Being a major tourist hub and a huge city with over 10 million people, as you might expect, there are a few scams going on in Bangkok.
But before I cover these scams, let me just say that in 6 years I have encountered very little crime. In fact, the worst thing that has happened is leaving my phone in a taxi and not getting it back.
However, it goes without saying that the authorities need to tighten up on the scamming in tourist areas. It isn't nice to visit a country and feel like you constantly need to be on guard, assuming that every native could be a rip-off merchant – which of course is not the case.
It's important to bear in mind that the big city scamming of tourists isn't exclusive to Bangkok.
The problem for any country is that scammers do damage to the national image, and many tourists are put off coming back for good when they experience a scam.
I dare say the perpetrators have no sympathy either, and I'm sure the justification is quite simply that foreigners are rich, which as we all know really isn't the case. The average person works hard to save up for a holiday, and for many families, coming to Thailand is a once in a lifetime trip.
Scams only serve to create hostility and negativity vibes between locals and tourists, and make visitors want to tip less, which means the honest people working in the tourist sector make less money.
The cold, hard reality is this: When coming to a big city like Bangkok, you do need to have your wits about you. So without further ado, here are the scams you need to be aware of…
Scam 1: The Zig-Zag Scam
Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi, received a fair bit of negative press last year for allowing scammers to operate within its grounds.
The scamming was thrown into the limelight with the emergence of the zig-zag scam, a scam that involved popular Bangkok duty free shopping company King Power.
The scam went something like this: Customers were accused of shoplifting after deliberately not being given a receipt, or not charged for products they presumed they had legitimately purchased at the counter.
Unwitting customers were then searched and questioned, and even though no video proof was presented, the notion of doubt was aroused and the accused were asked to pay an extortionate fine to the conspirators, which included members of staff and a dubious liaison officer named Tony.
One couple in particular made the BBC headlines in the UK.
Mr. Ingram and Ms. Xi were told to pay £8,000 to be released without further charges relating to theft from the prestigious duty free store.
Video footage “apparently” showed Ms. Xi putting a wallet in her bag, but a search proved her innocence. The couple's passports were withheld, and they were moved to a squalid hotel within the airport perimeter until the demanded fee was transferred to Tony's (the mysterious liaison officer) bank account.
A local lawyer instructed the couple to fight the notorious Tony in the courts, although he also explained that this could mean the couple would face months in prison while the trial was prepared.
This wasn't an option for Mr. Ingram because he had to get home for his mother's funeral, not to mention he wasn't about to put himself and his wife in jail.
And so, backed into a corner, he paid the money, choosing to return home in time for his mother’s funeral rather than languish in jail and be separated from his wife.
Scam 2: The Hotel Booking Scam
Aside from watching out for the airport zig-zag scam, there are a few other things to be aware of when arriving at Bangkok airport. One of these is the hotel booking scam.
My blunt advice is to book your hotel before you arrive, period.
Avoid booking hotels at the airport through unscrupulous hotel agents who will show you flattering pictures of awful hotels at high prices.
I myself once had a tough getting my money back after booking a hotel at the airport.
The hotel looked amazing in the pictures at the airport, but when I arrived I found a hotel room that resembled something more like a hostel.
I was told I would have to get my money back from the agent at the airport. Of course, I didn’t budge until I had a full refund at reception.
Scam 3: The Taxi Meter Scam
Because I am fully aware of how vulnerable newbies to Thailand are to Bangkok scams, I always tell friends flying into Bangkok airport to turn left out of arrivals and follow the signs for a public metered taxi, without deviation!
You should avoid the taxi touts that offer you a fixed fee ride in an unlicensed taxi for triple what you would pay in a public taxi.
However, my bulletproof way of avoiding the airport-based scams was shattered this week when a friend arrived from the UK.
Being his first time in Thailand, he sensibly followed my advice. He got into a metered taxi, avoiding all the “where you go sir” questioning.
However, 45 minutes later he arrived at my apartment block explaining that the journey had cost him 1,000 Baht instead of the usual 250-300 Baht.
