As one of the most hospitable and fun tourist destinations of the world, Thailand is full of charm and delightful qualities. Indeed, its reputation as the Land of Smile with rich exotic culture, beautiful beaches and private islands, magnificent mountains, exquisite foods, luxury and bargain shopping venues and much more bring millions of visitors every year.
However, when traveling to this enchanted land of smile, it is advisable to be aware of some pitfalls that can easily ruin one’s vacation. We will share with our readers some of the common scams and tricks to avoid and how to handle some of these situations, but before discussing the details we would like to give one simple rule of thumb to remember, that is, always avoid excessively friendly strangers approaching you with any kind of offer i.e. information, assistance, guide etc. You don’t have to be rude towards anyone approaching you, just politely decline and walk away. Now, let’s go to our list of situations to avoid and how to handle them if and when you face them.
Opening and/or Closing of Major Cultural or Religious Sites
This is a common scam committed in different countries and not just Thailand. A prime location for this scam in Thailand generally occurs around well-known cultural site such as the Grand Palace, where taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, or individuals connected to the drivers pray on innocent tourists by telling them the place is either closed today or open at a later time due to a special holiday or Buddhist ceremony.
Subsequently, they would offer their potential victims some seemingly interesting alternative venues. Should you accept the offer, the scammers would take you to various pre-planned places such as jewelry/gem stores, tailor shops, or other time and money wasting ventures.
- Familiarize yourself with information provided online or check with your hotel staff prior to visiting a site of interest.
- When on location and you need information about a particular site of interest, it’s best to obtain them from the gate keeper or working staff, and if they speak little or no English use your language translator app to convey your questions.
- If nothing else, you can always consult with other foreign visitors or legitimate shops around the area.
This scam situation may seem overly obvious to most of us, but it is not always easy to avoid them when one’s mind is so pre-occupied with many things that are happening around us during any vacation setting. It’s not uncommon that anyone loses the sense of clarity when experiencing either euphoric or chaotic vacation moments.
A typical scenario would be with an unsuspecting victim returning a rented item and the operator claiming the item being damaged. The operator would then demand a costly repair fee, and if you deny the damage claim there will be men acting as law enforcement officer who happens to be passing by with the threat of arresting you. All of which are just part of the scam.
Whether it’s jet ski, scooter or other equipment rentals, you should always keep the following rule of thumb in mind:
- Ask or search online for recommended rental vendors if available. Being prepared is the best approach.
- Do not give your passport as collateral for any equipment rental. Let them make a copy if needed.
- Verify and document the condition of the equipment prior to renting them i.e. take photos, fill out a check-out list if available.
- In the event the vendor demands bogus fee for preexisting damages, contact the local tourist police.
- Try to stay calm if you do fall victim to such a scam, and try your best to negotiate your way out of the situation with the least amount of financial damage.
The Tailor Scam
As we mentioned in previous section, this happens most often around prime tourist attractions and at the shops where the unscrupulous taxi or tu-tuk drivers take the victims to. Either the driver or some stranger would try to give you a nice story about finding a great bargain on customized suit tailor shop, upon arriving to the shop the service and the prices all seem to match the story, and upfront cash payment would be required with the promise to have the end products delivered to your hotel and even home country if necessary. Needless to say, upon receiving the final delivery you might find a low quality cheap product.
- Do some research or ask for recommendations from a credible source for reputable tailor shops if you want customized clothing.
- Never pay the full amount upfront. If your intuition is positive about a vendor, you might consider putting no more than 20-30% down payment to get the work started.
- Do not take advice from random strangers.
- Don’t take any tailor’s words at face value, and forget about delivery to your home country. Always give yourself the chance to inspect the final product before making the full payment.
Note: There are many quality and low cost customized tailor shops in Thailand, you just have to do the necessary homework finding a credible one. I have personally bought some great customized suit and clothing from shops recommended by close friends.
The Gem Scam
Many tourists who visit Thailand enjoy doing some gem shopping, but this can be tricky due to the dishonest practices of some gem shops. Often, it’s the unbelievable bargain price that tricks even some of the savvy buyers into making an undesirable purchase.
