Thailand has the charming title of being the “Land of a Thousand Smiles“. In general Thais are friendly, kind and welcoming people, and they love to share their vast cultural history with us. Although that still doesn’t mean that all of them are holy saints. For some it is tempting to take advantage of the lack of knowledge and overabundance of inexperience of the many travelers. What at first can appear as a genuine approach and offer from a local, could quickly end up being a scam. Fortunately, scams in Thailand can be avoided altogether if you know what to look for.
Scams in Thailand are Easily Preventable
So, what we are trying to focus on in this blog post are some of the most infamous scams in Thailand that often involve a few locals in cahoots with each other and you ending up in an unwanted situation. Some of their tricks are more elaborate than others, but as a general rule of thumb: If you feel that something is off, then chances are that you may be right. You can often easily defuse such a situation by kindly rejecting their offer and acting appropriately. We will show you a few examples, but always remember what every mother has said at least once: “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“The [Place/Sight You Want to Visit] is closed! But there are others…”
This is the classic of all the scams that can happen to you in every big city on this globe. In our case this frequently happens in Bangkok. Every foreigner has to visit the capital on their trip to Thailand and on the top of their Must-See list is the Grand Palace. So, obviously this is where a lot of scammers seek their fortune and try to take advantage of you.
In this scenario a friendly local will approach you when you are close to the Grand Palace and tell you that it is closed. They will say that this is due to some “Buddhist ceremony” or any other story they can come up with. Mind you that these scammers often sound and appear convincing. They can wear formal clothing with a fake official badge or something similar. By asking a few questions about yourself, they try to build rapport with you in order to make you trust and believe them. Well, don’t.
What happens next is that the person will recommend other places like the Sitting Buddha, Lucky Buddha or the Flying Buddha. I made up the last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an unsuspecting backpacker would actually fall for that. The local claims that today is a Buddhist holiday and that those other places are open for the public only today. How lucky for you, right!? The scam artist will tell you that the tuk tuks are free as well and he then proceeds to wave a nearby one over. Obviously the local and the driver are working together. They will talk for a minute and once you hop into the “free” tuk tuk your trip will most likely end up at a tailor or gem shop.
Here they will pressure you into buying their products, which mostly are of a sub par quality. There are stories where the shop owners even lock the front door until you buy something. If you end up buying something the driver and the “friendly local” will get a small cut from the profits.
What to do and how to prevent this from happening?
In order to prevent all this from happening in the first place, is by checking the opening hours of the Grand Palace online. Just in case you can also look up all the Buddhist holidays. Then you are prepared when a stranger tries his abovementioned spiel. You can say that you just want to see the palace from the outside and walk around.
The Gem Shop and Tailor Scam
If you find yourself in a situation like the one we mentioned above, then you will end up with a sub par product for which you paid way too much. In the case of suits, you will get one made out of cheap polyester instead of a high quality material. Also don’t expect a suit that will fit you, because chances are high that it won’t.
When it comes to the fake gems, they are either made out of glass or synthetic materials. Those traders will often lure you with a “government sponsored sale” certificate to make it appear more legit. It is not. This “certificate” is worth diddly-squat.
Other examples of how you can quickly end in a non-reputable shop, is when your trusty tuk tuk driver stops during the ride and pretends to go on a toilet break. You will then be approached by another nice stranger who tries to appear very sophisticated. This is because he pretends to be a lawyer, doctor, or businessman for example. He will say that he just bought some high-quality suits in a shop that only few people know about. The price was affordable as well or so he claims.
When your driver comes back he will say that he knows where this shop is and he will take you there. What a funny coincidence, isn’t it? Once there, you know what is going to happen and what you will be getting for the price you pay.
What to do and where to get quality products?
If you are looking to buy suits or gems, then look online for reputable stores or tailors nearby. Just kindly refuse any offers from strangers and be on your merry way. Didn’t your mother tell you not to talk to strangers?
The Scooter Rental Scam
A great and independent way to explore the areas in Thailand or South East Asia is by renting a bike. The demand for those motorized vehicles is high, so you will find a rental service on almost every street corner. Transportation in Thailand comes in many forms, but scooters by far give you the most freedom. Here is the scam that happens most frequently: Once you bring back your scooter after a day or few days, they will claim that there are scratches or dents that haven’t been there before you rented it. Now they want you to pay for these damages. If you don’t have any proof to convince them otherwise you will end up paying. Regardless of how much you want to argue.
This is a scam that doesn’t only apply to scooters, but to jet skies as well. This can often happen at coastal areas like Phuket or Pattaya, so be careful where you rent them from. Your adrenaline fueled fun can turn out to be a lot pricier than you initially thought.
When you fill out the registration form for the scooter rental service, you will have to write down the name of the place where you are staying at. We mention this, because there are even worse case scenarios where someone from the rental service takes a spare key, finds the scooter at your hostel or hotel and returns it to the shop. When you go back to the bike shop and tell them that you can’t find your scooter, they will claim that you “lost” it or someone “stole” it and now you have to pay for the entire bike. As you can imagine, that is a lot of money.
What to do and how to prevent this from happening?
First and foremost, don’t give them your passport. If you find yourself in a dilemma where you are not at fault, you don’t want them to have it. A lot of rental services demand it, but as we already mentioned, there are a lot of bike shops around. Try to find one where you can leave a copy of it with a deposit of around 20.000 – 30.000 Baht. That may be a lot of money, but it’s still a lot better and safer than having your most important document with a potentially shady company.
You can ask the receptionist at your hostel or hotel to help you out. They often times can either rent a scooter for you or point you to a reputable rental service. Once you have your bike, we highly recommend taking pictures and videos of it. That way you have proof when the rental service claims that scratches or dents weren’t there before you rented it. Again, it is better to be safe than sorry and those pictures can be a great insurance against scam tactics.
When it comes to the jet skies, we recommend looking up online where the best rental spots are.
Let’s keep it short and sweet for some of the rest.
- Wrong change: Happens at 7-Eleven or Family Marts, although they do have CCTV by now. Count your change to see if it’s correct or not.
- Taxi Scam: Always go for a Taxi with a meter. If they refuse to use it, go to another driver.
- Overnight bus theft: Not so much of a scam, but it is thievery nonetheless. Always keep your valuables on you in a small bag.
Conclusion: Use the Internet and Do Your Homework
We could go on and on about all the other scams, but we can boil it down to one simple advice: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. The “5 P’s” of life we can easily apply to traveling as well. By going online and doing your research prior to the start of your travels you can brace and prepare yourself against many of the scam tactics. Nowadays it is easier than ever to find out all the specificities of any country in the world. There are websites like TripAdvisor, Hostelworld, and thousands of travel blogs to help you out with everything you need.
You will still get most of your knowledge from your own travel experiences, but with the proper preparation you at least won’t appear as a lost lamb with a Lonely Planet guide. We can’t stress this enough, but when your gut tells you that something is off in any given situation, then it’s better to trust it and kindly refuse any offer. No harm will come to you that way and you will still be able to experience everything the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” has to offer.