Pickpockets and scams: is it Bangkok, or are some tourists just asking for it?
Has tourism changed in the past few years? Or have people gotten lazier? Or have tourist touts just been breeding and evolving more?
Tourists with giant maps, cameras, and lost looks make for easy sources of legitimate and illegitimate cash.
If you’ve never been to Thailand, you might be shocked to see so many tourists traveling with expensive cameras hanging loosely from their shoulders. Open bags. Passports in their back pockets. And, all manner of near on incomprehensible acts of “make me a target”.
Yet, it’s only when they lose their precious possessions that many tourists scratch their head and wonder why did it happen to them?
Scams in Bangkok 1: The pickpocket
Downtown Bangkok is filled with traffic and pedestrians. I was in search of an office to drop a message off when I noted a man up ahead. He was talking to a stranger, lots of arms waving. Then it was over.
I walked by, only to have him stagger backwards into me. At the same time I noticed a woman suddenly appear behind me.
Instinctively I pushed the man forward and out of the way. Right choice.
The typical double pickpocket distraction was in play.
“Ah, can you help me please sir?”
What dimwit asks for help after just getting shoved by an irate tourist? I swung around and pointed a finger at the woman coming in close from behind.
My instincts were right, she swung abruptly around and slipped down a narrow side street while spitefully saying something I couldn’t make out.
The man disappeared across the road at the same time as I backed myself up against a parked bike. People stared at me after my shout. But, all kept walking.
Knocking potential trouble on the head
Some people might be shocked at my reaction and language in this scenario. But, based on my experience, it’s better to become a king of calculated aggression under these circumstances. Than be just another victim. It has saved me before.
This was in broad-daylight on a crowded street. These people don’t want attention drawn to them. My harsh reaction was to send them scattering. No more. At a different time of day or night, on a different street, I might have chosen a different reaction. Bottom line: it worked.
Stalking the pickpockets
Again, really not taking to Bangkok. I backtracked. If anything to see if this pair really were up to no good, or was I too paranoid? Sure enough the man was waiting around again.
Two young tourist girls walked by as he tried to wave them down to stop and talk. They ignored him. A few minutes later and he was waving at another tourist.
This time the tourist actually walked over to the man.
There were a lot of similes and cheers. And, distracting hand waving by the Thai. The tourist nodded and pointed too. Then, that same woman appeared again. The tourist was in prime line of sight for her. Saved at the last minute by his girlfriend who pulled at him to enter a tuk tuk with a group of friends.
The lady stopped, turned, and walked back. A minute or so later and the pickpocket team left the scene from opposite sides of the road.
Scams in Bangkok 2: The river boat tickets
Hopping off the skytrain with no problems I made my way to Phraya river. My destination was meant to be the boat stop nearest to the Royal Palace. There was a long series of boats docked up along the concrete riverside. Surely this would be easy?
And, so it started.
Just a regular river boat please
It did take a little while of standing back and watching people before I found what looked like a regular river boat.
In the queue a British tourist couple were not so happy. Seems like they’d paid a lot of money for a tour, rather than a regular boat trip up the river.
They’d bought the tickets from some tout on near Khao San Road who told them it was an all day pass. Turned out to be a tour. They drowned their sorrows in some cans of beer they were carrying.
Bangkok scam 3: The royal palace tickets
Passing a heap of food stalls I was out in front of the Royal Palace walls. A short walk up and I saw a queue. Huge. I also noted the amount of tourists wearing shorts (you need to wear long pants only to get in). Was it this relaxed?
Walking around the outer wall I walked passed the queue. Then passed another door and another. So, there was only one way in. At least I knew that now.
A car pulled up and group of Americans got out near me. No sooner than they had when three local men came over and told us all that the ticket office was further up the street.
More pickpockets? Or just con-men?
I looked at one guy, and frowned. But without questioning anyone the tourists followed the three men. Nearly immediately another car pulled up and the same thing happened all over again. Private tour cars it looked like.
I walked back as a taxi pulled up. Again the couple inside were pounced on by one of the “ticket” men. Only now, the taxi man waved him off and pointed the tourists back to the main gate.
A genuine taxi man in Bangkok helping tourists?! Yes, it does seem to happen.
A typical scam was in work outside the Royal Palace. What’s worse were that the people were falling for it. Moreover, no one at the royal palace seemed to care.
The tourists were more than likely buying real tickets but with an added price attached.
Good Thai people are easy to find, bad tourists are even easier
I had rainwater wiped from my coat at the train station by an information officer. Given a plastic bag so my timetable wouldn’t get wet. An MRT security man helped me with my bags. A local man helped to translate my phone questions to a sales man at a shopping mall for over 30 minutes. A cook kept smiling at me, waiting for my thumbs up or down for his pepper steak review. A security guard let me into a closed off area just as members of the Royal family arrived at a mall. An old man outside my hotel gives me a big wave hello whenever I pass. And, the list goes on…
I don’t blame the touts or pickpockets. They see vulnerable tourists and go for it. Much like in any big city. The difference here is that Thais haven’t lost their human touch. Unlike in many western countries whereby it’s a near on offence to even say hello to a stranger on the street these days.
The result. Thais are very happy at being … well, Thai!
And me, well, to be honest it’s rubbing off a little on me. And, even when faced with pressures, scams and everything else; I’m smiling more these days too.
Yesterday Thais voted in a national election. During the morning I walked around the city, hopping on and off that day’s free MRT (rail) service. A few big TV screens were showing polling booths on the news. People sat around and looked up.
An old man turned as I sat down. I pointed to the screen, smiled, and gave him a thumbs up.
He nodded and smiled back widely. Proud to be Thai, through and through.
Wat Arun in the evening let the good times start …
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