Bangkok is a major tourist hub and a huge city with over 10 million people, so as you might expect, opportunists have developed a number of scams that often leave holiday makers out of pocket.
It goes without saying that the authorities need to tighten up on scams, particularly those that have been running for many years.
These bad apples can tarnish a city's reputation. Scammers do damage to the national image, and many tourists are put off coming back for good when they have such a negative experience.
But scamming isn't exclusive to Thailand. In any big city around the world there are people trying to separate your cash from your pocket.
Indeed, just recently a video of two Thai women being pick-pocketed by a gang in London went viral.
I dare say the perpetrators have no sympathy either, and I'm sure the justification is quite simply that foreigners/tourists are wealthy, which we all know 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.
It sucks, but it's part of life.
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 a few years back 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 shop.
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.
Always check your receipt and makes sure all items have been paid for.
NB: This scam is no longer in operation, but be mindful of the past!
Scam 2: The Nice 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 nice hotel scam.
My blunt advice is to book your hotel before you arrive, and avoid booking hotels at the airport through unscrupulous agents.
They will show you flattering pictures of what turn out to be very average hotels at high prices.
These are usually hotels that once looked good new, but the pictures, taken in the 1980s, don't quite reflect the state of the hotel today.
I had a tough time once getting my money back after booking a hotel at the airport.
A mate and I had flown in to Bangkok and no accommodation arranged. It was getting late and we were tired, so we negotiated with an agent at the airport.
The hotel looked amazing in the pictures, but when we arrived in downtown Bangkok we found a hotel room that resembled something more like a hostel.
I was told by the hotel 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.
Even if your hotel doesn't look too bad, you can guarantee the rate you are paying is at least 500-1,000 Baht more per night than it should be.
Book online or through a reputable high street travel agent.
Scam 3: The Flower Kid Theft Scam
When having dinner in open-air restaurants in Bangkok, like those barbecue places and other restaurants that have outdoor seating, you may encounter kids coming round to the table, typically selling flowers or asking for money.
These kids are part of a criminal network, and used by criminals to steal whatever they can get their hands on.
I have first-hand experience of this.
I was sitting in an open-air restaurant in the Ratchada area of Bangkok, having dinner with a friend. He had put his phone on the table to the right hand side of his plate.
Two children approached approach the table, one either side. We told them the number of times that we weren't interested in buying any of their flowers but they hung around for a good 30 seconds or so.
In that time, one of the children had managed to distract us both at the same time, so we looked at him simultaneously, while the other one swiped the mobile phone from table.
It was only after about 10 minutes that my friend realized the phone had gone. We reported it to the police, who to be fair to them did ride around the local area and try to find the kids.
They told us that this was a common occurrence and they are aware of the children doing. However, when they catch the children, there is little they can do because these children are street kids, often and with no fixed abode and no parents around.
The gangs controlling them are essentially their family, and they remain loyal to them because they feed and clothe them.
Keep all your valuable possessions in your pocket, or in a bag that sits in front of your body and not behind you.
Scam 4: The Taxi Meter Scam
Because I am fully aware of how vulnerable tourists 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.
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.
I assume the meter had been tampered with, or had been fitted with two settings; the legit setting and the “farang fresh off the plane” setting.
This really annoyed me.
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.
Often a scam is unavoidable.
Scam 5: 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.
Personally I'm not quite sure why people hand over money to see women shooting objects out of their orifices, but it is likely to get you scammed.
The ping pong shows aren't legal, but they operate on an underground level by paying off officials.
Every year there are reports of tourists paying money to a tout who disappears without trace, or paying to see 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.
Stick to the main bars and clubs in public areas, and avoid any backstreet business.
Scam 6: The 20-Baht Tuk-Tuk Scam
The last friend to visit me was duped by the 20 Baht tuk-tuk scam.
In usual fashion, 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 a couple of my Thai friends during their trip and got to see what generally awesome people Thais are.
And they aren't the types to go back home and mouth off about Thai people being money-hungry scammers, as is so often the case when a person has one bad experience abroad.
If a tuk-tuk driver starts acting silly, ditch him quick-time.
Bangkok Scams, in Summary
Scams happen everywhere and can occur at any time, in any country. So when visiting Bangkok, just be smart:
- Book your accommodation prior to arrival, unless you are prepared to walk around an area and look at different hotels.
- Only take metered taxis
- Don't let tuk-tuk drivers take you anywhere other than your destination
- Keep valuables hidden at all times
- Don't be talked in to going to “secret” backstreet bars/clubs
Scamming is a part of the underbelly of pretty much every 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.
Lack of money, addiction, greed, perception of others; these things drive people to steal.
I don't have much sympathy at all for thieves and those who exploit others.
But 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 back hime and shopping until they drop, while you struggle to make enough to pay the rent and feed the kids.
Have fun on holiday, but stay street smart.
Wait! You Said 7 Scams?
Yes, but scam 7 deserved its own post, which you can read by clicking here.