“How is that possible”? I said, baffled. “You had the meter on, right”? “Yes”, he replied. “And he took the toll way?” “Yes”, was the answer again. “So WTF”?
My friend hadn’t a clue and neither had I. All he could say was that when he handed over that crisp 1,000 Baht note,the driver was beaming from cheek to cheek.
Later that day we got a taxi to go to the Grand Palace, and after a few minutes of watching the meter, all became apparent as my friend remarked, “The meter on my taxi from the airport wasn’t going that slow, in fact, it was more like triple the speed”.
He went on to explain that even in traffic the meter was moving like a cheetah, and that the controls on the top section of the meter were covered up for some reason. All I can think of was that the meter had been tampered with, or had been fitted with two settings; the legit setting and the “fresh off the plane farang” setting.
This entire affair really got to me.
Okay, I know taxi drivers don’t make a packet, but most expats I know, and friends on holiday, usually tip on long drives and shopping trips too. Yet it seems every time a friend comes to visit me in Bangkok they get ripped off in the first couple of days, often more than once!
Scam 4: The Ping Pong Show Scam
For those of you coming to Bangkok to see the infamous red light streets of Soi Cowboy, Soi Nana and Patpong, you need to be aware of the Ping Pong show scam.
In fact, you really shouldn't give money to anyone offering to take you to see women shooting objects out of their orifices or offering sexual activities, because the likelihood is you'll pay well over the odds or get scammed, or both.
The ping pong shows aren't legal, but they operate on an underground level by paying off officials. So yes, they do exist, and you might go to one and not get scammed…
…But be aware that every year, thousands of tourists report paying money to a tout who disappears, or seeing a ping pong show and then being presented with a ridiculously high bar bill containing drinks they never ordered, and additional extras they have no knowledge of being given.
The long and short of it is, you won't leave until that bill is paid. The door will be closed and you'll find yourself in a situation that resembles nothing short of a nightmare.
Attend a go-go bar if you must, but do so of your own accord and stick to the main strip where other holiday makers are also visiting the public bars and clubs.
Scam 5: The 20-Baht Tuk-Tuk Scam
The last friend to visit me back in March was duped by the 20 Baht Tuk-Tuk scam.
The driver said, “Anywhere you want to go – 20 Baht”. Great, she thought, and told him to drive and meet me at Asok Station. He then asked, “Which one”?
Every Thai in Bangkok knows there's only one Asok station!
The long and short of this story is that he drove her and her boyfriend around in circles, asking them if they wanted to visit a suit shop or grab some seafood, he eventually charged them 200 Baht for the pleasure and dropped them off back where they started!
They ended up getting the Skytrain to meet me in the end.
Luckily, my friend and her partner got to meet couple of my Thai friends during their trip, and got to see what generally awesome, kind people Thais are. And I'm glad that they aren't the types to go back home and spread ignorant rhetoric regarding Thai people being money-hungry scammers, as is so often the case when a person has one bad experience abroad.
Scams happen everywhere and can occur at any time, in any country. So when visiting Bangkok, just be smart. Only take metered taxis, don't let Tuk-Tuk drivers take you anywhere other than your destination, keep your belongings safe and don't hang around dark, quiet streets late at night.
Scamming is a part of the underbelly of any capitalist society. People aren't born wanting to take others for every penny they have. I mean, no kid grows up thinking, when I'm older I want to be a taxi driver and rip off foreigners by charging them double fair.
It's the obsessive chasing of a lifestyle forever beyond a person’s reach is what drives them to steal and become dishonest. The large majority of theft is simply a by-product of an unfair monetary system that is dictated by the lottery of birth.
Let's face it, it can’t be easy being a taxi or Tuk-Tuk driver seeing all these foreigners jetting in from their luxurious lifestyles abroad and shopping until they drop, while he/she struggle sto make enough to pay rent and feed your kids.
Scams are here to stay. And if you're coming to Bangkok, make sure you click here to read about the dreaded Scam 6.