The Strategic Retreat

Scams in Thailand

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My previous posting was on Red Fanta at Thai shrines, in which I mentioned asking many people about the why of the red soda. The reason I frequently asked people this question was because people tried to trick, cheat, con, manipulate and exploit me so often in Thailand that I learned to enjoy messing with the people who messed with me. Thailand is the land of smiles, smiles which often disguise a second set of sharpened beat colored fangs. I’m sure many Thais are fantastic people, but those that forced interaction upon me were solely concerned with acquiring my Baht. Which, wasn’t as bad as in Vietnam where they drugged me and tried to separate me from my Dong, but still not appreciated. The thing with hucksters and flimflam men is that they use social norms against you. They use your own politeness to engage you in dialogue and then use that entanglement to manipulate and cheat you. When traveling to popular tourist locations it’s important to not let your normal sense of kindness and etiquette trap you in a scam. But if you forgo that niceness altogether you end up in a yelling match with a Thai tuk tuk driver, something you do not want to do. Thais will obviously side with the Thai over you and they fight with metal sticks. I don’t like to get hit with sticks. It’s best to be polite yet firm.

Since my days were spent walking I couldn’t exactly escape from those I spotted as confidence men. I mean, I could have ran but Bangkok is nearly Singapore hot and it’s not a place I would recommend for a jog. Besides, I was ladened with a a pack and was in no immediate danger. Instead, I chose a different path, the interrogation method. When approached by a scammer I would attempt to politely remove myself from the conversation verbally and physically. My main method of doing this was to imagine I was being interrogated. Any useful information given would be used to harm me, but I also had to talk. I would keep this up until they tired of engaging this foolish farang in conversation and scamper off in search of less difficult prey.

I’ve had no formal training in the rules for surviving interrogation but I did watch a lot of 80s movies and history channel as a youth so I’m kind of an expert. Whilst I have few hard and fast rules I do have some general guidelines; give no concrete information, be as vague as possible, be purposefully dense, be polite.

“How fast does the new jet go, American GI?”

“very fast”

Thai scammers hate this. They ask purposeful questions and expect specific answers. They then use this information to cheat you. Being a tourist in a touristy part of Thailand is a lot like being a ho without a pimp. The other pimps will leave you be if Mocha Gator has his strong grip on you but if you’s just some solo trick walking the streets, they will have none of it. You will be approached every few seconds. In fact, it’s probably worth it to many to pick a nice respectable pimp just to keep the less reputable ones away. But for me, I was freelancing.

plank sidewalk

Where are you going?

Tuk-tuk drivers won’t let you just walk down the street, if you try to do so you’ll be touted for passage constantly.

“Just taking a walk”

Out of the 150 or so kilometers I walked in Thailand I was the only farang I saw who “just took walks” so this probably won’t end the conversation. A scammer is unlikely to take a walk for an answer. But, you must remember we’re not going for a one shot kill here. This is fishing, not hunting. I just need to tire them out, and have a bit of fun doing it.

“That way”

This further frustrates the scammers. My answers do not align with their expectations and they’re clearly not very good Buddhists. In tourist spots in Thailand there are generally a few major attractions that farang come to see. In Bangkok these are places like the Grand Palace, Khao San Road, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, that kind of thing. The expectation is that you’re always walking to one of those places and want a ride. Which, wouldn’t be so bad if tuk-tuks and taxis didn’t always over charge and often try to scam in other ways.

“There”(point)

If the destination you point to is close enough they may see you stop briefly or pass by it completely and resume touting, in which case I revert to answer 1 and start the dance anew.

When turning down a tuk-tuk, or any other service, incorporate a hand gesture with your verbal “no”. I wave two fingers(middle and pointer) back and forth in a wag, it could be anything but the physical dismissal helps to make your position clearer. The tuk-tuk drivers are trying to engage you in business as part of their scam, in many ways this is easier to cast off than those who pretend to help or befriend you.

Where are you from?

If you spend enough time around Bangkok tourist attractions you’ll be approached by a nice older man who wants to practice his English and help you out. He’ll speak English very well and have a respectable job. I met many “professors” and “architects”. He will also ask where you’re going after Bangkok. If that location is in Thailand, he will be from that city. This man’s job is to get you to go to a tourist center for free and helpful information, that turns into a high pressure/strong-arm expensive bus booking. Other possible destinations are gem shops, tailors or a rigged card game. For him, I like to play extra dumb, take his map and tell him I will go to the tourist center later on. Do not let him get you a tuk-tuk.

“That way”

“Khao San”

“The airport”

“Singapore”

Again, this is a method of tiring him out, not of stopping him from ever gaining information. And above all else, it’s super fun. I was never able to get through every response before he would point out that I’m clearly American. At that point I would either claim to be employed as a manual laborer in Singapore or that I was a vagabond of some kind. This gave him no fixed American city to say his niece was moving to and no job that would imply I had money. When dealing with charlatans, let your ego step away and present yourself as a poor person. Luckily, that’s not a hard thing for me to pull off.

And the one question I asked him every time, Why are there red Fanta Soda at Thai shrines?

I greatly enjoy the interrogation method for shucking off chiseler and aggressive touts but that’s not going to save you from all cons. Turning down rides or avoiding street deceptions is one thing, but the Thai scam rabbit hole goes far deeper than that. Before spending spending time in Thailand, especially Bangkok, it’s good to know about the common scams that will be hoisted upon you. Below is a list of scams. As I write about each one I will link the scam name to the article.

squirrel pet in chiang mai

Scams in Thailand

Taxi Scam

Closed Attractions Scam

Cheap Tuk Tuk Ride Scam

Helpful Stranger Scam

Restaurant Advice Scam

Tailors Scam

Guest House Scam

Tourist Information Scam

Two Menu Scam

Boat Scam

Skin Tax

No Change Scam

Fake Goods

Border Crossing Scam

Police Scam

Gem Scam

Motorbike Scam

Card Game Scam

Time share Scam

Bar Girl Scams

Bar Bill Scam

Jet-ski Scam


The most important things to remember are to never get greedy and be wary of English speakers who wish to befriend you.

About Jeff Penman

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA and a penchant for sticking his nose here it doesn't belong.