Guide for Travelling in Phuket: Travel Scams, Etiquette and More

Beautiful Phuket is a destination that draws hordes of travellers. Like most well-loved travel destinations, travel scams abound so it’s best to keep alert and be aware of fishy signs you need to look out for. The Thais have a unique culture of their own too, and with a little consideration you can avoid committing dreaded faux pas and social blunders.

Here’s a handy guide to ward off the pesky travel scams and help you mind your P’s and Q’s during your tropical getaway:

Social norms and etiquette: Mind your P’s and Q’s

Greetings: The Wai

The ‘wai‘ – a prayer-esque gesture where the palms are pressed together in front of the chest – is the way in which the Thais greet each other. The rules for making this greeting are as follows: the younger individual will greet his or her senior with the gesture, and the latter will return the greeting. An adult should not greet a child in this manner.

thai wai greeting

Visting religious sites:

  • Visiting a Buddhist temple:

Avoid donning beach wear, shorts and sleeveless tops. Shoes must be removed before entering a compound containing an image of the Buddha. These images are regarded as sacred objects, and are treated with respect. Take note not to point your feet towards the statues, or make disrespectful gestures when taking photographs of the images.

  • Interacting with the Buddhist monks:

Treat the monks respectfully. If you’re attending a session at a temple where you get to interact with the monks to learn more about Buddhism, avoid peppering them with personal questions. Females need to be careful about touching or brushing past the monks, as it is strictly forbidden for them to have any form of physical contact with a female. If you want to pass an object to a monk, place the object down before him rather than passing it over by hand.

buddhist monks thailand

  • Visiting a mosque:

Take care to dress appropriately. Women should avoid revealing outfits, and have their heads covered with a scarf or shawl. Men should don a hat before entering the compound. Shoes should be removed and left by the entrance.

Dining: Thai table manners

Do…

…Finish up the dishes on your plate – it shows the host that you enjoyed your meal.

…Stick to tradition by letting the senior ladies in your dining party order the food.

…Wait for your host to invite you to start the meal.

…Pick up the check if it comes to you. Typically, the person who is perceived to be the wealthiest is expected to pay for the meal. Do not insist on paying if someone else is picking up the check, as it may cause them to ‘lose face’.

sticking chopsticks into bowl of rice

Do not…

…Stick your chopsticks upright in the bowl. This signifies that the dish is an offering to the dead, and is regarded as a gesture that brings bad luck.

…Order a single dish for yourself. It’s the norm for dishes to be shared among the dining party.

…Wait for all the dishes to arrive at the table before you dig in. Thai dining experiences are leisurely affairs to be enjoyed, and new dishes will be sent to the table throughout the course of the meal.

Transport: Getting about in Phuket

Public transport isn’t available on the island, so travellers will have to rely on taxis during their stay. Your best bet is to go with metered taxis, as those without meters are bound to charge exorbitant prices.

In the event that you’re unable to flag down a metered taxi, make sure you agree on a price before you accept a ride from drivers without meters installed in their cars. Carry along small change, as there is a high chance that the drivers will tell you that they don’t have change to spare – even if they do.

Heeding reports in the news about cab drivers resorting to violence in the face of conflict with their passengers, it’s best not to enter into an argument with your driver if there are disagreements about the fare. Pay what is asked of you, but keep in mind to note down the driver’s license number so you can lodge a police report.

Money: Keep an close eye on your card

Beware of ATM and credit card skims when you’re holidaying in Phuket. The first suspect? ATM machines. Scammers usually attach a device to the card slot or keyboard to obtain the PIN code, as well as other information required to create a fake ATM card.

Some of these devices may be pinhole cameras attached to the keyboard cover of the machine, so do give the keyboard cover a good shake to check that it’s not a fake cover attached to the board. Other devices may not be easy to detect, but if you notice anything unusual about the ATM machine it’s best to use a different one and make a report to the bank.

The second type of card skimming may occur when card purchases are made in retail stores. Keep a close eye when you hand your credit card over for the payment to be processed – don’t let it be swiped out of your sight, or you might end up paying a much larger bill than you intended.

credit card skimming

Traveller scams: 

Traveller scams usually abound in popular destinations, and Phuket is no exception. Here are a few well-known scams to keep an eye out for:

  • The minivan transport scam

Travellers arriving at the airport veer towards the cheapest transportation options available, so most tend to take a ride with a minivan driver, especially as the rates are a fraction of what taxi drivers charge.

However, certain minivan drivers may stop halfway through the ride at a fake travel agency. The traveller will be told that the hotel they’ve planned to stay at is booked out, and that they need to make arrangements for alternative accommodations.

In these cases, the driver gets a commission from the booking, and may refuse to offer transport until a new booking is made through the “travel agent”. If your ride stops halfway through, do not agree to any offers and insist on heading to your original destination.

  • Photo-taking scam

Stay alert when you explore the bustling streets of Bangla Road. Be especially wary when you’re approached by a group of ladyboys eager on taking group photographs with your travelling party. Once the shots are captured, the ladyboys will insist on payment for posing for your pictures.

Do keep an eye out for locals holding on to exotic fauna, like lizards and slow loris. These individuals will demand payment after they’ve captured images of travellers with the animals.

bangla road ladyboys

  • Jewellery and gem stone scam

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be on your guard when tax drivers offer to drive you out to recommended jewellery stores, and don’t take the words of the locals when they claim that the jewellery pieces and gem stones sold at the store can be resold for a much higher value back home.

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