Visitors to Samui will find a highly developed local infrastructure with most modern amenities and conveniences to hand. The island is, after all, seeking to cater to large numbers of annual visitors and to compete with other tropical island destinations across the globe.
Wherever there’s tourist money however, there are those who seek to obtain their share of it by illegal or morally questionable means. Samui is no exception to this rule and it’s the responsibility of each visitor to be alert to potential scams and to protect themselves against the ruses commonly employed by local miscreants. Generally, it’s safe, relaxed and easy going like the rest of Thailand but this particular island does have a bit of a mafia reputation.
Taxi drivers prey on the unsuspecting, always insist on the meter
When taking a taxi anywhere on the island, it’s potluck whether you get an Honest Joe for a driver or someone who is out to take you for a ride. It’s wise to act under the assumption that you are likely to get suckered if you show any naivety and lack of street sense. This way, you are prepared either way. Few ever agree to use their meter, and generall overcharge even if it doesn’t seem expensive to visitors. Unfortunately the island is governed by a taxi mafia.
You should be sure to have a reasonable idea of how much the ride you plan to take is likely to cost. This way, even though cabs operate on meters, you can agree on a general figure before you use the services and roughly know what to expect to pay on arrival. If, for example, you ask how much from Choeng Mon Beach to Lamai Beach and are given a figure 100 baht over what’s considered the going rate, then you know from the outset that you may be wise to look around for another driver.
Letting the driver know that you are aware of the usual fare will also discourage him from taking the long route to your destination or going round the same block more than once, thereby adding extra kilometres to the meter. If a driver insists that the meter doesn’t work, then it’s wise to refuse his services. Equally, any driver refusing to use the meter irrespective of its working order should be avoided, as this technique is a common scam method.
Take offers from taxi drivers to show you the sights of the island at a highly discounted rate with caution. Chances are they will take you to a whole list of places not on the agreed agenda because they have deals of some description with such establishments.
Finally, avoid paying your taxi fare with a note well over the sum required as this often elicits the “sorry, no have change” technique, which may force you to leave a considerably larger tip than you had intended. Where possible, have the exact figure prepared. This way, you avoid any possibility of falling victim to this popular scam.
If you intend on frequenting the evening entertainment scene of Chaweng Beach and in particular the low-key girly-bar scene, then there are a number of issues you need to consider in order to ensure you and your cash are not parted by foul means.
Bar girls are in it for the money, don’t expect sympathy on your wallet
The girly-bar scene here is similar in its workings to that of Pattaya Beach, Bangkok’s Patpong and also of Chiang Mai’s Loi Kroh, although here it’s much less in-your-face. Punters can enjoy a drink with the girls, but should be aware that if they purchase drinks for them they will pay a surcharge on top of the regular drink price - this extra money being akin to a tip and going to the girl in question at the end of the night. Customers wishing to take girls out of the bar are obliged to pay what’s commonly referred to as a ‘bar fine’ in order to free the girl of her responsibilities to the bar for the evening. After that, any extra services provided by the girl are done so for a figure agreed by herself and the customer.
Common scenarios are gentlemen falling asleep next to their hired playmate only to wake up and find their wallet gone or emptied and any items of value also absent. The sensible girly-bar customer locks his valuables in the room safe before sleeping or at the very least keeps them well out of sight and reach of potentially dishonest bedfellows. However, most hotels will insist on retaining an ID card of unregistered guests as a safeguard against this.
Back in less seedy environments, visitors may be wise to keep an eye on restaurant or bar bills in order to avoid either intentional or unintentional overcharging. While the former is by no means prevalent in Samui, it’s still wise to do a quick reckoning of the figures yourself to be on the safe side.
At hotels or guesthouses meanwhile, be wary of management attempting to charge you for items that are apparently missing from your room; items that were in fact never present in the first place. Take a quick inventory of room contents on check-in and leave a copy with the front desk if you are the suspicious type.
Out shopping, keeps your wits about you, else you’ll almost certainly end up paying over the odds for items purchased from market stalls or shops with no fixed prices, especially at the popular night market at Chaweng Beach. If you’re considering anything approaching a large purchase, then shop around and get an idea of how much other vendors are asking for the same item. If possible, have a Thai friend enquire the price, as there is often on price for Thais and another for foreigners.
Never buy anything you haven’t seen with your own eyes or held in your own hands, and when possible take responsibility for shipping heavy or cumbersome goods yourself. Offers for this service may well result in your purchase never arriving at its overseas destination.
Another chronic problem in Thailand is theft of credit card details. Try to use ATMs and pay by cash unless it’s a respectable establishment and you can keep an eye on your card during the electronic transaction. Remember to check on your account transactions when you return, but checking online from internet cafes is not advised.
Being a major holiday island, there are plenty of opportunities to buy holiday or retirement homes or a timeshare in Samui. Agents may well approach you during your vacation and our advice is to employ the services of a good English-speaking lawyer (choose your own, not one recommended by touts or agents) before you sign your name to anything and part with your overseas savings. Tourists are especially vulnerable in this area as Thai land-ownership laws are overwhelmingly in favour of the natives and scams that exploit this fact are common.
Should you be unfortunate to be the victim of a rip-off, try to accept it and move on without letting it influence your overall opinion of Samui’s local citizens. If after the initial ire has died down, you can shrug your shoulders and say ‘mai pen rai’ (never mind) as the Thais do, your chances of enjoying the remainder of your holiday will be greatly increased.
There are several tourist police booths around the island and they do value the safety of their foreign guests, so don’t be afraid to make a fuss. The island has suffered some bad publicity in the past and is trying harder to clean up its wildwest image, but police have been known to obstruct justice when their own interests (such as bribes from suspects) are at stake.