To accomplish such scam, the gem shop owner will try to convince the potential victim buyers that the day is a special one, and might even collude with someone posing as a buyer who has just gotten a great deal because of the special offer from the shop owner. You can only guess the end result of a victim finding out the so called bargain gem is nothing but a worthless piece of stone or glass or synthetic materials.
- When buying precious gems, you should bring an expert friend unless you have the needed skills.
- If something appears too good to be true, you know the rest.
- If you discovered a scam after paying with a credit card, try to undo the charge if possible and return the fake product to the shop.
The Bar Scam
Most bars, if not all, in major Thailand cities are filled with girls working as greeters, hosts, servers. In addition, the bars have another group of girls that work as drinks pushers, and their sole purpose is to influence any male customer to buy as many drinks as possible.
To many unsuspecting single male foreign travellers, these friendly and flirtatious young girls seem harmless and without malice, so it’s easy to simply buy them drinks after drinks until the bill comes, then the victim realizes he has just incurred an unexpected expensive drink tab.
- Always remember that these bar girls are friendly and flirtatious for one reason only, that is, to influence you to buy as many drinks as possible so they can make a commission from the bar.
- Don’t let your ego, loneliness, blind kindness influencing you to buy unnecessary excess amount of free drinks for these bar girls. They are not to give you any free sex just because you play the role of dumb generous foreigner, you are just an ATM machine no more no less.
Red Light District Sex Shows Scam
This is especially prominent in Patpong where you will be given a “Menu” of unusual and entertaining “special” tricks from the female performers. Some of which you probably have heard through various internet blogs, posts, or videos, your curiosity gets the best of you and you follow the person offering the free entry for a preview.
You think the show is free because you don’t intend to stay very long and you have time for a quick drink. Upon finishing the quick drink you ask for the tab and receives a shocking exorbitant charge, you try to dispute the charge but realizing you are not going to leave without paying the given tab. Forget about calling the police or any law enforcement authority as no one is coming to your rescue, and you are certainly helpless against that menacing looking bouncer standing by the exit door.
- Just avoid these places and don’t even try to beat their system because you can’t.
The Tuk-Tuk Scam
Some tuk-tuk drivers will offer you a city tour for a seemingly great deal of a low fare, sounds very appealing, but it’s a scam. Indeed, these tuk-tuks will take you to places they promised, but you will also have to go to a tailor shop, gem store, or other unwanted or undesirable places. They cannot force you to buy any products and/or services, but may pressure you, which can be quite annoying and time wasting.
These unscrupulous tuk-tuk drivers will try to find out whatever information they can about your travel, and if they see any opening at all they will try to exploit it. Some will offer to help you plan a good itinerary with the main intent of extorting financial gains from you, and it’s common for these scammers to work with accomplices.
- Simply avoid tuk-tuks unless you just have to experience it once in your lifetime. Otherwise it’s just not worth it as they are uncomfortable, loud, no air conditioning, and exposing you to heavy exhaust fume.
The Taxi Scam
The most common taxi scam is not using the meter by either telling you the meter is broken or insisting on a quoted fare price. Others will try to charge extra for luggage, for a second and third passengers traveling with you, and some drivers would tell you they have no change.
- Simply say no to taxis that don’t want to use the meter.
- Try to carry some small changes with you to pay the exact fare. You may think that those small changes are insignificant, but they add up quickly as you take taxis throughout your vacation.
- Additional passengers and luggage don’t cost extra, do not pay the so called surcharge.
- Do not take any advice and don’t reveal your travel info. to any taxi driver. You should do information search online and/or ask your hotel staff should you need help.
The Fake Police Scam
If you are ever approached by anyone claiming to be a police and wanting to check your passport, then proceed to find something wrong with your visa and asking you to pay a fine immediately, just say no and walk away. The key is to stay calm and move on.
The Fake Baht Scam
The scenario goes like this, after giving the money to pay for an item the shop owner claims that your note is a counterfeit, and tells you that he/she needs to take it back to the shop to verify. It is obvious that the shop owner intents to swap your legitimate note with a counterfeit.
- Never let anyone take your money out of sight.
- Just tell the shop owner you want to take back your note and go buying somewhere else.
Despite of these varieties of scams, Thailand remains to be an enchanted travel destination and offers a great relaxing getaway vacation for most visitors. Just plan your travel itinerary and beware of your surrounding and strangers, but do enjoy the “sabai sabai” ways of Thailand.