Common Tourist Scams in Thailand: What To Be Careful About

Blue Tuk Tuk in Bangkok Thailand
Blue Tuk Tuk in Bangkok Thailand

Tourists love Thailand, so much so that its tourism return rate is said to be 50% as compared to a mere 5% in case of Vietnam. Obviously Thailand is a very tourist friendly country. Yet, there are some bad elements in the kingdom’s travel industry that keep trying to scam unsuspecting tourists. There are even some government employees involved in the scams too. Thai Tourist Police can be reached in case of extreme difficulty on phone number 1155 and they are said to be better than the regular police but the language barrier will exist in dealing with the Tourist Police too. I once called the Thai Tourist Police number for some help but the person answering the phone had difficulty in understanding English. When I gave the phone to a local Thai person, he was able to convey my message to the Tourist Police. What good is Tourist Police if they cannot understand English? Because there will be little left to do after falling prey to a fraud, prevention or being able to steer clear of the scamsters is the best strategy while visiting Thailand. In this page I will share some of the best known and some little known scams aimed against tourists in Thailand.
1. Visa / Immigration Scams

Thailand is not really known as a country where visa / immigration scams aimed at tourists happen. However, during the last few years of my travels to Thailand I have personally experienced two scams in the visa / immigration area. I got victimised in one of the two and fortunately could avoid the other.

Visa Scam

During my first trip to Phuket, I was forced to make an illegal payment of 200 THB to get visa on arrival at Phuket International Airport. The staff there would not listen to any reason, they just wanted 200 THB more and after charging me 1200 THB for the visa instead of the required 1000 THB, did not even give me a receipt for the payment. This sort of thing has happened only once whereas I have travelled to Thailand over a dozen times, I guess this overcharging for visa at Thai immigration checkpoints is not very common. I sincerely hope that it does not become a common practice. Read more about Thailand Visa Scam at Phuket Airport here.

Immigration Scam

This one is a more serious and recurrent scam at Thai airports in which tourists from selected nationalities are targeted by Thai immigration officials. While the tourists stand in departure immigration queues or have just stamped out of Thailand and are proceeding to the boarding gates to catch their flights home, Thai immigration officials wearing official uniforms approach them with ‘personal’ requests asking to buy for them a few bottles of booze from the duty free shops. Thai immigration officials carry ready rolls of money and extend their hands towards the tourists hoping for them to take hold of the money. The smart or just plain lucky tourists refuse to oblige, like I did when approached like this a few years ago. Recently, a fellow traveller from India reported the same scam wherein a female immigration official at Bangkok airport was asking tourists from India to help her buy duty free booze for her ‘boss’. This fellow traveller had already read about this scam in my article on Thai visa on arrival and hence refused to fall prey. I honestly do not know what happens to those who trust the immigration officials and take the money. It will not be anything pleasant. And the worst part is that Thai immigration officials seem to be targeting tourists mainly from India for this scam. What a shame. Indian tourists spend so much money in Thailand and this is how they get paid back by Thailand. Please note that this is the Thai government trying to scam you.

2. Jet Ski Scam

Jet Ski in Pattaya
Jet Ski in Pattaya

This scam was once very common and still continues. I put this at number 2 in the article because in this scam too government officials (Police officials in this case) are involved. You may watch a YouTube video on Thailand Jet Ski Scam here but this is the story in short: A group of tourists is first enticed to hire a jet ski at a beach resort like Pattaya or Phuket at very attractive rentals. The unsuspecting tourist do not inspect the vehicles in the beginning. At the time of the return, the jet ski owners inspect the machines for any damages and suddenly find a lot of dents and scratches that have been “caused by the tourists”. A huge amount in damages is demanded from the tourists and suddenly a police official also appears on the scene to help ‘settle’ the issue. The police official’s helpful intervention results in the payment of a somewhat lesser amount in damages but still this extortion is enough to ruin the tourists’ holiday in Thailand. Whenever you are going on an island tour in Phuket or Pattaya with a reputed company like the ‘Pattaya Sea King Tours‘ they will warn you not to rent a jet ski anywhere. Please take this warning seriously.

Wanna Rent A Bike?

You may also get scammed like this while hiring bikes or cars in Thailand. Anyway the bikes that are rented out in Thailand do not come with any kind of insurance. Not even third party insurance is taken by those vendors and hence the entire risk of accident or injury to self or others is borne by the tourist. Your passport would have been kept as a security by the rental shop and hence you will not be having valid travel documents at the time of the accident in a foreign country. You do not need to hire a bike in Thailand, use a ‘Baht Bus’ or a meter taxi to move around.

3. Prepaid SIM Card Scam

I have experienced this one in Pattaya. A SIM card shop (First Phone) in Pattaya located in the Big C building on Second Road demanded 290 THB for a prepaid SIM card that was supposed to be sold for just 49 or 50 THB. When I told them about the official company price, they lied to me by saying that the 49 THB SIM did not have internet. The same thing happened in Bangkok Nana Square shopping mall near Nana BTS Station where I was asked to pay 200 THB for a 50 THB SIM. Read more about Thailand SIM Card Scam here. It is best to buy prepaid SIM cards upon arrival at a Thai airport from a company shop there. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport’s arrival area has SIM card shops of ‘DTAC’, ‘AIS’, and ‘True Move’. Don Mueang Airport and Phuket Airport both have official ‘True Move’ shops. Roadside SIM card vendors often charge double the official price for Prepaid Tourist SIM cards but are not as bad as the ‘First Phone’ shop in Pattaya who wanted six times the official price. Actually the 7-Eleven shops are supposed to sell new prepaid SIM cards and I believe they always have the cards in stock but always refuse to sell saying “No have”. I think for them selling a new SIM card takes longer than selling a water bottle so why bother?

