Scams, confidence tricks and rip-offs are very common in the tourist parts of Thailand. Watch out for these well known scams and save yourself from being a victim.
The Thai people are overwhelmingly polite, honest, and friendly. However, there are many scams that target travelers in Thailand and, while very few locals swindle tourists, that minority is prolific. Based on my dozens of trips to Thailand, here’s guidance on how to sidestep the scammers, and what to look out for and avoid while traveling around Thailand.
The most common way a tourist to Thailand will be ripped off is while taking a taxi. In most of Thailand, taxis are very cheap. If, that is, they actually go by the standardised fare meter. Before you enter a Thai taxi, always ask “meter?”, then point at the electronic meter on the dashboard and wait for it to be switched on. Otherwise, once your journey ends, the driver is free to quote whatever price they wish.
If they turn off the meter mid-journey, which is rare, or ask for a ridiculous price because the meter was never activated, just stay calm. Attached to the dashboard is their photo and Taxi driver ID card. Get your phone, photograph the driver’s ID, show it to them and say: “Tourist police”. In most cases, this will frighten the driver into quoting a reasonable fare.
As for tuk-tuks, Thailand’s iconic three-wheeled taxis, I avoid them. Once you’ve done a tuk-tuk ride for the experience – and they are fun at first – they have no upside. They’re hotter, more dangerous and more expensive than regular taxis, and also provide no protection from Thailand’s heavy traffic fumes.
Whether getting a taxi or tuk-tuk, avoid catching one that’s stationary, waiting outside your hotel or a major tourist attraction. Such drivers often prey on tourists. They’re the ones most likely to refuse to use the meter or take you on an unnecessarily long route to inflate the fare. Instead, hail a taxi or tuk-tuk that’s passing by. Or, if you’re tech-savvy, download Grab, which is similar to Uber. I’ve never had any problems using that taxi app.
Two of my friends had their Thai holidays ruined by separate jet ski scams. Both incidents were similar and involved threats of violence. Yet it’s so easy to safely enjoy watersports in Thailand if you follow certain rules.
Avoid the vendors on beachfronts that offer jet ski, banana boat, kayak or parasailing activities. Like countless tourists before them, my friends rented jet skis off such vendors who later claimed they’d damaged the vessels and demanded exorbitant compensation. These vendors often have local police on their payroll, and once these officers arrive at the scene you’re even deeper in trouble.
Instead, organize your watersports through a big four or five-star hotel. Even if you’re not a guest at that property, they’ll gladly accept your business. Luxury hotels don’t want their customers being scammed, so they use trustworthy vendors. And, on the off chance the vendor arranged by the hotel still tries to scam you, you won’t be alone, you’ll have the hotel on your side.
Hiring motorbikes and cars is risky in Thailand
Particularly in the beach areas of Thailand where taxis are expensive – Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Pattaya – foreign tourists often choose to rent a motorbike or car. This is risky considering that, according to a 2019 New York Times report, Thailand has the world’s second-highest road deaths per capita, while ranking first for motorbike deaths.
Even if you avoid injury, having a crash in a rented vehicle or motorbike leaves you vulnerable to being scammed. If you don’t speak Thai, the other party in that crash has the huge advantage of being first to give their version of events to the Thai police, who typically have a very limited grasp of English.
There are so many ways such an event could turn nasty for a tourist that I don’t have space to list them all. Instead, I’ll cut straight to the solution: use a dash cam. If you’re hiring a car, either pre-book one with a dash cam or buy one of these surprisingly-cheap devices and attach it yourself. For tourists renting a motorbike, buy a camera you can mount on your helmet. Not only will it protect you from being scammed if you have a crash, but the footage will assist in any insurance claims you may need to make.
A dash cam will not, however, protect you from the scams run by some car and motorbike hire companies. Firstly, do not let the company keep your passport, a request many make. Only allow them to photocopy it. Because some unscrupulous companies use possession of your passport as leverage to scam you.
Secondly, take extensive photos of the hire vehicle or motorbike before driving away, and immediately email those photos to the company. This is proof of the condition of the car at the time of hire, preventing them from later charging you for pre-existing damage.
These scams are less common than the others but you should be aware of them regardless.
Do not buy gems or expensive jewellery in Thailand unless you’re an expert in these items, or have a trustworthy expert by your side. You will get fleeced.
Bars in redlight districts are notorious for presenting inflated bills so confirm the price of drinks before ordering.
If a tuk-tuk driver offers you a tour for a remarkably low price they very likely will take you to lots of places you’re not interested in, including tailors, gift shops and gem stores. They get a kick back from each location.
In general, be wary of any Thai person who randomly approaches you in a busy tourist area speaking good English. Most Thai people with fluent English skills are too busy with their professions to hang around in public making small talk with foreigners.
Such slick scammers are particularly common outside major tourist attractions – famous temples or palaces – where they’ll warn you that either the palace is closed, or that your clothing is inappropriate and you shouldn’t enter. They’ll quickly suggest an alternate activity, one that will result in your money transferring to their wallet. Ignore them.