5 Best Known Scams in Bangkok
Things you should know before you go
Bangkok is a great city to visit, blessed with a very high level of safety compared to any other country in the world. However, just like anywhere, some unscrupulous individuals specialise in the art of taking advantage of new visitors. Despite their tricks being rather obvious, people a bit lost, a bit jet lagged and maybe also a bit naive still fall into the bad guys' net every single day. When it happens, people realize they actually had all the warning signal flashing bright red but for some reason they didn't pay attention. In all the following scams the patterns are similar and a simple "No, thank you" is all you need to say... Now read these classic scam stories.... and use your common sense!
1. "The Grand Palace is Closed Today" Scam
This is one of the best known scams and yet, everyday dozens of tourists fall for it. You are walking around one of the Bangkok landmarks, let's say the Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Pho or even Khaosan Road. A smiling Thai stranger approaches with an inviting smile and casual manners, asking "Where you come from?" and other small talk to make you feel at ease, often in very good English . The guy will ask where are you going and by doing so will quickly analyze who you are and if this is your first time in Thailand. If it is, the story starts. "Oh you want to see the Grand Palace today? Such bad luck it is closed for the whole day for a special royal event!" Of course this kind of scam occurs far from the gate, making sure you can't see the actual crowd walking in. Instead, he will offer you to see other great temples around Bangkok on his tuk tuk for only 20 to 40 baht, and he can even be your guide to a wonderful day you will never forget. (In a way, he is right about that).
As you are very disappointed to have travelled all the way to find the Grand Palace closed, you will feel relieved that this gentle man happens to be on your path. He will take you on a fun tuk tuk ride to another temple which will probably be very nice, increasing your level of trust. In this temple you will 'accidentally' meet another 'honorable' man who will welcome you and ask if you heard about this great government promotion (called Thai Gem Expo or similar names), which allows tourists to buy duty free gems and stones at very low cost. Now here is how the trick works for him.
1) He will stop at an 'Authorized' TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) agency just in case you would like to take advantage for those amazing travel deals that are just ending today. What a chance! Of course, the agency is in no way connected to the TAT, and the deal doesn't end today... it's not even a deal since you probably will pay more than in any other agency.
2) He will stop at the above mentioned jewel shop where someone will show you some beautiful stones, maybe even real ones. But because the offer is duty free, the gems you are buying will have to be shipped directly to your home address. The stones will really arrive, but the market value of what you will get will be ridiculously low.
From this moment onward, the friendly smiling guy will become increasling pushy, trying by any means to make you buy tickets or packages until you do, then suddenly will vanish while you are visiting the next temple.
How to recognize it: While it is very normal for people to help you when you do need help, it is very suspicious when someone offers you help when you don't need it. A friendly unknown Thai guy speaking English a little too well, especially near a tourist area is usually a pro. He often carries a map and an umbrella because it's hot for him to be out there all day long.
2. The Tuk Tuk Scam
Similar to the Grand Palace scam, but in a more straight forward manner: Tuk Tuks parked in front of landmarks, hotels, shopping malls and other tourist places ask for a ludicrous fare for a short distance and/or serve you the usual, "Can you please help me get free gasoline by just stopping few minutes at the gem shop? You don't even have to buy something, you can just look around and leave." Because you are a very nice person, you won't mind, just to do your random act of kindness for the day. Most people end up buying something and in the best case the driver will get his kick back, in the worst case you will buy a superb piece of colored glass.
How to recognize it: Avoid Tuk Tuks parked near malls and hotels or decline any stop on the way to your destination.
3. The Patpong Scam
The good old Patpong scam still works just a smoothly as it did twenty years ago, taking advantage of the naughty curiosity of unsecure male tourists, especially (but not only) those with that obvious guilty look. As you walk through the red district of Patpong, trying to decide which Go Go bar looks the least suspicious, a man approaches you with "The Menu". "The Menu" is a list of all the fun acrobatic prowesses you will be lucky enough to witness if you follow him (think Ping Pong, but not as a sport). Of course you are curious and you have the right to be... as you couldn't make up your mind earlier, you think this is probably as good as any (You can't really see anything of what really happens behind the closed curtains of the bars you walked by so far).
