I have always regarded travel to foreign places as one of life’s great gifts. To open my eyes and learn the cultures and traditions of another people is of great interest to me. Yes, of course I want to see the attractions of that country but if I miss the attractions and discover the heart, soul and if possible the language of the people then I am absolutely fine with that. However whether a traveller or a tourist the one thing that must be paramount when travelling is keeping yourself and valuables safe from travel scams. Obviously the majority of this blog is about Thailand and Thailand although a fantastic country certainly has it’s fair share of scam artists. This post really goes out in a more global sense to beware of travel scams where ever you are in the world.
Firstly, of all the travelling I have done and it has been a fair amount, (having first started at the age of 18, years old when myself and a friend decided we had worked long enough 2 years and it was now time to see a bit of the world), the majority of people we met on our travels were absolutely brilliant. This has continued throughout my travelling days and the people who I have met normally have never thought twice about helping me or who ever was with me out. However tourists and travellers are often easy marks for thieves and other forms of riff-raff or vile people who are set up to relieve you of your hard-earned money or perhaps even worse.
Be sure the Taxi gentleman is running his meter
I think the best piece of advice I have heard recently was in the life design interview I recently did with Mark Stephens part 3. On being asked to give a final piece of advice on new people arriving in Thailand and this can apply to anywhere in the world, he replied… ”Don’t leave your brain with immigration when you enter the country” This is very sound advice as so often when escaping from our normal life of routine in to something new and exciting we tend to turn in to children and it does not take long for the whole venture to be ruined.
I have a constant alertness when I am on my travels and trusting no one is usually pretty much the way I go. This does not mean I am un-friendly only that I am on my guard. I learned a good lesson right at the beginning of my travel adventures as an 18-year-old whilst in Singapore and have since anticipated most problems before they have risen. There are a number of travel scams that do the rounds and too many to go in to here and at this moment. You will certainly find most of them doing the rounds in Thailand ”and then some” as they now say.
I will tell you of my friend and I’s plight in Singapore as a couple of fresh and raw travellers as I know this scam is still alive and well, but this was actually a long time ago. The way I will tell it will be in a light-hearted manner, however the message is serious as with any scams. The reason I jest with this slightly is that we managed to turn the tables slightly on the scam artist.
Be careful of thieves on motor bikes
Our accommodation in Singapore was parallel to our economic situation and that was dire. We found these crash pads as they were called in Singapore that were located about 6 floors up, housed 8 beds to a room and owned by a friendly Chinese man. Come to think about it now I don’t know if he owned them or was next to homeless like us and they let him stay there, but anyway he was in charge.
My friend Paul and I had just returned from the bank for the second day running having gone to see if money had arrived from our accounts at home as we were down to the bare bones as they say. Nowadays of course money would be in your accounts in seconds with massive technology advancements and the arrival of the digital age, but back then I think a courier travelled across on foot.
On walking back to the accommodation (if you can call it that) an Asian man later we knew to be Filapino stopped and gave us a massive hello and made out like we had all met before and how were we doing. The amazing thing at the time was that he even knew or guessed correctly that we had previously been in Jakarta where he believed we had all met. We were fairly confident that we had never met him before, but went along with it not to seem unfriendly or impolite.
Beware of Tuk-Tuk drivers over-charging
As the conversation progressed with him doing the majority of the talking of course he offered to buy us a beer and a bite to eat for old times sake, of course there was no old times sake, but we were just thinking what to do about lunch or more to the point how to afford lunch with the money having still not arrived at the bank. Whist we feasted on a fine chicken curry and bottled tiger beer he told us of a card game that he would like us to feature in, yes his plan was to make us part of a black jack game. This was in actual fact quite funny as my friend Paul could probably turn his hand to a few card games, but I had always had a job holding my own in a game of snap. I was absolutely useless at cards and had no interest in cards or gambling as a whole at all.
Announcing himself as Ronnie ”the man who could help”,he then went in to over drive pointing out the fine benefits of his package. Would you like another beer lads, yes please Ronnie.
There is this man from Brunei who keeps winning at cards he says and we need him to lose, but I can’t play cards Ronnie I said. Ah say’s Ronnie … you won’t need to. We will deal fake hands now and again and help you win the game… silence from us.
You will enter the room in fine suits with a fine watch on your arm looking the part. Accompanying you both will be a beautiful woman on your arm (now he was homing in on a weak spot I had…. by the way another beer please Ronnie. I think between you both you will walk away with $16,000 . Now I must admit for a short spell what with a belly full of curry, Tiger beer and a complete economical crises the offer was getting better by the minute. Where was our agent when you needed him.
Beware totally of jet-ski owners (many are bad news)
Ronnie spent the next two hours putting the icing on his plans and it was not long before he told us he was ringing his boss to go ahead and arrange the card game in a 5 star Kuala Lumper hotel the following night, but we would carry out the preparations at a friend’s house in the morning. Of course we were given another beer and chose another bite to eat off of the menu, but things had started to register with us as serious. It was really beginning to register as serious when out of nowhere appeared a couple of his Chinese side kicks who looked slightly menacing to say the least. I remember Paul and myself looking at each other with the look of ” we had better get out of here”.
