So you’re thinking of travelling to South East Asia, you’ve heard the horror stories about getting hustled in Bangkok, or pillaged in Phnom Penh, and you want to know how to spot these things as early as possible. Well, let me share some tips I’ve learnt travelling Asia.
1. Ten Baht tuk tuks do not exist
Undoubtedly at some point you will find yourself being offered a 10 Baht tuk tuk in Thailand, even to somewhere pretty far away. The driver will say “I need to make a quick one-minute stop on the way so as I’m going that way I’ll do it for 10 Baht”. By a ‘quick stop on the way’, what he most probably means is he’s going to take you to a suit shop or something similar in which he has a commission based deal with the owners. He drops you off and says ‘just have a look for 5 minutes then I’ll take you for 10 Baht’. So if like me you were on a tight schedule of seeing as many sights in one day, carrying a suit around with you or even buying a suit isn’t the most practical thing to do at that time anyway. So you say to yourself “right I’ll go and have a look, show some interest and say I’ll come back tomorrow or something” Unfortunately the suit guys have heard it all before and as soon as they think you’re not buying a suit right there and then, they’ll be sure to want you out of the way for someone who will. Oh yeah and guess what happens when you come back to the tuk tuk without a suit? Suddenly the 10 baht deal is off, so you either pay an extortionate new amount to get where you want to go, or you don’t pay anything and find yourself another tuk tuk having wasted precious time. Oh and one more thing, the suit shop wasn’t on the way at all.
There's no such thing as a 10 Baht tuk tuk so don't fall into the trap.
2. Beware of the cute children!
As common in a lot of areas in the world, children are used to lure in tourists to buy goods or donate money etc. I’d say a sensible dose of common sense can sniff that out no problem, but what might catch you off guard are the ‘all I want is someone to play with the kids’. Every now and then you’ll have what looks like a group of friends or family of children run up to you and try to wrestle and hug you and so on. As much fun as it is to reignite the WWF wrestler inside you and mess around with these kids, try to be very aware of where their hands are, especially if you have females with bags with you. I unfortunately witnessed a friend of mine have her phone taken while other kids where distracting me, as soon as we realised they ran off, hopped on a motorbike and were dust.
Keep them at arm’s length and check your pockets and belongings regularly. This obviously doesn’t count for every child in Asia and some do just want to play, but it doesn’t hurt to consider an ulterior motive.
3. The super-friendly locals / tuk tuk / taxi drivers that give you ‘great advice’
This one’s not as clear cut and differs from person to person, but cue the friendly stranger who tells you to go to a certain place over another as they charge a better rate and the other rips off tourists etc, etc. They'll say something like “from this pier is the most direct but don't let them charge you more than 1200 baht – they'll say 2000 but don't pay any more than 1200”. You're standing thinking “gee wiz just saved myself a few pennies there, phewww.” Only to return later and speak to other travellers to find out the trip only costs 500 baht and they do the same swindling at every pier.
Ask around for different prices and speak to some fellow travellers or consult a guidebook to see what you should be paying.
4. Hiked price visa border crossings and fake visas
The Thailand to Cambodia border is notoriously known for charging more than you expected for visas (even though the signs there state the amount you were expecting), it is an unfortunate pain you just have to take on the chin. However, something you can look out for is when travelling from a border town to a border, taxi/tuk tuk drivers will try and tell you that you will need to get a visa before you get to the border (you don’t) and that he can take you to a place where you can get one for $60 (normal price $20), he’ll insist you can’t get one at the border today and considering you need to get through, it’s hard to just ignore what they are saying.
Know how the border works, ask other travellers and take a look at your guidebook for advice. Visas are available at the border sometimes for a few dollars more than advertised, but available nonetheless.
5. Distance scammers – know your kms
Taxis, tuk tuks and what not will try and tell you that where you need to go is very far away so they have to charge more than you want. “Oh very far” is commonly one of the first things you’ll hear when you say where you want to go, if you believe it than you begin to justify paying more without knowing how far it actually is. If you know how far in km where you’re going is and quote that at the start when getting a price they’ll know that they can’t fool you into believing it’s farther than it is.
Use a local map and the scale on it to roughly work out how many kms away from where you are your destination is. Most hostels and hotels will say on their website how far from the airport, bus station etc they are and give a rough price of how much it’s likely to cost you.