Taxi and tuk tuk scams in Bangkok is a persistent problem for backpackers and travellers, and one that has led to a lot of trouble and resentment for many people visiting the city of supposed angels. Here are some of the most annoying problems with taxis and tuk tuks in Thailand and how you can avoid them.
Bangkok is an amazing city for those who take the time to get to know it, and one that is still – even despite package tourism having taken a firm death grip – considered to be a mecca, and quite often a rite of passage for newbie backpackers. Despite this, Bangkok can be a tough nut to crack, and is not always an easy city to get to know. That is why many long term backpackers in particular have a love/hate relationship with it.
Backpackers flock to Bangkok in droves as part of the traditional gap year route, and often spend the first few days of their round the world adventure in a daze on Khao San Road, enjoying the street food and avoiding the touts at the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
In many ways Bangkok is a baptism of fire for many gap year travellers.
But despite this lofty place in the heart of many backpackers, there is one persistent problem that threatens to spoil everyone’s experience of the big Mango, and one thing in particular that everyone tends to agree on.
That is that there is a special place in hell reserved for the majority of taxi and tuk tuk drivers.
Nothing brings up the ire of long term backpackers more than discussing these scavengers and opportunistic scam artists, and whilst it can be acknowledged that there are good, honest and friendly drivers out there, they are definitely in the minority. Either that or they only ever make themselves known to locals.
So what exactly are the problems travellers will run into with these four wheeled shysters? And perhaps more importantly how can they avoid them?
Very few taxi drivers abide by the law.
Lets get one thing straight right off the bat, in Thailand it is illegal, yes illegal, for taxi drivers to refuse a fare or refuse to put their meter on. Despite this the vast majority of them will flout the law openly knowing that very few – if any – people will complain and they will get away with it.
What can you do about it?
Well in all honesty nothing. Unless you actually want to take drivers details down and complain to the police and their employer (if it is a rented cab) later, which no one ever really does, then all you can do is be aware of those two facts to empower you to demand fair and legal treatment in any dealings with them. And never be afraid to sthreaten to get the police involved in any disputes either.
Many Taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers are scam artists at best, and at worst criminals.
Does this sound harsh? Well maybe a little. Many people argue that they are just trying to earn a living and there is truth to that, but at the end of the day you can’t get round the fact that many of them do break the law to take advantage of people.
I really don’t want to scare you here and I know I am painting a bad picture of Bangkok in general, but please don’t let this one group of people colour your entire experience of this great city, because it is important to remember that despite taxi drivers constantly trying to rip you off (which can be relatively easily avoided with a bit of knowledge) the statistics and facts show that the chance of any traveller becoming the victim of any serious crime in Thailand is very, very low.
Saying that there are many well known scams and crimes that are associated with drivers that you really should be aware of.
The vast majority are really low level problems, such as the refusal to turn on the meter as discussed above, and many others are relatively harmless tricks and cons designed to part you with as much of your money as possible as opposed to putting you in any serious harm or danger.
The infamous ‘tour scam’ is perhaps the most popular, especially with tuk tuk drivers, where you will be driven around a plethora of tourist trap shops, vendors and factories with a ‘one time only sale’ instead of being driven to your desired destination. This is usually done in conjunction with a few other common scams such as the gem scam (I seriously can’t believe people still fall for that one) or the ‘attraction is closed’ scam.
But there are stories too of things taking a turn for the worse, with tuk tuk drivers in particular teaming up with locals and signalling bag snatchers if you look like an easy mark, dropping you off nowhere near your destination and charging you the full fare or in some cases even driving you somewhere out of the way and leaving you vulnerable. This is extremely rare and in fact I personally don’t know anyone it has happened to in fifteen years of visiting Thailand, but it is important to keep your wits about you. Don’t be afraid, just be prepared.
What can you do about it?
Being aware of the common scams and their variations is your best bet here, do your research and know all the basics of each scam before you go, and be aware and have your wits about you when or if you use any taxi or tuk tuk in particular.
Tuk Tuk drivers are only for tourists.
Long gone are the days when tuk tuks were a cheap, easy and reliable way to get around the city. They are now at least the same price as an air conditioned and more comfortable taxi, if not more. Because of the fact that it is almost impossible to find one that wont try and rip you off you with any one of the popular scams or see you as a tourist to milk for money and instantly quote you 5 or 10 times the real price for a ride (they don’t have meters), then they are essentially now just a tourist attraction that are only useful for a one time experience to say you have ridden one.
What can you do about it?
If it is your first time in Bangkok then by all means take a short journey in one just for the experience and swallow the fact you have just paid at least double for the ride, after all they are genuinely a lot of fun and pretty much synonymous with travelling in Bangkok, but other than that just ignore them and find alternative transport instead.
Tourists are seen as a walking ATM.
Unfortunately this is true. Backpackers have suffered with it for decades, and now with the rise of package tourism the even more lucrative – and arguably more naive – tourists are getting hit too, and even locals are suffering as a result. Basically taxi and tuk tuk drivers see tourists and travellers as easy marks. They know they can quite often get a full days pay out of one particularly gullible tourist fare if they get lucky and they will always earn far more by overcharging tourists than they will giving honest fares to locals and those who are prepared for them. So what do they do? They get picky. They will ignore locals and backpackers who insist they use the meter and simply wait for the next tourist fare to come along.
