10 Lines that Say You're Being Hustled

This rather charming warning sign comes from Wat Pho, Bangkok, home of a 50m reclining Buddha and, it would appear, a gang of light-fingered Playmobil people.

Outside the nearby Royal Palace, however, the sign warns, succinctly and sweetly, “Beware of wily strangers.”

And wily, to be honest, is the perfect word. For ten lines that only wily strangers will use — with handy translation — read on.

1: The place you are visiting is closed today. I know a great place…
Which we will visit by way of a thousand pressure selling joints. Some of them, quite possibly, offering gemstones at a knockdown price that will make one or the other of us very, very rich. Guess who?!

2: Do you have a reservation for that guesthouse?
You don’t? No worries! I will talk rapidly to the receptionist in Thai, explain to you in English that the guesthouse is full, then escort you to an overpriced outlet which pays commission, charging you triple the fare we agreed for the privilege.

3: Today is a very special holiday. Buddha Day.
Now, this is a VERY special holiday. It occurs just once a year in the Thai Buddhist calendar, but for a handful of bewildered new arrivals and their kindly local guides, every day is Buddha Day!

4: You come from [city]? I was in [city] some years ago, studying law.
A trustworthy profession. And I am a trustworthy chap. Having funded seven years study overseas, my super-rich parents like nothing better than to pop down and see me chatting up tourists at the canal boat station.

5: [Insert colour] of tuk-tuk/taxi is a very special tuk-tuk. A government tuk-tuk/taxi…
Yep! Forget the subway, the Skytrain and the bus system. Bangkok Mass Transit is now investing in non-branded three- and four-wheelers. Oooh! Would you believe it? There’s one right next to us, and he’ll take you to wherever you want to go…

6: All you need to do is visit the factory/workshop/tailors/travel agency. Spend ten minutes. No need to buy.
I will dump you in a shop that pays me commission. Expect a minute or two of brutal interrogation as to when, precisely, you intend to hand over the cash, then a physical escort to the door. Mai pen rai (never mind)!

7: I am a student of English. Collecting for charity/looking for conversation practice.
And, as they say in all the best English conversation classes, charity begins at home. Or possibly in the restaurant we end up in. Your choice!

8: What price? It’s for good luck!
Good luck is, indeed, a priceless asset. But, once you have released the lucky birds, fed the lucky fish or nurtured the lucky pigeons, good luck will suddenly come quite expensive.

9: I am a teacher. On my way home to meet my wife.
But I have stopped to talk to you in the street during school hours all the same. We don’t get many tourists in Bangkok, and I do like to help you falang out. Now, would you like a tuk-tuk tour?

10: There is a temple near here, the most beautiful temple in Thailand/with a very big Buddha, which is open only one day of the year. Today!
Every day is an open day for this particular temple. And, best of all, it is only a hundred yards away from a store which pays me a very large commission!

26 Responses

  1. Kathy says:

    Ahh, yes . . . very funny post! We have encountered a few of those. Here is one other that we fell for only once (thank goodness we learn quickly):

    “All the items on the menu are very good. But our fish special today is excellent–the best fish that you will ever taste!”

    This was said to us as we were looking at the menu with dishes ranging around $5. We didn’t think to ask the price of the “special” and were completely dismayed when the bill arrived with a $35 fish on it. We still laugh about that.

  2. Snap says:

    One also has to wonder about those ‘official’ TAT (Thailand Authority of Tourism) offices as well.

    #6. Stray actually refused to get out of a tuk tuk one day because the driver had arrived at a tailor/jeweller/silk factory…yet again. Driver, not happy, to say the least!

  3. Kaston says:

    I’ve experienced all these and more in Thailand. What a tricky little place :p.

  4. jess T says:

    Amused by this post. How about this for a strategy – worked for me in Mali…

    When asked where you’re from, pick place that is likely to confuse, ie kamchatka or bosnia herzogovina… Their confusion is enough to escape the clutches of the would-be tour guide…

    That said, I did have to spend a few days in Mopti as ‘the bosnian’. Amazing how many malians suddenly had a friend in Bosnia…

  5. nothing if not entrepreneurial i say. More ways to earn commission than a pay per click advertising salesman!


  6. Fay says:

    Great post! These scams are similar the world over. It is good to pass on advice like this to any newbies to Asia. Enjoying your site. Keep up the great posts!

  7. Meagan Ross says:

    Love this post! I’d forgotten about many of these. The one that bewildered me the most was the water taxi employee (yes, he was an employee – in uniform) that told us Chinatown was flooded and we couldn’t go there. But didn’t try to sell us on any other tour/location. That’s it. Chinatown’s closed. We turned around and left, sorely disappointed. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      That is bizarro! A water taxi employee saying you can’t go to Chinatown because it’s flooded?! Where was this?! BKK?

