It’s easy to fall into these scams and mistakes when you’re relaxing probably drunk and maybe taking a selfie in a hot and beautiful country. So here’s a little heads up before you go (guidance rating pg: prepare for a lot of toilet talk):
You’ve all heard the advice, fix your price before you get in. But no one told me about a particularly nasty scam that could ruin a day in Bangkok. A kind friendly Thai man will approach you on the street, will inform you that it is a festival today, that no attractions are open until later. He will miraculously stumble upon a tuktuk driver and will negotiate a great price, just for you, for a trip to a far away temple in the sticks where the celebrations are happening. Then the driver can deliver you to the sites on the way back, which will be open by then. He will tell you that if you walk towards it, there is nothing to see. Guys and girls, nothing is shut, there is no festival and everything is in walking distance, there is plenty to see. Do not fall for a friendly face and do not be disappointed when there are no fireworks at 7pm.
2. Chiang Mai lantern festival
This one is only a trap if you want the big roaring festival you see on Google images. Most hostels organise a trip for us oblivious tourists, to a village an hour away, where the ‘main celebrations’ will take place. Instead you will find a few locals, surprised at the bus loads of equally surprised tourists, lighting a small handful of lanterns in a remote town. If it’s a quieter event with locals that you’re looking for, however, then maybe this is for you. Just beware of the low flying fireworks…
3. Chiang Mai mafia
This sounds more frightening than it is (I’m a sucker for some drama) but it’s something to be aware of. By law, bars in Chiang Mai shut at midnight, to the dismay of many a backpacker. However, it is possible to stumble across the odd late night club if you know the right places. Unfortunately the only drawback is the possibility that you will be made to pay for your drinks twice under the threat of violence by a gang member. It’s up to you really but I’d just drink on the streets if I were you…
4. Treks and tours
After the blissful low prices of SE Asia, it’s natural to be shocked by the prices of some treks and tours, which can reach 2000-3000 baht (around £40-£60). This can include a short trek, white water rafting, elephant rides and visiting hill tribes. Which really, when you think about it, is pretty good value for money. But budgeters everywhere will of course hunt out those 1000 baht bargains and will suffer the make shift strangeness of a submerged bamboo raft, pushed from behind by a half naked Thai man (one of the more surreal moments of this trip…) You will find the elephant sad and chained and will probably ask not to ride it, or will feel uncomfortable when on board. Trust me, it’s worth splashing out that extra £20 or so, for an experience that could be unforgettable rather than slightly bizarre (if not a great story for when you return!)
5. Spicy food
This isn’t a purposeful trap or a con, this is just part of being a Thai person. At every stall you will check, ‘is this spicy?’ And at every stall the vendor will say ‘no not too spicy’. And for a Thai person, it isn’t too spicy. For you? Well let’s just hope the toilets in your hostel are nice because you’ll be spending a lot of time in there… Pack your immodium, kids.
This is a rare pretrip trick that I’ve only heard of once. I met a traveller who was told by his travel clinic to stock up on malaria tablets for his Thailand holiday. Folks, you don’t need them in Thailand. The rest of SE Asia for sure, but Thailand, nope. And those tiny pills are expensive so don’t waste your money!
7. Beware of watermelons
For those of you who are tempted by whole watermelons from market stalls… Be wary! These fruits are sold by the weight so locals naturally inject them with water (and we’re not talking drinking water here). Don’t spend your holiday chucking up your guts for a watermelon.
8. Shop around
In Thailand, you’ll soon discover that market stalls are everywhere, as regular as the trees, the temples, the backpackers and the stray dogs. So don’t buy the first outrageously overpriced elephant pants you find, because they will reappear at different stalls every five seconds. And if you can buy it from a Seven Eleven, absolutely do that. That place is a lifesaver and cheap as chips.
9. Tissue trouble
This is a different kind of tourist trap. It’s called being trapped in a toilet cubicle with no toilet paper after a bad encounter with street food. Many Thailand toilets have their rolls of tissue hanging on a wall by the sinks, OUTSIDE OF THE CUBICLE. It’s just something to bear in mind my friends. I also strongly recommend hand sanitiser. Bars in Thailand are not particularly fussed about keeping their soaps topped up.
10. Minivans to Pai
Minivans in general are an experience in Thailand. They drive at 80mph down potholed motorways and they cram as many people as possible into a tiny space with huge backpacks to cushion you in. My advice: do not, if at all possible, sit at the back. My backup advice: take a sick bag with you. My advice for wealthier travellers: fly, train or taxi it if at all possible. No one warned me until I was on the bus to Pai that there were over 700 turns on a winding path up into the mountains… And yep, you guessed it, I was on the backseat.