As embarrassing as it is to admit, we’ve fallen for several of the infamous tuk tuk and taxi scams in Thailand. Many times we were focusing our efforts on avoiding pickpocketers, turning down rum buckets, or keeping our cameras secure and completely overlooked the scam that was (quite literally) right in front us.
Taxi Scams in Thailand We’ve (Sadly) Experienced
Looking back on the scams we’ve been dealt, we either had our suspicions but didn’t speak up or we realized what was happening a little too late. The worst has been when we were completely blindsided and didn’t realize that we had been scammed until long after the incident.
Super Cheap Tuk Tuk Rides
We were swindled twice by tuk tuks, once in Bangkok and once in Chiang Mai, during our first trip as tourists back in 2012. The circumstances were slightly different in both cases. In hindsight, we must have looked lost (had either a smartphone or a map in hand) because something prompted a well dressed, English speaking Thai man to start talking to us. In a friendly, conversational way he asked us what we were looking for. After a short talk, he gave a few recommendations that we happily accepted. The man waved over a tuk tuk and confirmed with the driver that it would be a very cheap ride for us.
In the Bangkok incident, the man recommended that we go to his friend’s restaurant for a nice dinner and take a tuk tuk that only cost 20 baht. The restaurant ended up being a bit isolated from the main strip and much to our disappointment it was pricey and served mediocre food. When it was time to go home, there were several tuk tuks parked outside but the drivers wanted a much higher fare for the return ride. We thought they were trying to cheat us with the high price but later realized that what they were asking for was fair (as far as tuk tuk prices go) but that the trick was to get us to spend our money at the restaurant.
When we were scammed in Chiang Mai, the Thai man suggested that we visit the local paper umbrella and silk factories and a tuk tuk driver would take us around all day for just 100 baht. At the time both activities sounded interesting but harmless. It wasn’t until later did we realize that the silk factory was next to an expensive silk store and that part of our route involved our tuk tuk driver taking us to a questionable Persian rug shop with a pushy shopkeeper and then to a jewelry shop.
The Red Flag
A tuk tuk ride anywhere for an outrageously low number should really make you think twice, particularly if it’s less than a dollar. At the time we had no clue what the going rate was, only that it was “cheap” according to the guidebooks. Note to self: if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
How to Avoid the Scam
It may seem rude to turn down a stranger’s help, especially from someone who seems genuinely interested in providing suggestions. However, it was a little odd that these men were adamant about providing help when we didn’t really need it and when we didn’t start the conversation. If we could do it over again we’d simply decline the offer, firmly but politely. And we’d put away that silly map!
Going a Roundabout Way or to the Wrong Destination
We experienced two taxi scams in Bangkok within a span of three days while family members were visiting.
The first scam happened while we were trying to go to a nearby rooftop bar to catch the sunset. It was our family’s second evening in Bangkok and our group of five, dressed and ready for a night out, piled into a metered taxi and our hotel’s doorman told the driver where we wanted to go. We weren’t on the road long when the taxi took an exit ramp for the highway and then we sat in 45 minutes of traffic with nowhere to go, all the while racking up the fare on the meter until he finally took another exit ramp off and turned around. He nonchalantly shrugged it off, saying that he thought we wanted to go to a hospital. A hospital? In our evening wear?! Needless to say, we missed the sunset.
The second incident was during an outing with our friend and amazing photographer, Mick Shippen. We had plans to meet at the Central Pier and catch a water taxi down the Chao Phraya River before taking a tour of the Pak Khlong Talat Market. The taxi driver picked us up from our hotel and put the meter on but took us the wrong pier, which conveniently had its own water taxi. We insisted that the driver take us to the correct pier. He let the meter run through the ordeal, trying to convince us this was the correct spot. Although the total taxi fare wasn’t much extra, we can only imagine what we would have paid if we had been convinced to use the alternate water taxi.
The Red Flag
Get a general sense of how you need to get to a place. Is it by the highway? Will you be crossing over a river or driving by certain landmarks? Also, try to get a picture of the place so you know what to look for once you arrive. If nothing looks right, the driver is taking you for a runaround.
How to Avoid the Scam
Your best bet it to track your route on a smartphone and double check the destination before you pay the fair. If anything seems fishy, politely stop the driver and correct his route. Otherwise, pay for what you’ve already racked up and get another taxi if possible.
