Thailand is a beautiful and friendly country but like anywhere, it has its downsides. Phuket has become a very commercialised tourism location and that does inevitably attract a few criminals and scam masters.
If you do have problems in Thailand, the tourist police are there to help you. They should speak reasonable English and in general are there for your protection. If you need the tourist police in Phuket, call 1155.
Statistically, the biggest danger facing anybody in Thailand is the roads. You should always be aware when driving or even walking along the road. Please read our driving in Thailand page before you consider renting a vehicle and driving yourself.
When you consider that Thailand is still a comparatively poor country, crime rates are low. Every day the Thais in Phuket see foreign visitors that are wealthier than themselves and yet their reaction is generally warm and friendly. Crimes of violence are rare but there has been an increase over recent years, especially in attacks on foreigners riding motorcycles late at night on deserted roads. Like anywhere in the world, you need to be sensible. Late at night, you should avoid dark and deserted places.
There have also been a few bag snatchings and these can take place in broad daylight. The bag snatchers ride motorbikes and grab the bags from the shoulders of unsuspecting pedestrians or bike riders. So be careful how you carry your bag when you are on or by the road.
Crimes experienced by foreign visitors are more likely to be thefts and crimes of opportunity. If you leave valuables in the open, they may disappear. Even in your hotel, valuables may be a temptation to room service staff. Try to store your valuables in a safe place.
Malaysia, next door to Thailand, is the credit card fraud capital of the world. The problem has not reached the same scale in Thailand but it is on the increase. Only use your credit card at reputable dealers and even then keep an eye on it at all times so you know it is not swiped.
Always check ATM machines for card swipers before use. Criminals put these devices on top of the actual ATM card slot to read your card details and store them for later copying. These devices are inconspicuous if you are not aware of them. ATM machines that are attached to banks are generally safer.
Beware of anybody offering you assistance at ATMs. There have been recent events of seemingly helpful passers-by offering help with ATM problems when what they are really doing is swiping your card and taking a note of your PIN.
Beware of people who befriend you in the street. It is a shame to say but the likelihood is they have an ulterior motive. If they want to take you to a shop or tour then it is because they get commission. And of course, that commission is included in the price you pay.
Tuk-tuk drivers may try to take you to shops where they get commission. It is a problem if you do not know exactly where you want to go. If you give a vague instruction like 'I want to go to a tailor' then of course they will take you to a tailor that pays commission. You will do better if you know where you are going beforehand and insist on only going to that place.
Accommodation is the same. If you do not know where to stay and ask a tuk-tuk driver to recommend a hotel - of course they will take you to a hotel that pays them commission.
Unfortunately, the timeshare salesmen have found their way to Phuket. They may have dressed their product up to be more attractive than the eighties version but they are still basically timeshares. You pay a large amount of money up front for the privilege of paying even more money every year and you are permanently tied to the same holiday company. The timeshare companies make huge profits on every sale. They are not a good deal - don't buy them.
They have people working on the street whose job is to get you into the sales room. These people known as OPCs (outside point of contact) may be Thai or westerners. The most common scam used is to claim you have won a prize. One method is to offer you a free scratch card - surprise surprise they all win. Another method is to ask you to fill in a holiday questionnaire in the guise of market research. The questionnaire asks for your hotel and room number and you are entered into a free prize draw. A couple of days later you will get a call in your room inviting you to collect your prize. When you arrive, you are taken straight to the sales room.
If you do find yourself in the sales room, you will be subjected to a high pressure and very professional sales pitch. These guys are good. Their art is to get you to start saying 'yes' so they will open up with a question like 'wouldn't it be great if you could have the same holiday for half the price and at a better hotel'. The art for you not to fall for their sales pitch is not to say 'yes' to anything. Prevaricate, say 'it depends', ask for more details or look for holes in their pitch. You should be able to get through the hours sales pitch without signing anything. You might even get your prize but do not bet on it.
You have to be careful when renting cars, motorbikes, jet-skis or other vehicles from street/beach renters. There is a common scam that when you return the vehicle, they claim it has been damaged or scratched and demand compensation. The damage is often pre-existing.
You should not leave your passport with the renter as a deposit. That just gives them the upper-hand in negotiations. Always check the vehicle for pre-existing damage before you take it and get the renter to make a note of it on the rental document. Better still, rent from reputable rental companies.
Do not get dragged into any get-rich-quick schemes. It is not easy to make money in Thailand and if anybody did have a good idea, they would not be sharing it. You cannot buy gems in Thailand and then sell them for twice the price in the west. If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is not true.
The Tailor Shop Scam
Some of the most annoying touts in Phuket belong to the tailor shops. They jump on you promising super deals on made-to-measure suits and other clothes. The deals sound too good to be true and when you get the clothes home and they start coming apart at the seams a couple of weeks later, you will realise it was too good to be true. Most of the tailors are using sub-standard cloth and farming the tailoring work out to local sweat shops. There are a few good tailors around but you really need to find a good local recommendation before you go to one.
We cannot state this strongly enough. Do not transport illegal drugs in or out of Thailand or deal in drugs. Punishments are severe up to and including death. Do not carry luggage or items for other people unless you know exactly what they contain.
If you intend to buy recreational drugs for personal use then be discreet. Drugs can be bought with a little bit of asking around but remember there are also undercover police looking for drug dealers. The punishments for using drugs are not as severe as for dealing but it is still not going to be a pleasant experience. If you really must take recreational drugs then be very discreet.
All people in Thailand are required to carry a recognised form of ID. For most foreign visitors, this will mean their passport. It is not really practicable to carry your passport at all times and most people do not do it. In normal circumstances, it will be very unusual for the police to ask to see your passport. If you can show some other form of ID, such as an international driving license, this may suffice. Some people carry a photocopy of their passport photo page and entry stamp page.
We recommend you store your passport in a safe place such as the hotel safe. The likelihood of having problems because you are not carrying your passport is less than having problems because you are carrying your passport and it gets lost or damaged.