Google Bangkok and you will likely find touristy things to do, monuments to visit and most definitely Pad Thai recommendations. But, scratch the surface a little further and you may uncover a whole slew of scams that takes many tourists for a ride (literally)!
It’s my first day in Bangkok and I’m traveling with the usual suspects—three of my closest friends from college days. We’ve been around the block enough to know a con when we see one. At least, that’s what we thought. Maybe it was the heat frying our jet-lagged brains, or maybe it was a genuine interest in the well-spoken Thai man on the corner, adjacent to the Grand Palace.
We were ready to cross the street, which lead to the Grand Palace, as that was our first landmark we wanted to visit. A man approached us, told us he was a teacher and asked us where we were from, where we planned to go and how long we’d been here. That last part is usually a good indication that they want to get a feel for how fresh and naïve you are to the city and its tricks.
He informed us the Grand Palace was closed (this is a VERY prevalent scam in Bangkok) and told us we should visit a few other temples in its place. Red flag number one. He even conveniently had another map and was all too eager to share it with us. He marked a few spots, all of them legit monuments or temples. But he also made it a point of mentioning a promotion going on for suits at a specific tailor shop and for a limited time. Red flags number two, three and four.
At this point he flagged down a tuk-tuk (the little three-wheeled taxis that get you around the city) and told us not to pay more than 40 Baht a person for the whole day of rides. The drivers would take us to the sights, wait for us to finish, then shuttle us to the next ones.
We agreed, mostly because 40*2 baht is only about USD $2.30 for a whole day of rides. Seemed like a steal. The two drivers we had took the four of us to the first temple, which was a legit spot. We climbed up, explored a bit, took a few ultra-touristy photos, lit some incense for Buddha and made our way back down.
One of our drivers motioned for us to return so he could take us off to the next landmark. He said he needed to use the restroom so we waited by our rides. A man approached our spot and was about to get into his SUV, but it was blocked by our tuk-tuks. Red flag number five. He said he wasn’t in a rush and would wait. He engaged us further, once again in near perfect English, and enquired about our plans, much like the first person.
Apparently, he was visiting his Buddhist monk brother in the temple nearby and was actually from New York, where he was a lawyer. He mentioned that he went to Cornell and even dropped the name of his law firm in the conversation. Looking back, the name of the firm was actually a combination of a consulting company and a law firm—the sixth red flag.
We discuss our plans for the day as he looks over our map. He confirms we picked the best spots to visit and also backs up the teacher’s info on the tailor shop, evening telling us in great detail how we could get Armani suits for less than $400. He says, “They even take credit cards!” HAHA.
As our drivers return, we all looked at each other and discussed these wild “coincidences”, namely the closed temple, helpful teacher, limited time sale, blocked car and friendly lawyer. But seeing as though we already had a ride lined up, we jumped back in and agreed that when we arrived at the suit shop, we’d simply tell the driver we weren’t interested and ask him to take us to the next temple.
This didn’t go over particularly well. Upon arrival, we hopped out and told them we did not need suits. They seemed very put off by this and continued to insist we go in and have a look, even if we didn’t want to buy. At this point we saw they wouldn’t be taking us any further and decided to end our “tour” there. I can’t remember the exact number of Baht they demanded, but I ended up giving them 50 for myself and the friend riding in the tuk-tuk with me—about $1.50 total.
As we walked away and headed to the next temple by foot, we all began discussing what just transpired and debated the possibility of all five people we met being in cahoots just to sell us some suits.
We were lucky in that we realized pretty early on what was taking place. But unlike us unfortunately, many people didn’t have a good laugh about their experience. Turns out 50 Baht was a great price to pay, as we began Googling and reading about people being taken for a ride to tailor shops or gem shops and spending hundreds of dollars.
These scams are pretty convincing to the unsuspecting. They have the first person pose as a teacher, probably to establish some trust. He mentions he doesn’t want any money from us, just to help. He offers up a bigger and “better” map of the sights—we even found out these maps are altered and don’t accurately reflect the distances between monuments. They then conveniently use our tuk-tuks to block in someone’s car. This someone is another well-spoken Thai man who poses as a knowledgeable lawyer, and furthers the credibility of the teacher’s choices of the sights, as well as the tailor shop.
I’m actually curious what would’ve happened if we had entered the tailor shop and not bought anything, came back out, and wished to go on to the next sight. Would the drivers even be waiting? Would they have another scam up their sleeves? The details and steps involved in planning these are actually quite impressive and almost make me regret not continuing to play along. Almost.
Suffice to say, Google ‘Bangkok scams’ if you plan on going so you can be prepared for ALL the possibilities. Definitely don’t miss out on taking a tuk-tuk, as we found all of our other drivers to be friendly. Negotiate the fare before you take off and you won’t have an issue. Be sure to visit the Grand Palace, too! It’s definitely something you don’t want to miss, even if the teacher tells you it’s closed.