Thank you so much to Jess for penning her words of wisdom on how to avoid falling victim to a Thai pickpocket – it’s horrible when travel goes wrong and it happens to us all – both seasoned and not-so-experienced globetrotters. Check out her fab blog, Tripelio for plenty of travel adventure inspiration.
I would like to thank Angharad for publishing this article. Her site is a great inspiration for all budding independent travelers as she shares her stories, tips and advice for adventuring around the world. After reading this, I highly recommend you check out her post on the best warm water hangouts around the world!
Pickpocketing in Thailand is as common as pad thai, ping pong shows and drinkable coconuts. If there are tourists in the area, it’s going to be there. Many travelers find themselves falling victim to the sticky fingers of petty thieves who prey on unsuspecting foreigners.
Whether it’s a single opportunist making the most of a chance moment or a carefully planned team effort, there’s a significant chance of the crime taking place without you noticing until much later. Unfortunately, like most travelers, I’ve had to go through my fair share of pickpockets before finally condensing my wisdom and coming up with a few golden rules to protect myself in the future.
Don’t Carry Valuables
The first and most obvious rule is to avoid carrying valuables at all costs. Even if you’ve chosen to bring expensive technology, such as music players, laptops, tablets and smartphones, on your travels with you, make the effort to leave them locked up in a safe whenever you can. However, this can’t always be the case. Sometimes, having a phone on you is essential for finding your way round. Similarly, like many countries, in Thailand the law requires you to carry your passport around, and failure to do so can even result in a prison sentence. However, thieves know this and will try to capitalize on it.
I fell victim to this myself when trying to meet a friend on the bustling tourist hub of Koh San Road. Wandering between the many vendors, promoters and travelers, I was constantly pulling my phone in and out of my pocket to see if I’d had any updates. It wasn’t until I’d taken a short break to grab a bite to eat from McDonalds—not very authentic, I know—that I reached down and realized my most prized possession had disappeared. The phone had obviously been sticking out of the pocket, and my constant usage had drawn the attention of some malicious prying eyes. To make matters worse, I was later informed that the thief had racked up a lofty bill on my account that, unless I had reported it to the police, would come down on my head—luckily, I had.
It’s also worth considering protecting yourself virtually while overseas as many thieves are moving online to commit their crimes. If you’re connecting to the internet, be sure to use a Virtual Private Network on your device to encrypt and protect your data, as many malicious hackers commonly target travelers as victims for online identity theft.
Choose a Bag for the Job
For all those essential valuables that you have to carry, the next important rule is to find a bag that’s suitable to house them. While rucksacks are the most secure, thieves can access them while on your back with relative ease. Conversely, an over-the-shoulder bag can be grabbed from you and dragged away without you being able to put up too much a fight, so finding what works for you is down to personal preference.
Aim for bad with long straps that can go all the way across the body or chose a backpack with secret inner pockets or a lock on the zip. Personally, I prefer an over-the-shoulder bag for wandering the streets of cities like Bangkok and a backpack for trekking the countryside. There are many great day packs on the market, so consider the valuables you need to take, do your research and find the one that is best for you.
The Money Belt
A money belt is an essential addition for anyone wanting to avoid being pickpocketed while traveling the mighty Thailand. Even the best bag can be picked off you as you fall asleep on the train or hang it on the back of your chair in a restaurant, so it’s important to keep the most important of your valuables on your person.
Many people find money belts, when worn as they should be, uncomfortable and unfashionable. I was most definitely one of those people. Luckily, I discovered that they work equally well by clipping them through a loop on your jeans or fastening them to a pocket. As I was walking down a busy road in central Bangkok, I felt a sudden tug on my trousers, promptly followed a sharp snap as the elastic pinged back and hit my thigh. I never saw this particular pickpocket, but I most definitely fooled his crafty scheme.
Disguise Precious Items from pickpockets
Sometimes, large valuable items need to be carried with you even though they put you at risk. Thailand is becoming a hub for digital nomads and travel bloggers, so many visitors heavily rely on using their cameras and laptops while out in public. Although this does put you at higher risk, they’re no reason to not do what you love because of it. Using a few sneaky tactics you can reduce the risk significantly.
Avoid using specifically designed camera and laptop bags because it immediately draws attention to your item even when it’s not in use. Instead, wrap them up and store them deep in your backpack so they are unnoticeable. Personally, if I’m out using a camera, I like to wear a scarf to cover the equipment when it’s hanging round my neck. Similarly, for those who update blogs and websites in local cafés and coffee shops, there are many laptop cases available to disguise your expensive machine as a book or other menial item.
Don’t Expect Help if you are a pickpocket victim
One of the saddest things about the pickpocketing situation in Thailand is that it’s such a well-accepted trade that many of the locals are in on it. In other countries, you can assume that the security, shopkeepers or even passers by might alert you to a potential threat, but not in Thailand. Sadly, thieves pay off guards to allow them to have free reign on a certain section of street.
Although this is a situation that doesn’t look to change any time soon, we can aim to improve it by looking out for fellow travelers ourselves. If you notice any suspicious behavior or see another tourist being targeted by an obvious planned distraction, don’t hesitate to mention to them that there might be a problem. I was encouraged to do this by a fellow traveler I met on the road. His quick wit had saved him when a local Thai created an obvious distraction in front of him. Being knowledgeable about these types of scams, he spun round and saw a women heading toward him, eyes focused on the zip to his backpack. After avoiding this potentially disastrous encounter, he followed the couple further up the street and was astounded by how many people they targeted. Each time, he intervened and prevented the theft from taking place. If every traveler does this, then more people will become aware of the situation, and communally we can reduce the amount of attacks that occur!
Avoiding pickpockets is never easy, and a lot of it comes down to chance, but by putting some security measures in place, you can significantly reduce your risk and enjoy your trip to Thailand without having to worry about problems. If you have any more advice for fellow travelers on how to survive pickpockets, then be sure to comment below!