Thailand: Land Of Smiles or Land Of Scams ?

About 5 years ago I was scammed out of about US$1000 after renting a jet ski in Phuket Thailand. Only after I returned home did I do some research on the internet and realized that I had fallen victim to a very common scam.

Reading these websites and others I was recently reminded of how easy it can be to get scammed, injured, or even killed in Thailand.

Been here for over four years and I haven’t been scammed yet. Well, not counting a taxi driver or two taking me the looooong way around to some place.

Believe it or not the jet ski things keeps going on, right under the nose of all concerned (or who should be concerned) authorities. It’s patently obvious that this particular racket shovels money all the way to the highest positions of law enforcement (as if!) and provincial government.

Since change from those quarters is not to be expected, ending the scamming industry rests on the victims side. People need to be informed of the common scams, it would be good if all travel agencies and consular services warned tourists before leaving their countries.

I’ve spent at least 200 months in Thailand altogether, at tourist resorts and elsewhere. If I had to summarize Thai honesty in a single sentence, I could only try:
All generalizations are false. :smiley:
I will throw out a few one-liners to offer a broader perspective:

[ul][li] As a tourist attracted to expensive services in a tourist resort, you are very likely to encounter villains who’ve sought that environment. To then conclude that many Thais are villainous shows sampling bias.[/li][li] I’d think it likely that the median Thai is more honest and generous than the median Westerner, were it possible to measure such a thing. Certainly I could give several anecdotes of surprising honesty.[/li][li] If asked to think of examples of dishonesty or meanness I’ve witnessed in Thailand, the perpetrators in many examples would be Americans or other foreigners![/li][li] In the second link you gave, the complaint was teenagers extorting the equivalent of $1 (one dollar) from a tourist couple. Yes, there’s a principle involved, but … really? (I didn’t click the remaining links.)[/li][li] Double pricing annoys me too. But did you know that those with Nevada driver’s licenses often see Las Vegas shows for a discount? And did you know many of Pattaya’s entertainment venues with double pricing are owned by foreigners?[/li][/ul]

BTW, I could offer a different set of observations and anecdotes to make the opposite case here!
All generalizations are false.

Do a search for Siam Sam and read his threads about this stuff.

[quote=“septimus, post:3, topic:577042”]

[li] Double pricing annoys me too. But did you know that those with Nevada driver’s licenses often see Las Vegas shows for a discount?[/li][/QUOTE]

Actually, that’s not quite the same thing, as foreigners can hold Nevada driver’s licenses or state IDs too and are therefore welcome to the discounts. We had the same thing in Hawaii, called the Kama’aina Discount – kama’aina being Hawaiian for “native” – and anyone with a state driver’s license or ID, be they American or foreigner, got it. We knew many Thai and other foreign students who took advantage of that.

Anyway, yes, it is a shame that so many scams get perpetuated in Thailand. You do have to be somewhat on your guard in tourist areas if you are a newbie, but don’t be paranoid. Just remember that temples and other major attractions never close for holidays despite what the very official-looking man may tell you a block away from it; go look for yourself. There are no government gem shops that offer huge discounts on special days of the year, or any other types of gem shops either. Tuk-tuk rides normally cost much more than 10 or 30 baht for all day. Thais are friendly but not so friendly that complete strangers will walk up to you and want to be your new best friend. And never, ever rent a jetski.

Why are the scams allowed to perpetuate? Quite simply, powerful people profit from them, people who are in many cases above the law. In other cases, the law themselves get kickbacks. The gem scam in particular is supposed to profit a member of a particular family that if just named, the namer could go to prison for many years. And as for warning people about the scams, that’s a good idea of course, but believe it or not, there are still many cases where victims admit they read all the warnings beforehand and still got scammed.

Most Thais are not going to try to scam you, though. Just remember to keep your wits about you and that if something seems to be too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

I’ll add that scams are not unique to Thailand. For example, a common one in Vietnam involves the renting of a bicycle. The rentor will insist you use his lock and chain. So you do, but a crony will have followed you and unlocked the bike with a spare key. Now the bike is “stolen,” and you have to pay a lot for it to avoid the cops being called. Hong Kong is rife with the “card game” scam.

And not all scams in Thailand are perpetuated by Thais; there are some Filipino gangs that play confidence tricks like chatting you up and then discovering you just happen to be from the same place his cousin is going to go to school, so won’t you come home and meet her and give her some tips? And oh, look, another cousin just arrived from Manila who loves to play cards, leading to the “card game” scam. I have a thread on here somewhere about some sort of West Asian trying, and failing, to pull the money-changing scam on me in a grocery store at 1:20am one morning.

