Thailand: Scams to Avoid & Safety
Emergency numbers: Specialist Tourist Police – 1155, Bangkok EMS Ambulance (Bangkok only) – 1646, Ambulance – 998, Fire – 997, Coast guard – 996.
Thailand on the whole is a safe place to visit. Although there have been some recent high profile incidents involving foreign tourists, only a fraction of the millions of travellers who visit Thailand find themselves as victims of crime. As with any location popular with tourists there are always those who are looking to make a quick buck with some clever and sophisticated scams. We’ve listed some of the most common that we and other backpackers have come across so you can try and avoid them.
The Tuk Tuk Drivers Commission Scam
Groups of Tuk Tuks parked in front of temples, hotels, malls and other tourist attractions will scare away honest drivers and demand extortionate fares for any location. Some drivers say they will only take you if you agree to help them get free gas by stopping briefly at a gem or textile shop. You’ll be assured you won’t have to buy anything simply look around and leave and he gets free gas. The shopkeeper will be pushy the wares poor quality and overpriced, the driver will receive commission from any sales.
Great Deals or Gem Expo Scam
A friendly driver will get you to go to a temple or attraction, once their you’ll end up talking to a well-spoken man who will ask if you’ve heard about the Thai Gem Expo or any name they come up with. He’ll tell of duty free gems or goods at bargain prices. Anything bought is poor quality and fake which means big profit for all (except you).
The Grand Palace / Temple of Dawn is Closed Scam
In a tourist saturated area like Khao San Road, The Grand Palace or Wat Pho. A friendly polite Thai local will typically start a conversation with “Where you from” and show great affection wherever you say followed by small talk. Eventually he’ll casually ask what your plan for the day is, but oh no he explains whichever attraction you name is closed because of a holiday or religious practice. Then an offer to show you other amazing temples will come, on the way to the attraction the driver will stop at well-disguised scam shops. Be confident and don’t accept offers from drivers.
Fake Girl Bar or Ping Pong Show Scam
Professional looking or just a stall, some will claim to be government approved. Earning commission selling tourists hotel rooms and attraction tickets. Walk away if told that a place you want to visit is closed (it rarely is). Not all these touts are bad though and they can be competitive with each other, helps to do some research.
Tuk Tuk / Taxis Rank Scam
In tourist saturated areas and outside large hotels there are usually a group of taxis or tuk tuks conveniently parked, they may even claim to be dedicated to that hotel. The drivers demand extremely high fares and never switch on meters. Don’t even try and haggle with these drivers they will not budge on their crazy prices.
Water Ski / Moto Rental Scam
Rent a water ski or motorcycle and you’re at risk of the owner accusing you of damaging it. A scamming owner will first demand a huge amount for repairs but will settle for less if challenged, beware unless an amount is settled on fast owners can get aggressive! . The Best way to avoid these is to rent from a agent recommended by fellow travellers.
Land Border Visa Scam
Mini buses to Cambodia and Laos will take you around in circles and make many “comfort stops” leaving you tired and desperate to hurry things along when it comes to your visa. You’ll be asked for your passport and told it’s to issue your visa to save time at the border, you’ll then be charged for your visa and scam fees of around ฿1000-฿1500thb. In reality there is rarely a queue for visa applications whichever border you go to. Expensive or cheap, most mini buses will try this.
Bird Feed Scam
These scammers found around the outside of the palace will be feeding the pigeons innocently enough, eventually once approached you will be offered some corn so you can join in. Once you’ve emptied the bag a demand for money will come, the price will be anything up to ฿1000thb. If you don’t pony up a scene will be made, don’t take corn from strangers!
Kids Game Hustle
Local kid usually near popular beach spots will challenge you to a game like noughts and crosses or rock paper scissors, once accepted they will offer a wager. These kids have practiced these games a lot and always win, so set a low wager or don’t bother.
Airport Shopping Scam
After leaving a shop the victim is falsely accused of shoplifting, then held by people claiming to be authorities until they pay a fine for the alleged theft. This is a rare one but has happened.
Tiger Temples, Elephant and Animal Shows
Everyone loves animals so the chance to get up close and personal with the amazing fauna of a country can be too good to pass up for lots of people. Many visitors think about the experience or show afterwards and consider the welfare of the animals but by then it’s too late, money is in the hands of their captor and funding more animal cruelty. Even many government run zoos and facilities provide poor welfare.
The bottom line… Do not visit animal attractions where animals are used as photographic props or encouraged to display unnatural behaviours and this includes Tiger Temples and Elephant riding. You can find out more about responsible travel in Thailand here, and read about animal friendly travel here.