Getting shafted by a scam in Asia is just another part of the true backpacker experience nowadays. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to avoid them if you can and save yourself more than a little money and several headaches along the way.
For anyone backpacking through South East Asia it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be passing through Thailand’s capital, Bangkok at some point. It’s a crazy fun city, with a bit of a reputation for partying. You can read what we got up to on our first visit on First Timers in Bangkok.
Unfortunately it has now become rather notorious for the many unique scams that are constantly targeting the huge numbers of visitors. Even for an experienced traveller, it’s easy to be fooled if you don’t know what to watch out for.
Luckily for you, we’ve done all the hard work and brought together this list of the most common scams being pulled on tourists in Bangkok. It’s based on our own personal experience during several visits and the many amusing stories we’ve heard along the way while sharing a beer with fellow travellers.
So protect yourself and read on…
Ping Pong Shows
Yes, Bangkok’s infamous ‘ping pong shows’ really do exist. And no, it’s probably not a good idea to go see one, even just for a laugh.
Here’s how it works:
There are touts on the streets holding little ‘menu’s’ of all the different acts their place has on offer; all centred around ladies giving birth to various objects, such as ping pong balls, razor blades and birds (I’m sorry for those mental images).
They’ll insist that it’s all free, you just have to buy a drink and they’re cheap etc. Sometimes this is true, but in almost all cases once you try to leave they’ll give you a huge bill to pay, sometimes hundreds of dollars and they won’t let you leave until you pay it. They’ll claim that the ping pong show was free, but the lady birthing a live bird wasn’t. Or that the first drink was cheap but the second cost $100, or some other made-up bullshit like that. You know it’s a scam, they know it’s a scam.
The thing is they have you trapped in a dark dingy bar with a large intimidating security guy and they can get incredibly threatening to force you into paying. There are plenty of stories of people being caught in these situations and coughing up at least some money just to get away. And of course when you eventually leave, the guy who brought you in is nowhere to be seen.
‘Free’ Tuk-Tuk Rides
If you have somewhere to go for the day and fancy taking a Tuk-Tuk to get there… don’t.
During the daytime in Bangkok, all of the Tuk-Tuks roam around offering crazy cheap or even free rides to tourists. What they won’t tell you is that whether you like it or not you’re gonna be embarking on an epic tour around all of the crappiest souvenir and suit maker shops in Bangkok.
You’ll be shepherded inside each one to ‘just take a look’ and told you don’t have to buy anything. Of course once you’re inside you’ll be given the hard-sell by several of the shop staff who are stood waiting for their next delivery of tourists. Don’t be tempted to actually buy any of the shit they’re offering either, it’s all crazily overpriced crap aimed at the stupid westerners gullible enough to actually get into the Tuk-Tuk and the suits which look decent now will fall apart in a week.
Basically the Tuk-Tuk drivers get fuel money in return for bringing tourists to these shops and they won’t take you anywhere without the detours. In Bangkok they operate as a mafia, so even if you offer a decent fare in exchange for them skipping the shop tour, they’ll likely refuse.
If you can see the light side of what is akin to a kidnapping and just want to take a ride in a Tuk-Tuk anyway, then go for it! Otherwise you can just wait until night time, because once the shops are closed, they’ll offer you a real fare without the bullshit.
Grand Palace is Closed Scam
If you decide to visit the Grand Palace, which you definitely should (check out the photos in our blog), you’re almost certain to experience this scam.
Walking toward the palace you’ll be approached by a super friendly local guy who’s eager to let you know that the Palace isn’t open today. Or that it’s not open to foreigners until 2pm. Or that you can’t go inside wearing those shorts. Either way he’s full of shit.
There are a ridiculous number of these guys hanging around the palace and they’re basically trying to get you to take a ride in their Tuk-Tuk instead of visiting the palace. As I said before, that’s gonna involve a whole lot of suit and souvenir shopping.
They can be pretty convincing sometimes, but if you just look at the thousands of other tourists walking through the palace gates, you’ll quickly see through their bullshit. If you are wearing shorts, they’ll give you some long pants to wear once inside so don’t worry about that either. Just keep on walking and ignore these guys like you would a Facebook friend request from your nan.
