If you saw my last video, you’re probably wondering how Jass & I got into such a long, heated argument with a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok! At the time, we didn’t know it, but we’d fallen for a common scam.
Funnily enough, at the time, we were just annoyed that he wouldn’t take no for an answer and didn’t feel like we were being scammed. Having met many people on our trip around Thailand since then, we found that they all had identical stories, so I had to google it to see if this really is as common as it seems. Apparently, this has been going on for years in Bangkok with so many people sharing their stories on TripAdvisor, blog posts and articles, that I felt the need to add my two pennies worth in. So I’ll start from the beginning..
We had booked a spontaneous trip to Thailand just weeks before departing and hadn’t put too much thought into what we wanted to see or do. We knew that we wanted to see The Grand Palace in Bangkok as it’s one of the most renowned, along with some of the other temples.
It was only a short walk away from our hotel, but the heat and humidity made the 15 minute walk seem virtually impossible. We attempted it anyway, knowing that we can simply hail a taxi or tuk-tuk if needed.
Along the way, a well dressed Thai man struck up a conversation with us in perfect English with this elaborate story about how he was in Bangkok visiting his daughter who is at university here. He went on to tell us about how he is also visiting the tourist sites and that the Grand Palace is closed today for a special ceremony. Instead, we should visit some of the lesser known temples which really appealed to us as we wanted to get to know more about the Thai culture and not just see the tourist sights.
‘What a nice man’ – we thought.
I’ve learned that this man is known as the ‘Roper’ -They rope you in with chit chat about themselves before asking where you’re from, what you do and what your plans are while in Thailand. This is to see whether you have booked flights/busses/boats/ferries/hotels so they can sell you fake tickets. Then they put you at ease by telling you they happen to have ‘a friend in London’ and they support Manchester United – it’s always Manchester United, haha!
He conveniently pulls out a notepad and pen, mapping your journey out for you and tells you not to accept tuk-tuk fares higher than 50baht (£1) which is unbelievable considering that the driver stays with you for the day. As they have already engaged with you, they know where you are planning to go, and have figured that you work in an office so will need a suit (even if you don’t work in an office, you still need a suit for special occasions apparently!). You are also told to watch out for tuk-tuks with a white license plate as they’re the dodgy ones and the yellow license plates are the official government ones. FYI – We didn’t notice a single tuk-tuk with a white license plate on our entire trip.
Conveniently, he hails a yellow plate tuk-tuk for you, ‘relays the information to the driver’ and assures you that you will only be paying 50baht.
It’s at this point that you think ‘what an amazing deal, we can’t pass up this opportunity!’ and fall for it, hook, line and sinker. There isn’t time for you to stop and think about what you’re actually doing, he ushers you into the tuk-tuk before you can confirm the itinerary and shoves the piece of paper in your hand.
All common sense just goes out of the window. I mean, would you trust a complete stranger like that in London? Of course not!
First stop – Lucky Buddha Temple (Wat Sommanat)
We were walked in by our driver and told to take our time. As we were walking up to the temple, we were greeted by an older man in the courtyard. Again, he spoke impeccable english, seemed genuinely friendly and told us to sit with him for five minutes while the monks pray. He used this time to tell us his life story; he’s well travelled, loves London and also supports Manchester United(!) before asking all the same questions as the man on the street.
“You have to wait five minutes because the monks are praying”
He’s known as ‘The Temple Guardian’ – Not always a local Thai, sometimes a tourist or some other fictitious character is placed there to confirm what the first man had told you. He also mentioned the Thai Export Centre where you can buy ‘exceptional quality suits at low prices’ and ‘earn great wealth with that custom-made suit from the best factory outlet in the country.’ Also, apparently all the top designers such as Hugo Boss and Paul Smith get their suits manufactured there, so essentially you’re buying the same thing without the label! –Funniest thing I’d heard all day!
“You’re very lucky, there is a promotion on today and it’s all tax free! You must go!”
Although the man on the street had also told us the same thing, we knew we didn’t need any suits regardless of the promotion and naively figured that it would be easy enough to tell our driver to skip that stop.
This guy could see that we were getting a bit bored of the small talk and said that the monks should be done praying now and we can go in. I asked whether he was coming in with us as it seemed a bit weird that he was just sat just outside the temple, seemingly waiting to go in. He wanted to smoke his cigarette first and at this point, alarm bells should have started ringing.. Clearly he was just waiting to give the next unsuspecting tourist the same old spiel.
We took longer than anticipated walking around the temple as a lovely monk struck up conversation with us (this wasn’t part of the scam). I was keen to find out more about the customs and rituals of buddhism; why they light a certain number of incense sticks etc. and didn’t want to miss an opportunity to speak to a monk about it.
