Many cities seem to have double standards when it comes to locals and tourists. One group is often treated differently than the other, sometimes out of prejudice, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes—in the case of scammers—out of greed.
One of the places where that division between tourists and locals particularly struck me was Bangkok. On the surface, rate hikes for taxis and tuk-tuks seem like nothing more than tourist scams. But beneath that, the situation is much more complex.
“When I work until late at night, the taxi cabs in front of the hostel won’t take me,” Ngae Nor said to me. “They want farang (foreign) passengers because they can make more money.” We were sitting at the hostel Ngae worked at, talking about Thailand and tourism.
The hostel was on a quiet street in Silom, a neighborhood in Bangkok. If a taxi in front of the hostel wouldn’t take Ngae, she’d have to walk to a main street to find one. It’s an inconvenience that nobody, Thai or foreigner, should have to face.
I thought of something Nalin, the hostel’s marketing rep, had told me. “Thai people believe that if you have light skin, you have money and a very good job. If you have darker skin, you’re poor,” she said.
It can be easy for foreigners to overpay for transportation in Thailand without even realizing it. While this can be a nuisance to tourists who may have to part with more money than they need to, it can also exacerbate the problem that Ngae spoke of: locals being turned away for tourist dollars.
Here are some common misconceptions about hiring transportation in Bangkok (and Thailand in general)—as well as some tips to avoid being scammed.
Myth #1: It’s okay, Thailand is cheaper than back home
“We paid 1,000 Thai baht to get from the airport to the hostel,” a couple from England told me. I couldn’t believe my ears. It should only cost 450THB—tops.
How on earth did they fall for that one? Well, easily. It was late at night, they were tired and they told themselves that it was okay, because 1,000THB is still much cheaper than they would have paid for a taxi back home.
This kind of thinking needs to be left on the plane when you land in Thailand. Yes, it’s cheaper, but that doesn’t mean you should pay more than the normal price for goods or services.
Myth #2: Taking a tuk-tuk is cheaper than a taxi
Many travellers assume that taking a tuk-tuk is cheaper than a taxi (when I first arrived in Thailand, I thought the same thing). It’s usually not. When you hail a tuk tuk, the driver may quote prices anywhere from 150THB to 500THB—which is about 200 to 300 percent more than the price of a taxi ride. Often, even when a farang barters, he or she ends up paying a lot more than what the actual fare should be.
Avoid taxi and tuk-tuk scams in Bangkok by following these 7 tips:
- When taking a taxi, insist that the driver turn on the meter; if he says no, wave him off and try another one. I know, I know, chances are it’s cheaper than at home, but if you pay higher prices, which are often scams, then it will raise the cost of living in the city, and the locals will suffer. Remember Ngae, and how she can’t get a taxi to take her home if it’s near the hostel? This is because many travellers pay whatever a driver asks for. Why would they take a Thai person, when a farang will pay 100 to 200 percent more?
- “A tour of Bangkok, only 20THB!” is a common phrase among tuk-tuk drivers in the city. This is a scam. Sure, you’ll be taken to a couple of smaller wats (temples) and told that they are the most important in Bangkok, but it doesn’t end there. You’ll also be taken to a few shops where the driver will earn a hefty commission if you buy something. Avoid these tuk-tuk drivers.
- Ask a Thai person at your hostel or hotel what the price for a tuk-tuk (or item you want to buy) should be. Use that as your base when bartering. A good rule of thumb is to cut the asking price in half and work up from there.
- Be firm when bartering with tuk-tuk drivers. If it’s not going your way, walk away. If the price is too much, wave the driver off and try another one. If a driver sees that you’ve waved off a few tuk-tuks, he’ll know you mean business.
- If you’re in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, take the BTS (skytrain) instead of battling with taxi drivers and tuk-tuks. It’s cheaper, faster and scam-free!
- Avoid hawkers for tuk-tuks in Patpong and on Khao San Road (as well as at places such as the Grand Palace). There are plenty of taxi drivers and tuk-tuks driving in this area, and finding an honest one is not as hard as you may think.
- Hire a taxi (if your flight arrives after 11 p.m.) from the taxi stand, or walk out to a driver at the arrivals level. Make sure the driver is clear that you’re paying 450THB including the toll fees for the highway.
Don’t get discouraged. Be brave and stand your ground—and remember that being firm doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk. Be patient, and even try having fun with it!
Bangkok is a fabulous city, but like many places in the world, it can be home to scams and double standards. Just be smart, be firm, and don’t let the scammers keep you from enjoying yourself!