When you imagine Thailand, you think of beautiful temples glistening in the sweltering sun, you think of drinking a cold Chang beer on a pristine beach, you think of rice paddies and water markets. You do not, however, think about being scammed on your first day out in the country.
No matter how well travelled we think we are, sometimes we all unfortunately lose our heads and fall prey to scammers, and my time in Thailand was no different.
Hopefully by reading this blog post it will firstly give you a bit of a laugh, but also show you warning signs to look out for! Dundundahhhh!
So…. what happened?
In our first day in Thailand we woke up and hopped into a taxi to see the world famous Bangkok! Our first visit to the Wat Arun temple was incredible in spite of a bit of rainy season drizzle. However, you’re not here to hear about how much I enjoyed seeing Wat Arun temple…
As we walked to see Wat Pho we could see some minor roadworks on the pavement. As I walked around the drying cement to enter the temple a friendly looking Thai man approaches us out of nowhere (red flag number one). Looking at the cement he informed us helpfully, that because of the road works Wat Pho temple was shut for lunch.
He then continued to ask us how long we had been in Thailand for (translation: how green we were). When we said cheerfully that we had just arrived yesterday he seemed surprisingly happy (red flag number two). As we talked, he said that the temple would open in two hours, but he knew just the thing to do to kill time! Go to see the elusive black buddha and Wat Saket.
The Black Buddha? I’d never heard of this before but he reassured me it was one of the most beautiful and largest buddhas to see in all of Bangkok, AND it happened to be open today (which was very rare!). Oh and if our new friend wasn’t helpful enough with his very own personal itinerary he also promised that to travel to both sights would cost exactly 100 Baht between us in a tuktuk.
As we agreed to go see these sights, we turned and low and behold a tuk tuk pulls up on the road and we wave goodbye to our new friend. When we ask how much the tuk tuk would cost to see all these sights the tuk tuk driver tells us 100 Baht exactly. I thought this was uncanny (red flag number 3).
As we pull away from Wat Pho I felt a drop in my stomach that I’ve grown to learn is my intuition. Something was fishy, and it wasn’t the tilapia cooking round the corner.
We arrive at the the famous (!) black buddha. Being the only tourists there in what looked like a carpark we commented to each other that it looked surprisingly low-key for one of the best and largest buddhas in Bangkok. As we turn the corner, we see the black buddha. Only it wasn’t the largest buddha in Bangkok, it wasn’t even the biggest we’d seen in the past hour. Our confusion clearly caught the interest of a local as we were soon asked “Why are you here? This isn’t even a tourist sight?”. When even the locals are confused as to why you are there you know you’ve reached red flag number 4.
Hopping back into the tuktuk the driver tells us next we are going to a jewelry shop. “But we don’t want to go to a jewelry market?”. He then reassured us it was a really nice market with lots to see and we would love it, besides he needed to deliver us to certain shops so they in exchange could give him fuel tokens for the journey (red flag number 5).
The market was filled with sparkling jewelry and even shinier price tags. The shop assistants were going for a hard sell so we booked it out of there quickly.
As we headed to Wat Saket I was aware we were heading further and further out into the city. Wat Saket and the golden mount ironically was actually very beautiful and a nice surprise in our scamfest. At the top of the stairs seeing the skyline of Bangkok we formed a plan. Just get back to the first temple in the tuktuk ASAP.
Sadly our driver had a different idea. We were told our final (thank god!) stop was a men’s suit shop. When we said we didn’t want to buy any suits (very difficult to pack into a 40l backpack) he told us if we didn’t go then he would massively hike up the tuktuk price. This was when I realized we were thoroughly fudged and at the mercy of our tuktuk driver.
Arriving in the suit shop we gave everything a polite quick glance then walked out again. The driver began to shout and say if we didn’t spend enough time in the shop he wouldn’t get his vouchers, translation extortionate tuktuk, so we had to go back into the shop to pretend to be interested in a 3 piece suit (red flag number 6 dingdingding we have a winner).
There was something strangely comedic about someone trying to sell a catalogue of Thai mens dress suits to a lady in battered flipflops and a 6 foot 3 man.
We left the shop and the tuktuk sped off to take us back to our starting temple (I hoped). I wondered what type of injury jumping out of a moving tuktuk would cause and what is the best way to roll of a doorless car– any suggestions?? Thankfully he did indeed take us back to the original temple and we speedily paid the 100 baht and left.
Looking back, we should have just paid himearly-on and left to find another tuktuk, or more intelligently never listened to our friend in the first place but as they say hindsight is 20/20. Apart from a mild panic attack and a ruined day we left unscathed. However, this scam can be worse. Many are persuaded into buying this expensive jewelry (with certification) for hundreds to sell in your home country, however when they arrive back home they realise it was fake or such bad quality they’ve been scammed.
So, how can you avoid being scammed in Bangkok?
- Well-meaning locals that approach you from the goodness of their hearts rarely are. Though there are some cultures where striking up a conversation with a foreigner is not unusual (looking at you Cuba), Thailand generally isn’t one of these places. Generally (emphasis on generally) South-East Asian cultures are more shy with strangers so to be approached by a stranger out of the blue is odd.
- Never listen to the advice of anyone about opening times etc, unless they are an official working there.
- Also ask around at your hostel or do a quick google of how much a tuktuk should cost to different locations so that you know if you are paying over or unsually under the odds.
- Never say you are new to the area to strangers! Looking green only makes you a bigger target.
- If someone starts a conversation on the street with you randomly asking “where are you from?” just walk away. Nothing good comes from this. (This applies everywhere in the world)
- Look up common scams before you go! Nearly every country has a strange scam going on, so it’s worth a 5 minute google!
- It is better to be rude an avoid a bad situation that it is to be polite and in an unfortunate situation.
- Lastly, and the most important travel rule of all…Trust your intuition – if it feels too good to be true, too cheap or too coincidental, that is your brain waving a big old red flag in front of your face. Listen to it.
(disclaimer: I say this story for hopefully comedic effect and I did really enjoy my time and the people in Thailand. I am extremely lucky to be able to travel and sometimes sh*t just happens)