Richard Constable

Dodgers to dodge

My personal top five Bangkok rip-offs

Today I'm going to give the heads-up on my most personally experienced top five Bangkok rip-offs, swiddles, swizzes, scams, rackets, dodges, I mean forms of deceit (call 'em what you will) here in the Venice of the East.

Dreaded trips for dentistry

Back in January I became aware that I was once again due to undertake the risky business of visiting a dentist. A trip to a dentist is something I've dreaded ever since my first trip to a dentist here (not that I'm too concerned about pain and/or discomfort) it's the unnecessary work and overcharges that I fear.

Having been quoted somewhere between 900 and 1,200 baht for a descaling - and subsequently having accepted it - I was now undergoing a descaling and the young dentist seemed quite efficient. That is until he decided to inform me that I had a cavity in my front tooth. Really? I thought, it's not like that tooth had ever ached and wasn't a cavity a hole? and was he actually able to see it without the aid of an x-ray?

I thought I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, so at the cashiers' desk I told the young female receptionist that I'd like to book an appointment to have a cavity filled. Of course, she'd already been informed about my cavity so she quoted me 800 baht and we agreed a time for another appointment.

Then it all went black as I was given the bill for that day's treatment - an unexpected 1,500 baht!

Not only the top end of the quote for what was a light descaling but also at the end of it, the dentist had brushed my teeth with a non-brand toothpaste. And this is what the bill referred to as 'sanitization', which came with an extra charge of 300 baht. Feeling exasperated, I asked if the cavity would actually be 1,100 baht as I'd most surely be subjected to more 'sanitization,' Yes, said the girl while nodding her head dejectedly. And recalling the screaming and jumping around that had taken place the last time I was there, when I'd refused to pay a charge of just forty baht that they couldn't explain - I simply paid and left, vowing never to return, just like I'd done with so many dental surgeries before.

(By the way, not a single one of my teeth has been any kind of a problem since, not to mention the one with the so-called cavity.)

Sorry guv, I've got no silver or brass.

There are many standard taxi scams in Bangkok, so many that if you really wanted to avoid 'being taken for a ride' you would have to never take a taxi here again.

My favourite is the 'no change!' line after you've handed over a hundred baht note for probably a fare for around half the price. Then the driver will convey a facial expression that shows he'll have to keep the hundred as there is truly no other alternative.

At this point I invariably snatch the note out of his hand and open the door to my side, and then sometimes still wonder at the speed at which the driver will produce the exact change - like a magician pulling it out from behind his lug.

Other taxi driver cons are he basically conveys to you with his hands if you would like to go the right way or the scenic route, perhaps taking in a tollway or two that weren't necessary, so that you might appreciate the cityscape. Along with strategically locating the slow lane, as in sometimes nipping in and out, pushing in front of other vehicles in order to do so, as well as often complaining about the traffic 'Krung Thep lot tit' while profusely shaking his head 'oww lot tit mark' with a look of sorrow - just like 'all his chickens had come home to roost.'

(I could write volumes but it's already breaking my heart and I'd soon have to wipe a tear from my eye for these poor forsaken 'gents' of the road.)

Potluck at the hospital

Being confronted with a huge desk at the front of a plush private hospital for of all things 'diabetes'. Why, well because myself and a friend who'd been a professional nurse in the USA had just recently figured out that I was diabetic step 2, so I was feeing that I must've come to the right place.

There was a suited and attractive young woman at the information desk who could actually speak English almost perfectly. Again, after having been to three other hospitals and having spent tens of thousands of baht, only to be none the wiser, now surely I was finally about to be diagnosed.

So I explained that I wanted a standard A1C blood test, and off she went to the huge diabetes desk in the front foyer. Meanwhile I filled in hospital forms as I'd never been to this particular hospital before.

What's more, having read extensively about the disease of diabetes, I was now well ahead of the game. That is all I needed was a AC1 blood test to show if my sugar levels were high, which would cost a hundred baht. If they were shown to be high, I'd have to return the following week for yet another AC1 blood test for sugar levels, and if it were high again, the doctor would then give a specific test to clarify if it were step 1 or step 2.

On the young lady's return, she said that she'd spoken to the head nurse on the diabetes' desk, and she'd explained that I'd better see the doctor first because he'd be able to tell me which form of diabetes I had so that then I'd know which one to test for.

Unfortunately, all this was of course complete BS, whereas after seeing a doctor he/she could have done no other than advise me to have a AC1 test. However, then the bill would have been circa a thousand instead of a hundred.

The standard racket in private hospitals is to simply overcharge, often going back on a previously quoted price. For example, when I had a small operation in A & E, without enough anesthetizer and therefore screaming blue murder. The doctor said that he couldn't complete the operation and as I was also in so much pain, maybe I should stay at the hospital overnight.

I told the relevant hospital person that I would not pay a single satang more than 8,500 baht, albeit on going to discharge myself the following morning, I was presented with a bill for 10,500 baht, which I initially refused to pay, but then later agreed to pay 9,500 baht only - for no other reason than I wanted to go home. Having paid 9,500 baht, the hospital presented me with another bill for 1,000 baht.

Other rip-offs to look out for are treatments that you don't require or haven't been given the slightest inkling of needing. For example, a few years ago at the most prestigious hospital in Bangkok, a doctor advised me to have a Hepatitus B vaccination; it would have been three jabs on three separate Sundays at 1,800 baht a time. I was at a loss to understand why I needed it and the doctor's only explanation seemed to be was that it was on promotion.

