Every country has its beautiful and ugly parts. For the beautiful parts, Thailand is a beautiful country. There is so much on offer here like beaches, mountains, culture, and food . It is also at the top of most traveler’s wish list, and it’s easy to see why it’s grown in popularity with its low cost of living and warm weather. It’s perfect honeymoon destination for couples, the backpacker party raving destination for young travelers and great family destination.
Thailand is a country whose economy and infrastructure is focused on tourism. Because of this, many visitors feel frustrated with the atmosphere and often complain that when they are in the country, they feel like walking ATMs. And this we come to the ugly part (in fact, the ugliest) of the country – Scams.
Each year Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) spends hundred of millions Thai baht to promote Thailand tourism. TAT whose chief responsibility is to provide convenience and benefits to tourists does nothing to prevent scams. They (TAT) even slight attitude showing they are denying the existence of scams in the country.
Good news for travelers in Chiang Rai and Northern Thailand, because of nature of Northern Thailand people, there are not much of scams here. However, you still have to be cautious and keep eyes open while your’e travelling and staying in any city.
Recently, over the weekend of 2015’s New Year, three Malaysian tourists posted a complaint on social media with some reliable information saying they were given a bill of 150,000 Baht ($4,600) for a 4-hour karaoke session in Chiang Mai. It is easy to see the “pay-up-or-we-beat-you” scam like this is creeping from Bangkok to the Northern part of country. Who knows next time something like this might happen in Chiang Rai.
In addition, if you are tourist or expats who live in Chiang Rai where scams is less, there is still 99.99% chance you will go to Bangkok at some point. Without information about them, it is easy to get scammed there.
This article is about ones of the ugliest things in Thailand – scams. There is a lot of information about Thailand (or Bangkok) scams available on the Internet. In fact, there is too much of in formation about scams already. Why bother reading another article about them here again? The answer is despite the warnings in guidebooks and in websites and in blogs, these scams are still happening every day and tourists keep falling for scams in Thailand everyday. Scam is really a great tragic for the country because some tourists get hurt so much that they will never return to Thailand again. Scams Thailand need to be stopped.
So far the government doesn’t care, the police acts like nothing happens, those travel agencies are part of the scams themselves. People all over the world start to see the whole country is scam! The only way to avoid scams from happening to tourists is to spread more information as much as we can. The more people telling tourists what’s going on, the more tourists will be saved. Hope tourists who are newbie to Thailand read articles like this and become more careful when visiting Thailand.
Why do Scams still exist in Thailand?
Scams started in Thailand many decades ago when tourism become a big business for the country. Because of exchange rate, Thailand became very cheap for Western countries and became the most popular in South East Asia. Thai people who had been in contact with foreigners saw that most tourist can afford to buy something they couldn’t afford. They began to see that tourists/foreigners as wealthy people and had a lot more back home. At some point, a selfish mentality that the foreigners can afford to lose a little has been established. Some people try every trick they know to get money from tourist’s pocket as much as they, even in very unethical and unlawful ways.
Each months there are large number of scams cases reported to TAT by tourists, but it does nothing about it. When you reach to them for help about scams, they will respond in the way they can get themselves out of the way. They only ask you to take the matter with the police. TAT whose chief responsibility is to provide convenience and benefits to tourists does nothing to prevent scams. For TAT, they only know that their job is to promote beautiful sides of Thailand and sweep everything else under the carpet. So, don’t hope for the help from TAT. Million of dollars is poured in to this organization to help or guide tourists, but it is still unhelpful. Never expect much from TAT.
Next, Thai police. Whether you like it or not, here are the truths. Thai police is not willing to solve scams problem. If they were, they would have done something in 20 years ago. The evidences are clear, most of scammers can be identified easily and a lot of proof. If the police had done something most or scamms should be disappeared by now. But it happens another way around, number of scams keep increasing in most part of Bangkok.
