I’ve never really been concerned, as a tourist, that I was a target for any real crimes in Thailand other than taxi scams. I’m sure, like all countries there are crimes that tourists fall prey to … but in all my time in Thailand, which has grown to be a considerably large amount of time, I haven’t felt like my safety was at risk. The Thai people really live up to their reputation as the friendliest people and are for the most part, interested in nothing more than assuring you enjoy your time in Thailand. This week I was having dinner with some friends who saw the TV show Scam City and that lead us to reminiscing about how they’d been ripped off in the same way in Bangkok. While we could laugh about it now, it’s not so funny at the time.
There are several ways that taxis try to get tourists to part with their money and some taxi drivers are very tricky, very persistent and very challenging to negotiate with.
Scam # 1 – the tourist taxi
A taxi or tuk-tuk will pick you up near a major tourist attraction and offer to take you to other tourist attractions for the low, low price of 500 baht. He says he’ll drive you all day and wait for you at each attraction. Sounds like a great deal, right? Wrong! What you don’t know is that he’s going to make stops as several businesses who will pay him to bring you into their stores. Expect to make stops at tailors, jewelry shops, knick-knack shops, etc…
- If the deal sounds too good to be true, it is!
- Ask the driver if you’re going to make stops.
- Ask for a price without stops
- If you’re unsure, don’t do it, it will be a huge waste of your time
Scam #2 – Airport taxis
Many drivers and cars will be posted outside of every airport in Thailand and will pester tourists offering “good” rates to hotels. There are several things that can happen here: the price they quote is double or triple what you’d normally pay from a reputable cab service; they will make stops along the way at tourist offices, tour booking agencies, tailors, etc…; they will change the rate on you when you arrive (they say 1500 baht when they pick you up and when you arrive at the destination they say 1500 baht per person)
- Arrange transportation through the hotel, through a reputable vendor (AOT is good at BKK) or wait in the actual Taxi queue
- Ensure that the meter is turned on, if they don’t turn the meter on, get out
- Don’t go in un-marked cars, all official taxies have licenses and are marked as such. The driver will also display a license with photo in the window.
Scam #3 – the Tuk-Tuk scam
There are two things that Tuk-Tuks are notorious for when it comes to giving rides to tourists: They’ll pick you up and tell you a price. When you arrive to your destination they will double or triple the price, with no explanation. They’ll tell you the price was per person, etc.. The other thing they’ll do is offer a ride, never provide a price and then make up some ridiculous fare when you arrive at your destination.
- Don’t get in a Tuk-Tuk without negotiating the fare first
- Make sure the driver understands that the fare is in total, not per person
Scam #4 – Taxi’s for the drunk tourists
In some towns and resort areas taxi’s just don’t have meters, or your only option will be a tuk-tuk. In this case, make sure you ask your hotel what the normal fare is before you need a taxi! In some towns, like Koh Samui, where there are tons of bars and tons of tourists, taxis are known to charge “special” rates to the drunk tourists after a long night out. Here’s a real example – two friends and I were in Koh Samui. We took a taxi into town and it cost about 300 baht, total. Later, one friend and I went back to the hotel and we paid around the same rate. Later that evening ,the male friend we were with took a taxi back to the hotel – yes, he was drunk – and paid 1100 baht! Rip off! He was too drunk to argue and too drunk to realize what was happening at the time.
In December 2012, the Australian embassy issued a warning to all Australian Travelers warning of local taxi mafia’s in areas like Phuket where tourists are being charged 100 times more than locals are charged. So what can you do to protect yourself from these scams?
Always insist on a meter if there is one in the taxi
- If the driver won’t turn the meter on get out – and make sure you get out somewhere that you can find another cab – not just anywhere!
- If the driver won’t turn on the meter, and you know what the fare should be, negotiate. If he won’t take a fair fare, get out!
- If you think you’re being scammed, get the drivers license #. Make sure the taxi license has a photo on it and that the photo matches the person driving! Frequently they’ll have a fake license or the license of another driver in front of their own.
- Negotiate up front with Tuk-Tuk driver and ensure they understand what the fare covers
- Book ahead with reputable services if you’re new to the area or unaware of what things should cost
- Educate yourself by asking locals or the hotel for information about transportation and fares
- Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it is!
- A fare from either airport to Bangkok’s main tourists areas, should cost you between $10 USD and $15 USD including tolls – and can vary depending on how bad the traffic is. Understand the conversion rates so you know if you’re being asked to pay too much. Make sure the fare includes everything – fees for your bags, tolls, every person in the car, etc…
- Ask – if you have any doubts, ask someone to avoid getting ripped off
taxi scams are the thing I worry about the most. If I am in a city where I am concerned, I keep my luggage with me in the cab.
I agree with Smitty06 above about not having your luggage in the trunk and giving the driver leverage.
I really only have that much luggage when traveling to and from the airport and when changing hotels (which I do practically everyday in Thailand). Coming from the airport I always ask for the meter before putting my luggage in the trunk and the same when getting a taxi from a hotel.
I’m a little worried about just “getting out” of a taxi if he won’t turn on the meter and you can’t agree on a price. I would suggest opening the back door, stating your destination (as apparently it’s OK for BKK taxi drivers to refuse a fare if they don’t want to go there) and then ask about the meter BEFORE you get in. If they refuse, just close the door. A lot safer in my opinion.