Thailand has become a backpacking hotspot for very good reason, boasting some of the world’s best beaches, most unique markets and wildest parties! Unfortunately, as tourists flock to the beautiful country, so too do the people running scams trying to take advantage of them. Thailand scams vary in complexity and severity and can really ruin the fun of exploring the country. Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place and I’ll tell you how to avoid the tourist traps, stay out of trouble and have the experience of a lifetime.
Here are 7 Thailand scams to look out for:
1. ‘Free gift’ scams
Everyone loves free stuff and no one more so than a travelling backpacker on a budget. Thai locals and shop owners are well aware of this and will exploit without hesitation. A prime example is at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Men will walk around with bags of bird seeds and try put some in your hands to feed the birds, claiming it is for free and in Thai tradition it symbolises good luck. Make no mistake about it, the second that bird seed hits your hand they will try charge you for it – and you won’t be able to pass it back without spilling it. The best thing to do in this situation and ones like it is just to use extreme caution or avoid entirely any free gifts from strangers. If it seems too good to be true it probably is.
Photo credit: Florian Wehde
2. The suit tailor scams
Cheap suits are everywhere in Thailand and it is very possible to come away with a great suit for over half the price if you know the pitfalls to avoid. Avoid anywhere trying desperately to get you into their shop. Desperate is never sexy and there is probably a good reason why other tourist aren’t flocking to them. Some places will also try make you pay the full sum up front and these are also ones to avoid. Go somewhere where you can arrange an initial deposit and full payment when you receive the suit. Finally, don’t go anywhere that says they’ll deliver the suit to your country free of charge. Sounds like an amazing deal but what you will find is a poor-quality lump of threads rock up to your door or worse yet nothing. If you do buy a suit, make sure you leave with a suit. Ultimately if you do a little research, shop at a reputable place you feel comfortable with and are smart with your money, you will be leaving Thailand with a great suit at a bargain price.
3. Taxi scams
As soon as you come out of the airport you will be mobbed by charming taxi drivers vying to take your fare. So how do you ensure you aren’t overcharged? Again, anyone overly keen to take your fare should probably be avoided as they’ll be seeking out tourists to exploit. When getting into a taxi make sure there is a meter and that it works. Don’t accept ‘the meter is broken’ followed by a flat rate offer as it will almost always be at an inflated price. Top tip: Rideshare apps like Uber or Grab are a great way to go because you know how much you’re paying from the get go, no money or awkwardness needs to be exchanged and they’re very cheap in Thailand.
Photo credit: Sven Scheuermeier
4. Motorbike rental scams
Hiring a motorbike is a great way to explore Thailand and a staple of the tourism offering. Aside from the physical safety considerations, the motorbike rental places have a few tricks up their sleeve you should be wary of. Never leave your passport with the rental company. If they really must have a copy of your passport leave a photocopy or offer to send an electronic copy. If it is just as a bond payment offer to leave some money instead. One trick they use is to claim you have damaged the motorbike and demand repair payment. Make sure you take note of the condition of the bike, take photos and report it to them before you go. Another one is when you leave your motorbike locked up and parked somewhere, someone with a spare set of keys will come and drive the bike back and they will charge you for losing the bike. Bring your own padlock to lock up the motorbike to avoid this.
5. ‘Fake Change’ scam
This one is commonplace in markets as a simple sleight of hand trick and is particularly easy to fall into. As a tourist all the denominations of Thai Baht can look the same and in a quick glance money exchange 100THB can easily look like 1000THB. The good news is it is very easy to avoid and all you must do is be careful when checking the change you receive. Don’t be afraid to call them out on it either as they won’t put up much of a fight in giving you your money back. Some bold shopkeepers will even try turn the tables on you and use sleight of hand by showing you a 100THB note and say that’s what you gave them when really you gave 1000THB. Again, using caution is the key and don’t be afraid to speak up; they’ll just try laugh it off with you and forget it ever happened.
6. Market shopping scams
One of the best things to do in Thailand is visit the many cheap markets around. From cheap bags, shoes and sportswear to authentic Thai souvenirs and jewellery, Thai markets have everything a traveller could want. The art of bargaining has become part of the culture and there are a few tips to ensure you get a good deal. Never accept their first offer. It is designed to be over-inflated to get you to counter offer and enter the negotiation, so when you hear their first offer whatever it is just walk away in disgust and watch them immediately offer you nearly half the price. If in the event they don’t chase after you, don’t be afraid to walk away. Many of the stalls sell the same thing so if you can’t get the price you want just walk down the road and try it again at the next place. You have the bargaining power so don’t be afraid to use it!
Photo credit: Harvey Enrile
7. Drink spiking scams
Not so much a scam as something you should be wary of, drink spiking can happen in popular tourist bars and nightspots. Scammers thrive on drunk people making bad decisions and all good solo travellers love a drink and a bad decision. Fortunately, you can still get drunk and avoid this by being vigilant. Always keep an eye on the bartender when making your drinks. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you’re buying a bucket of alcohol buy one with sealed bottles you can mix yourself rather than a pre-mixed bucket. Simple tips like these can ensure you drink freely and lose your inhibitions without losing your valuables or worse.
Despite the uncertainty that comes with travelling through Thailand, it is certain that you will have the experience of a lifetime! So long as you keep your wits about you and know what to look out for, you’ll be able to avoid any trouble and have an unbelievable time. Whether you’re relaxing on golden sand beaches and swimming in crystal blue waters, immersing yourself in the culture of the people and temples, trekking through jungles and rainforests or partying under a full moon, Thailand is an unforgettable country and a must on any traveller’s bucket list.
About the Author
Alex is a passionate traveller, traversing the globe to meet the most amazing people, party, chase sport and try figure out if there is more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. Follow his adventures on Instagram.