On my first day in Bangkok I was a stupid tourist.
The first time in a new city and in a new country is when you are at your most vulnerable. You don’t know your way around, you don’t know the way that things work, you don’t know how much things should cost, basically you know very little even if you’ve done some research. I knew about people getting scammed in Bangkok, tuk tuk drivers that take you to illegal travel agents and jewlery and tailor shops. I had heard a lot of stories and rumours and I was cautious about what I was doing, as I always am when I am in a new place.
What I didn’t know was the depth that they go to and the amount of people involved in carrying out the scam. Sometimes you have to get scammed to know what to look for. You learn from your mistakes.
It began on our first day in Bangkok. After arriving the night before, my wife and I awoke in the morning and had some breakfast at our guesthouse. We were ready to explore the city. The first thing that I like to do in a new place is to go for a walk and try to get my bearings. Staying in the quieter area between Khao San Road and the Chao Phraya River, we walked to the river front and made our way to the Phra Summain Fortress. We were sitting there on a bench with our map out, figuring out where to go next when the scam started.
So far all of the Thai people that we had met had been lovely and so, when a lady that apeared to be walking past stopped to help us, we thought she was just being nice like any Thai person would. She asked where we were trying to get to and I stupidly said that I’m not sure. She explained that she is a teacher and likes to practice her english, which she spoke quite well and I thought it was quite possible that she could be a teacher.
She began telling us that today was a big Buddhist holiday and that the Grand Palace is closed until 1pm, but that some temples in another certain area have free entry for tourists today. She also said that the government is giving tuk tuk drivers special coupons for the holiday to take tourists around for only 10baht each. The last thing she told us was that T.A.T (Tourism Authority of Thailand) was giving out free information today at the office that she pointed out on the map.
The way that I have written it doesn’t sound so convincing, it was the way that she said it. She talked so honestly and made it seem like it was our choice, at no point did it seem like she was forcing anything on us. She seemed to be honestly trying to help us.
She called a tuk tuk over that appeared to simply be driving past at the time, he got out and came over. “You want tuk tuk?” he said. She spoke in Thai to him pointing out the points of interest on our map and also spoke english to us. He said that it’s no problem and that he can take us around to those places for only 20baht for the two of us, because the government will fund his fare for the day.
We hadn’t caught a tuk tuk yet and it all sounded very ligitimate. I was still sceptical but I felt comfortable enough to take the chance and we accepted the offer.
Our first tuk tuk ride ever was good fun and the driver took us straight to our first destination, Wat Indraviharn with it’s 32m tall standing Buddha. He hadn’t asked for any money yet so we explored the temple, but didn’t know whether he would be there when we got back or not. Surely enough he was there waiting for us patiently.
He then took us to the T.A.T office, which was located near the train station. When we got there it seemed like every other travel agent that I had seen so far. I had began to become more sceptical.
The travel agent was also very convincing and I needed to book our onward journey to Chiang mai in the coming days. I booked our tickets, not knowing whether we would actually get them or not.
There didn’t appear to be any communication between the travel agent and our driver, so I still wasn’t sure if I was being scammed or not. Our driver then took us to our next temple, Wat Sommonat with it’s “Lucky Buddha”. This is where the next person in the scam came into play.
We were greeted by a man at the entrance to the small temple, where we were told to remove our shoes and enter. We were the only tourists there, but that didn’t bother me. The man began conversation with us and he seemed genuinely friendly and I believed that he was there helping with the temple, as I saw him sweeping outside when we arrived. He told us about the “Lucky Buddha” and showed us how to pray for good luck.
He then asked us where we were going next and we told him that we were going to the Golden Mount. He confirmed what our driver had told us earlier, telling us that it is closed from 12-1pm, so while we are waiting we could visit a factory near by where we can buy cheap clothes. Our driver had mentioned this before and this man had made it seem ligitimate. We went along for the ride.
I didn’t know what to expect from this “factory”. I was sceptical and I was right as we arrived at a tailor shop. The driver told us that we must look so that he can get his coupon. We entered and spent about 10 minutes going through the annoying process of explaining that I don’t need a suit and getting out of the shop. The man in the shop just couldn’t understand why I didn’t need a suit.
When we got back in the tuk tuk I told the driver to take us straight to the Golden Mount, he agreed and did what I asked.
We spent some time exploring the Golden Mount, climbing to the top and taking in the excellent views of Bangkok city. By this time though we were hot, hungry and tired. We wanted to go back to our guesthouse.
When I told the driver that we want to go back to the guesthouse, he agreed but said that we have to go to one more shop. I said no and that I don’t need a suit. Still politely he said that he needs us to just look so that he can get his coupon. I was getting very frustrated and said that I will look at the shop if he takes us straight back to the guesthouse afterwards. He agreed and took us to another tailor shop.
By this time I was extremely annoyed, hot, hungry and tired and not in any mood to put up with anyone hassling me. I walked into the shop, told them that I don’t want to buy a suit and walked out. I might have been rude, something that I would not usually do at all, but I was done with being polite when I was clearly being scammed.
The tuk tuk driver was almost apologetic and said thankyou to me about five times. He took us straight back to our guesthouse, I gave him the 20baht that we had originally agreed on and it was over. I had learnt my lesson.
To be honest, when I think about it now, we actually had a good day out and it basically cost us nothing. All it really cost us was 20baht and about half an hour of our wasted time.
For 20baht we got a half day tour of Bangkok, a fun tuk tuk ride and visited three temples. Were we scammed? Yes, absolutely, but at no time were we in any danger, we didn’t lose any money or belongings, even the travel agent turned out to be ligitimate, we got our tickets no problem at all. The tailors would have probably been the same if I had ordered something. So in a way I’m actually glad that it happened, I saw and learned a lot about the city.
Here’s a video of my tuk tuk ride through the streets of Bangkok.
If the video doesn’t show, click here.
Have you ever been scammed in Bangkok or any other city around the world? I’d love to hear about what happened.