Writer: Nivan Narula
Featured Photo: Divesh Tanwani
Illustrations: Rubina Srikureja
Editor & Publisher: Jaspreet Narang
Scams, the ultimate tourist trap of every remotely touristic or well-travelled destination. Unfortunately, Bangkok has succumbed to these tourist scams a long time ago, and in fact, it is quite common. Thai people are known to be naturally generous and friendly, although sometimes too friendly; that’s when red flags should start to appear. Now that I think about it, to decipher the difference between friendly and over-friendly in Thailand, is quite a challenge in itself. Just to make your life easier when travelling to Bangkok, here are some common scams to watch out for.
Free Tuk Tuk Rides
This has got to be one of the most common scams in Bangkok and it has been happening for many years now. When you are walking in different tourist sites around Bangkok such as Khaosarn road, Siam Square or the Grand palace, you will most likely ask for some directional help. If you find yourself asking directions from a stranger, and he tells you the place you are trying to get to is closed, do not believe him. Get a second opinion. Even if they make up reasons such as monks are chanting or that it’s a Buddhist holiday, don’t end up falling for it, because what will end up happening is that you will be taken to a tuk-tuk driver who will say that he will take you to another nearby big Buddha or lucky Buddha, which surely doesn’t exist. Instead he will be taking you to a jewelry shop, where he gets commission for brining guests through the door. Additionally, the jewelers will tell you that their product is highly valuable. However, if you fall for this Bangkok scam, you will find yourself spending a lot of money on some fake bling.
When you figure out that it was all a scam, you will suddenly realize that everyone was in on it except you, from the first stranger to the jewelers. This won’t be the only location tuk tuk drivers take you to, but it will definitely be one of them. They will take you to several other similar shops, including ones that sell artifacts as well.
On the plus side, if you are short on cash, these tuk tuk drivers will take you around for free; as long as they stop at all shops where they get commission and you walk into the shops pretending to be interested. So, if you’re short on cash, know that this is a scam, but it’s only a scam if you fall for buying something at these stores. Other than that, it’s a slight waste of your time, you’ll eventually get to the destinations you want to see, and it will be for free. So make the scam worth your while.
Ping-Pong Money Maker
The ping-pong show is probably one of the most traumatising that’s I’ve experienced. Sitting and watching emotionless older women shooting out ping pong balls, strings, pens, spinning tops, bottle caps and the worst of all, razor blades from their lady parts is just not an experience to remember, but unfortunately its carved in my memory for good. If only I could unsee those things!
When walking around Patpong street or Soi Cowboy, it’s quite common that you will get approached by different people showing you a laminated sheet to watch different types of sex shows. Of course, the most widely talked about show is the ping-pong show, I’m sure many of you will think that it’s a one in a lifetime experience in Bangkok, just like I did. They will tell you it’s for free. All you have to do is go inside, sit, and order drinks. If you walk in there being this naïve, don’t be surprised if your bill comes to 3000-4000 baht. However, when you have to pay the bill, you will find out that they charge ridiculous prices for alcohol, and on top of that, other miscellaneous charges such as ‘lady drinks’ and ‘looking fee’. Be smart, and negotiate with the bouncer in advance. Ask to see the drinks price list, and ask if they are any additional surcharges or hidden fees for watching the show, aside from ordering drinks. Regardless of what they tell you at the door, know that the ping-pong ladies go around collecting “mandatory tips” of minimum 100 baht, and if you don’t pay up, they will kick you out. If you pay, but not the minimum tipping rate, they will not accept it, and kick you out. So if any of you want to experience the ping-pong show, know that you might still be scammed when you get inside, but it will be much milder if you negotiate at the door front first!
Taxis Without Meters
Uh oh! The taxi scams that everyone dreads. I’m from Bangkok, yet I’m faced with this scam almost every weekend so I’m sure it’s no different for tourists. After every night out, the hardest part is getting home, because all the taxies will either,
a) not agree to go to your destination because it doesn’t suit their convenience
b) agree to go to your destination but will refuse to turn on the meter and charge you a per passenger rate to get in the taxi
If you’re trying to get the help of a local to help you out with getting a taxi, it will be even harder during the night time, as taxis will drive away the moment they hear a Thai speaker. They believe in scamming tourists, because its much easier to get away with than with a Thai person, and the prices they charge tourists are likely much higher, than if they were trying to scam a local.
This scam can happen anywhere in Bangkok, especially at areas where there’s a lot of tourist such as Siam, Khao sarn, Sukhumvit Soi 11, and Pratunam. These taxi drivers will ask where you want to go and then they will just throw out a random number like 300-800 baht, or 200 baht per person. If you’re partying in these locations, and don’t mind the scam for a bit of convenience then that’s fine. If you want to pay by the meter (which would be easily 500% cheaper), then walk out of the touristic streets onto the main road. Grab a taxi passing by on the road, that are not lingering around touristic and party areas to make a quick buck, and you’ll be just fine.
Now that I’ve given you all my words of wisdom on Bangkok scams, I’m going to leave you off with…
5 Tips on Avoiding Bangkok Scams
- Don’t trust a complete stranger
- Try avoiding no meter taxi
- Avoid taking discounted or free
- Travel with a local friend
- Travel smart, and have your wits about you