Some of the common scams you may encounter in Thailand and how to stay out of the trap…
Photos by: myself and Tristan Ceccato
Travelling internationally rouses up much excitement and anticipation; but leaving the known and the comfort of your own city can present its own unique set of problems. Yep, I am going to go there. SCAMS.
Unfortunately scams in Thailand are all too common, and my gosh are they getting cheeky with them these days! I guess that is what makes a ‘good’ scam though – the target being completely unaware of what is happening until it is too late. Unfortunately for us as tourists, it can leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, and if you don’t have adequate travel insurance, some of the scams out there can leave you in an unpleasant position. For the most part though, scams are merely an annoyance, time waster and money grabbing effort.
I always cover myself with comprehensive cover from Southern Cross Travel Insurance JUST in case. You never know what might happen overseas, and having that little bit of surety can be very comforting.
These are a few of the more common scams you may encounter in Thailand, and my tips to help you avoid them and continue on with safe travels…
The photo scam
I have fallen for these types of scams too many times to count; but thankfully I have always managed to weasel my way back out of them.
When we were in Thailand, we decided to venture from the hotel and in to the heart of Patong at night to see if everything they said about Patong was true. I can confirm, it is. There were a lot of the famed ‘lady-boys’ roaming Bangla Walking Street, people trying to sell woven bracelets emblazoned with obscenities and of course throngs of tourists.
As we were wandering along agog at the sights, a lady in costume came running up to my mum and I, gave us a big cuddle and asked if we wanted a photo with her. We politely declined, but she kept insisting that we have a photo. In the interest of getting rid of her and shutting her up, we caved and had a photo with her. Sure enough, as we went to walk off she started demanding money from us for the photo that we didn’t even want! I can only imagine how many people fall for this, and how many people willingly pay for these photos.
We also had a similar experience when a man tried to put a monkey around my neck so I could have a cuddle and a photo. I am obsessed with monkeys and she was adorable, but there were obviously so many things wrong with that situation – both for myself and that poor little monkey.
My best advice to avoid scams like these is to make sure all parties are aware of the conditions involved (i.e. ask if they charge first!) and stay strong in declining to do things that you don’t actually want to do! If you are aware of the costs before agreeing to the experience/help, nobody will get upset when money is requested. As soon as you accept whatever it is that they are offering, it is really hard to back pedal on paying for it.
We have all heard of the ye olde credit card skimming caper. It isn’t fun when it happens, and it can happen when you least expect it; I once had my card skimmed in a reputable store on the Champs Elysees! Like I said, it can happen when you least expect it…
In Thailand, there were many places that I didn’t feel comfortable in using my card; because they took your card, hid the Eftpos machine or they simply looked a bit dodgy.
To avoid your card being skimmed in places like Thailand, always try and carry cash to pay with. If you plan on eating out at little local restaurants then you will definitely need cash anyway. And if you need to get more cash out while you are there, try to find a bank or an ATM attached to a bank to be as safe as possible.
I also find that keeping just small amounts of money in your active account helps. That way if someone does happen to get your details, there isn’t much they can do with that $200.00 you have in that account. At the end of each day, reassess the balance and transfer across what you need for the next day.
The bar scam
In touristy areas of Thailand, the barmaids are very very clever at getting you to spend more money in their bars. The one night that we decided to explore Bangla Walking Street, we got stung a few times! Obviously the more the customer has had to drink, the easier target they become.
At one of the bars, the bar maid challenged my brother to a card game; the conditions of which were if she won, we all got free shots and if he won, he had to buy everyone shots (including her). In his inebriated state, he had a rather heightened sense of self importance and accepted the challenge with no hesitations. Just as we had predicted, the bar maid didn’t even have to pay attention to the game to whoop his butt, and he had to pay out for a round of shots for everyone. It was a cheeky way of squeezing more drink sales out of us!
Obviously don’t play any games with the bar maids! If you are aware of what might happen and what the consequences are, by all means go ahead and play. If you aren’t too keen on being scammed into buying more drinks, avoid it at all costs.
The ‘friendly’ driver suggestion
Oh golly, have we been stung by this one! In Mauritius some 11 years ago, we ended up at the most horrible, remote shopping centre because of our driver. Initially we had wanted to go to a certain area, and he managed to convince us that he knew a better spot instead. It became very apparent when we pulled up that he had struck up a deal with the store owners at the centre, and brought as many people through as he could. It definitely wasn’t the beautiful beachside location we had asked him to take us to!
Thankfully, by the time we were in Thailand, we had learned from those previous mistakes. We definitely had it tried on us (‘I know a really good restaurant, I can take you there instead?!’), but we managed to stay out of any of those traps for the time we were there. Mum came close to letting it happen, but my brother and I were too savvy to allow it.
If your driver tries to suggest an alternate destination for you, reiterate where it is you want to go. Be firm and certain of where you are paying the driver to take you. If they are being painful, simply get out and find another driver!