We all know that scams exist in just about any travel destination around the world. It’s also quite normal to let your guard down while on holiday. Thai people are naturally very hospitable, but the bad apples count on you not speaking a word of Thai, knowing that this leaves you in a vulnerable position.
Where do you draw the line between confining yourself in a hotel room for fear of getting ripped off and going out at the risk of being scammed? Getting wise to common Phuket scams beforehand is the obvious answer – staying sober enough to maintain your judgment certainly helps. Check out our guide to the best-known scams in Phuket, and how to avoid them.
- Phuket FantaSea Cultural Theme Park
- Phi Phi Islands Tour with Express Boat
- James Bond Island Full-Day Tour via Big Boat
- Coral & Racha Islands Full-Day Tour
- Whitewater Rafting & 4-Wheel-Drive Adventure
- Sea Kayaking at Ang Thong Marine Park
- Flying Hanuman Ziplining Experience
- Canoeing Excursion in Phang Nga Bay with Thai Buffet Lunch
- Introduction to City Tour
- John Gray's Cave Canoeing Tour in Phang Nga Bay
Phuket's long-running jet-ski scam has received worldwide media attention, but you still can see travellers enjoying this watersport on any given day. The scam works with operators hiring out previously damaged jet skis to unsuspecting travellers.
When it's returned, they will feign astonishment and anger at perceived damage to the vehicle, demanding huge amounts of compensatory money. Calling the authorities can be futile as some are also involved in the scam. The best solution is simply not hiring a jet-ski in the first place.
Timeshare scams in Phuket are quite common in Patong, Kata and Karon, The approach might come from a random European guy approaching you on a motorbike or Thai girls asking you to fill in a quick survey to win a prize or reward.
The kicker is that, in order to claim your prize, you'll need to pay and sit through a 90-minute presentation for a timeshare or a holiday club. In return, you get a worthless contract or vouchers you can never spend on. You're better off saving your time by declining when the scammers start introducing themselves.
After landing at Phuket Airport, it's natural to want to get to your hotel by the cheapest means possible. Most people opt for minivans since they usually cost a fraction of the price of a taxi.
Halfway through your requested destination, some minivans (and taxis) stop at a ‘travel agent’ who informs that your hotel is fully booked or simply closed. They will then suggest an alternative hotel, but if you decline, the driver will sometimes refuse to start the minivan. A way to avoid this scam is insisting your driver not to stop anywhere until you reach your intended hotel.
Sick buffalo scam
Many bar girls in Phuket are motivated to earn as much as they can because they have to financially support their families. An unsuspecting and naïve male can sometimes confuse what Thai ladies see as ‘fun’ with love.
They expertly relieve would-be Romeos of their travel funds by making up an emergency – a common phrase is "the family buffalo is sick and we urgently need money for medicine". When he returns back home, he feels obliged to regularly send money to his paramour, not suspecting that she may already have several lovelorn men sending her monthly payments.
Gems scams are usually the work of taxi drivers who offer to take you to a jewellery store at no extra cost. You'll be informed that gems in Thailand can be sold for many times their value in your home country. Of course, the taxi driver receives a fat commission if you fall for it. More often than not, these are fake gems or at the very least not worth what you paid for.
Bear in mind that most scammers are successful because they play on the greed of their victims. If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Tips to avoid scams in Phuket
- Always clearly agree on the fare with your tuk-tuk or taxi driver.
- Try not to let your drinks bill add up too much as it’s not unusual for ‘extras’ to be thrown in. Pay drink by drink, or your 5-beer bill may mysteriously become a 10-beer one.
- Padlock your rented motorcycle. Some unscrupulous motorcycle shops steal their own bike and charge you for replacement.
- Never leave your passport as a deposit when hiring transport. It's best to leave a photocopy as Thai law implicitly states that you must carry your passport.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Thai people aren't very forward, so be vigilant if an aggressive and loud-spoken local approaches you.
- The Tourist Police's phone number is 1155.