A big reason, too, that so many otherwise-sensible people get scammed in Thailand is the sense of safety that, after having plodded through so many countries with hard-sell touts like, say, India, causes them to let down their guard more than they normally would. And quite honestly, most people are probably more likely to get ripped off by their fellow travelers than by the Thais.

I’ve lived in Bangkok for 3 years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that people have actively attempted to scam us. (Well, aside from the tuk-tuk/taxi guys who always hang around outside hotels and such, because I usually give them a firm “no” every time they ask if I need a taxi.)

There are two that really stick in memory-- and not because of the scam itself, but because of other people that actively tried to warn us away from the scammers:

  • Visiting the Jim Thompson house for the first time, someone tried to tell us it was closed. We knew better and kept walking, and about fifty feet later, another Thai man stopped us specifically to tell us that the house was open and not to believe otherwise, and to have a nice day.

  • Walking down Sukhumvit (near Nana), we were stopped by a “monk” begging. Basic rule of thumb is that if someone actively stops you and solicits for money, they are not a real monk. Moreover, this guy was a beggar we had already seen in the neighborhood, plus he was wearing Chinese-style robes, not the typical Thai ones…yeah. We kept walking. Again, a couple dozen feet on, one of the street vendors (hearing-impaired, like so many vendors in that neighborhood) had evidently been watching the whole thing, because she caught my eye, gestured at the “monk’s” retreating back, and rolled her eyes with supreme irritation. I gave her a knowing grin and walked on.

I think Siam Sam is right about the sense of safety that Thailand engenders: it is the “Land of Smiles”. That phrase may be overused, and can be read in many different ways, but I think that where foreign visitors are concerned, things do end up on the positive side of the equation more often than not.

It’s very difficult to find a legitimate beggar period in Bangkok. There’s a beggar mafia that is straight out of Dickens. They seem to run in monthly themes. One month will be children with puppies. The next will be young girls with babies. The money is all turned in to their minders at the end of the day, and any genuine beggars who dare to muscle in on their their territory are dealt with swiftly.

Many are not even Thai, but rather imported from across the Cambodian border. The authorities launched a citywide sweep one time to round up all the beggars and flew the many Cambodian ones to Phnom Penh to let the authorities there deal with them. What a treat! Their first plane ride ever. But you have to wonder just how does a man with no arms and no legs manage to position himself right in the middle of an overheard pedestrian walkway? There’s one “armless” beggar whose regular spot is near MBK Center, and he’s not very good at it, because you can clearly see his arms stuffed hidden inside his shirt. Near one place we lived for a couple of years was a spot always taken by the same lady with the same fake leg wound that she would display. We developed a nodding acquaintance.

Including that one, right?

I was aware of the slight irony when I posted.

I wonder what Dopers think of the claim that Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle, whatever its value may be for “hard” sciences, has caused great confusion in softer sciences and social thinking. :dubious:

I’ve been scammed properly once - a taxi taking me to Rassada pier asked “do you have ticket for boat?” and I foolishly said no. He took me to a shitty wharf about a mile from the pier where I had to buy a ticket off a tout and wait for a taxi. I explained that I was a tsunami volunteer and the tout looked really guilty and dropped the ripoff price down to the normal price for the boat.

I’ve been knowingly scammed once too - get a quote from a taxi for a crazy low price in Bangkok, and you know they’ll take you to a few tailor’s shops on the way. But I was in no hurry and wasn’t going to be hustled into buying anything, so I just chilled out and went into the shops, admired the fabrics, bought nothing and concluded my journey about an hour later. I think the drivers get a kickback whether the tourist buys something or not.

I will say, though, that most Thais I know are the most loyal, honest and generous people I’ve ever met. I don’t know if that’s because they’re my friends, and maybe they don’t treat the rest of the world like that (a phenomenon I’ve encountered in China too) or whether they just generally are like that.

One thing about Thai scammers is that they will never ever physically touch you. They rely solely on their wits. This contributes to the sense of safety I mentioned earlier. Just say “No” and keep on walking and even if they follow you, they’ll just chatter away for a short while and then stop after you’ve been ignoring them like they don’t even exist.

This compares with other countries in the region, such as Cambodia, where I was one time the rope in a game of tug of war. Two touts had me by the arms, pulling me hard in different directions, each trying to get me into his car. (Not a kidnapping; I needed a ride, and each of these guys was determined to snag me.) Something like that would never happen in Thailand.

And speaking of ignoring touts as if they don’t exist, many Westerners consider it very rude not to at least acknowledge someone’s presence, but in Thai culture even a “No” is taken as “Well, maybe. Can you come down a little in price?” The Thais have no compunction about ignoring a tout or vendor, legitimate or otherwise, as if they don’t even exist, not even glancing at them. It’s not considered rude at all, and it’s a practice I’ve gotten into the habit of myself. But many scammer touts wil take advantage of the Western penchant of always replying.