Readers' Submissions

Pick Pockets

  • Written by Anonymous
  • June 14th, 2006
  • 16 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Sherpa

The subject of pick pocketing in LOS seems to have a strong forum presence again. I must speak up with… MHO.

Theft is not as rampant as in other key tourist Mecca’s like Rome, San Francisco or Spain for that matter. My personal experience throughout many travels has me believe Thailand is less precarious but does require typical awareness when you are out and about.

In the forums I read they and folks I discuss this with seem to only have half the story of the hows and whys of street urchins and adult street thieves being discussed. I think it also becomes blown out of proportion by those spending great amounts of time in less than the best part of town or bars. That goes for San Francisco or Spain too.

I thought I may offer some extra stories that happened to me in the past while visiting LOS. I do so with hesitation because I do not want to fan a fire of high concern when BKK is rather safe by comparison. Pattaya has far worse crime than the pick pockets being sited lately there and in BKK. I would be careful in Pattaya at this point since it seems that bar saturation and economy downturns are adding to greater risks taken by the bad guys. I sensed bar saturation was often discussed among the ladies and managers when I hopped around Pattaya last March.

LOS is not that bad if you factor small area of hot spots-Patpong, Patong, Nana, SC, Sois in Patts etc.-to total number of tourists into the equation. Tourists are a prime target and most Thai numbers show an increase in hotel room occupancy since the Tsunami recovery but bar numbers seem to be on the rise which concentrates pedestrian traffic and crime ridden spots.

Economics is key to crime and the surrounding countries should also be included in the equation. I doubt that the increase in crime has been that great since my last visit, two months ago yet by way of forums it seems to be on the increase. Perhaps there are higher peaks and lower valleys in tourist seasons than I previously experienced.

That said, try Guatemala for street urchins, maybe Caracas, Rio, San Jose they exceed LOS hands down. El Salvador would give you some sad stories your next visit for sure. Jakarta, New Guinea, can tug your heart strings.

This is not just about kids being used. This is an adult game that is growing worldwide.

Be vigilant and careful – is the mantra for all travelers. Remember that when traveling anywhere. Put tourist crime in perspective.

I guess I can go over 4 scenarios I personally encountered since 2004.

I don’t want to offer added anxiety to other travelers since I had better saves than losses by local Thais around me in LOS.

Meaning, local Thais come to my aid more than take the easy rip off that I get all around the world, even at home.

Most Thais are very helpful in light of opportunity drunks and dummies offer. Keep that in mind.

Here goes:

I never had difficulty with katoeys touching me so no issues to relate on the most typical pick pocket. I would have raised concern should one approach me in an odd location.

It was the bathroom attendants at the big disco that got me for 1,000 baht. They all attack you when you are at the urinal with cold towels and neck cracking massages. They got me with my dick in hand and my guard down. Very compromised to say the least.

Vulnerable and drunk. Key elements to the crime success.

Be sure -I was strictly thinking of draining the Johnny and coke when they snagged my cash. I never have gotten used to dudes touching me at the urinal.

I now push them off before they get near! Best advice. Sounds rather defensive but a good learning experience to share.

That was the one time they got me with pick pocketing. I only lost once out of about 4 pick pocket attempts.

At Ex-Zite disco, in Pattaya was the place I was drunk and taking a piss at the disco, in the john, of course. I never felt his touch until I was zipping up! His hand coming out of my pocket as I was zippin’ up. I was deflected by a cold towel on my neck but he was caught in the act, bastard!

Like I said, the booze added to my risk factor. I also think if you are uncomfortable telling them to back the f– up they will take advantage. Don’t let them get in your space unless you are fully capable of slapping their chances of robbing you down!

The attendant I caught tried to tell the boss I tipped 1,000 baht to all the bathroom attendees! Crap!

Boss helped with my bill without focusing on my 1,000 baht loss. I made out okay over two trips.

They saved face and I was satisfied to a point. Remember to back down if all save face and financial recovery is possible. Better for all in long run.

Cops and jail may not be the real conclusion for the crime. Especially if you are buzzed so be considerate of offers for letting it go and cash recovery is in hand. Walk away when possible in any country.

Here’s the other scams:

I went to Nana early, about 18:30. Everything still closed except the center court bars. I sat down with a beer bar gal to play that 4 n a row game. We are sitting at the perimeter of the bar and my legs are hanging out to the pathway. Shoeshine gal comes over and notices my dirty tennis shoes, all white with typical dirt of a day's walk up Suk. She agrees to wash and white polish them for 20 baht. I agree and kick off my shoes. I continue to drink and play the game, an added distraction for the approaching crime, IMO.

Bottled water suffices for the scrub, right in front of me. She dries them off and runs about. I lose track of her as my socked feet dangle off the stool.

