When you are travelling around the world, the most important document that you hold is your passport. It’s not exactly the end of the world if you lose it, but it will cause a lot of difficulty and expense for you. You basically have to put your holiday on hold while you report the loss to the local police station, request a new passport at your embassy and then visit Immigration to have visas transferred across. Very time consuming.
By law in Thailand, you must carry your passport at all times. In practice, tourists are rarely asked for their passport while out shopping or visiting a local attraction. For myself, I carry a copy of my passport photo page and visa page which I shrank down to credit card size and laminated. In theory this is fine. But, if police are doing a shakedown they might demand to see your real passport. If you don’t have it on you, they have been known to ask for a bribe. But, this is not always a scam. Immigration Police have carried out raids on Khao San road guesthouses and bars in Bangkok looking for people who have overstayed their visa. If you cannot produce one then you will be sent to the Immigration Detention Center.
For many years it has been normal for people who rent out motorcycles and now jet skis to ask for a copy of your passport. They basically hold on to this in case you crash the motorbike and refuse to pay compensation or don’t come back with the motorbike. But, according to Dutch Ambassador Joan Boer, you shouldn’t hand over your passport to anyone as this is illegal. He says you should only give them a photocopy. According to the Ambassador, the Thai government has agreed with this. However, he admitted that it will take time to re-educate local tourist services in not demanding to keep the passport.
I just had a look at my passport and it does clearly say that its “the property of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom” and that it should not be “tampered with or passed to an unauthorised person”. A good tip is to make sure that your passport is with you at all times. If not, it is in the hotel safe.