Bangkok: Rip-off tip-offs

Bangkok Insider
Crowded tuk tuk carrying six passengers, Bangkok. Photo Mel Longhurst/Capital Pictures
Be aware of the major scams and pitfalls to ensure you have the best holiday in the 'Land of Smiles' as possible.

Spot a scammer

Scammers come in all shapes and sizes but usually they are well-dressed, aged 30 to 50, and will approach you from out of the blue to offer assistance you probably don't need. Scammers like tourist zones, particularly around the Royal Palace and Sukhumvit Road.

The scammer will try to build a relationship with you, usually by asking where you're from and then talking about a relative (daughters and nieces seem to be common) who happens to be studying at university there. Don't be fooled if they seem to know a lot about Australian universities — they've done their homework. Another giveaway is if they have a map, as the vast majority of Thais don't really dig on maps and certainly don't carry them around to help random tourists. The whole idea is to make you trust them and feel indebted enough for their help that you're willing to ignore the warning bells that would normally steer you clear of a scam. Some of the most common scams include:

An oldie but a goodie, this one is so infamous it's spawned two dedicated websites, Bangkok Scams and Thai Gem Scam Group. The best gem scams take a while to build up, often starting with the scammer telling you the Grand Palace is closed, taking you to another wat, where you "meet" another person (often a Westerner) who tells you about a too-good-to-be-true gem sale, or the like. When you reach the jewellery shop, you'll be fed some unlikely story about massively discounted gems, or students being allowed to sell family jewels so they can study abroad. The gems are real, but they're poor quality and usually worth less than half what you will pay (the average scam is more than US$2000).

The 10-baht tuktuk

This one falls firmly into the "if it's too good to be true ... " category. It's pretty simple: a tuktuk driver, usually in or near a popular tourist zone, will offer to take you "anywhere you want to go" for 10 or 20 baht. Once you're on board, he'll set off for one or more shops, most commonly merchants of jewellery and bespoke clothes. The tuktuk driver gets a commission for bringing you into the store, whether you buy anything or not.

As far as scams go this one is pretty low rent, and the only way it will cost you anything is if you choose to buy (note that reputable vendors don't need to resort to such schemes). I've met several tourists who have, in essence, scammed the scammer by encouraging the driver just enough to get a free ride all over town.

It's important to remember that most visitors to Bangkok don't get scammed, so there's no need for paranoia. Just remember that:

  • if it sounds too good to be true, it is
  • everyone who ever got ripped off (not robbed) handed over the money of their own free will. Keep the money in your pocket, no matter the provocation, and you won't get ripped off.

Know any other rip off scams in Bangkok? Have your say using the comments form below.

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User comments
I've been travelling to Thailand for about 10 years and have been living and working here now for about 3 years. The scam artists here are largely harmless. If you feel you are being pressured then simply say "No thank you" in a polite manner and walk away. Never stop or look back, just keep walking. They will eventually leave you alone. It's better to approach a police officer (brown uniforms usually with a white armband on their right arms) to ask for directions if you're a newcomer. Otherwise, ask someone at the desk of a hotel for directions and advice. I speak Thai so it's easy for me to just blurt out what I need and they know straight away I havn't just woken up that morning with the jet lag still in my system. I often get approached too in tourist areas as I often dress like a tourist. You're sure to have a great time if you just remain calm and vigilant.
I have been going to Thailand for years and the last trip was in Feb 09, the wife and I had a great time we know the rules, the scams and the rip-offs and yes we do get done once in a while. I would go back there again, get out of Bangkok go down to Rayon, Ko Chang, leave the main area alone, leave your shopping for when you are on your way home. As for calculators I all ways carry one my self very handy to have one with you and the smell get a life, rotting vegetation in the heat and humidity yes you will get a smell, after two or three trips it wont be there any more. love the place and the people
Serena, You're clearly not a seasoned traveller or haven't travelled to many places. You will experience people haggling with you over the price of things in third world countries as a tourist. It's just a given. The calculator is merely there for both you and the seller to understand the price in terms of the exchange rate. Moreover, Thailand is a completely different country from Australia (need I even have to say that?) and people usually travel, because they want to experience something DIFFERENT. Did you even go to Ko Lanta, or Ko Tao? I'm sure you will find that those places are at a far slower pace than bustling Bangkok..with white sandy beaches to boot! Then again, with that attitude, you may as well just stay in Australia and not travel again. .
I spent only one day in Bangkok passing through on the way back from Europe. I loved what I saw in that one day as it was so different from the cities in Europe that all look very much the same. As for scammers, well they are everywhere. Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark are friendly, cultural 'western' but they still have scammers. They have am influx of 'Eastern Block' migrants who run street scams and work in groups. If you think the old 'shell game' is only seen in 1960 American movies then go to Denmark. They set it up with 6 or 7 people 'watching' and winning at the game. They make it look so easy to win $100 so you're tempted to try yourself. You would quickly realise after loosing your money that all of the 'winners' are a part of the scam. I stood back and observed them for some time. They got very edgy when I started taking photos.
Check your change carefully....I paid good money for an item from a vendor and did not thoroughly check the notes in the change that I recieved. Several hours later when I was making another purchase I found that I had been given notes that looked liked they were folded in half but in fact were only half notes.....remember that generally any damaged currency in Thailand is worthless.
Sharry from Redcliff - you need to get out more j from Melbourne is corrrect calulators are used all the time in Asia as for the smell and the filth - every Southeast Asian city has the same smell and filth. It has something to do with a large amount of people in a small area next time you travel try to get to know some of the local people you will find most of them marvelous individuals. The finest people i have ever meet are in Asian countries including Thailand. I will give you the heads up Sharry, in Asian countries there is no welfare fall back like australia, no baby bonus, no social security, no free medical. I know of a twin baby who died after birth because the family could not afford the oxygen to support her. The good side of the this story is the other twin is doing well. What is the matter with people in the Western world. Gary Tennant Creek Northern Territory
I've been to Thailand 5 times now and I have come across many of these scam artists. The description of the average scam artist is a little off. They may be in their 30's-50's but I haven't seen any that I would describe as well dressed. They seem to dress in order to blend in. Most tourists tend to dress down due to the humidity, so scammers dress this way as well. And they ask pointless questions like, "Where you from?" or "What hotel you stay?". I respond to them with "Why do you care?". It's interesting that the country is referred to as the "Land of Smiles". They have the impression that if you constantly smile, it's more reassuring, however it's kinda creepy. You will also find that if you are not going to part with your money, that the smile very quickly fades and is replaced with derision and they walk away cursing you in their own language. Thai's love your money and that's pretty much it. Thailand is no more friendly than anywhere else in the world & the smile is fake.
First time I went to Bangkok - I remember hearing alot of people talking about child prositution - I recall one time in Kho San Rd hearing a thai lady speaking to a older forgien man saying she can get him a very young girl and she will do anything for him for such and such. I couldnt believe it - its awful.
I can confess, there are scammers in Bangkok, like in many places!.. Only stupids Grigos are the victims of the people, just u have to realize that u are not in Australia!..
I don't understand why Serena thinks the calculator is part of a scam. They're normally just using it to show you a price - I've found this to be a common practice in countries where not everyone speaks English very well. Asking you to name your price is all part of the haggling, which is done in many countries in Asia, as well as other parts of the world. Some people enjoy it, some can't be bothered. If you don't want to haggle, go to a department store.