I was still playing the game with the bar chick when the little shoe shiner comes up to shove her completed work in my face.

Comes up from behind me and I jerk back as the shoes come up to my nose. I push the shoes down and they end up perpendicular to my left leg and my money pocket.

Funny thing is, I am more worried that she is going to put the souls of my shoes on my khaki pants than the fact I sense a touch on my leg.

I grab the shoes in anger thinking of a stain on my pants and her pushing them in my face and find a hand retracting from my pocket fast, half a bill sticking out. A mere 100 baht out of my easy cash pocket. (tips and small tabs come out of this one)

I had not paid a tab in their view so I presume she saw a wad of low denomination bills bulging in that pocket. In total, no more than 600 baht, a not to worry amount for me and a suggestion to keep multiple caches to all for protection.

Angered,. I make a scene as I put on my shoes. I toss her 50 baht and exclaim:

Work and win…… Steal and lose. Go to school.

She turned and made a face at me like any defiant 9 year old. I was foolish to think my outburst was going to make a difference. I am sure she had been caught many times before and released without issue.

She had done a splendid job of making my shoes look new! Another deflection in my mind. Most shoe shiners would show their work with pride not shove shoes in the customer’s face.

Big trigger to be sensitive of if you are the future victim.

Good crime work, pushing my shoes in my face, interrupting my game, asking for more money all at the same instance. It generates quite a diversion but I reacted in anger. She had lost her charm in an instant. I probably would have lost my cash had she kept the charm up.

Originally I thought I was helping a street person without opportunity who came to me and offered to clean my shoes. It happens in most cities I travel to but she began with charm and ended with pushy, deflecting antics in order to rip me off. Luckily, I reacted to her crap.

Most shoe shine folks had set their work in a proper place for me to appreciate. They do so in hopes of better pay. I usually gladly offer a proper gratuity, not this time. She blew it.

In my mind I later questioned, had she contracted out the shine to another kid?

She had disappeared for close to 20 minutes with my shoes in hand. Was someone polishing my shoes for her as she and mates observed me from a far to see how much cash they could beat me out of?

Maybe!!

Sad to reduce my thought process to such a demeaning level since the same product in Las Vegas costs 200 baht yet it is completed, ethically by an adult in front of me and he may have space rent to contend with. I was getting a deal in my mind. But we must bring it all back to the math.

If this kid is making 2 shines an hour at 50 baht for 6 hours x 5 days, she makes more than a typical construction or factory worker. The average salary for them tends to hover around 8,000 to 10,000 / month. If I am not mistaken.

Now we see why there is such manipulation and control over these little moneymakers and then there is greed incorporated in all segments of life. They are not keeping the cash from the shines or the scam.

She is winning the only way she can. For me to think my 50-100 baht and advice will save this girl and others like her is very naïve yet I sense some fulfillment by yelling.

Adding salt to the wound, she came back and wanted to play the game TG and I had been involved in. When denied, the little kid dropped all the round chips out the bottom of the rack in a quick, sly move that replicated her pick pocketing skills. Practiced often, I am sure.

Sad to settle into the plight of others even if we, ourselves, came from nothing and are now successful and content. Truth is, I am there in that location and position enticed by the economics of it all.

We all should be reminded the key draw to these areas is economics- micro and macro. Period. ( e.g.) They are there to push the market up, we are there to lower their gains.

A world that got us here in LOS some way… long time or short time visit….to enjoy as many services provided for us for our dollar. It works. I still love a 200 baht traditional massage. It’s almost worth the $800 airfare to get it.

Bar girl apologizes for my near theft yet I feel she’s partly to blame. I am know looking at all people around me as those that may take advantage. Perhaps, I am jaded. The little girl was speaking Lao! TG returned a comment in same tongue. I left quick and went to SC.

Appropriately scared by my experience there at Nana but not the most egregious loss I incurred in my trips around the world. In fact, I have lost a ton by stupid credit card purchases over the years that could have been saved by more appropriate foreign exchange methods.

My biggest losses were on my own doing without a secret or conniving theft. It was personal arrogance and lack of proper thought that gave way to my biggest “ Oops, I lost it again” type of costly embarrassments.

Yeah, girls, sex, jewelry, cockiness and showing off may be the best descriptors of my biggest losses while traveling. True/direct theft is not since I usually protect myself.

Next pick pocket example was in November at Loy Krathong….

I am at SC and many people are in costume and kids are pushing sales of little leaf rafts with candles to float down the river and such.

(Such– is really the brown water sewers that suffice as rivers sending a prayer and hope for many in the coming year…. I digress).

I am feeding an elephant and have some TG’s with me actually squeamish of the indigenous animal.

I am walking around with my Bf’s, yes plural….and an expensive night that was….so I was pretty broke at this point.

Luckily broke!! Since I could have lost a chunk of cash had it been earlier in the evening.