  8. Yvette says:

    *cracks up*

    Wow, thanks for that trip down memory lane!

  9. Wow, I can’t believe for how many of these we actually fell on our first day in Bangkok. Still feeling pretty stupid for getting scammed after traveling for 1.5 years, but I guess it had to happen at some point 😀

    • Theodora says:

      I think it’s precisely because one’s got so far without any major disasters that one lets one’s guard down… What’s your score?

  10. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for the heads up! We’ll be headed to Thailand and the rest of SE Asia in a few months. Mostly we’ve been to countries colonized by Europe (Mexico, Australia, French Polynesia) and not to any Asian countries, so it’s good to know what to watch for!

    • Theodora says:

      Vietnam is actually worse than Thailand, Tiffany, as you will notice within about — ooh… — 30 seconds of getting there. But you do get used to it. It all becomes part of the tapestry.

  11. Danu says:

    That’s how I bought my first suit… Only after that I wondered: why, for the name of God, would I buy suit if I’m planning to live here?! The weather is to hot to wear it, anyway.
    The suit still lies in its bag, untouched, after 4 years… that happened in my first 2 weeks in Thailand – I guess I’m saying this as an excuse for being an idiot 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      Oh, I think being an idiot is just another way of saying, “I’m nice.” If it makes you feel any better, we’d been in China almost two months and THEN — after TWO MONTHS — we fell for the tea scam. With me thinking the whole way through “THis feels like the tea scam but these girls are just so nice!!!!”

  12. Tai says:

    I personally found that most type of hustle are quite innocent and easy to spot once you’ve been through it a couple of times.

    Also, it’s uncanny how depending on your looks and psychological state you can either attract all kinds of crooks or pass by absolutely unnoticed. I recall landing for the first time in Delhi with a blond Russian bloke, and it was a hell incarnated. No sooner had we escaped from one scam We’d get right into the next in a matter of minutes, and then after 4 months in India I returned to the same place and walked all these streets in total peace completely undisturbed and unnoticed. It’s like they could feel I know them and all the tricks and nobody even bothered.

  13. Violeta says:

    Before going to Myanmar we spent a couple of days in BKK. We were going to Thailand for another week on the beach after that Myanmar. It was kind of clever to book our trains to Krabi in advance. So, on the way to the train station we met our first scammer. Neatly dressed, he started a casual conversation. After a few words he wanted to send us to TAT on that tuk-tuk few meters further. We did not fall for that. Once we reached the train station and started looking around inside it, we were approached by a lady, willing to help. She took us to a tourist office on the second floor of the station, where we bought our train tickets. The price seemed fair…Once were were back at the hotel and checked, it appeared that the real price is 50% lower, that the bus which will take us from Surat Thani to Krabi will stop us first at an overpriced place and leave us there for hours, then in Krabi will stop us in front of an agency which will have tuk-tuks ready to bring us to the city for a much higher rate. I was not ready to go through that…so booked flights online to Krabi and rented a car at the airport (our place was 20km from Krabi and the taxi was about 1000 baht one way…). So, Myanmar was a dream, pure people which really help you. Occasional souvenir sellers in the busy tourist places were try to sell you their unique hand made products…which were actually also on sale few temples further. The rest of the trip was so safe…We could leave our luggage for hours unattended, we could walk late at night anywhere, get any buses and trains and we were perfectly safe. Strangers were coming out of their way to help us…So, once we came back to BKK our scam guard was down. At Don Muang Airport we waited a huge line for the official taxis. We got some piece of paper which we had to give to the driver and pay 50 baht extra. Even with the extra the bill would have been around 120-130 baht (hotel was just 5km away). So, a taxi driver approached us, then we started walking…somehow his car was quite far at the back. We got in the taxi, he started driving and being friendly. Where are you from and things like that. Those first minutes he did not turn on his meter. So, I asked him to turn his meter. He kept on staring in the address of the hotel…and said…400 baht. No, no 400 baht, turn on you meter. So, after some arguing, he turned on his meter. Then, just before the highway he said, toll road…No, no toll road, it is just around the corner and there is no toll road to it. So he kept on arguing which made me angry. My scam guard had to turn on immediately. My husband was checking the route with his navigation and the taxi driver wanted to follow our instructions. I told him he is the driver and I am sure he knows the way. I took a picture of his badge, just in case. He said…oh, I see you have been to Thailand before…Yes, now do what we ask you to and bring us to the hotel. He did drive us and it was obvious he knew where the hotel was. At the end I did not give him a tip (no wonder) and paid the exact amount. So…there was a disappointed face and he asked for a tip. I said, you make me unhappy, when I am not happy, I do not give tips. In a month I am going to BKK for a couple of weeks. Curious which scams I would encounter this time…

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