know, this involves women doing different tricks with their vaginas – seriously). Once inside you’ll be told you need to pay up. You’ve put yourself in this situation and paying is probably the only way out. You’re already inside the dark of the bar and the bouncers would be only too glad to beat you up. Nothing is free.
Be alert but don’t forget to have fun
Thailand has its scams, and it has its corrupt police, and you need to be alert while you are here. But the same is true of just about anywhere else. In general, Thailand is a safe country and one that is very easy to travel in. Enjoy yourself but don’t get complacent. Always remember that some people will try to scam you, but don’t forget that most people will not. Do this and your Thailand adventure will be as safe as it is epic.
Check out our Thailand etiquette guide for more tips on staying safe while traveling in Thailand.