During the decade-plus I’ve lived in Bangkok I’ve likely had every tourist scam in the book directed at me. Because I live here, I don’t fall for them, but many tourists do. These scams are always perpetrated on unsuspecting tourists or people who look like tourists and, every year, thousands of naive tourists fall for them. An annoyance more than dangerous, it’s still possible to avoid these scams if you just follow some basic common sense tips.
Taxi Scams at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok – When you arrive in Bangkok, make sure you take a taxi from one of the official taxi stands right outside the airport. Here, you will pay the fare on the meter plus an extra 50 baht charge. If you try to get your own taxi, the drivers will often refuse to turn on the meter and you’ll end up paying $15-$20 more for your trip into town.
As a tourist, you will also find that some unscrupulous taxi drivers will try to take you places in Bangkok without putting the meter on and instead charging you a flat fee. This is against the Thai law. Any taxi in Bangkok has to put the meter on by law. If they don’t, insist they do, or tell them to stop, get out and hail another taxi. You can also call the police and report them if you get their taxi number.
Street Touts – If someone comes up to you in the street offering to take you on a tuk-tuk ride to a jewelers shop or tailors shop where you can “get a good price”, ignore them. Politely say you’re not interested and walk away. These tourist scams in Bangkok have been going around for years and are especially prevalent in tourist areas. Not at all dangerous, they are annoying as the ‘guide’ will take you to an over-priced jewelers or tailor shop, where you will be pressured into buying a high-priced item.
Only when you get it back to your hotel and check out other similar shops will you discover you’ve paid a much higher price than you would in another shop. The guide is happy, of course, because he got his commission but you end up feeling ripped-off and used. Stay away from any of the street touts and they’ll stay away from you.
Only Buy Precious Stones From Certified Gem Dealer – Bangkok, Thailand is a very good and inexpensive place to buy gems but only from certified gem dealers. Again, touts or certain stall owners will try to sell you jade, rubies or sapphires telling you they’re giving you a cheap price for a top-quality item. Once you get it back to a reputable jeweler, you will find out it’s not a gem but a stone only made to look like one and you’ll be out your hard-earned cash.
Certified Gem Dealers, of which there are many in Bangkok, will be able to sell you genuine precious stones and gems, still at a fraction of the cost you would pay in your home country and with a certificate of authenticity too.
Visiting the Grand Palace and Other Tourist Destinations – Every time I have visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, I’ve been told by an official looking ‘guide’ that the Grand Palace is closed that day. Surprising really, because I can usually see hundreds of people streaming through the Grand Palace gates, so it doesn’t look closed.
The ‘guide’ then tells me he knows of other unusual tourist places that he can take me to if I’m interested and then I can come back to the Grand Palace another day. If this happens to you, ignore the ‘guide’ and continue onto the Grand Palace. It’s open every day except for official holidays and, if it is closed, the large gates will be closed with soldiers posted in front of them.
Again, the tourist scam is not dangerous, the ‘guide’ just wants to take you to several stores where you can buy over-priced products and where he will get a commission. This type of scam also happens at other Bangkok tourist locations so just ignore it and continue doing what you were planning on doing before you were stopped by the scam artist.
Drugs – Never, never, never do drugs in Thailand. Although readily available, if you’re caught in Thailand using any kind of illegal drug you will be arrested, tried, convicted and jailed. Thailand takes its drug laws seriously yet, every year, many stupid western tourists are caught doing illegal drugs and put away in Thai jails. Drug laws are harsh with penalties of ten years or more being the norm so, unless you’d like to spend a decade of your life in a really horrible Thai jail, stay away from drugs while in Thailand.
Thailand is an incredibly safe country but there are tourist scams just like in any other country in the world. The good thing about Thais though is they aren’t very aggressive so, if you tell them you’re not interested, they’ll usually leave to find another unsuspecting tourist and allow you to go on your way unscammed and unannoyed.
Photo – Monk at Bangkok’s Grand Palace – it’s almost always open, even though touts will try to persuade you it’s not – copyright Irene2005, Creative Commons License