What can you do about it?
Not stick out so much as an obvious traveller or tourist, is the obvious answer. I know this may sound a little daft as their are certain physical characteristics you have that mean you may always stand out a little. However whilst you may not be able to blend in completely as a local you can blend in as an expat at the very least. Don’t walk around with your backpack on and tourist map out, learn a few words and phrases in Thai, make an effort. They will probably still try and take advantage, but not to as large an extent.
They WILL try and overcharge you.
If you are an obvious traveller, tourist or farang (basically outsider), then get used to the fact that the second you try and get anywhere by using a taxi or tuk tuk driver, you will be quoted a price that is at least twice what it should be and often many times that original fare depending on how gullible you look. If you look like a traditional tourist with a bum bag, a tourist map and a confused expression then god help you.
What can you do about it?
Simple, insist that taxi drivers use the meter, and if they don’t get rid of them and flag down another. This may take you several tries and it does get extremely tiresome but eventually you will find an honest driver who will switch it on straight away (I always leave these awesome people a tip for being honest anyway). It is also a good idea to try to get a rough idea of how much a fare should be from one place to another (asking a local worker at the place you are staying is always a good idea) and do not pay more than that.
They will rely on you not knowing the real value of things.
There are two points to be made here. Drivers in general will rely on you not knowing how much something will cost, so if you ask for a journey from A to B that should cost 20 baht, and they know you have no idea and will think 200 baht is reasonable, then guess what they will ask for?
They know you will hand over that money with absolutely no idea that you have just been ripped off.
At some point you will hear someone say something along the lines of ‘it is only x amount it doesn’t matter’ or ‘well its still cheaper than home’. I can understand that from a logical point of view and both statements are technically right, I mean when you want to get back to your hotel or guesthouse and you are tired, does an extra few dollars or pounds really matter?
Not only are you being ripped off and will suffer in the long run when you blow your carefully crafted budget, but you are also sending the message that this is okay to do.
Many taxi drivers frankly don’t give a damn when they get someone who calls them on their shit because they know full well another stupid tourist will be along in a minute and they can charge them multiple times more than any fare they will get from any they lose from you, so they will refuse to take you and wait for the gullible fare instead. The exact same thing has happened in the night markets where any pretext of bartering for the tat they sell is all but gone, they will quote an outrageous price, refuse to haggle and don’t give a crap if you walk away because there is another gullible idiot willing to pay it right behind you.
This also has a huge knock on effect to locals too. Many locals have problems with taxi drivers who will refuse to take them, especially around touristy areas, because the drivers will be waiting for a gullible tourist they can milk for more money.
Don’t be a part of the problem. An extra few pounds may not be a big thing for you, and yes it may be far cheaper than what you would have paid back home, but that still doesn’t mean you should be paying over the odds.
Taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter.
This is a huge and persistent problem with taxi drivers in Thailand that causes so much resentment from travellers, yet it is one that even the authorities can do very little about.
Basically when you try and get a taxi and state your destination, they will just quote a number plucked out of thin air and refuse to turn their meter on despite it being illegal.
So what can you do?
Use official taxi ranks whenever possible, but at other times just insist they use their meter and wave them on if they don’t. You may have to go through several taxis and it can be very easy to lose your rag, don’t. Just keep your cool and keep waving taxis down until you find one that will use the meter.
Another trick I have used in the past is the old honesty enforcement policy.
Now, it is extremely important to know that this is not one that I recommend that anyone use unless they are 100% confident in their ability to keep themselves safe and are driving directly to somewhere that they can get immediate assistance if necessary (such as right outside their hotel door). You also need to be fully aware of how much the ride should be.
If you are struggling to find a taxi driver that will use their meter then ignore what price they quote, don’t agree, say yes or acknowledge them in any way, just state your destination and get in. When you get there just get out, hand them the correct fare no matter how much they tell you that you should be paying and walk away without replying. They cant follow you if you walk into somewhere quickly and they cant call the police either.
Remember I do not recommend that to everyone. The times I use it I am always confident in my ability to keep myself safe and get somewhere safe afterwards.
The taxi mafia is a real thing.
Many taxi drivers in Bangkok will congregate around major tourist sights such as the Grand Palace or the night markets, and will essentially band together to ensure that none of them will use their meter, they will all agree beforehand to charge the same minimum rate when you ask (usually four or five times the real rate), and they will cause trouble for any other driver who tries to pick you up from that area.
What can you do?
If you find yourself stuck with these people (and you can’t use the honesty enforcement technique described above) then just walk a short distance away, a street or two is often enough, and just flag a taxi down from there instead.
Ignore the dishonest ones, use the few honest ones, it’s that simple.
Remember despite its problems and despite the taxi and tuk tuk nuisance, Bangkok is still a great city to spend time in and get to know, it is just home to scams and problems just like anywhere else in the world. Just stay alert, stay smart, be firm, and don’t let the scammers keep you from having the time of your life!
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