Top 10 Bangkok Scams You Should Avoid
Scams that target tourists the world over have been around for as long as tourism itself, and Thailand is no exception of course. But it certainly doesn’t have to be scary, navigating your next dream holiday in this South East Asia paradise! In fact, you might even enjoy being one step ahead of the tricksters, and this list is designed to do just that.
Of course, having one of our savvy local guides will keep you clear of the scams, but many visitors won’t have the luxury of a guide with them from the time they walk through the airport arrivals gate. So here goes, with Your Thai Guide’s list of top 10 tourist scams that are easily avoidable:
1. Taxi parked in front of your hotel scam
So you’ve just unloaded your bags at the hotel, and want to hit the streets for some sightseeing. OK, you’re smart and pretty independent, so we already know you’re avoiding those over-priced ‘cookie cutter’ group tour busses. Then by some miracle, you spot an eager taxi driver, waiting right out the front of your hotel. Go ahead and open the door, but before you jump in, make sure they’ll use the meter. It’s common all over Bangkok, but especially in front of hotels and tourist spots, for drivers to try and negotiate a fare, instead of using the meter. Unless you speak Thai and already know a decent price, you’ll lose this game every time. A win for you, is as easy as making sure they start the meter. If they won’t, just get out.… empty taxis are everywhere in Bangkok, except perhaps during an afternoon downpour of rain. Here’s an excellent guide that goes into a more detail about taxis.
2. Tuk Tuk scam
Again, these guys hang around outside hotels and tourist hot spots, often with well spoken chaperones persuading you over to the drivers. Once underway, these skilled negotiators will prey on your kindness and happy holiday mood, by asking if you’d mind stopping off at a shop or attraction (so they can receive a kickback). The stores might sell anything from clothing and jewellery, to food and entertainment, but there’s a fair chance it’s low quality fakes or just plain rubbish. Beware of any tuk tuk drivers who pedal special deals or sightseeing offers, they’re not only unlicensed, but they’re also not insured as tour guides. For short hops around Bangkok though, they are still a great, fun way to travel, so here’s a more complete guide on these icons of Bangkok.
3. Jewellery scam
This scam usually involves an elaborate series of people, ‘meeting’ you strategically along the way… to an unplanned visit to a jewellery store. Often starting out with a super friendly, well-spoken local asking lots of questions about your holiday, it may well even include a tuk tuk or taxi taking you to local attractions for free. But usually ends in you buying low grade bling, that you were promised was top grade, at half the price. They might even suggest you sell it back at home for a tidy profit. If that were the case, I’d be getting rich shopping there right now, but alas this Wikipedia article sums the scam up nicely.
4. The Khlong scam
Similar to the taxi and tuk tuk scam, this time you’re on the water, so unless you’re keen on swimming back (not recommended, even if your nick name at school was ‘Fish’), they can demand more money, leaving you stuck. Traveling by boat through Bangkok is highly recommended though, not only because it’s usually cooler, barely congested, it’s also a whole lot more fun! So always book at the piers or via your tour company, but check this out for the low down on the different types of boats to get you around.
5. Attractions closed scam
This one’s common at the popular temples and tourist attractions, often starting with an overly friendly local asking where you’re from, how long have you been in town, what are you here to see etc. At some point, they’ll deliver the disappointing (but fake news) that the attraction you’re here to see is closed! The reasons given can be quite ridiculous, so if you’re expecting the scam, you might even get a laugh out of the excuse. When they begin to tell you about their friend or ‘brother’ the tuk tuk driver who can take you to much better attractions, you may wish to smile and move along. Here’s an interesting story and great example of the attractions closed scam.
6. Getting tricked out of your money
Perhaps less elaborate than other scams, it’s simple, but unfortunately works by preying on your good will. From simple beggars, to tricksters who’ll isolate you, and then convince you to willingly part with some of your money. Remember, Bangkok’s 8 million residents make it far from a small country village, so be a little suspicious of an invite to join a local for a meal in their home.
7. Pickpocketing/Bag Snatching/Theft
Hardly unique to Thailand, pick pockets and snatchers can be found from shopping malls to tourist attractions the world over. For example, if small children gather around you trying to sell cigarettes or chewing gum, then watch your pockets! These kids can be quite accomplished at this ancient sport. People coming into your personal space should be a red flag anyway, but often a bump on the way past is all that’s needed. Even motorbikes riding past tourists in tuk tuks have been known to snatch bags. Here’s a discussion on Trip Advisor with advice from fellow travellers on some common sense precautions.
8. Tailor tricks
Sometimes part of the ‘tuk tuk’ or ‘attraction closed’ scam, this one is well known, and may see you buying a suit worth far less than what you paid for it. Don’t get me wrong, Thailand is a great place to get some tailored clothing relatively cheap, but only shop on recommendations from people you already know and trust. Sorry, that super friendly local you just met on the street, probably isn’t quite trustworthy enough for this exercise, even if they are sharing all their best shopping tips. If they were that good, they’d be on Trip Advisor with a 5 star rating like Your Thai Guide. Oops, did I just give ourselves a plug right there? Sorry 😊
9. Bird food seed
Again, this one happens all over the world as tricksters hang around busy tourist spots, and trick you into the purchase of birdseed. Around the Grand Palace in Bangkok, it’s usually based around somewhat forcefully getting you to join in feeding the birds, for which they will later ask for more money that it costs to feed your family an awesome street food. This article is worth a read, and even show photos of the scam unfolding.
10. Fake tourism officials
Thailand has legitimate tourism boards, but they don’t send agents out into the street to assist random tourists with offers of cheap goods and attractions. If someone flashes a ‘Tourism Authority’ badge at you and tells you something unusual like ‘the train is full’ then steer clear and head for a crowd. Even a full Tourist Police uniform is no guarantee. Read more about this here.
There are plenty of other scams, like the upstairs Patpong adult clubs (offer of a cheap a hundred baht sex show turns into a demand for a few thousand baht when you decide to leave), massages that aren’t really massages (expect same demand for exorbitant payments at the end), drinks scams, airport scams and so on. Some scams even involve fake police officers, so if in doubt with this one, just ask them to take you to a police station.
Just like any holiday, anywhere in the world, keep your wits about you, your belongings close, and your eyes open. If an offer seems too good to be true or exceptionally convenient, then it’s probably best to give it a miss. Most scams are harmless apart from the loss of some holiday cash, but the team at Your Thai Guide would rather you get to enjoy that money, making your visit to Bangkok memorable for all the right reasons!