The Most Common Scams in Thailand Explained

I have to admit, this article is intended for my little sister.  She is in the process of planning her first trip to Thailand.  So as a good big brother who has spent a fair amount of time in Thailand, I immediately thought of all the scams, dangers and annoyances that she might encounter.  I’ve described them here for everyone’s reference.


Thailand is a developing country that sees an enormous amount of tourism on a regular basis.  Most of which, is in the form of drunken gap-year kids and backpackers that come for the islands and the cheap booze.  This has undoubtedly changed the tourism landscape over the last few decades.  As a result, you will unfortunately encounter a lot of people who make their living off taking advantage of tourists.  Here are some of the more common scams in Thailand.

Gem Scam:

A Thailand classic, this scam involves a man who will approach you at a temple or tourist site.  He will proceed to make light conversation until he pitches the idea that you should invest in gems that can be sold for a premium in your home country. You think to yourself “What an amazing business opportunity I’ve just found!”  He will then, conveniently, be in a position to sell you these gems which you will later find out are worthless.

Free Ride Scam:

This isn’t so much of a scam as it’s a waste of your time.  In this situation, a tuk tuk driver will approach you and offer you a free tour of the city.  In exchange, he will ask you to visit a gift shop where you will be expected to “look around”.  He will assure you that you do NOT need to purchase anything, but each time you leave without buying something he will insist on taking you to one more place because “you didn’t look convincing enough” or you “didn’t spend enough time there”.  Each time you stop at a gift shop and do not purchase something, he will say the same thing.  This could go on all day if you let it.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Government Holiday Scam:

This is a combination of the Free Ride Scam and the Gem Scam where either a pedestrian or a tuk tuk driver will tell you that today just happens to be a government holiday to promote tourism, and tuk tuk drivers will receive vouchers for each tourist they take around to the temples.  No, you don’t have to pay and you don’t have to see any shops.  What could the catch possibly be?  Sure enough, at one of the temples, you will be approached by a man who just so happens to sell gems that are worth a premium in your home country.  If that doesn’t take, the rickshaw driver will probably try to get you to take a look at a gift shop.

Drugged and Robbed Scam:

Pretty self-explanatory, this is where you get drugged and then robbed.  It’s common all over Asia and if it happens to women it usually involves a worse scenario.  However, I’ve personally only heard of this happening to men.

For example, at a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, a friend of mine was out on the beach drinking and partying with his girlfriend (as tourists do).  They were both from the UK.  The next thing he remembers is waking up on a boat in the middle of the ocean as three men were in the process of robbing him of his valuables.  He got scared and immediately jumped in the water and swam towards the lights of the island.  Unfortunately he arrived at the island on a rocky portion of shore where he cut up his hands and feet trying to get out of the water.  As he made it out of the water, he was spotted by some locals who helped bandage up his bloody hands and feet.  Early in the morning he arrived back at his hotel to a pissed off girlfriend who wondered why he had ditched her the night before.  He had no recollection of when they parted ways or how he was drugged.

Hooker Scam:

This one should come as no surprise to anyone, but if you end up getting a Thai hooker and end up passing out with her (or him) in the room…expect to be missing a few things in the morning.  Also, you should plan on getting yourself tested.

The Old Switch-a-Roo Scam:

This one actually happened to me personally.  I was taking the night bus from Bangkok to Koh Phangan with a group of friends to go to the Full Moon Party.  The bus was filled with all tourists; in fact I don’t recall any locals on the bus aside from the drivers.  There were too girls sitting behind me who I had made friends with.  As it started to get dark and everyone began to go to sleep, we all tucked our bags underneath our feet or on our laps so no one would be able to take anything.

The next morning we arrived at our destination, grabbed our luggage and jumped in a shared taxi.  It was at this point that when I opened up my bag, I noticed a women’s’ purse inside.  It was the purse of one of the girls who was sitting behind me, and of course it had no money in it…anymore.

Someone had taken the money out and then planted the purse on me.  The hope was that if she (rather than me) noticed the missing purse on the bus they could have searched everyone’s bag and conveniently found it on me, alleviating them from any guilt.  To this day those two girls probably still think that I took their money.  But at least I didn’t have to deal with the Thai police.

In Conclusion:

Despite all the scams and annoyances that are found in Thailand, it is still a fun and beautiful place to visit.  So don’t let these stories scare you.  Just be on your guard at all times and try not to put yourself in sketchy situations.  If anyone knows of a common scam in Thailand that I’ve missed…please let me know.

January 17, 2014