How to Travel in Thailand Without Getting Scammed
It will seem daunting; people driving the wrong way, motorbikes crowding the street, pink taxis (I mean why are there so many pink taxis?). When the chaos is accepted as beauty, Bangkok is stunning. There are many things that the average westerner needs to accept when going to Thailand (or any part of South East Asia for that matter) for any period of time.
However, the one thing that you shouldn’t get used to is getting scammed. While in my mind Thais are the sweetest people I will ever meet, it’s best to be prepared in the event that you encounter a taxi or tuk-tuk driver that wants a little more of that foreign money. Before heading to “The Land of Smiles”, make sure to know how to travel Thailand without getting scammed.
When speaking to anyone in Thailand, it is important to remember to stay as polite as possible. When speaking to someone older, in a formal position, or anyone one that you respect, krup is the polite term for males while ka is the polite term for females. Remember, it’s only the term for whoever is speaking, you don’t need to switch between krup and ka depending on whom you are addressing. In Thailand, politeness simply cannot be overdone. If you are in a bind or feel that you are being taken advantage of, it’s best to smile yourself out of it. Thais are incredibly—and understandable— proud people and do not like to lose their cool in public and if you take a page out of their books and do the same you’ll be just fine!
Ask for a meterA classic, probably the “Stairway to Heaven” of transportation scams. Many taxi drivers will claim that their meters were broken and will instead try to strike a deal with you. Sometimes this deal is good and mutually beneficial to both parties. Since the driver has to pay the cab company for every fare, he may try to make all the profit and suggest an off-meter price. This is fine if you have an approximate value of the metered cost from where you are to where you are going because you can bargain for that exact same price and nothing more. Unfortunately, most times the price is much, much higher. Drivers often assume that all foreigners have loads of money and will often times start the bidding high at 10-20X what you would be paying with a meter. To be on the safe side, you should get in the habit of requesting “meter krup” (or “meter ka” for female speakers) before entering a cab in Thailand and moving along if they refuse.
“Sorry, that temple is closed today”
You’ll sometimes hear this when standing in a queue of other tourists waiting to see the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace, or Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha). Many times these happen in well-established areas like Khao Sarn Road or Sukhumvit where tuk-tuk drivers wait for a fare from tourists who are headed to the big attractions. You will be approached by an official-looking representative for the tuk-tuk driver and presented with many reasons why it’s closed, from “it’s flooded” to “it’s a religious holiday”. They will then propose their own tour, which involves much of the attractions that you wanted to see, only cheaper under the condition that you take a small detour generally to a suit shop or a jewelry store. I finally found out that drivers who take tourists to a suit shop and get them to stay there for over 10 minutes will receive a 5-liter gas voucher from the proprietor. Once this information was received, I always went for the cheaper, longer “scenic” tours to help out the driver—after the tailors will offer you free beers and your tuk-tuk driver will love you for it.
By the end of my time in Thailand, I was getting pretty good at feigning interest in suits, timing 10 minutes, and walking out to a happy driver with a soon-to-be full tank of gas! (Don’t worry, even if you are in there for a while, the driver will always wait for you to continue the temple tour so he can get his fare!) If you do get caught up in this and don’t want to expend the time and energy in a suit shop, simply move to a new location and catch another ride (remember rule #1—smile!). As far as “scams” go, this is a mild one.
Thailand is incredibly hot, there will be plenty more occasions to sweat. In the event that you are bamboozled—and you will be at some point—just smile. I have seen many tourists who have flipped a switch when they find out that they were had for a few baht and it ruins their day, their night, or sometimes even their entire trip. At the end of the day remember if a small scam happens that it will be for at most just a few dollars, and most times that money is going to someone who needs it more than you do.
Photo by Dan Freeman