When you run into trouble because of scams, basically there are 3 ways to get help from Thai police, and they will be contradicted with what have been educated in Western society. First method, you offer something for their effort to solving your problem – mostly percentage of value of what you lost or just exact amount (cash) can give them. For example, if lose 100,000 Baht because of scams, and you explicitly offer the police as for the effort or good will or whatever to make it looks good, Thai police you eager to help you never expect. In the Western world, it would be a bribe. But in Thailand, people call it gratification or remuneration (สินน้ำใจ – Sin Nam Jai). Whether you like it or not, it is very common in Thailand, and this method will work almost every time. This only works with small and individual thieves but it won’t work with organized gangs. Second, if really have severe damage, make your case a big news – through social media, YouTube, or influential discussion groups. The more media involved, the more social media you can get attention, the more police is willing to work on the problem. Thirdly, you have to be in the very lucky time when the police is in the mood to help. What it means is from time to time the police will do good jobs but it this does’t happen very often. There is really nothing to do for this. When contact the police about you’re having problem with scammers, just hope for the best. Of course, this is generalization but it’s pretty much what happens.
As for the government, they simply do nothing about it. It is hard to belived the government as a whole allow tolerate locals to deliberately steer tourists in the wrong direction. It really makes the country look bad. Now you will see that the only one who can save you from scams is yourself. Always be on your guard. The below are top scams in Thailand.
1. Thai Gem Scam
This is one of the most well-known scam in Thailand, especially in Bangkok. It is also known as “Taken for a ride scam”. Sometimes it can be referred to “tailor shop scam”. It happen when you take a ride with Tuk-Tuk, especially from Tuk Tuks parked in front of landmarks, hotels, shopping malls and other tourist places, the Tuk-Tuk driver end up taking you to Thai gem shops in stead of you desired destination.
Normally a driver will not take you to the shop with force, but he will use every trick to make you allow him to take you there. For example, he might tell you that he is running out of gas, and want to stop at a petrol station for a few minutes and it happen to be near a gem shop. Or he will be very nice and persuade you to want to see something on the way – most of the places are Thai gem shops. The Most people end up buying something and the driver will get small cut from what you buy. Best case, you lose a few hours of your time, and the worst case you buy expensive fake gems.
This scam also happens when tourists visit popular temples in Bangkok. As you wander around, there is a friendly Thai guy who speaks English very well comes out of nowhere and starts conversation with you. He dresses and acts like he is a tour guide or someone who works here. He even has a slight Western accent which indicates that he has been overseas or has worked with international organization for some time. This just increases the level of trust.
Now he will volunteer to show you around, and at some point he will mention some other place which he claim to be the “best” or “must-see”. Something like Golden Buddha, Buddha Temple or Lucky Buddha. If he mentions something like this, he is trying to take you to a regular not very popular temple, but there are full of shops in the area and you will end up buying something you don’t like in one of those shops.
Another popular place these scammers use to lure you is one of the following places: “Export Center”, “Jewelry Exhibition Center”, “Special Exhibition Center open for one day” and something similar. If you go with him, you only find yourself in a regular gem shop because the place he mentioned earlier don’t exist. In the shop, the stuff in shop work very hard selling you a very expensive mysterious set of jewelries. They will tell you the market price, normally something between 10,000 Baht to 50,000 Baht ($300 – $1,500), along with saying how unique it is. They will analyze you very quickly whether you are interested or not. If you show sign you’re not interested, they will immediately give special discount just for to day, just for you. Suddenly the price come down to 30%-50% of the original price in only one minute.
The video below shows how a scammer trying bring a foreigner to export center (which doesn’t exist) and try to sell gems. The scamers acted very professionally that anybody who knows nothing about the scams will believe what they said.
How to avoid:
1. Never take Tuk-Tuks standing in front of hotels, malls, or places near tourist attractions. If you can, avoid all Tuk-Tuks because these kind of vehicles are very dangerous on the road.
2. If you want to ride a Tuk-Tuk anyway, decline any stop on the way to your destination. Most Tuk-Tuk drivers will not force you if you insist.
3. There is no such place as the “Lucky Buddha Temple” or “Standing Buddha Temple“, no such thing as a gem-related “Government Export Center“, “Thai Trade Center“, “Gem Warehouse“, “One Day Special Exhibition“, “Government Gem Export Promotion For Students“, “Government Tax-Free Jewelry Export“. If you hears some of these keywords from anyone, he is trying to scam you.
