Before I came out to Thailand I did a bunch of research into the country, both online and offline. Mostly about places to go and things to see, but also about the various dangers and annoyances to keep an eye out for.
Which, I was pleased to discover, were rather few and far between. Thailand is a pretty safe place to travel in.
There were a few scams listed though, some of which I noticed first hand, and others I’ve heard other travellers have fallen victim to. Nothing serious in most cases, although enough to keep me on the lookout for the common ones. Here’s the story of how that went in Sukhothai:
How I wasn’t scammed in Thailand
Here is the scene, common to transport terminals all over the world. A group of people descend from a mode of transport (in this case a bus), and are mobbed (ok, so in Thailand it’s more of a gentle query) by touts demanding to know where they are going and where they are staying.
If an individual engages in a discussion with this group (and it’s kind of hard not to), and goes so far as to disclose a destination, it is quite normal to be informed that said destination is closed. Or burnt down. Or, as one fellow travel blogger was told, has fallen into a lake.
This sad tale is then followed by the good news that the person relaying the tale happens to know a much better accommodation option. Where they, quite by co-incidence, happen to get a commission (that bit is usually left out of the tale). Would you like them to take you there?
The savvy answer at this point is to say no, to stick to your guns, and to go the place you originally had in mind, which will mysteriously not have closed, burnt down, or fallen into the lake.
So it was when I arrived into the city of Sukhothai in Thailand. As one of only four westerners on the bus, we were gently probed by various transport toting chaps as to where we were headed.
Having done the minimal amount of research required, and not wanting to say I hadn’t decided, I thought the best option would be to claim we had a reservation at one of the more popular looking destinations, as rated by both wikitravel and the Lonely Planet, which would head these chaps off at the pass and let us get a breather.
Having named my guest house, I was greeted by much eye rolling and shaking of heads. It wasn’t open, we were informed (we’d formed a posse of four by this point). It was too far to walk. Wouldn’t we much prefer to ride along with one of these nice chaps to a guest house they knew was open?
I stuck firmly to my story. We were fine. We had a reservation (this seemed like a good thing to say) – how could we have a reservation at somewhere that was closed? We were going to consult the map, and just walk over, as our information said it was no more than ten minutes walk away.
We set off, the four of us, into the darkness surrounding the Sukhothai bus terminal.
A particularly persistent taxi driver followed us along the road. He kept asking us if we were sure we had a reservation. He seemed genuinely concerned. He also said it was at least a 3km walk, and that he could take us there for 10 baht a head. As our bags got heavier, and the map (which, I later found out, I had been reading upside down) didn’t seem to be lining up to reality, this sounded like a pretty good deal.
We bundled ourselves in and set off, first on a highway, and then on a smaller road, and then finally onto a single track lane which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in our destination. After a kilometre or so of darkened, single track lane, where the only indication we were headed in the correct destination was a faded, hand painted sign for the hostel, we arrived.
It has to be said, this was about as close to the scene from a horror movie as I’ve ever got. This was clearly not a place that could be defined as well lived in. A single light illuminated what had clearly once been a thriving little hostel. The gate was firmly nailed shut. There was a battle going on between the jungle and the property, and nature was quite clearly winning. This was not a hostel that was accepting guests.
Our driver looked at us, looked at the nailed shut gate, and with the sort of seriousness that only a Thai person can muster at this point, out of respect for the person he was talking to, said, “Are you sure you have a reservation”.
At this point, clearly, the game was up. I mumbled something about not being sure, and asked him if he knew anywhere else in town. Thankfully, he did, and took us there, and it turned out to be very nice.
After this adventure, I concluded that being quite so wary and closed up wasn’t necessarily going to benefit the holiday.
Sure, there are a whole bunch of popular scams in Thailand. There are the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok who will promise to take you anywhere in Bangkok for 20 Baht, which will result in you visiting far more fake jewellery stores, over priced restaurants, dodgy tailors and shady tour agencies than you were perhaps expecting.
There are the chaps who stand near temples and explain that the temples are closed, for very plausible sounding reasons, and they know a much better option, which will oddly also result in you being taken on a tour of a variety of un-temple like commission based outfits. And there are also the gambling scams, which may start off as an invite to come over for dinner from an entirely random person on the street, and will quickly go downhill from there.
So I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be wary when travelling in Thailand. Read up on the likely scams, and if something sounds suspicious, or too good to be true, then assume it probably is. Check out this post from the Globe Trotter Girls on how they were scammed in Thailand, to get an idea of how even experienced travellers can be caught out.
But on the whole, you don’t want to wreck your experience by mistrusting everyone. As we came to discover, Thailand is a country full of incredible, helpful, and above all, friendly people. Let yourself be open to that, and good things will happen!
How about you? Have you visited a country and been the victim of a scam… or do you feel you’ve missed out on the genuine offer of help because you were in defense mode? Share away in the comments below!