Another swizzle is to put 'things' on the bill which either never took place or you didn't recieve. One more example, my daughter had stayed overnight at what was our local private hospital with a mild stomach complaint. My wife'd been with her in her room the whole time, and my daughter's pediatrician had visted there twice. Although the bill stated that the pediatrician had visited her no fewer than ten times (in one day), therefore a charge of five times the correct amount. Wherein, my father tried to negotiate this obscure overcharge with a nurse that it was nothing to do with, who could hardly speak a word of English, and subsequently paid it in full.

I could write a book about similiar experiences, still very few people would be able to relate. As in how many foreign people have lived here for nineteen and a half years without medical insurance, with their spouse and two children, and their mother and father for almost as long.

Retention by any other name

Somebody got themself a basic part-time teaching job at a language center, I mean one of those nonspecific gigs teaching general learners; kids and/or adults. It is nondemanding so his/her pay reflects this - about 400 baht an hour.

Even though it is worst than they might have thought because they don't get paid 400 baht for each hour; they get paid 350 baht an hour until they have finished the course (usually 30 hours). And what is more, the language school refers to this as bonus. It isn't a bonus but a retention. They are using their teachers' money to run their business.

Another swindle is the bond that some agents take from their teachers' salary, often 1,000 baht a month for the first year. Two things, if the teacher leaves before completing the contract, or he or she gets the push - the agency doesn't pay back the so-called bond. Still, if you complete the contract and return to work for the agency for another year - you don't pay again. If you decide not to return to work for the same agent, then there's usually a clause that states they won't return the teacher's bond until 50 days after the last day of the contract.

The language centre owners and agents will argue that they need to hold these monies as some teachers in the past have left without giving notice, which leaves them in the expensive position of having to cover with, or find new full time teachers. In fact most companies pay on a salaried basis, which is about every four weeks, also many don't pay at the beginning of the month but somewhere between the fifth and ninth of the month, which means that school owners and agents are always holding relatively substantial amounts of their teachers' money.

The photographer must have used a long-focus lens

Last week, purely out of interest, I went to take a look at a post peak-Covid Silom Road - starting at the Silom Soi 6 and working my way towards Lumphini Park.

Allow me to take a short trip down memory lane when I first came to Thailand, April 28, 2002. I stayed for a couple of weeks at the Montien Hotel in the adjacent road to Patpong, which in those days waa basically a group of under-maintained but not quite slum dwellings, and still is.

Later I worked at many language institutes including the Silom Center for the Callan Method, Excel English, Success Avenue, and Insight English in CP Tower - all between 2004 - 2012. What I mean is I have been more than aquainted with this part of Bangkok, and I have never once before seen it so quiet and relatively empty. Furthermore, I certainly never expected to witness a semi-deserted Silom Road on a late Friday afternoon. It used to be crawling with people scurrying their way to various destinations as quickly as possible.

So I'll cut to the chase and photographs of food, meals, dishes, on menus; those brightly coloured, glossy coated, gastronomic visual delights, that we, poor optimistic creatures that we are, are expecting to encounter once having ordered.

We all know this one; it looked like a hearty and delicious meal on the menu photo, but when it arrives it doesn't have any resemblance to the photo whatsoever - and it wasn't like you'd asked for a child's portion, so how could this be! 

Now that I'd finished my Friday afternoon tour of Silom Road, I was hungry for food, and  spotted a kebab stand in front of a small restaurant. Inevitably, the picture of a chicken kebab looked great, spilling over with succulent grilled chicken and fresh crispy salad, still at only 79 baht I wasn't expecting a Prince Phillip special. I ordered two portions and hoped for the best possible outcome, that they would at least in part resemble the stock photo.

Sitting there having ordered a cold lemon tea, that turned out to be very tasty, a good sign I thought, even though it was circa 85% ice (Is tea really more expensive than ice?).

Then the food arrived - two barely grilled rolled wraps that appeared to have little if anything inside them. On opening them up I discovered my suspicions were spot on. They were mainly mayonnaise, with a sprinkling of dry chicken crumbs and a minuscule amount of finely chopped salad.

Were these the worst kebabs in all of Thailand? For f***ing sure - and likely the entire universe. As I timidly chewed my way throw the gunge, I was thinking that the only thing I've ever eaten vaguely similar to these were sandwich spread sandwiches.

Nonetheless, the humilation wasn't over yet, whilst the big Middle Eastern guy stood in front of the entrance, the sheepish Thai waitress handed me a check for 223 baht and 50 satang, which included a whopping ten percent service charge.

In brief, I am sure many of you can relate to these common forms of deception, and ultimately feel a little better knowing that you are not the only one who's been a victim of day light robbery and royally shafted. 


I am not sure of the purpose of this rant, but outside of tourist areas, from my few decades of experience, I don’t think Thais are any more dishonest than the average found in other countries, but often those without Thai language skills or cultural knowledge might perceive a “normal” or accepted marketing tactic which differs from tactics used back home as a scam. Although Thais do seem to scam each other in MLM or pyramid schemes at a slightly higher rate than these scams work elsewhere.

By Jack, BKK (19th October 2021)

1, dentistry is much cheaper and more available here, and preventative dentistry much cheaper than reparative. 2, everyone knows you get in a taxi with change. 4, retention is hugely important for the student and the school, if you dont like the terms dont take the job. 5 Not sure this is Thai only, McDonalds have done this since the start of time.

My 5 rips offs would be
Coffee shops - the same coffee is available off a street cart for 20B. If you are in a mall just go to Amazon and sit in a "work area"
Hotel food - worse food that costs more because the surroundings are nicer.
Supermarket fruit and veg - go the market
BTS / MRT - unless you are travelling at peak time or to somewhere very close to the station the added cost of bikes and trekking around massive stations in 35 degrees is not great value
Government services, especially driving licence renewal

By Rob, Bkk (16th October 2021)

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