Side note…..I don’t understand higher BF’s on big holidays but I bit into a mouthful that evening. Caught up in the celebrating and all. Again, I digress, back to the subject…

I am in the middle of the Soi when a Gum kid grabs my leg like my son did when he was small—sitting on my foot and hoping I would walk around and carry him like a carousel horse.

I want to thump this kid off, world cup goal is in my mind.

I calm down and offer the kid 20 baht for gum. I try to coax the kid off my leg.

He has been telling me 50 baht for gum. I am trying to peel him off my leg. No luck, without hurting the kid.

Finally, I manage to muscle my leg away.

Now he is off leg and he wants 100 baht for a gum, a tray of candy shoved up to my chin..

He then tells me, in almost perfect English, that I have just paid 100 baht for 2 packs of sugar cane that is fed to an elephant. What about him and my generosity towards the big animal under a controllers hand?

He got me!

I was more generous to the animal than I wanted to be to a little child street urchin. He set me off to think about a come back to his comments.

People are watching me, the elephant wants another bag of cane and I have a kid tugging on me. He now has a hold of my shirt with an almost fighting grip. I am intent on peeling his grip from my shirt.

I am distracted by the kid that won’t let go of my shirt even though my girls are yelling at him.

The girls are the ones that catch number two kid coming after my cash.

They were strong and protected their ATM! They caught him headed towards me as I peeled the other kid from my shirt.

Scary tactics. This older kid had flowers and comes from behind me using flowers to cover his snatch.

“You buy flower for pretty girl” he said.

It was the pretty girls who protected the investment. He take money! They yell.

The kid understands English and reacts as fast as I do. I am pissed at these kids and there is a ridiculous exchange between me and the boys. No one responded to my rants with anything other than laughs. All it did was prompt me to get out of the Soi and move to more private digs and laugh off another dumb position I placed myself in.

I wonder if it effected my candle on my Loi Krathong float. Big flame up, which is said to define prosperity!

I take responsibility for every mishap because I am an experienced traveler and know I am a mark wherever I go. That is at every airport magazine shop, tourist trinket stand or the high priced trap that is feeding me pseudo local cuisine. If I am there it is as a mark and I go willingly to be fleeced.

This last example, however, reduced my opinion of fellow society and, in particular, the Buddhist, accept all, Thai theme to the world. I learn that people will take advantage of others no matter how much in need. A kid who was deaf, used by other deaf vendors.

I did try to laugh this one off but I was disgusted to no repair after this experience. I think now my guard is up to a point where I lose too much joy in an exciting local like LOS.

There are deaf street vendors throughout BKK. I was on the sidewalk needing some new pants. I found some silk/cotton mix ¾ shorts, perfect for my beach trip the next day. I was a paying customer, not a passer by eligible for pick pocket. At least in my stupid opinion, that is. I let my guard down. This is what got me!! I am relatively thin for a Farlang sizes, 32“ waist, easy fit, in Thailand, right?

Not for this dude. He wants to put all kinds of stupid pants on me with wrong size. He was pushing for me to take my pants off and try on some good looking pants I showed I wanted. He was going to set up a dressing room by throwing up a towel to let me try on pants properly. I concede to it in an effort to get out of there ASAP since I hate shopping. That is when the scam hit high note.

Under the table of pants is another kid! He’s deaf and been taught to steel from tourists who want to pay a proper price for product. He is not that good yet. I think he is 6-8 years old. My pants are right in front of me on the table of clothing. Remember this is on a busy BKK street. As I am changing I see his little hand approaching my pants with my wallet tucked in. It is like he thinks he is invisible under the table but his head bumps the table and I can see him stretching his arm to get into my wallet.

I push down the stupid towel and grab my pockets. The kid is caught red handed.

To save face the Vendor slaps him, grunts and signs some screaming BS. I am sickened by the hurt because I caught the kid. I wish I had just let him take some baht. I do not accept hurting any of these kids. To witness some of their pain is educational and more harmful to tourism. I don’t want a cop and I don’t want more hurt to this kid. I do want to beat the crap out of this adult fiend !

I am offered a great deal… 100 baht… for the pants. It is an effort to forgive the attempt to lift my whole cash wallet in my pants as directed by same man that slapped the child around. I gave him 100 and the kid 100.

My hope to protect him. In hindsight, I should have waited for the cops to arrive.

I am sickened by what I offered to a supposed, needy person who in fact was a cheap hood sucking in small kids to do his dirty work. I feel some regret.

Then I remember it is all about economics and my own regard for keeping these thieves losing out. It is up to me.

Protect yourself when out and about.

Stickman's thoughts:

We don't hear much about razor blades being used to slice people's bags on the buses these days. Apparently that was popular in the past, but I have never heard of a farang being the victim of such a crime since I have been in Bangkok.