Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with a modicum of common sense.
More a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travellers, telling them that the site is closed for a "Buddhist holiday", "repairs" or a similar reason. The 'helpful' driver will then offer to take the traveller to another site, such as a market or store. Travelers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back to the centre of town where they came from. So always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.
Avoid any tuk-tuks in Bangkok. Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address (they get commissions from places). For the same reason avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions. Take meter-taxi's, can't go wrong, unless he tries the 'meter broken' scam, don't even waste your time arguing, tell him to pull over, get out and find another cab with a 'working' meter. The fewer who put up with this, the less it will be tried on.
Don't buy any sightseeing tours at the airport. If you do, they will phone several times to your hotel in order to remind you about the tour. During the tour, you will be shortly taken to a small temple, without a guide, and then one shop after another as they get commission. They might refuse to take you back home until you see all the shops. On your way back, they pressure you to buy more tours. No need to fear this on our tours, we'll take care of you from start to finish.
Easily identified with practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cell phone.
These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist's background, family, or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or (particularly in Bangkok) the infamous gem scam.
Beware also jewellery shops offering to 'clean' your jewellery, usually replaced with counterfeit items.
Once identified, the wary traveller should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cell phone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveller should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers.
Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside along the lines of "please help me to earn 30 baht".
The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire (which includes supplying their hotel name and room number) with the incentive that they just might win a prize - the reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they are a "winner", however the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn't get her 30 baht if you don't attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.
Another recurrent scam involves foreigners - sometimes accompanied by small children - who claim to be on the last day of their vacation in Thailand, and having just packed all their belongings into one bag in preparation for their flight home, lost everything when that bag was stolen. Now cash is urgently needed in order to get to the airport in a hurry and arrange a replacement ticket for his/her return flight in a few hours time.
Terrorism: national security is currently at the top of the agenda of countries around the world and Thailand is no exception. The insurgency in southern Thailand is limited to the country’s three southernmost provinces and has thus showed no signs of having an effect on the capital. After the recent second bombing in Bali it’s difficult to offer any guarantees and Thailand certainly is an easier place for these groups to operate.
Drugs: while the situation has lightened somewhat since the severe crackdown of the infamous ‘war on drugs’ in 2003, Thai authorities still draw a hard-line on drugs and possession of even a small amount of marijuana will make you vulnerable to a massive potential fine or even jail time and deportation. Foreigners caught trafficking drugs are likely to end up living a hellish existence at the infamous ‘Bangkok Hilton’, Bangkwang prison. Do not be drawn into any suspicious deals, no matter how financially rewarding it may sound to a desperate soul.
Violence: Thais, on the whole, are passive people and manage to maintain a passive environment. However, there is the odd occasion when alcohol fuelled fights break out and the aggressor will stop at nothing with his rage. Thai men are proud and controlled, but some are known to get drunk easily and if their national or self pride is insulted by an insensitive foreigner they can really ‘lose it’! Some men have also reported rather destructive jealousy-fuelled tantrums from their Thai female companions which have left their hotel rooms trashed.
Life is very cheap here, 100,000b can buy you off from a murder if you've friends in the right places, Thais keep their cool far longer than we ever would/could, but like a pressure cooker it builds until it goes in fine style. Leave. Immediately.
Women alone: Thailand is generally a safe country for women to travel alone, but there have been a few cases of rape by taxi drivers or women lured by local men into fatal or fearsome situations. As with all strange countries, keep your wits about you and be wary of befriending strangers too quickly.
Hustlers and touts: pushy touts are likely to be among the first Thai people you meet upon landing in the Bangkok airport and you are likely to meet many more during your stay. They will all want to cart you off to some destination or other, all the time with an eye on making a bit of extra money from someone unfamiliar with the city. Relative to other tourist destinations in developing countries the Thai are generally quite polite and, apart from market vendors and tuk tuk or taxi drivers, they respect your privacy.
A firm ‘Mai ow krap(for men)/ka(spoken by ladies)’ (not interested thanks!) will serve you well in most cases and if it does not simply ignoring the persistent pleas and continuing on your path will cause the tout to move on to the next person. Sometimes hard work not to let your eyes flicker towards them giving the 'in' necessary, but completely ignoring them usually does the trick. Sunglasses!
Scams: tuk tuk drivers, especially those who congregate in tourist areas, are notorious for offering ‘tours’, even on occasion bringing you to the famous site of your choice for free, provided you stop off at look at jewellery or a suit shop along the way. On the occasion we do use Tuk-Tuks (they ARE fun)we use a select few we've built a good working relationship with, who'll take us directly to our destination. These scams are arranged with the owner of the shop and making purchases during such a trip is not a good idea as you will be paying far higher rates than you would normally and quite possibly receiving goods of dubious quality.
Also be aware of recommendations from taxi drivers when it comes to jewellery shops, suits, shops, bars and restaurants. Gem scams are the most prolific and every week someone lodges a complaint about losing larges sums of money buying what they thought were cheap ‘illegally smuggled’ Burmese gems, only to discover the goods are fake and the shop gone when they return. The solution to this one is simple; don’t be greedy, and imagine you are scoring a bargain illicitly. The only bargains to be picked up here are by the Thais themselves.
Motorcycles: many consider motorcycle taxis so dangerous in Bangkok, that they’re to be used as a last resort when you need to beat the traffic. They can be particularly dangerous for those who have much larger body types than Thai people. Remember that a motorcycle driver is accustomed to having a thin-framed Thai person on the back of his bike and may at times not leave too much room to negotiate himself through a tight traffic squeeze. Motorcyclists can also be a hazard to pedestrians and locals have a habit of driving rather recklessly. Personally I have used them a great deal in the past, dodgey as hell but incredible fun!
Buses: getting on an off the buses in Bangkok is not a simple matter. You must be sure that it has come to a full stop, and as such it is best to get off with a group of people and be careful about doing so. Numerous terrible injuries occur every year due to people falling off buses.
Construction: Bangkok is one ongoing big construction projects and much of the work that was abandoned after the 1997 financial crisis is now being finished off. Pavements are a particular hazard, full of holes and sometimes loose debris. Safety laws in Thailand are rather loosely applied and falling masonry and collapsing walls and billboards are a hazard from time-to-time, but seldom cause any widespread casualty. You'll see the Thais mostly watching the ground when they walk rather than looking straight ahead. Good habit to get into, no claims against the council here!