Saturday, November 28, 2009

Getting scammed in paradise

Phuket is no longer the paradise island that it once was.
Ever since the backpackers let it be known back in the 1980s that this was the place to be, everyone wanted a piece of the action.

With over 5m tourist arrivals a year, the flip side is that the same numbers also attract the low life out for a quick buck. These are the scammers, cheats and mafia types who does nothing more than ruin your vacation.

Scams are run all over the world especially in tourist areas. I don't profess to know a lot about them but I've been to Thailand enough times to at least give you a bit of advice in case you are thinking of heading out there.

Taxi and Tuk-tuk scams

Know that the taxis and tuk-tuks in Phuket are all part of some kind of mafia group. They form cartels and one can't simply ply where they like. Areas like Karon, Kata and Patong are 'controlled' by these mafias to the exclusion of others. For example, you can never flag down a taxi on the roadside in Patong. They simply won't (or won't dare) stop for you. You have no choice but to take a tuk-tuk. Unless, of course, you called for one to pick you from your hotel.

The taxi scammers start right from the airport. Woe be you if you arrive without a confirmed hotel booking. Firstly these airport taxi touts charge you a higher rate to take you to your destination or hotel. Once you get into their taxi, they would very nicely inquire if you have a hotel, if not they happened to know of some 'good' hotels. Along the way you would be told that he needs to sign off at his 'office' - 2 mins only, he'll tell you. So happens that his 'office' would be a travel agency where you can get tours or hotel rooms! How fortunate for you!
These guys not only get a commission for bringing you in, but they'll also demand a cut from the hotel where they'll place you. No guessing who will end up paying the extras.

Solution? Do not hire a taxi from the airport touts. Instead, when you arrive at Phuket Airport, head to the right of the Arrival Hall. There is a taxi stand where government licensed taxis called 'Taxi Meter' are waiting. The cost of a Taxi Meter, with their published rates to Patong for example, is 450 THB as compared to at least 600 THB demanded by the touts. Unfortunately, many tourists do not know of the existence of this taxi stand.
get the Taxi-Meter driver's name card so you can always call him for the return trip to the airport.

When you get to your dream resort, you are now faced with another hurdle. The Tuk-tuks.
In the tourist areas of Karon and esp Patong, the tuk-tuks rule the roost. There is simply no other mode of transport unless you rent a car or motorbike on your own. The government taxis have been muscled out of their turf (some say with official collusion).

The Tuk-tuks not only charge an exorbitant price but many a times you'll end up at places not intended by you. The most common ruse is "Oh, that place is closed today, but I can take you to another temple, restaurant, shop, etc". These guys then take you to places where they get their cut and you the hapless tourist end up paying more for stuff you may not want.

Solution? Insist firmly that you wish to go only where you want, or you'll take another tuk-tuk. Do negotiate the price beforehand and ensure that the price is for the trip and not per person.

Although, I may have made it sound like the entire place is full of scammers, just remember that tourists do get fleeced more easily that others. It might be a bit difficult for you as the place may be unfamiliar. So a bit of read up before the trip is always advised.
Generally, the Thais are friendly and warm but as a visitor, take everything with a pinch of salt.

Other scams I'll try and blog later will include:-
Short changed when using large notes.
Jet-ski scam
Timeshare scams
Hotel - 'only suites are available' scam.
Jewelry shop scams.