Getting Scammed – The Bangkok Tuk Tuk Scam
This post is the second in our series on getting scammed. You can view our previous post on the ‘Powdered Milk Scam’ we came across in Cambodia here
We (embarrassingly) got caught out by the Bangkok tuk tuk scam twice when we first arrived in Bangkok. It seems that almost all first time travellers get caught out on this one though so perhaps we shouldn’t feel too bad.
Our first experience of this scam was a chance meeting with “Tom” the Etihad Airlines pilot. He was very friendly, spoke excellent English and had some great advice on the best way to see Bangkok. He asked where we were from, “Ah, I love Scotland! I’ve been to St Andrews Golf Course!” We were completely convinced! He offered to make a list of the best places nearby to see, he wrote it in Thai so we could hand it to a tuk tuk driver and go exactly where we wanted. He even offered to negotiate an amazing price for us, what a guy! Just as he was finishing off his list a tuk tuk drives by. “Oh look, here’s a tuk tuk now! I’ll get him for you just wait here”. How lucky are we!? We thank him for his help (and his offer of bargain flights if we ever fly Etihad!) and jump into the tuk tuk with big smiles on our faces. We must’ve just met the nicest guy in Bangkok…
Once you’re in the tuk tuk the story changes though. Your driver will ask (or hand you a card asking) if you wouldn’t mind going to a store for him. He’ll say that he’ll get a token towards petrol just for you going in and having a look, no obligations. This is totally false, the drivers will only get a kickback if you actually buy something but the way they word it makes it very hard to say no. You’re just doing them a favour. They’re driving you all over Bangkok for next to nothing so it would be rude not to help them out just by going in wouldn’t it? If you do refuse they will likely get annoyed and you won’t have much chance of getting where you actually wanted to go. Far more likely you’ll get dumped somewhere near Khao San Road and have to find your own way back. We were very lucky with our first tuk tuk because the driver was a young boy and wasn’t pushy at all. In fact we didn’t even realise we’d been scammed after this ride.
Where they’ll take you
There’s a few destinations you’re likely to find yourself at if you fall for the scam.
The Shady Suit Shop
You’ll face a hard sell from the salesman insisting that you can get an Armani suit for around £100. You can eventually get out of here by insisting you have zero interest in buying a suit but it’s not a very good way to spend your limited time in Bangkok. We’d recommend declining any cold drinks or offers to try things on as this will just make you feel indebted and more awkward.
The Dodgy Gem Store
Similar to the suit shop but you’ll be pushed into purchasing fake or overpriced jewellery.
The Fake Travel Agent / Tourist Information Centre / Tourism Authority Thailand
This is a particularly nasty one as these places can seem quite legitimate. They will tout you overpriced travel tickets for anywhere you’d like to go. In fact they’ll likely offer to organise your entire travel plans for you if you give them the chance. Luckily we’d already looked up our costs and knew they were trying to rip us off. It’s likely you’ll not only end up paying over the odds but your tickets won’t even be real!
Our second driver (recommended to us by “Chai” who really piled on the charm by telling Lisa she must be very lucky to have a boyfriend who looks like Lionel Messi, not sure if that’s a compliment or not!) tried to take us to all of these places. After suffering through the suit shop and the fake travel agent we point-blank refused to go to the gem store. At this point the driver became very surly with us, took us to somewhere vaguely near where he’d picked us up and dumped us without even asking for payment. Luckily we’d walked around the area beforehand so had our bearings to get back to our accommodation on foot.
How to avoid it
This sounds so obvious looking back but at the time we were at the very start of our travels and very naive! The easiest way to avoid this is to be suspicious of overly friendly strangers approaching you and offering to help out with your transport arrangements. Sounds like common sense doesn’t it? It’s so easy to get caught out if you’re not on your guard though. We were approached like this at least 4 times during our 4 days in Bangkok.
The best tip we can give is to politely decline to get into a conversation with anyone who is suspiciously over-friendly. If you do get trapped it’s always best to say you’ve been in Bangkok for a few weeks/months when they ask how long you’ve been there. If they ask about your plans say you’re heading home very soon and already have plans for the day. We started saying this and found it put scammers off. One even gave a spiel about where he was heading only to turn around and head back the way he’d came once we’d fobbed him off.
More signs to look out for
There are also a few phrases you can look out for that are a dead giveaway that you’re getting scammed.
1) “The Grand Palace is closed today” – Lies! The Grand Palace is almost never closed, if it is you can find out pretty easily for yourself without taking advice from a stranger.
2) “There’s a special deal on Tuk Tuk’s as a tourist initiative from the government” – Of course there’s not! This is not something that has ever happened or ever will happen.
3) “I know the best tourist information centre to get discount tickets” – As far as I can tell none of these tourist information centres are legitimate. If a legitimate one exists it is likely to have warnings outside about these scams.
4) Any conversation about football – It’s very common for your new Thai friend to have a wealth of football knowledge, always a giveaway! I mean really, Lionel Messi?! How did we fall for that?
We were quite lucky here and didn’t get into any situations that were too hairy. There are far worse situations than I’ve described above that you can encounter. We had one very friendly driver and one who got pretty grumpy when we didn’t want to go to any more dodgy shops but nothing that really worried or scared us. Bangkok is full of scams so make sure you do your research before you go. There’s a list of common scams on Lonely Planet that is worth a read before you travel and the Bangkok Wikitravel also has some useful information on staying safe while you’re in the organised chaos of Bangkok.
Do you have any tales of being scammed in Bangkok or any anywhere else you’ve visited? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below