Having been told to take our time by the driver, we didn’t think it would be a problem (and had even planned to give him a tip for his services at the end!) and as we were walking out, we were greeted by the angry driver telling us to hurry up! En route back to the tuk-tuk we explained that he could miss the Export Centre and take us straight to the next temple and we would still pay him the full fare.
We wrongly assumed he had agreed, after all would be driving a shorter distance for the same price. Of course, he drove us there anyway!
On arrival, we could see that it was just a standard retail outlet and although we felt uneasy, we went in anyway. The shop was just off a busy road with nothing else in sight, and assumed that he hadn’t understood us. There wasn’t a lot we could do except go in for fear of being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
We spent less than five minutes in the shop, told them it was all a misunderstanding and we didn’t need suits and thanked them for their time.
Outside, our driver, having been quite friendly all day, was shocked to see us walk out but he didn’t say anything as we got back into the tuk-tuk.
Hey, we even stopped for a little photoshoot first too!
He only drove a couple of metres down the dual carriage way and stopped the engine before turning around to talk to us. I was slightly concerned that we had pulled up in the first lane, cars were going past really fast and swerving around us and my first thought was “we’ve broken down in the middle of nowhere” followed by.. “this is where we are going to die!”
This is where the conversation happened. It started with him asking if we’d go to a couple more shops, and we couldn’t understand why so declined. He attempted to explain that the reason our journey was so cheap was because he gets a government credit (200 baht gasoline voucher) for every shop we visit, even if we don’t buy anything. We have to act interested and stay in the shop for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Although he had explained ‘the situation’ to us, we weren’t convinced and something still sounded off to us. 200baht (£4) is a lot of money in Thailand and we couldn’t understand how shops would hand out these coupons regardless of whether we made a purchase or not. We couldn’t be dealing with any pushy sales assistants and only had one day left in Bangkok with plenty of sights still left to see so we didn’t want to waste any more time.
The conversation went round and round in circles with us insisting that we do not want to go shopping and him not taking no for an answer. We offered him 100 baht (double the agreed price) to not take us there before he turned back around and started driving.. this time to pull up on the corner of a side street to continue this debate!
After more than half an hour of arguing, he eventually became bored with our emphatic insistence and drove us to the next temple.
Jass & I had now decided that we would pay him the 50baht when we get out at the next stop and make our own way back. This is when the ‘friendly’ driver started shouting obscenities at us as he realised that he wouldn’t be driving us to the last stop – the pier. Here, he would have made the majority of his money from our boat ticket sales, and I’ve since learned that if we had have visited multiple shops and made purchases, he would have left us there anyway due to the commission he would have already made.
Side note: We had been told there are four piers in Bangkok, three of which are for tourists; a higher priced ticket at 3000baht/person (£60) and one for the locals which charges 700baht/person (£14). Even when you calculate the difference in GBP, it’s a lot of money for the same boat trip and despite our efforts explaining to the man on the street about which pier we wanted to go to, he was obviously taking us to the wrong one!
Needless to say, we took an honest taxi back to the hotel. (We would have missed the last boat at the pier anyway).
In case you’re wondering, we’re not angry about this experience nor did it dampen our spirits – not for long anyway! For approximately £1, we were driven around Bangkok for a couple hours, visited a two beautiful temples, one that we would never have found on our own and we have an amusing story to tell. That’s a pretty good deal, and as far as scams go, we definitely got the better end of this deal.
“It’s ironic that the man that tried to scam us took us to the Lucky Buddha temple first, and didn’t go in himself.” – I guess the temple really did bring us good luck!
These tuk-tuk scams are the norm in Bangkok and after some research, I discovered that we really did have a lucky escape. This scam has been going on for years and people have posted their stories all over the internet. The Globetrotter Girls had a complete nightmare, you can read their account here and some other stories here, here, here aaanndd here!
It is true that Bangkok is full of chaos, scams and grime, but so is the rest of the world, and it can happen anywhere. The sad part is that this experience made us really suspicious and wary about approaching tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, as a dozen more drivers tried to take us to an Export Centre – which we clearly weren’t falling for again.
On the flip side, Bangkok is also full with beauty, friendly people, and amazing sights and it hasn’t put us off visiting again. As long as you’re aware of what goes on and don’t get lured in by deals that seem too good to be true, you will escape unscathed.
If you have read this far into my longest
essay post to date, then I applaud you!
Have you ever been scammed in Bangkok or any other city around the world? I’d love to hear about what happened.
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