We announced to Ronnie thanks for the offer, but no thanks and the change in the personality of Ronnie was a sight to be seen. Gone was the nice smiling man who at the end of every sentence added ”my friends” and gone was the offer of any more beers of course. Ronnie rang his boss and seemed to go in to about 3 different oriental languages in a loud and ever raising voice. Ronnie was obviously telling his boss that we were now not going to do this and boy was Ronnie mad, it also sounded like boy was Ronnie’s boss mad if of course it was a boss at all on the other end of the phone, it could well have been his next door neighbour. Ronnie’s two apes took up they’re accustomed look of menacing and Ronnie continued his rant in various oriental languages. Well this was the key that Paul and I needed. A look at each other and a nod towards the exit door saw us take off like Linford Christie and Carl Lewis leaving the two apes trailing behind us. I must admit we saw the apes take off behind us, but we never looked back and they were carrying a few excess pounds anyway. Upon hiding in a couple of alleyway entrances for a while, we carefully made our way back to our own 5 star accommodation or the pits and were both chuffed to be there.
Watch your bag
We relaid the story to the owner of the dormitory block who told us that we had been very fortunate and nearly stupid. This man was being looked for by the police as had robbed an Australian of all his money during a card game and taken his passport. We never went back down that part of town on foot again, but got a taxi to the bank the following day to pick up finally some welcomed funds. It was not the anticipated $16,000 US dollars, but it was a sum without conditions or consequences and there was a lot to be said for that.
If you are out there today Ronnie my old mate, then Paul and Trevor if you remember us would like to thank you for a fantastic meal and fine Tiger beer and even the after dinner entertainment, but don’t call us up for a reunion. On a serious note and as two 18-year-old lads we got hold of our senses just in time and in fact the corporate entertainment was all on him, but the real trick is to ignore all hello’s and greetings from strangers in fact I stop for no one on my travels, totally ignoring all requests. In fact we began to get use to getting rid of potential scam artists, for as soon as we left Singapore and arrived in Bangkok all those years ago a man in a hotel announced his self as Charlie and of course along with the mantra of ”I can help you with anything”,I know of a good gem shop my friend owns. No thanks Charlie and good-bye. We thought of asking him if he knew Ronnie, but gave the idea a miss. As I say Thailand has many scams to beware of and I will go in to more about those in future posts this is nothing bad towards Thailand, because as so do most countries, but being that this blog is about Thailand then scams in Thailand are more highlighted.
Take care of pick-pockets in crowds
Aside from scams, theft in general when travelling can be a real problem, so I have a few tips here.These tips will of course be familiar to most of you, but certainly worth being reminded of .
1) Don’t carry your cash or other valuables in your handbag or other small visible bag. Better to keep these in a money belt or long, deep front pockets. Thieves operating on Motor bikes (which is a favourite one) and on foot go for handbags and those on foot target back pockets as well.
2) Carry very little cash about leaving the majority of your cash or valuables in a hotel safe. Better still leave your valuables like jewelry etc at home and travel only with what is essential.
3) Another mistake I see is people who go down to breakfast in the hotel and leave the key on the table showing their room number. A thief can then take a note of your room number and rob you whilst you are out.
4) When going out from your hotel room be sure to lock all the doors and windows. I can think of two people I know that got robbed by someone entering through unlocked balcony doors.
5) If you are going to use an ATM machine whilst in Thailand or anywhere else come to that matter I always make sure I use the machines inside the bank as less chance of them having been tampered with. Do take a few seconds longer before putting your card in the slot to check for anything strange. There are skimmer devices that con artists use to read the information on your card when you insert it. Don’t forget in the UK the card comes back out first and then the money. In Thailand the money comes out first and then the card, so be careful you don’t just take the money and leave.
A couple of similar links I have found upon searching to see if this was a common story
Near enough an identical story from lonely planet
Around the world in 80 scams: An essential travel guide
Travel Advisory: How to avoid thefts, cons and street cons while travelling.
Other Great Links
Engaging Thailand Website
For more information on Thailand in the form of articles, tips, relevant links constant updating and new guest interviews ,please visit http://www.engagingthailand.com/ the site where work will always be in progress.
A blog all about Thailand – from Kitiya’s point of view. Kitiya talks about travel information, cooking and Thai culture, in particular Kitiya specialises in information and stories about Isaan (the north-east.)
Brilliant Thai Forum
Entertaining, friendly and very informative on subjects Thai. Come along and meet a welcoming crowd of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, Brits, Thais and others and be in the know and inform.
A great little group on Facebook for those of you who love Thailand, discuss any Thai related things amongst friends. All nationalities from all over the world with one thing in common they simply adore Thailand. Why not join the group and be with friends on Friends 4 Thailand. Just log in on the link below to see the page.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/179211268812336/ Useful information from a group about living in Thailand.