What about Tuk-Tuks or Thai gem scam in Chiang Rai? Good thing is there is no Thai gem scam in Chiang Rai. There are a few places that lure you to buy something useless like Viagra and jades, especially in Mae Sai markets. As for Tuk-Tuk, the fare is overpriced (this is also scam). Last year, one day I was in hurry and took a Tuk-Tuk near Central Chiang Rai to new bus station. The fare was 120 Baht. A few weeks later I took a metered taxi from the same place to the same destination, and the fare from meter reading was 48 Baht. So it is 70 Baht more expensive to ride with Tuk-Tuk. Only good thing about Tuk-Tuk is on the dense road, it can take you to your destination faster.
2. The Grand Palace is Closed Scam
This is one of the best known scams in Thailand, and everyday hundreds of tourists fall for it. All most all cases involve Tuk-Tuk drivers. It happens when you’re walking around Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew). Then there is very friendly Thai stranger approaches with an friendly smile and casual manners. It is like he is offering some help and you can’t help but have a conversation with him. He will analyze who you are, how much you know about Thailand from the conversation. If he is sure you know too much about Thailand or Bangkok, and will not fall into his trap, he will find an excuse and walk away. However, if he knows you’re new and know too little about the places, he will establish more levels of trust, and finally tell you that you’re so unlucky that the Grand Palace is closed today for some special event or under maintenance. Then you will offer to take you by a Tuk-Tuk to some other places for cheap fare.
You come a long way visit the Grand Palace, but you’re unlucky because it is closed today, with this friendly Thai driver now you will want to go somewhere to feel more relief. The driver will recommend other nice places to go, and he can get you there with cheap fare only 40 Baht. The mostly use trick is “Lucky Buddha” and temple is only open for 1 day and its free. It’s a must-see. If you fall into his trap, he will begin to show you around and end up at Thai gem or tailor shops. For this scam, they work in group of 3-5 people. According to MorningNewsTV3, there can be 20-30 groups of scammers in the Grand Palace area.
Scammers adjust the technique recently by informing you that today the Palace is closed this morning and only open in afternoon. There is another great place to go and he can get you there until it opens again. So they offer tourists a ride to somewhere else. Chaopraya River boat tour which costs 1,000 Baht per person is another popular place they recommend recently. In fact, the cost of the boat tour is only 700 Baht per 6 persons. After the scam succeed, the scamers received 100 Baht per tourist they can bring in while the boat operators (also scammers) gets 5,300 Baht extra.
The video below from Travel and Escape, shows Tuk-Tuk drivers admit they bring tourists from other place to “The Buddha Temple” where there are many shops in the area, and they get commission for bringing the tourists in. Judging for their English, it is too good regular Thais on street. I am Thai and I know that it will take a lot of time and effort to speak English like they do. Most Thai university students don’t speak this fluent and don’t have confidence as they do. It is easy to believe that these guys have been scamming foreigners for years.
How to avoid: Acknowledge the following information.
1. The Grand Palace is Almost Never Closed. It’s open the whole year everyday from 08:30 to 15:30 hours. It will be closed only when there is a royal event which is very very rare. The event take place once in 3-4 years. And when it is actually closed, authorities will block all the road around the palace. There will be police and soldiers standing guard in line every 20 meters. In that case, local people and tourist can’t even get close the place.
2. Similar to Thai gem scamThere, when you hear the word “Lucky Buddha Temple” or “Standing Buddha Temple“, “Government Export Center“, “Thai Trade Center“, “Gem Warehouse“, “One Day Special Exhibition“, “Government Gem Export Promotion For Students“, “Government Tax-Free Jewelry Export“, just ignore them and walk away.
3. Thai people are very friendly and if you ask for help they will eager to help. Regular Thai people are shy and don’t have much confidence to talk to foreigners. When you meet a person with very good English, and seems to be very friendly offering you for you that you didn’t for, that is mostly a scammer. Except for the elite Thais who grew up and spent most of their childhood time abroad, regular Thais are not so forward to approach strange who speak non-Thai.
About the Grand Palace dual price system.
Two price system or dual pricing exist in many tourist destinations such as national park, temples, zoos, and the Grand Palace is not the exemption. Dual pricing is not exactly a scam but to many people it feels like racism. Foreigners most probably fell that being charged twice or up to 10 times the amount of the normal ticket is like being cheated. There is really nothing we can do about it. Just go or don’t go. For the Grand Palace, the entrance fee for Thai is none, and it’s 500 Baht ($15) per person for foreigners which is very expensive (2 years ago it was 200 Baht). It’s a great place to see.
