How to avoid getting ripped off in Bangkok

Taxi drivers always try their luck

Taxi drivers always try their luck

By Mark Bentley

Surrounded by friendly smiles, it’s all too easy for tourists to let their guard down in Bangkok. Naivety, coupled with a basic lack of knowledge of where the negative element in Thai society lie hidden, sees some visitors get exploited by scamming locals. Our guide will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of the Thai capital.

Thais present themselves largely as passive, non-confrontational people with kind and accommodating natures, and this is encouraged by the philosophy of Buddhism, which takes a central role in the lives of so many here. Generally, few visitors to the country witness any form of violence or hostility when in Thailand.

However, individuals out to make a buck by dishonest means are as prevalent in Bangkok as they are in any of the world’s capital cities. The good news is that visitors can protect themselves by recognising the most common ruses employed by the local scoundrels. Fortunately, these don’t differ very much from those sought by dishonest characters elsewhere around the world.

Much as it’s a cliché, the biggest rogues on the streets of Bangkok, from a visitor’s perspective, are taxi drivers. While it’s unfair to tar all with the same brush, there’s good reason why stereotyping of these individuals persists. Unfortunately, many are out to squeeze every last baht out of their passengers and seek a variety of means for doing so.

The most common scam is to insist that the meter is non-operational in a bid to invent an arbitrary figure for the passenger’s proposed journey - way over what would be the regular metered fare. In this situation, your course of action is simple: refuse the services of the driver and get out of the vehicle. Getting around Bangkok

With drivers whose meters are in working order, it’s still wise to ask for a ballpark figure for your journey before you agree to travel and wiser still to have a good idea what that figure would normally be. This way, drivers are less likely to drive you around the same block several times in order to bump up the fare on the meter. It’s not difficult to get an idea of what honest taxi drivers charge; this kind of information can be easily gleamed from other tourists or from staff at your hotel or guesthouse.

Don’t believe them; the Grand Palace is always open

Don’t believe them; the Grand Palace is always open

Taxi drivers offering to show you the Grand Palace, Jim Thompson’s House, the Floating Market, Wat Arun and Wat Pho - all for less than 100 baht - should be avoided unless you want to end up spending more time at gem shops and tailors than at the attractions themselves. If you want to visit the city’s most popular attractions by taxi, then insist that these are your only stops and cancel the arrangement at the first sign of any deviation from your agenda.

Unless you know your stuff, gem shops and jewellers are best avoided as you’ve no guarantee of the quality of goods on sale. Some outlets are notorious for making deals in which goods purchased are meant to be shipped to the customer’s home country, but in fact never arrive.

The famous gem scam is perhaps the worse of them, and weekly someone reports a rip off, it’s been going on for years. Generally, those foolish enough to be lured into buying cheap smuggled Burmese gems find they’ve been sold fakes and when they go looking for the shop again, it’s suddenly disappeared. Over the years greedy individuals have lost a lot of money falling for this one.

The other really popular scam is the ruse that the Grand Palace is ‘closed for the day’ but alternative sites are offered. If you’re ever approached outside this famous ‘always open’ national treasure with someone trying to tell you otherwise, don’t fall for it, they’re likely to take you off on an expensive personal guided tour.

Tailors are often trickier to judge. Many tailors in the budget tourist areas like Banglampu genuinely offer workmanship of a reasonable quality and at affordable prices. The danger lies in agreeing to let a suit shop ship clothing to you, as you can’t guarantee that the goods will arrive. Certain tailors that maintain arrangements with taxi or tuk-tuk drivers commonly size up the financial status of customers by their appearance and charge a figure way over the local rate, convincing them that they’re getting the highest quality available in the city for the price that they’re paying.

The best advice we can give with regards to tailors is to get quotes from several before choosing one, and to take finished suits away with you when possible or at least see the finished product, as opposed to a work in progress, before you agree to a shipping arrangement.

With regards to shopping in general, there are a number of caveats that visitors should consider. Buying anything without a fixed price can be a problematic scenario as visitors can never really be sure of the true market value of goods. If visiting the Chatuchak Market, for example, it’s sensible to compare the cost of similar goods from different vendors before making a purchase.

The haggling process is intended to establish a price that’s satisfactory to both seller and buyer; however, the former will have no scruples whatsoever in taking reams of cash from you for an item that’s worth peanuts if you appear willing to pay over the odds. Think carefully before purchasing electrical goods as you have little or no recourse should the product prove faulty after you’ve left the scene. Bangkok shopping guide.

... even open on holidays

... even open on holidays

Backpacker tourists staying around the popular Khao San road should be aware of the pitfalls of arranging onward travel with local agents. Travel deals to the islands or other destinations south can be appealing because of their affordability; however, it’s not uncommon for agents to omit certain details such as the need to change buses half-way along routes or arriving 3 hours ahead of a connecting service.

Ask plenty of questions and establish the exact itinerary of travel plans, enquiring specifically about any changes and hidden costs, before making a purchase. Comparing the same deal from several agents can also be useful. Bangkok’s Patpong area is a notorious red-light district and a place guaranteed to bring pleasure to many a male visitor as well as tears to plenty of others who fall prey to the scams of some of its working girls and guys, and their operators.

Visitors frequenting bars in the area should be aware that the same rules apply here as in any of Thailand’s girly bars. Ladies can be taken out of the bar for extra-curricular activities provided the customer pays a fee, known as a ‘bar fine’, to the establishment. After that, anything that takes place and at what cost is at the agreement of the customer and bar girl.

It’s wise for visitors seeking female company to keep a close eye on their cash and valuable items and keep them well out of reach of their hired bed fellows, else risk waking up alone having had such things pilfered from their room. There is little hope of getting authorities involved if this happens, as prostitution is technically illegal.

There are numerous other aspects of travelling around Bangkok that can lead visitors to be parted from their money surreptitiously, with enterprising individuals constantly coming up with new ways to get their hands on tourist wealth. Should you be unfortunate enough to be taken for a ride, try to keep the episode in perspective and not let it ruin your holiday. The ability to shrug your shoulders and say mai pen rai (‘never mind’), as the locals would say, will allow you to move on and enjoy the rest of your holiday.

And finally, although not an outright scam, the officially sanctioned airport limosine service at Suvarnabhumi airport is dishonestly promoted and three times the price of the metered taxis who are also authorised to operate there. Despite big signs warning you otherwise, and some aggressive sales agents who accost you with an unpleasant first welcome (upon exiting arrivals) don’t fall for it. We insist you go outside and use the cheaper, equally safe Bangkok taxis.

About the Author

Andrew Bond is a travel writer who has been living in Thailand and writing about the region for more than 10 years, contributing to numerous local magazines and major web travel brands. He travels around South East Asia by tuk-tuk, bicycle, cyclo, jeepney, taxi, moto, elephant or foot in search of new smells, sounds, sights, and atmosphere. Share your travel bits with him on Google +

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