Pattaya, just like any other tourist resort around the world, has its share of confidence tricksters, snake oil salesmen and scam artists. Wherever there’s a tourist dollar to be spent, there are unscrupulous individuals ready, willing and entirely able to relieve you of it. Most are relatively harmless – maybe a taxi driver will charge you a few baht more than he usually would because he can see you’re a tourist – but some can seriously ruin your day or worse.
There is no shame in being caught by these scammers. Even the best of us fall victim to them because they are well-practiced and specifically target those who seem new to the area. A little bit of knowledge is the best defence, along with a degree of scepticism, particularly if something seems too good to be true, because it almost always is. For this reason, we have created this list of the 5 Most Common Scams to Avoid in Pattaya.
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The Jet Ski Scam
There are jet skis available to rent on most of Pattaya’s beaches and it certainly looks like fun to go blasting around the waves for a while. You grab the first one going, hand over the very reasonable fee for the experience and, without a second thought, immediately go tearing up and down the bay, happy as can be.
The horrors only begin when you’re beckoned back to shore. The friendly faces which handed you a lifejacket with a smile before suddenly darken as they point out scratches and bumps on the watercraft, insisting that you must have hit another vessel or a concealed rock. Replying that you did no such thing and that the damage was there before you got on will inevitably result in an argument which, without any proof to support your claim, you will lose. They will insist on being paid for the damage, with aggression and intimidation reported in some cases.
If you’re lucky, it’ll cost you about 8,000 – 12,000 baht just to get out of this extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. If you’re unlucky, it could cost as much as 100,000 baht. A variation on this scam comes when you hire a motorbike (or pretty much any kind of vehicle), with the same consequences.
How to Avoid It
The most obvious way to avoid this scam is simply to not hire any vehicle whatsoever. However, if you do want to do so, firstly pick who you rent it from with care. Bigger and more-established organisations will naturally be safer than a couple of ragged-looking guys on the beach.
Next, inspect the vehicle for damage before you take possession of it. Have a digital camera with you to take pictures of even the slightest dint or scrape, point out the damage to the renter and make sure they see that you have taken a picture of it. For a motorbike, the renter should fill out a proper form to acknowledge the pre-existing damage and give you a copy. If this is not forthcoming, take your business elsewhere.
The Bill Padding Scam
You’re enjoying a few cold ones at a beer bar. As is common in Thailand, the bill for each drink is stuffed in a little tub (or “bin”). As the night goes on, your bin fills up until it’s time to pay. You take a look through the mass of bills and notice that there are more drinks receipted than you actually consumed. Over the course of the night, the bar staff have been stuffing in extra bills while you weren’t looking, hoping that you’d just pay it so they could scoop the excess.
A further bill-payment scam comes if you hand over a 1,000 baht note and get the change from a 500 baht note. If you take issue with this, the bar staff will swear that you gave them 500 baht and, with no evidence to prove otherwise, you will be forced to resign yourself to the loss.
How to Avoid It
As with the jet ski scam, the only way to get out of the situation is not to fall into it. If you try arguing with the bar staff, they will ask you to prove your claim. The Tourist Police Volunteers will get involved in such cases, but they will simply act as a go-between in what amounts to a ‘he said, she said’ argument. While some foreign bar owners will concede, your lack of proof that you’ve been conned will usually result in you losing.
To avoid bill padding, never allow your bin to get so full that you cannot keep track of what you have and have not drunk. Check each new bill as it comes in to make sure it is correct and pay your bin after every three drinks. You will still be welcome to carry on ordering, but it is a fool-proof way of preventing padding. Also, never lose sight of your bin. Some bars insist on keeping them behind the bar instead of by the customer. In such cases, pay up immediately and leave – there are plenty of better places.
Always break up 1,000 baht notes at a reputable shop and pay your bin with small denominations. Count your change carefully and immediately. Short-changes will usually be resolved successfully if you highlight it straight away.
The Sick Buffalo Scam
You’ve fallen in love. She’s a young, fun and beautiful girl, originally from a farming village in Thailand’s rural northeastern region, and she’s just as infatuated with you as you are with her. She works at a go-go bar, but has only been there a couple of months and she told you that she’s just the cashier and doesn’t interact with the punters at all. You message and call her as often as you can, but you can’t wait for your next trip to Pattaya to see her again.
Suddenly, disaster strikes! The family’s buffalo is sick and the vet says that the treatment will cost a fortune – way more than they can afford! You are her last hope! Without your help, her family will be destitute!
Except, of course, that the buffalo isn’t sick, she’s not really a cashier and she’s probably asking her two or three other foreign “boyfriends” for the same amount of money. She’s maybe even joking about it with her Thai actual boyfriend – that guy you met with her once or twice and she said was her cousin.
How to Avoid It
Don’t fall in love with bar girls.
OK, that’s a flippant remark, but seriously, the girls working in bars in Pattaya are not expecting to find the love of their lives – they are looking for customers.
The Ladyboy Pickpockets Scam
You’re walking along Beach Road between Royal Garden Plaza and Soi 12, maybe on your way home from a night on Walking Street. Suddenly, you find yourself in the midst of a gaggle of ladyboys…and they’re very happy to see you! One croons “Oooh, handsome man!” while another can’t keep her hands off you – particularly your groin.
You finally manage to extricate yourself and carry on down the street. You check your pockets – your phone and wallet have gone.
How to Avoid It
Minimise your chances of getting nabbed by keeping your wallet in your front pocket, keep well clear of groups of overly-zealous strangers, carry a photocopy of your passport as ID and keep cash on your person to a minimum.
If you notice the absence of your valuables too late, report it to the Pattaya City Police Station at the Beach Road end of Soi 9 – they have a good record for recovering belongings stolen in this way.
The Freeing the Birds Scam
You’re visiting the Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai Temple – a moving spiritual experience – and, amongst the stalls and sellers by the entrance, you see some little sparrows in traditional-looking wooden cages. You soon find out that these birds are for sale and that it is a Buddhist ritual to release an animal to bring good luck. You do so, and walk away feeling fulfilled and assured of your positive Karma.
The bird flies up into the sky but, being weakened by malnutrition and lengthy confinement in a small, overcrowded cage throughout the heat of the day, it does not get far. The stallholder or his associates recapture it with ease and sell the same bird to the next punter.
How to Avoid It
To be fair, the release of an animal is indeed a Buddhist ritual. Many Thais choose to release fish into nearby streams and lakes on holy days. Releasing these birds, however, will give you no positive Karma at all.
The stallholders have very little regard for their birds. They are wild animals and, should one die, another can be found with relative ease. Furthermore, keeping the birds in a weakened state makes them easier to recapture. They are certainly not going to waste money on keeping the animal well-fed, nor on buying a cage big enough to store all of them safely when they could maximise their profits by squeezing as many as they can into a small space and just replacing the ones that will inevitably suffer a cruel death. By purchasing a bird, you are only perpetuating the practise, meaning more wild birds will needlessly suffer.
As with most cons, the best way to avoid it is to just say “no”.