3. Jet Ski Scam
This happen when you rent jet skis in popular beach in Phuket or Pattaya, the rental operator will ask for your passport as for the guarantee. After you come back from your fun, they will point out scratches and dents in the jet ski (mostly underneath part where you didn’t notice at time of renting) and they will demand large sums of money, even if you purchased insurance. Most cases, they will ask for huge amount of money, normally between 30,000 – 50,000 Baht ($1,000 – $1,500) for the damage.
Most tourists will not agree to pay this ridiculous amount. They will start to negotiate and sometime in very offensive manner. Sometimes, violence is offered and out of nowhere the police will attend, negotiating a discount. Everyone in the team but you is in on the scam and what you pay is shared out. This also applies to motorbikes, scooters, boats but scams are quite rare and they are safer than jet skis.
How to avoid:
1. Only rent skis from reputable operators. You will notice from how professional they operate their business. Of course, this can’t grantee you won’t get scammed, but at least to reduce the chance of running to scammers.
2. Always observe the damage before proceed with the rent. Today most of cell phones have very good camera attached to them. Make photograph of the jet sky you’re renting from all angles, including video filming. And make sure the rental operator sees you are doing it. If they’re scammers, you will feel uncomfortable with it. Then you can notice it right from the beginning. But if they are really scammers, your action will alert the operator that you’re wise to scams, and they won’t try to scam on you.
3. By law, it is illegal for businesses in Thailand to hold foreigners’ passports in exchange for renting properties. Under current legislation any Thai business found in possession of a foreign passport will be prosecuted as technically the passport is the property of the government of the country who issued it. Of course, this is not enforced well. Most of operator will set this rule to hold your passport claiming to guarantee you will return their property in good condition. Sometimes you have no choice but to leave the passport with the operator but it should be the last thing you should do if you want to do it. Do not leave your passport with strangers! Try to negotiate to leave something else as a collateral, like some amount of money with proper documents of course. Again, passport should be the last thing you allow other people to keep.
4. The best solution is simply do not give a chance to put yourself into this scam and don’t use a jet-ski in Thailand.
4. Patpong Sex Show / Lady Drink / Overpriced Drinks Scam
This happen when male tourists visit some of night clubs in Patpong, Soi Nana, Soi Cowboy or some places similar. The touts on the street will approach and offer a tour for free sex shows and strip clubs with cheap drinks for only 100 baht. They will show photo albums of girls dress underwear, sometimes extreme pornography. They will say something like “if you don’t like, you don’t pay”. Many tourists think that there is nothing to lose. Their job is to promote and lure tourists into one of the bars. When tourists fall for it, they will probably end up paying a bill in the thousands or even hundred thousand Baht.
It is known that regular Thai people are not allowed to enter this kind of nightclubs. It is quite mysterious to Thai people how the bar work. Many parts are mysterious to tourists as well.
Here we will exposed what happens inside this kind of bars. What happens inside the bar will look like this. After you’re convinced that there is not much to lose. The touts will lead you to the bar, and you get inside it. You will be welcomed by waiters or waitresses before taken to your seat. Drinks will be served. After a moment, there will be bar girls in bikini come and sit with you and start friendly conversation, sometimes offer sexy dance. Girls who sit around also start to order drinks, not just but drink after drink. When you ask about the price, they will try to avoid giving you the exact price of the drinks. Music is very loud that you barely hear what they are saying. At this point you think a few drinks can’t hurt. If the you don’t feel comfortable or are not happy, the guys who run around taking care of customers will tell you that it’s okay, he will get another girl for you. New girls will come and sit with you, some times many girls come together at the same time. More drink will arrive even the tourists don’t request.
If you happen to be in A Go Go bar, there can be some sex-related shows as they promise when you were outside – mostly not very pleasant as like you imagined. What tourists don’t know is everything that happen there has its bill. Now it’s time to leave, the bill is given. Also it’s time to get shocked because the bill costs over 30,000 Baht. You will be more shocked to see each of the items you didn’t order cost at least 20-50 times more expensive than regular price. For example, a small bottle of beer, which cost 44 Baht in 7-Eleven, costs 600 Baht (some people reported to pay 1500 Baht for a 330ml bottle of beer). The cost of conversation with the girls who sat with you cost 5,000 Baht per person, and the sexy dance show is 5,000 Baht / time.