Nowadays we use Grab Taxi (a ridesharing app similar to Uber or Lyft) instead of hailing a random taxi. It’s many cities aros Thailand including:
- Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai
- Khon Kaen
- Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
- Songkhla & Hat Yai
- Surat Thani & Koh Samui
- Ubon Ratchathani
- Udon Thani
If you’re new to Grab Taxi, get 100 THB off your first ride when you download the Grab app and use our discount code: GRABTIETOTHAI (or just sign up here).
Refusing to Use the Meter
We’ve agreed to pay a flat rate when the price quoted seemed reasonable or we were in a hurry and couldn’t be bothered to negotiate. Other times, the driver had simply refused to put the meter on for one reason or another. In our experience, the taxi drivers least willing to negotiate are those who lounge in front of higher-end hotels, especially if the hotel is on an obscure side street.
When we’ve asked for the meter to be turned on, there’s been more than one occasion that the driver goes on a rehearsed spiel. They will complain about the traffic, that gas is expensive, or that our destination is really far. When we’ve succumbed to the flat rate, we always realize that we’ve overpaid after getting a metered taxi on the way back. It’s the same result: a flat rate is much more expensive than the metered rate.
The Red Flag
The driver will simply quote a price to your final destination. Or, if you hop into the taxi and ask to turn on the meter, the driver refuses.
How to Avoid the Scam
Ask a taxi driver before getting into the car or loading your bags into the trunk. If the driver doesn’t put on the meter, it’s your choice from there. Politely say, “No thanks” or agree to the price. You might get it reduced a little through bartering but it won’t be as cheap as the metered cost.
Give yourself a little extra time when going to appointments (or important places like the airport) so you don’t feel pressured to accept the first taxi or two that tries that offers you a ride. Also, don’t use the taxis who are specifically waiting on the side of the road or just outside a hotel or restaurant. Always flag one down one that’s driving a little up the road if possible. Ask the front desk to hail a metered taxi for you, too.
Or again, just use Grab Taxi.
Water Taxi Ticket Scamming Touts
Remember the trip where we got scammed by the taxi driver who took us to the wrong pier? We were almost scammed by a hawker when we finally arrived at the correct pier on that same trip. We hadn’t yet reached the ticketing area and a woman came up to us asking if we wanted to buy tickets for our group. We were tempted to buy the water taxi tickets from her, especially because she looked the part. (She had a roll of tickets in her hand, a money collection box around her neck, and was wearing a collared shirt with hat). We said no and shortly after the hawker left, we were greeted by an authorized ticket agent selling tickets for much less than the tout.
The Red Flag
A hawker approaches you before you make it to a ticket booth. He or she will try to sell you tickets for a trip, whether it be for a water taxi, bus, or train. They may even convince you by saying that they represent the shop or the tickets are discounted from the normal price. If you’re really unlucky, the tickets are fake and you have to spend more money for the real deal.
How to Avoid the Scam
As tempting as it is to buy from these people, don’t buy something if they approached you. Look around to see where other Thai locals are buying from, such as a permanent ticket booth.
Other Scams to Look Out For
There are other scams that we haven’t experienced or seen ourselves but have known someone else who has gone through the ordeal. Here’s a few more, and they go beyond taxis and tuk tuks.
Robbed on the Ride Home
A friend of ours told us about someone she met recently who had gotten a ride from a tuk tuk driver after a night out. As the Thai driver was leaving, another Thai guy asked if he could join. Being friendly, the passenger shared the ride. The tuk tuk driver took a detour and went to an isolated area. With the help of the second Thai guy (who turned out to be an accomplice), they took the passenger’s money and left him stranded.
A friend of ours had an out-of-town visitor. He stayed out late with the intent of driving himself home on his motorbike rental. When the evening finished, he walked to where he had parked his bike but it wasn’t where he left it. A Thai person offered to help him look for it. They eventually found it down the road in an unfamiliar spot and the Thai person asked for money as compensation for finding his bike and got aggressive when he didn’t hand over any cash.
A couple we knew took an overnight bus. They kept their small bags with them and put their larger luggage in the storage compartment under the bus. They were even careful to put locks on the bags. When they eventually reached their hotel, they realized that the locks on their bags had been picked and the cash had been stolen. Someone had crawled around the storage area of the bus (while it was on the road!) and went through the bags unbeknownst to the passengers above.
It’s totally possible to travel around – or even live here – without being scammed. Kudos to those who have never been scammed or, if they have, have successfully managed to avoid it.
Have you experienced taxi scams in Thailand? Or better yet, how were you able to avoid them?
PIN IT FOR LATER!