4. The Cheap Tuk Tuk Scam

These ‘helpful’ English speaking guys lurk close to well known tourist attractions and try to mislead tourists by telling them that the attraction is closed for the day for some reason. Instead they offer very cheap Tuk Tuk rides at 40 THB or so to show some very beautiful temples around where Lord Buddha grants all the wishes of devotees. The cheap Tuk Tuk will not only show the temples but will also take you to a “government” gems gallery where they would be having a promotional sale that would end that day itself. I met a guy like this in Bangkok near Wat Pho. He was sitting on the pavement opposite a Thai Armed Forces building wearing a black security uniform of some sort. He said he was in the Thai Army posted for the security duty in the temple and had come out of the temple for a smoke. He was in no hurry to go back to his duty but instead spent several minutes telling me the virtues of taking a Tuk Tuk to see some important Buddhist temples in the area. He offered to arrange a one-hour Tuk Tuk tour for me for just 40 THB including a free stop at a government Gems Gallery. Everything was obviously a scam. These guys will use the name of Thai Army or whatever else suits them. The 40 THB Tuk Tuk fare should alert you. Try hiring a Bangkok Tuk Tuk to go a straight distance of one kilometre and they will demand a fare of 200 THB. Can a 40 THB fare for a one-hour tour be possible? If a Tuk Tuk driver is asking for a ridiculously low fare for taking you somewhere, you should know that you are about to get scammed.

5. Hunt For A Great Bargain Scam

While window shopping in a Thai tourist area you may be approached by a ‘helpful’ local who will first try to befriend you, ask you what you are looking to buy and then take you to a ‘well-known’ shop in the area where you will end up buying bogus stuff at very high prices. You better know what you need to buy and also know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

6. Show Me Your Currency Scam

I experienced this scam in two parts in the ‘Platinum Fashion Mall’ in Bangkok. First I was approached by a ‘foreign’ couple, husband & wife, who seemed very much interested in visiting India on their next holiday. They asked me some dumb questions on India and then wondered if I could show them what Indian currency looked like. I had read about this online and was very careful. Out of curiosity I showed them a 500 INR note but kept a vigilant eye on it. They returned it but they must have been disappointed. As a part of the scam, couples like that try to steal your money when you are not looking. Never open your wallet in front of such people. If they ask about your currency, just tell them that you are not carrying any home currency with you, only Thai money.

The part two of the currency scam in Platinum Fashion Mall was a rough looking Thai lady carrying a walkie Talkie of some sort and continuously ‘talking’ to someone at the other end in Thai. She approached me a said “verify money” in a manner in which a Police Officer will demand to show something from a suspect. She was trying to scare me. It was an open area with other shoppers walking around and perhaps her confidence was coming from that toy walkie talkie she was carrying. I told her to go to hell but not in those words. She just went away, defeated. What crap, what are Thai Tourist Police doing in letting such cons operate in Bangkok’s shopping malls?

7. The Island Tour Scam

If you try to book a Coral Island tour in Pattaya or a James Bond Island tour in Krabi/Phuket from a guy walking on the street carrying a tour price list, you will soon experience this scam. The scam involves not only over-charging but also showing something other than what you paid for. In Pattaya where I was having a nice experience of my Coral Island tour that I booked with ‘Pattaya Sea King Tours’, I met a family from India who were supposedly having fun wetting their feet at Coral Island having booked a ‘VIP’ tour with an agent on the street. The only problem was, they were not on Coral Island but a smaller island where a genuine tour operator takes you before taking you to Coral Island. When I tried telling that family that they were not on Coral Island, they were surprised but their tour operator started fighting with the ‘Pattaya Sea King’ staff asking them to take me away. That family had not even been provided with life jackets or snorkeling gear when they had paid heavily for a so-called ‘VIP’ tour. It is always better to book a tour with an agency that has an office where one can go back and complain. Not that a complaint will get your money back, it is better not to get scammed in the first place. My suggestion, in Pattaya book your Coral Island tour with ‘Pattaya Sea King Tours’ and in Krabi, go with ‘AoNang Photo Tour’ for the Island Tours that you can book by visiting AoNang Goodwill Hotel if your hotel does not offer that company’s tour.

8. The Ping Pong Show Scam

Soi Patpong in Silom Bangkok
Soi Patpong in Silom Bangkok

You will probably not encounter this unless you have ventured out to Sala Daeng area of Bangkok looking to visit the Patpong Night Market. I have seen it. The night market is worthless, nothing better than any two-bit street market in Thailand. The main draw of this area once was the so-called Ping Pong shows that are long dead except for a few scam establishments that continue to operate on Patpong Road. Street agents take you there promising cheap drinks and free shows. The only problem is that no one is able to walk out of those buildings without paying several times over the promised prices. Violence is often threatened and probably will be used if you refuse to pay.

9. The Cheap Massage Scam

Do you ever wonder why a guy on a Thai street will go about offering ‘cheap’ massage services in a country where a tourist cannot turn his or her head 45 degrees without spotting a few massage shops around? The massage services offered by those guys are either too expensive or too horrible in quality or just too shady in nature. In Thailand, you never need the services of an agent to get a massage, period. If you need some information, just Google it.

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