Now you refused to pay. It is not possible because you’re inside very protected area and nobody known you’re in here. If you insist not to pay, there will 3-4 guys come and surround you will very offensive attitude. You know that they won’t let you leave unless you pay, and you convince yourself that the only way to get out is to pay the money. It may not always happen like this but the plot is similar. Some people lose 2,000 Baht while some lose 200,000 Baht. It is really depends on how deep people fall into this scams. Now you’re thinking it’s not right. You have to get your money back and get people who involve in this scam prosecuted. You are thinking to go to the police, and after a few thoughts, you do.
At a police station, you’re trying to explain what happened. Then you realize you already spent one hour for police to get your name and detail of where you are from right. The conversation doesn’t go smoothly. Police shoot a lot of questions to make you feel it’s your fault to get into that trouble. At some point, you give up to idea of getting your money back. At the end, everybody but you benefits.
How to avoid:
1. Beware when visit a place with nightlife entertainment like Patpong, Soi Nana, Soi Cowboy – any guy approaching you with a naughty photos of girls is almost 100% scammer. There is no cheap drink and cheap sex show.
2. Go for a bar with fixed prices. Most of legit bar display prices of drink in front of the entrance.
3. Always ask for the price of the drinks before ordering. The standard price beer in bars in Bangkok is 100-110 Baht per 330ml bottle.
4. When you are inside a nightclub, and want to buy girl a drink, make sure you know how many drink you’re buying. Also make sure you only buy drinks for certain girls because they will put a few more drinks into the bill.
5. If you already got into situation, and there are other customers inside, look for companions who fall into the same situation. Get together and speak up while you complain. The staff normally don’t want other customers find out what’s going on, and they might want you out of the bar quickly. They will probably give you a discount off the extravagant bill. The you can get out of that place.
6. Avoid sex shows. They are nasty, unpleasant and ridiculously expensive – only to destroy your beautiful vacation. Most girls on the shows are forced or at least not willing to do the show.
5. Taxi Scam (@Airport / Flag down / Taxis in front of hotels)
- Airport Taxis
Official looking touts will pretend that they are meter taxis and tell you that it is 500-1000 baht to go into town. The meter taxi outside is less than half this. Recently, The police have tried to crack down on them but they are back.
- Taxis standing in front of hotels
In front of every 4 and 5 star hotel there are always two or three cabs parked all day long with taxi drivers hanging around, obviously not desperate to pick up any customers from the street. These taxis might appear to be hotel dedicated but they are in no way a service provided by your hotel. Instead they will spot hotel guests looking for a taxi and kindly offer their service. Since they are always parked here you think that’s convenient, so you hop in and off you go. That’s when you realize that the meter is off, so you kindly ask to have it turned on. At that point the driver say the meter is broken, similar excuses. If you continue arguing, he will say it’s overall price something like 500 baht to the airport (instead of the usual 300, 350), but will never switch on his meter. As you are already rolling it’s hard to ask the taxi to stop, especially since your suitcase is in the back trunk.
- Taxi not turning on meter
When you get one of taxis, by law the driver must turn the meter on. Some taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter or claim that it is broken. They claim traffic is too bad or a destination is too far for the meter. Then they will start to negotiate the price which is normally twice more expensive. Many tourists who too little about taxi end up paying twice of the regular rate.
How to avoid:
1. At the airport, ignore anyone who asks if you want a taxi. The real taxi drivers are lined up in 1st floor, waiting outside by their cars. There will be 50 Baht for airport fee (this fee is set by Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited – AOT, the organization that looks after the airport’s properties).
2. Don’t hail a one of those taxis that stand in front of hotels, shopping centers, or popular tourists places.
3. Before hailing a taxi, make sure the meter is on. If a driver doesn’t want to turn the meter on, just ignore them and hail an honest driver. There are 300.000 taxis in Bangkok, you will find plenty of good drivers.