Stepping off your long-ass flight, you’re groggy, excited and you’re probably not thinking clearly. You’re also an easy target for the airport taxi drivers hoping to massively overcharge you. It’s nothing new that taxi drivers might take advantage of a naive tourist, but in Bangkok, and SE Asia in general, this has become something of an industry.
Stepping into the arrivals lounge you’ll see a group of local taxi drivers circling like vultures and approaching only the western looking tourists coming through. They’ll ask where you’re going and assure you they’ll give a cheap price. They’re lying.
They’re simply trying to exploit unwitting tourists to get you to agree in advance to pay sometimes two or three times the official fare for your ride before you know any better.
Never accept these offers. Tell them no and keep on walking to the official taxi counter and take a ‘meter taxi’, it’ll be much cheaper and safer.
The vultures can sometimes get pretty aggressive in trying to drag you to their cab, harassing you, following you or even physically pulling you with them. In this case, don’t be shy about returning the favour and telling them where to go…
River Boat Rides
Taking a boat ride along the river in Bangkok sounds like a really cool way to see the city.
There are tonnes of boat companies offering trips to tourists, but speaking from experience, they’re a total rip-off.
During my first time in Bangkok, I went with a couple of friends for a boat ride and was given a ridiculous opening price of 5,000 Baht (almost 150 usd) for a 1hr trip. After a decent bit of haggling we got them down to 1,500B, and thought we’d got a pretty good deal, but in hindsight it was still way too much.
The boat ride itself was pretty shit and completely not worth paying for. We were just taken up and down the river, it wasn’t particularly scenic and everything we saw you could just as easily see from the river bank for free.
We later found out that we could have taken one of the short passenger ferry trips across for the river for around 10 Baht and we’d have gotten a similar experience for a fraction of the price. So yeah, do that instead.
Taxi Meter Not Working
You hail a cab with a big ‘taxi-meter’ sign on top. You jump in, tell the driver where you’re going and he driver immediately tells you a price… Don’t accept it!
Don’t even haggle. The taxi has a meter and that’s how the price should be calculated, it even has a fucking sign on top saying so. No matter how much you knock the driver down to, he’ll never agree on a price less than the official meter fare. So don’t accept it.
Just insist that he switches the meter on and stand your ground. If he refuses, just make him stop and get out. 9 times out of 10 they’ll change their mind or you’ll find a better driver. There are thousands of taxis in Bangkok so you won’t be waiting long.
A good tip to avoid this hassle is to always jump in the cab, tell them where you’re going and say ‘meter’. Never ask ‘how much?’. It gives away the game that you don’t have a clue and they will take advantage.
Also, avoid the drivers who are sat waiting around tourist spots, they’re lazy and waiting to prey on ignorant foreigners. Ripping off one tourist can earn them more than a full day’s fair wage. Better to flag one down from the road instead.
While not a scam as such, it is important to keep in mind, especially if you’re new to Asia and how it all works.
Always haggle. On everything! It is expected of you, it’s in the culture. Whether it’s a taxi fare, a tacky souvenir from the night market or even a bus ticket to Chiang Mai it’s always worth trying because the initial prices offered are always designed to leave some room to haggle. Even in Bangkok’s largest shopping mall, the MBK center, haggling is expected in both the small stalls and designer shops.
If you’re not comfortable with full on bartering, then you can just simply ask ‘what’s your best price’ after they’ve already told you their first price and 9 times out of 10 the price will drop instantly. The real value of goods can be way less than the starting price and sometimes up to just 10% of what they first ask for in the case of night market souvenirs. And if they really don’t want to haggle, they’ll have a sign saying so.
The only real exception that we’ve come across is with food, which tends to be so ridiculously cheap anyway that you wouldn’t want to waste your time trying.
A final thing to note is that while these scams are still extremely common, Thailand does value the safety of it’s tourists and rightly so given that they make up such a large chunk of it’s economy. If you ever feel threatened, in danger or just cheated, you can called the dedicated Tourist Police on 1155 from within Thailand.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you found this useful and don’t forget to leave a comment with any other scams you may know about and like us on Facebook @facebook.com/wanderingblindly