Thailand attracts millions of visitors every year thanks to its picture-perfect beaches, fascinating culture and incredible food. Most visitors find their time in Thailand is safe and drama-free – however, like many popular tourist destinations around the world, there are a few common scams for the savvy traveller to watch out for. Here I’ll talk you through these scams, how to spot them and how to make sure you don’t get caught.
- The Tuk-Tuk Jewellery Scam
- Temple Scam #1
- Temple Scam #2
- Transport Scam
- Rogue Travel Agent Scam
- Fake Taxi Meter
- Fake Tourism Official
While you’re here, check out my other popular Thailand posts
- 10 Unique & Cheap Things To Do In Bangkok 2019
- 8 Of The Best Places To Eat In Bangkok
- Northern Thailand & Laos Itinerary 2018
- The Best Time To Visit Thailand in 2019
The Tuk Tuk Jewellery Store Scam
You hail a tuk tuk, agree a fair price with the driver and set off on your journey. Instead of driving directly to your destination the driver takes a detour and brings you to a jewellery or suit store and insists that you go inside. When you say no, he increases the ride price by 200 -300 baht or he won’t take you any further. Either pay the extra cash or sit listening to a 20 minute sales pitch in the store and get to your destination extremely late.
Tuk tuk drivers do not earn a lot of money, so some stores offer them free petrol tickets in exchange for finding potential customers. Some tuk tuk drivers are honest and will quote you ‘20 baht with stop, 200 baht without‘ so that you can decide if you want to save money and do the stop. However, less honest drivers will quote you a single price (which is suspiciously cheap) and then just stop at the store and issue you with the ultimatum of going inside or paying more money.
How to avoid it
It can be so frustrating when this happens but it’s actually really easy to avoid. When you flag a tuk tuk driver down, always say ‘no stops‘ – usually the driver will change his price and make it a little higher as he’s not getting free fuel for the trip. A driver will usually understand what you mean by ‘stop’ because it’s a really common practice there, so if he pretends not to understand then just wait for the next tuk tuk as you might end up with a stop.
Remember these drivers are paid very little and are just trying to make a little extra money – even if it is by dishonest means. Try not to lose your temper with them if they start taking you on a detour. Instead, step out and pay them a small amount. This is why I always recommend getting a local sim card, then you can track that you are on the correct route.
“This temple is closed”
You’re on the way to a popular tourist spot – most commonly the Grand Palace in Bangkok – and are approached by a tuk tuk driver or a friendly stranger who asks where you’re going. When you tell them they proceed to tell you that it is closed. They are quite convincing and tell you that there are other temples nearby which you can go to and they / their friend will bring you to these for a cheap price.
How to avoid it
You’ll find the opening hours of the temples and attractions online, and your hotel or hostel reception will be able to tell you if today is a celebration day and if anything is closed. I can’t even count the amount of times this has happened to us, but we knew about this scam already so we always went to the temple and it was open. Although once we did end up at a closed temple because we were so used to ignoring the advice of strangers.
Selling unnecessary clothing at temples
You turn up at the Grand Palace in Bangkok and suddenly someone tells you that you won’t get in as you are not wearing the correct clothes. They offer to sell you long cotton trousers and a pashmina and quote you a reasonably sounding price for them. You pay them and then you get inside and discover that the Grand Palace will rent you cover ups for free. Later you go to a local market and see that you bought the clothes at a 100% mark up.
How to avoid it
Politely decline any offers of clothes and make your way inside the palace. They can be very persistent and may even tell you that the rental office isn’t open today but continue on inside. If you encounter this at any other temple around the country then double check inside if you can rent or borrow clothes before you pay any money. Also bring a pashmina with you anytime you sightsee in Thailand.
‘Your Train / Bus Isn’t running’
You’re waiting at a bus stop or train station and someone comes by and tells you that the bus / train isn’t stopping here today. Similar to the temple scam this will be a taxi / tuk tuk driver or a friendly stranger. When we were waiting for a local bus in Bangkok three separate people came over to tell us the bus wasn’t stopping here – then the bus showed up! We looked around as we got on it and saw that all three were tuk tuk drivers.
How to avoid it
Always confirm your details online or with an official so that you don’t get caught. Never take the advice from a friendly stranger without confirming it with an official or on your transport apps first. Especially if they want you to get into a taxi or tuk tuk.
Rogue travel agents
You visit a local travel agent to book a bus or boat to another part of Thailand. They offer you a VIP bus or bus and boat combo, quote you a price, a journey time and give you a ticket and pick up information. The journey takes double the quoted amount of time and you are left waiting around in travel agent offices for hours at a time for connecting buses – even though your understanding was that the journey was direct.
How to avoid it
This is the most difficult one to avoid and we still get caught for it sometimes, most recently coming from Bangkok to Koh Lanta. Always go to a proper travel agent with an office if you want to book a trip, don’t just give money to someone who is waiting at a train or bus station as this is always how we get caught. Ask the agent to talk you through the whole journey, how many buses you will have, how many stops you will have, ask if you will be taken directly to your hotel or just dropped off at a pier or station to make your own way. Clarify everything and get them to write all of these details on the ticket. Take their card or mobile number before you leave so that you can call them if you run into trouble.
Broken Taxi Meter
You hail a taxi which is marked as metered, but don’t check if the meter is switched on. You arrive at your destination and the meter is off or reading 0 and the driver quotes a very large amount of money for the fare. When you say you wanted it metered they say the meter is broken and there’s very little you can do but pay the money.
How to avoid it
Always, always say ‘meter??’ before you get into a metered taxi. As a tourist these drivers don’t want to use the meter as they want to charge more money, so most of the time they will drive off. Some will try to arrange an off meter fare with you but say no and shut the door. Best to get someone that readily agrees rather than making the driver turn on the meter, otherwise you may be about to take a pretty big detour into some heavy traffic.
Fake Tourism Officials
You’re at, or on your way to, a popular tourist spot. A stranger approaches you and shows you an official looking badge that says they work for the Thai Tourism Board. They might tell you that they can offer you special deals for tourist spots, or ask you where you are planning to go and tell you those places are closed. You end up paying a lot more for admission and being driven around in an overpriced tuk tuk to temples you hadn’t planned to visit. They may even throw in a lunch stop at a ‘famous’ restaurant that turns out to be a copycat overpriced restaurant with poor quality food.
How to avoid it
As I said before, if anyone approaches you on the street claiming to be a government official or on the tourism board then they are lying. Any credentials will be fake. Just smile and politely say that you have a plan for the day and you do not need any help. Give them firm and friendly no and then walk away.
Remember, although it’s good to keep your wits about you and be aware of these scams, the vast majority of Thai people are kind, decent and friendly – so assume the best of people you meet there unless you’re given a reason not to! It’s just the minority that try to trick tourists. If you do end up being tricked, don’t argue back with a Thai person like you would if it happened at home. Raising your voice, asking for a manager or demanding a refund will escalate the situation and the person will just ignore you. Even if you are extremely annoyed try to keep your voice low and calm – that’s just about the only way you’ll get anywhere.
Hopefully you will have a stress- and drama-free holiday and won’t need these tips! Let me know how you get on in the comments below.
Here are a few more posts to get you ready for your trip;
- Backpacking Essentials Checklist: Packing Guide For All The Gear You Need
- Backpacker Visa Guide To South East Asia
- Backpacker Travel Vaccinations Guide For South East Asia
- 9 Things Every Backpacker Needs To Know
Thanks for reading!