7 Essential Tips You Need to Know Holidaying in Thailand

When I get asked by someone intending to do their first trip to Thailand or discussing holidaying in Thailand, these are the 7 essential tips I tell them. Surprisingly, some of these tips are unknown by people who have been to Thailand before.

Someone approaches you

Be careful when anybody in Thailand approaches you out of the blue. I know this sounds extremely cynical, but there are very good reasons why you should immediately go on the defensive. More so if this is the first time holidaying in Thailand as somehow, you can stand out from the crowd to the locals. Thai people, in general, are conservative and shy to approach strangers and rarely come up to a tourist on the street purely to strike up a conversation to talk about the weather. If someone does approach you, the question to work out is what are they after and the trick is to not give too much of your information out.

In my early years of traveling to Thailand, I was approached twice in the Sukhumvit area and observed the same thing happening one time in the Chatuchak market (I’m sure if I stayed to observe I would have seen multiple approaches). The routine was basically the same which relies on finding common points of interest and I explain it in more detail with the gambling scam. I’m not suggesting this is prevalent, but it does go on and I recall the first time it happened to me was about my fifth trip to Bangkok and the first time I was ever approached on the street by a Thai person which took me by surprise.

Looking back on it, being polite and engaging with the person is what allowed the conversation to go for as long as it did only ending when it became clearly obvious I wasn’t going to jump in a taxi with her to go to her ‘supposedly’ family home.

Maybe I appear more seasoned these days to anyone who might be looking to try this on, but I haven’t been approached like this for a good 8 years but I have heard that it still goes on from time to time.

I should add that I’ve also been approached by a young backpacker looking guy on a scooter in Phuket while I was walking down a Soi heading to the beach trying to scam me with scratch-it cards. Read more on that experience about my encounter with the timeshare scam. So I’m not just singling out the locals that you should be wary of.

It’s free

If you are ever approached on the street and told something is free or cost only gas – surprise surprise, it’s not. It’s hard to make a living for your average thai person so it’s just not going to happen that your said person is going to give up valuable income producing time to do something for you for free. You can be sure a kickback is going to be coming for the kind Samaritan and you’ll end up paying for it in whatever you buy/do.

Even if you aren’t approached with a free offer, you could still end up paying a kickback to whoever brings you. An example one time was visiting a floating market and the personal driver I had engaged told me to give him 800 baht to pay for the 1000 baht ticket. The tickets were 1000 baht from the various touts, so obviously an incentive for a taxi driver/tour group to pick this tout over the others.

This is one of those situations where even if I showed up myself, I would still have paid 1000 baht and the touts pocketing the extra money. Its very unlikely you could negotiate the prices in that situation as the tickets/receipt were pre-printed and fixed pricing would be enforced between the touts.

There are impersonators

There are people in this world that impersonate others for some form of personal benefit and Thailand is no exception. There have been a number of media stories exposing people who dress up as either police officers or military personnel. It can be extremely hard to discern the difference. You can request ID to be produced but to be honest, you (including me) would find it difficult to spot a good fake identity card. Obviously a straight out refusal to produce ID would set alarm bells off.

Like most scammers, they will usually want to take you away from any high traffic areas (ie witnesses) and request you to go to the station. I personally would decline such an invitation and suggest they give me the station details and a time that I could attend with a Thai lawyer. I think people would be surprised how easy it is for a Thai person to get a full uniform with matching medals and insignia’s supplied through the various uniform tailors that are around.

To be honest, it’s difficult to script how to deal with this situation, common sense (leaning to being cautious) is going to play a big part (ie if you did think the officers were legitimate and went to the station, never agree to enter an unmarked car). The other thing like most situations is to keep calm and hold a normal conversation without yelling or using aggressive gestures. If you feel threatened, then do everything to get the attention and assistance of whoever is around as impersonators hate too much attention.

Passports

This is a common travel tip, but don’t give up your passport to anyone or use it as security under any circumstances. If it is insisted (say some form of motorbike/vehicle rental which is common while holidaying in Thailand), then go somewhere else. There are of course exceptions, obviously any hotel will want to photocopy your passport during check in but will be promptly returned. I’ve hired cars and motorbikes who wanted to take a copy of my passport either by taking a photo (when they have delivered the vehicle) or taken a photocopy. Sometimes you have to balance your interests with the interests of a legitimate business operator.

A more difficult scenario is being approached on the street by someone wanting to do an identity/visa check. Once you give them your passport to check stamps etc, it may be difficult to get it back from them. Do the same checks you would do with impersonators to verify they are who they say. The fact that they may have one or two people dressed as police officers standing behind them doesn’t give them an immediate level of legitimacy.

Don’t get stupidly drunk

Not so much a travel tip for Thailand as much as being basic common sense in any part of the world. Being ridiculously drunk just brings you to the attention of any unsavory characters looking to engage in opportunistic crime. Also, getting stupidly drunk makes people do stupid things which will then get you into trouble with the police, or even worse, the receiving end of some local payback which can end up being quite nasty being the last thing you would want when holidaying in Thailand.

You ain’t in Kansas Dorothy

Thailand is Thailand, you wouldn’t be holidaying in Thailand if it wasn’t different from you home country. The same applies to the application of the law. When laws are written, they generally apply to everyone. It’s been my experience and observation that the application of a law that should apply to everyone can be selectively applied. There are X number of reasons why this occurs in Thailand.

What I’m saying here is don’t assume that the law is going to side with you. This applies to non-thais as well as thais so don’t immediately take it personally believing it’s because you are the foreigner. My personal approach has always been to try to avoid getting caught up in some sought of legal dispute and to date I’ve been pretty successful with it.

Use social media

If you really think you are being hard done by or facing injustice while holidaying in Thailand, the use of social media has proved quite successful for people in the past. Of course, the caveat of not crying wolf applies where social media has that instant reality check of turning on you if you aren’t substantially in the right.

Thai people don’t like being embarrassed, posting or doing something that can embarrass a person (or entity such as a Government department) can put you into some serious trouble with the country’s defamation laws. Being a lawyer, I can tell you its not just about the right and wrongs of the matter but the cost, both financially and emotionally to you and your family.