The guy adds "if you no like, you no pay" which usually does the trick and you follow him. Now this is when you can start being suspicious. The bar is usually upstairs and has no name... just a plain door opening on a small shady bar with a small bunch of girls. So far so good. 'Sit down what you want drink?' a couple of girls sit next to you with big smiles and small bikinis. You order a beer, and by doing so you are already done for the day! The girls will insist for a lady drink. Almost all will insist. Want to ask how much does a lady drink cost? "No problem! Same yours!" of course you have no idea how much yours cost in the first place, but you'll find out soon enough. Some kind of show starts, probably one from "The Menu", just one tiny trick and already you will be requested to tip generously. At that point most people find out something isn't quite right and consider leaving. Check please! 2,000 baht sir... which is the price for your beer and some lady drink you can't really remember ordering. Of course you will contest that bill, but the big guy next to the door will give you "The Look" and maybe a small discount, but pay the bill, you will!
How to Recognize it: Any guy approaching you with a naughty menu is suspicious... all the bars at ground level in Patpong have fixed prices for drinks, while any located above is probably a scam... if you are invited to 'go upstairs' just pretend you just changed your mind and suddenly feel like having an ice cream instead.
4. The Taxis Parked in Front of Your Hotel Scam
This is an easy scam to spot and easy to avoid once you are aware of it. In front of every 4 and 5 star hotel there are always two or three cabs parked all day long with taxi drivers hanging around, obviously not desperate to pick up any customers from the street. These taxis might appear to be hotel dedicated but they are in no way a service provided by your hotel. Instead they will spot hotel guests looking for a taxi and kindly offer their service. Since they are always parked here you think that's convenient, so you hop in and off you go. That's when you realize that the meter is off, so you kindly ask to have it turned on. At that point the driver will make an offer, something like 500 baht to the airport (instead of the usual 300, 350), but will never switch on his meter. As you are already rolling it's hard to ask the taxi to stop, especially since your suitcase is in the back trunk.
How to avoid it: As you now know how to identify these taxis, just flag one passing by in the street.
5. The Khlong Scam
Similar to the Grand Palace scam, the khlong scam is not as popular as it used to be as the khlongs are not what they used to be either. A friendly Thai man (he could be young or old) will approach you in the street, noticing your unmistakable lost look. He will ask the usual non intrusive questions: "where do you come from". Those guys always have an anecdote about your country and always know a couple of sentences in your language... they also seem to know all the football players from every country, so if you are a football enthusiast, you just found yourself a buddy who will happily hit on that nail. The man will offer you to ride his friend's longtail boat to go around the famous khlongs of Bangkok for a ridiculously low price (you know, the canals). It's too nice to be true will you think (indeed) and the man is so friendly and he can even speak English! The tour is real and actually very nice so enjoy it. He is so kind he might even stop at a riverside bar and offer you a coke. So far so good, and as the ride is about to end you think how lucky you have been today! As you approach the pier, you are about to find out how lucky you really have been. The engine stops 200 m from the pier and your new friend will ask for an additional 1,000 baht - or more - for the cost of the boat ride. No matter what you say and how much you argue, the boat won't get any closer to the pier. You will of course pay because they are two, the guy and the boat driver, and the idea of swimming back to the pier with your expensive camera and smartphone isn't worth a thousand baht.
How to Avoid it: Once again, use your common sense. Don't trust strangers approaching you in the middle of nowhere with too good intentions. Just smile and decline. If you want to explore the klongs by boat, book from a tour agent or at the piers. (note that smiley guys might try to approach you at the pier as well, just buy your own ticket at the counter)