Thailand is home to super friendly people, arguably the best food on the planet, and jaw droppingly beautiful beaches.
Like most tourist spots in the world, Thailand also comes with a dark underbelly, featuring scammers who make it their business to target the wallets of unsuspecting tourists.
Fortunately, the crooks are creatures of habit. These are the 5 tried-and-tested scams they love most, and the ones you need to keep an eye out for:
1. THE “THE GRAND PALACE IS CLOSED” SCAM
Named after the Grand Palace in Bangkok, this scam is also perpetrated at other attractions around the country. Typically, this scheme involves a person accosting tourists as they are walking towards a popular attraction. The scammer then tells the visitors that the attraction is closed – for example, for a Buddhist holiday, and hails a nearby tuk-tuk who agrees to take them to another temple where they will typically be charged an exorbitant entrance fee.
Of course, the attraction was never closed and both the scammer and the tuk-tuk driver receive a cut from the entrance fee paid by the tourists. A way around this is to research open hours ahead of your visit, cross-referencing a few sources and sites to be sure. Extra points go to knowing about national Thai holidays and special days where attractions may well be closed.
2. THE JET-SKI SCAM
This old chestnut is particularly popular in Pattaya and Koh Samui and involves the rental of a dodgy jet-ski by unsuspecting tourists. When returning the jet-ski, a crack or a bump in the hull is suddenly discovered by the owners, who promptly accuse the renters of having damaged their expensive watercraft. Unbeknownst to the tourists, the crack or bump was already there before they rented the jet-ski, covered by a thin coat of water-soluble paint.
Unfortunately, this scam can be a very lucrative one for the owners of a shady rental business, with damages as high as $2,000 being charged to their victims. Due to the prevalence of this scam in Thailand, it is recommended not to rent jet-skis while on holiday in the country. If you do insist on renting one, however, make sure to fully inspect its hull beforehand and take pictures of it with your smartphone, trusting it’s a waterproof phone.
3. THE TAXI SCAM
In Bangkok, taxi drivers targeting tourists sometimes conveniently forget to turn on their meter. Scratch ‘sometimes’ – this one is pretty much a guarantee. The taxi meter scam is most common at the airport or when taking a cab that is waiting in front of a hotel or shopping mall. Before entering a taxi, always ask the driver whether he is willing to turn the meter on. If they refuse, simply wait for another cab.
4. THE GEM SCAM
After a long day under the hot Thailand sun, a tourist decides to hail a tuk-tuk or a taxi to go back to their hotel. On the way, the vehicle stops in front of a small jewellery store. As it happens, the driver knows the owner of the store and he can get his passenger a great price on emeralds, rubies or even diamonds. After buying a couple of gems, the tourist goes back to her hotel, dreaming about the amazing jewellery she’ll be commissioning back home. Unfortunately, that tourist is now the proud owner of rather very expensive pieces of coloured glass, something she will typically find out back in her home country. Don’t be this lady.
5. THE FAKE CONSULATE SCAM
This elaborate scam targets tourists wishing to cross the border from Thailand to Cambodia by land. As travellers make their way from the bus station to the checkpoint by tuk-tuk or on the back of a motorcycle taxi, they suddenly see a large road sign in the middle of the road pointing to a “Cambodian Consulate.” The driver then stops in front of a large house in front of which a group of overly enthusiastic employees greet tourists and ask them what type of visa they would like to get.
If the description of this consulate sounds somewhat different from what you would expect from your typical diplomatic mission, it is because this is a fake consulate, with no affiliation whatsoever with the Kingdom of Cambodia.
If you agree to get a visa at this fake consulate, employees fill out the single-page application form for you – for a fee, of course – and hand it over to the border checkpoint, which is about a mile away.
In short, you’re paying for something that you can do yourself in five minutes. To avoid getting scammed at the Thai-Cambodian border, simply refuse to leave the vehicle if your driver stops at the fake consulate. After a minute, he will resume the journey and take you to the actual border.
Fact is, you’re likely to be ripped off somewhere along the tourist trail in Thailand – even if it’s just the hefty markup on bottled water and souvenirs. Think of it as a ‘cultural experience’? But by keeping an eye out for the most common scams. you’ll hopefully dodge the most expensive stings. If you do get caught up in something, don’t forget to file a police report as soon as possible. This will help you with an insurance claim, should you be able to make one. Safe travels!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain