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How to Avoid Tourist Traps in Thailand

Tourist traps and scams in Thailand come in various forms. Some are straightforward and involve shortchanging guests, while others are more elaborate and involve strangers posing as credible tourist officials who try to trick tourists into buying overpriced merchandise and services.

We aim to give you the best possible experience of Thailand's attractions by providing you with this guide on how to identify – and avoid – common scams and tourist traps, so you are not left disappointed during your visit.

With over 12 years of experience in the industry and 10,000 satisfied customers, we can definitely help our guests avoid feeling cheated.

Thailand tuk tuk

Quick Facts

  • The large influx of tourists in Thailand has resulted in highly developed, elaborate scams and tourist traps.
  • Tourist attractions are places of genuine interest and very much worth the visitors' money and time. Tourist traps, on the other hand, are designed to exploit tourists for money.
  • The majority of tourists in Thailand have no trouble but, caution and common sense are always advised.
  • Thailand's Tourist Police Division has recently introduced a 24/7 hotline for foreigners in distress. Should you find yourself in a scam, dial 1155 for police assistance.

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Tourist Attractions and Tourist Traps

Just to avoid any confusion, we are going to quickly draw a distinct line between tourist attractions and tourist traps.

A tourist attraction: This is a place of interest that tourists visit due to its natural or cultural value, historical significance, natural or man-made beauty, and one which offers leisure and/or amusement to visitors. Tourist attractions are places of genuine interest, and very much worth the visitor's money and time.

A tourist trap or scam: We are using tourist traps as a term to describe schemes and plots that have been deliberately designed to exploit tourists. You can think of them as being "fake attractions", the main purpose of which is to attract as many tourists for as much money as possible.

Save your time, money, and sanity by refraining from letting your guard down and getting lured into any such attraction.

11 Worst Thai Scams and Tourist Traps to Watch Out For

Some scams in Thailand are easy to identify and can occur in any country around the world. For instance, they can involve cashiers trying to shortchange tourists at mini-marts and other small shops.

Others, however, are more elaborate in that they often involve people posing as credible experts who lie and mislead tourists into buying overpriced goods and services, so they can make quick and easy money.

When on vacation in Thailand, it is easy for some tourists to let their guard down and fall for that amazing Thai smile, making them especially vulnerable to scams. Therefore, caution and common sense are essential to avoid them.

Below, we have detailed the current 11 worst scams and tourist traps reported in Thailand.

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1. Wrong Change / Wrong Note Scam

Get acquainted with the local currency as quickly as possible. Many tourists often find themselves shortchanged and taken advantage of by cashiers as they may not be familiar with Thai currency (1 USD = 30 Thai baht).

Where does this scam happen most often?

  • Taxis drivers and tuk tuk drivers tend to have a habit of using this trick
  • Busy street markets and especially Chatuchak Weekend Market
  • Small restaurants and bars

This rarely happens in 7-Eleven stores or shopping centers where there are cameras behind the counter, but you can never be too careful.

Thai BahtThai Baht

How Does This Scam Work?

There are two situations in which some vendors will claim you gave them a note of a lesser value than you handed over.

Situation 1: the '500 Baht – 1,000 Baht Note'

You will hand over a 1,000 baht note but be given change for 500 baht. When you try to argue the point, the 'already prepared' 500 baht note is quickly picked up by the vendor and flashed before your eyes.

Obviously, the very small amount of English the vendor did speak has now disappeared into absolutely zero English whatsoever.

Situation 2: the '100 Baht – 500 Baht Note'

The same operation as explained above occurs with 500 baht notes too. The 500 baht note suddenly becomes a 100 baht note. This happens often because the color of the 500 baht and 100 baht notes are very similar.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Obviously, this can happen in any tourist destination around the world in tourist hot spots, so just beware. To avoid this from happening, make a point of showing that you have a 1,000 baht note when you hand it over. If you can, ask the vendor if he/she has change. Alternatively, make sure you carry smaller notes with you and change up larger notes at stores such as 7-Eleven or at your hotel.

How Can We Help You?

We will make sure that you have change. In addition to this, our guides will make sure the shop owner understands and repeats the value of the note being handed over before the transaction is complete.

2. The Fake Note Scam

This is not too dissimilar from the scam above in some respects. In this tourist trap, a shopkeeper accuses you of paying with a counterfeit note.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: After you hand over your money, the shopkeeper walks off, usually to the back of the store and out of sight.

Step 2: He/she then swaps the banknote you handed over with a counterfeit one and returns.

Step 3: He/she will then show you a fake banknote and demand that you make another payment, thus leaving you to pay twice the original amount.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

To avoid such a situation, we recommend that you avoid using large banknotes. This scam is only usually pulled off using banknotes with a value of 500 or 1,000 baht. If the shopkeeper tries to walk away, politely ask him/her for your note back until he/she arrives back with change.

Ultimately, you need to keep an eye on your baht banknotes and take a note of the serial numbers of larger bills, if possible. This may prove to be a mild inconvenience but it'll end up saving you a lot of trouble, should such a situation arise.

How Can We Help You?

Our guides know these tricks and scams. If any of our team spots even the slightest oddity, he or she will immediately pull up the person involved politely and ensure that all monetary transactions are done in view of everyone involved.

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3. "This Place is Closed"

This scam is usually encountered near major tourist attractions in Thailand. The majority of cases reported by victims have taken place outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: A stranger will usually approach you and inform you that the attraction is closed for various reasons and will proceed to recommend alternative locations. These scammers often look and talk convincingly, wearing formal shirts with "tourist police" tags and so on.

Please note that the attractions are not closed 99.9% of the time!

Be aware that these scammers are sometimes even inside the attractions, so always be on your guard and just get on with what you originally planned to do regardless of whether the person may be fake or legitimate.

Step 2: You are sold a pitch that says you will be taken on an amazing tour. The person selling this pitch is trying to get you into their transportation so they can take you to a gem store or a tailor's shop after stopping at one or two nearby temples.

Step 3: Once you are in the store, you are offered cheap discounts on suits, gems, ivory, and other items to entice you to buy. Many of these gems are, in fact, fake and/or illegal. Many tourists are bullied into buying overpriced goods, and there have been extreme cases of tourists being locked up in the shop until something has been purchased.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Always go to the official ticket sales desk for the attraction and avoid all offers to take you away from the tourist attraction.

How Can We Help You?

If you've booked a tour with us, your guide will know the hours of operation of the attraction before you visit. He/she won't take you somewhere that is closed, and so this kind of scam will never happen while under our supervision.

4. Thai Gems Trick

This is one of the more popular tourist traps in the country. It is an offer to buy gems that are worth five or 10 times more in your country but, of course, this is just not true at all.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: It usually begins with the scammer claiming that gems are easily harvested in the country and can be purchased in bulk for low prices.

He or she then tries to convince you into buying them by telling you that you can make a lot of money by selling the bought gems back home.

Step 2: In comes the accomplice. This is usually someone acting as a tourist around the store, verifying the gem seller's story. You are told by the actor (usually a foreigner in on the act) that he/she has made a lot of money buying and selling these gems. It is all very convincing!

Step 3: You end up falling for the scam and paying a lot more than the gems are worth. In some cases, limos have been arranged for the buyer to make the deal look more authentic and to try and convince them to dig a little deeper and increase their purchase.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Seriously speaking — don't be greedy. When has it ever been that easy to make money? Many tourists have fallen victim to this scam out of love for profit. If the person could truly make a fortune selling Thai gems in other countries, why would he or she let you, a random tourist, in on such a secret?

thai gems and jewelleryThai gems and jewellery

How Can We Help You?

We will not waste your time by taking you to such shops. If, however, you have a particular product in mind that you are interested in, please let us know beforehand so we can arrange to guide you to the best places to buy them.

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5. Fake Tour Packages from the "Tourism Authority of Thailand"

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) does not operate travel agencies. It is a government agency responsible for promoting the country's wonders and attractions to foreign countries but it does not possess its own agencies.

However, many scammers misuse the stellar reputation of TAT for their own ill deeds.

How Does This Scam Work?

A popular example would be individuals who target tourists at Hua Lamphong, Bangkok's main rail terminal. Note that this can also happen at bus terminals and ferry ports.

Step 1: The scammer will falsely represent themselves as an employee of TAT and ask about the journey the tourist is about to embark on in order to gather information. Giving the scammer information makes step 2 easier for him/her.

Step 2: The fake TAT rep will proceed to mislead the unfortunate victim by telling him or her that the tickets for the train journey are sold out.

Step 3: The scammer now offers alternative tickets for transportation "provided" by TAT. This will be a vastly overpriced private van or taxi.

Step 4: If a van, limo, or car is booked, the tourist will be subjected to further scams along the way.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Simply tell them that you know TAT does not offer tours. In fact, always be careful of anyone who claims to be from TAT because they hold no authority. Just walk on past and go to the official booking desks for train tickets.

How Can We Help You?

When a local stranger offers to sign you up for a tour package courtesy of the 'Tourism Authority of Thailand' travel agency, consult your Asia Highlights' guide. He or she will know exactly what to do.

6. Jet Skis and Motorbike Rentals

If you ever decide to rent a Jet Ski or motorbike in Phuket or any other coastal city in Thailand, do take a careful note of all the major scratches and dents that are already on the vehicle before setting off.

How Does This Scam Work?

It is pretty simple really!

There are renters who will falsely claim that you have damaged their Jet Ski upon return and demand compensation for repairs. The same trick applies to motorbikes too. In general, the motorbike scam costs much less than the Jet Ski scam.

Such scams are usually common in tourist hot spots, such as Pattaya and Phuket, and some people have been conned for up to 30,000 baht ($1,000) with the Jet Ski scam.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Take pictures of all the dents and scratches using your phone. Then take a video just to be sure. Also, make sure the person you are renting from is in the picture or video, if possible, although they can often swap staff in order to still try and pull this scam on you.

How Can We Help You?

If you are interested in renting a Jet Ski (or any other vehicle, for that matter), do let us know beforehand so we can contact the best service providers on your behalf.

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7. Fake Police

In Thailand, the law states that foreigners should always carry their passport with them. If not, foreigners should at least be able to provide photocopies or pictures of the passport, entry stamp, and arrival card. Some fake police or immigration officers will try to take advantage of this situation.

Thai PoliceOffical Thai traffic police

How Does This Scam Work?

Instance 1: This scam involves a "police officer" walking up to you and requesting to check your passport. He or she will then go on to say that there is something wrong with your visa and ask you to pay a fine on the spot.

Instance 2: In the same instance, if you do not have your passport or cannot produce it, the officer will also demand an on-the-spot fine.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

There are no on-the-spot fines in Thailand. It is illegal for a policeman to do this although it does happen all the time. Ask for a ticket or paperwork for the fine from the person operating the scam. If they cannot produce this, then proceed to call 1155, the 24/7 hotline that has been set up for foreigners in distress, or ask a Thai person nearby for help.

How Can We Help You?

If your guide is with you, then the scam will fail. If you are not with your guide, do as instructed above and call 1155.

8. Tailors

The tailor scam is common in Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui, and Phuket. This is a classic case of selling you a suit worth much less than you will pay for it. In a country where made-to-measure suits are common, this may sound unbelievable, but it happens a lot.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: Either a tuk tuk driver or a random stranger will come up to you if your guide is not around. He or she will tell you about a good value tailor shop that only locals know about and offer to take you there.

Step 2: You will be offered a high-quality material for a made-to-measure suit and shirt. Once you accept, you will be measured and fitted for a suit and shirt. Then you will pay for the items and be given a date and time to come back and pick them up.

Step 3: When you pick up your suit (after having paid the sum in full), you'll find that it wasn't the material you ordered or is of very low quality.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Firstly, you should never pay for the entire suit in full. You will be required to put down a deposit, which is usually half the value of the final price of the suit. Then, if there are any issues, you can refuse to pay, ask for adjustments, or negotiate a better price. Secondly, only use a tailor that's recommended.

How Can We Help You?

If you are interested in getting a tailor-made suit in Thailand, let us know beforehand. We will arrange for a guide to take you to one of the best tailors in Bangkok. This tailor will be well-known for making excellent, high-quality clothing.

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9. No Taxi Meters at Bangkok's Airports

At both of Bangkok's airports, there are public taxi ranks provided by the government. Provided you are traveling within the limits of Bangkok, then the taxi driver must use the taxi meter to charge for your journey. You will have to pay a 50 baht airport surcharge and highway toll costs yourself though.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: You will go to meet your taxi driver at the designated bay number. The taxi driver will help you into the taxi and get you comfortable.

Step 2: The taxi driver will start to drive off without starting the taxi meter. After a couple of minutes, the taxi driver will tell you the cost of your journey, which is usually three or four times the price it would be with the taxi meter.

Step 3: If you do not agree on the price, the taxi driver will stop the vehicle in a remote location and refuse to go any further until you hand over the money demanded or reach an agreement.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Make sure that you ask the taxi driver to start the taxi meter. If the taxi driver says no, says there is no meter (it is usually hidden under a towel on the dashboard), or demands a fixed fee, then get out of the taxi and head back to the government desk to report the taxi driver.

How Can We Help You?

We can arrange your airport collection for you. Our guide will also make sure that when you get a taxi anywhere in Bangkok, the meter is used or he/she will make sure you get a fair price.

10. The Car Accident Scam

If you are hit with this scam, then it is just pure bad luck. It is a way to extort money out of foreigners driving motorbikes or cars in Thailand.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: Someone will pretend that you knocked them over, ran them off their bike, or scratched their car.

Step 2: Suddenly witnesses start turning up out of nowhere saying they saw you do it. This could be damage to a vehicle or harm caused to an actual person.

Step 3: You will be asked to pay an extortionate amount of money on the spot, and the tricksters will try to get you to an ATM or to empty your wallet.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Always demand that the police are called. If the other people in on the scam know each other, the police can usually find out quite quickly. Plus, the fraudsters usually leave the scene as quickly as they appeared if you demand the police are called because there are severe punishments for creating fake accidents even when a foreigner is the victim.

How Can We Help You?

Our guides know the local law and will be able to make sure that any claims of an accident or damage made against you have substance. You will not be conned if you haven't done something that you are being accused of when one of our guides gets involved because our team is familiar with all laws in Thailand.

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11. The Drinks and Menus Scam

In and around many of the tourist areas in Bangkok, there are hundreds of bars and restaurants. Some are legit and some are out to scam foreigners by adding extra drinks and food to the bills as well as suddenly doubling their prices.

It is hard to tell which ones are which and, like scam 10 above, it is just unlucky if this happens to you.

How Does This Scam Work?

Step 1: You sit down at a street-side bar or food establishment. You innocently look at the menu, see the prices, and make your order. The prices on the menu look reasonable.

Step 2: You ask for the bill and there are extra drinks and food added to it, or the prices that were on the menu have suddenly doubled.

Step 3: No discounts are given, a menu with different prices appears, or the establishment refuses to remove the added items.

Step 4: The staff threaten to call the police, at which point you really have no choice other than to pay.

How Can You Avoid This Scam?

Ask for the waitress or waiter to leave a cup with the bar tab in it on the table or on the bar you are sitting at so you can check it. Alternatively, ask to pay immediately for what you have ordered. Otherwise, avoid street-side bar and food places, of which the latter is quite hard to do!

How Can We Help You?

Our staff already know all the best places to get good food and drinks at a decent price. Whether you want to experience the low-end street-side feel to Thailand's bar and food scene or eat and drink in a high-class establishment, we can arrange this for you and make sure that all prices and orders are correctly dealt with.

Emergency/Distress Hotline

Thailand's Tourist Police Division has recently introduced a 24/7 hotline for foreigners in distress. Should you find yourself in a scam, dial 1155 for police assistance. Do not worry about the language barrier, as there are interpreters on hand to translate calls.

We at Asia Highlights would be remiss if we did not take time to mention that the majority of Thai people are honest, hard-working people who do not seek to exploit tourists. Most tourists in Thailand have not had any negative experiences, but some, unfortunately, have.

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