6. I am Pregnant Scam / My mother sick scam
This is one of popular scams targeted to foreigners who have Thai girlfriends. It happens when your Thai girlfriend writing to you to say she is pregnant with your baby. She either asks for help to pay for the abortion or for money to raise the baby. What she is not telling you is that she has already written to five other foreigners telling them that they are the father too. The latest gimmick is some medicine circulating in North Eastern Thailand that swells their belly to make them look pregnant in case you fly in to visit them. The only way to know for sure is to go with them to the doctors to get an ultrasound.
There are also “my mother sick scam”, “my father involved in car accident scam” and something similar. The story is similar, calling her boyfriend in the west telling him that her mama is sick and she is real worried. This type of scam will demand a little more money maybe 100,000 – 300,000 Baht ($5,000 – $10,000). After the money is paid the Thai girl will report that her mother or father is now in hospital and getting the much needed treatment. Within a week the story will continue that her mother is well, at home and recovering.
How to avoid: There is very good change to get scams if you have sexual relationship with a Thai girl you met in a bar.
7. Wrong Change Scam
This is a common scam at convenient shops like 7-Eleven,Family Mart or local stores in tourist areas is to give you change as if you gave them a 500 baht note instead of a 1,000 baht note. Many tourists are not familiar with Thai money and often give the wrong money or don’t notice that their change is incorrect. Of course, it is the policy of the convenient shops to scams their customers but it’s them employees themselves who seek to take advantage from foreigners.
How to avoid:
Become familiar with the Thai baht and always know how much change you are owed back before paying for your items or meal. Sometimes convenience stores or restaurants will give you back change as if you paid with a smaller denomination or simply “forget” a few baht. And always check your change!
8. Trains Are Full
One of the lesser-known scams occurs at Bangkok’s main train station, Hua Lamphong. Phony agents in the area outside the station offer to help tourists book their train tickets. Then they will take you to their nearby travel agent and pretend to ring the train booking office, and claim that the trains are full and that the tourists will need to travel by tour bus instead. In fact, the fake agents just wanted to ticket on one of their buses.
How to avoid: Just buy tickets at ticket booth. Train offers in Thailand are never be too generous to come out and assist passenger outside station.
9. Blackjack Scam / Card Scam
This scam is famous for scammers in Vienam, Cambodia and the Philippe and now growing in Thailand. This usually starts when someone on street approach you with friendliness. He will ask you some innocent questions such as “Is this your first time in Thailand?” “Can you speak Thai?” “How long are you staying?”, etc. From these questions, he will analyze you to make sure you’re new to the country and you have enough money for a few months travel. When he knows you’re a city for example, New York, then he will say he has a sister who will be going to study there. He then asks if you can go and meet her as she has some questions you can help.
Remember that these people are good at persuasion. They will use every trick they know to make you believe that the sister is going to New York and there is nothing for you to lose to help her. At some point, you would think it wouldn’t it be too bad to know a nice Thai girl who is going to New York – your city. When you and your new stranger friend arrive at the house,no one else is there except for one other guy. He, also, was friendly and seemed so pleased to meet you, and he even offers you a beer and something to eat. They probably talk everything that you like. When the right moment arrives, they then ask you to help cheat someone very rich out of their money by playing Blackjack. Next thing you know is you some how end up playing blackjack with them along with that rich guy. At the end you lose large sum of money, and start to realize that that rich guy is also one of them.
How to avoid: Similar to avoiding Thai Gem scam. Regular Thais are not so forward to approach strange who speak non-Thai. If you are approached by a well spoken Thai person on the street then the chances are high that this person is a scammer.
10. Foreigner’s Price Scam
It is also known as Two-Tiered Pricing. Some merchants will automatically charge foreign tourists more than they charge local Thais. This scam is normally in major survenir shops, clothing shops and basically any place full of tourists, for example Jatujak Weekend Market, Sukhumvit street market, etc.
How to avoid:
1. If you like the stuff you’re buying, try to negotiate. Start at 25% of the offered price. Some sellers will get angry because they feel insulted, but who cares. Just walk away. If they really want to sell you, they will
2. Learn some Thai words. The most famous word is “Lod Noi Na” (Give me some discount), “Pang Mak Mak” (Very expensive). This will also alert the sellers that you’re wise in buying.
3. Unfortunately there is rarely anything to be done about this scam, other than just walking away and finding another person to buy from.
These are the only The saying “If something is too good to be true then it probably is” is the best tool to apply when traveling to Thailand.
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