Monday, January 14, 2013

How we almost got scammed in Bangkok

What was difficult in Bangkok was the language. Surprisingly, the folks there did not know English as much as people in other cities knew - like Chiang Mai and Phuket. So it was difficult find out the routes most of the times. Except for once, stuck to taxis for commuting since they were the safe options. The drivers are honest and they tell the rates upfront. The rickshaw guys are crooks. There is a popular scam that most tourists end up being pulled into. We almost got fooled. This is what happened.

The very first day after refreshing ourselves, set out to visit the Golden Palace. Its just 1 km away from the Khao San Road. As we walked towards an intersection, we lost sense of direction as to which side to take. The biggest mistake was holding a map. The Golden Palace is an English name and most locals dont recognize the name, instead they would know if you ask them direction for Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang. Now, that's too much of expectation from self.

While we were trying to find the right direction, guess what? The roofs of palace complex was visible at some hundreds of meters ahead. Thats how close we were; yet we could not realize how conveniently close we chose our hotels(though that's precisely why I chose Khao San Road long with it being cheap but had long forgotten that it was close to Grand Palace). Moreover, you just have to get out of the hotel for tuk-tuk drivers pursue you a lot to use their service.

We inquired with a couple of locals at the intersection, no one knew where Grand Palace was. At the time, a well dressed guy came over and started talking to Velu in a friendly way. He inquired about where we were from, where we are staying, where we are going. When we said, we want to visit Grand Palace, he said it was some Buddhist festival that day and the palace complex was closed until 3 PM. We did not realize we are being scammed. He led us to sit by a street chair, took the map from us and marked other areas of attraction for us to visit. That was when it struck me. None of the places he was marking seemed recognizable to me, I am one who reads a lot about a place before I go. So I would virtually know what places are important attractions; I remember the district he was referring was not mentioned in any of the articles I have read about Bangkok.

I wanted to get away from there immediately; I was beginning to get uncomfortable but was being polite and Velu was intently listening to him unaware of us being duped. When he made sure we bought his story of Grand Palace being closed, he gave us an alternate itinerary - Visit a couple of temples, go shopping, reach Grand Palace at 3 PM just in time. He also threw in agencies which could give us best rates for travel and hotels at Chiang Mai; which we said was already booked. He still insisted we cancel the flight since the road journey is scenic; which we humbly declined.

The next thing he did was talk about "Government tuk-tuks" which charge 20 Baht for the whole day and takes you all around the place he just listed. He also said such ones are recognized by a small yellow flag they have. Now this really struck me! Whoever would do that even in the name of charity? But I was also thinking how are we going to find such a tuk-tuk? If we found one, how is he going to benefit from it? None of this made sense. So we got to the end of the road, and in a couple of minutes a government tuk-tuk arrived! He spoke to the driver and agreed on 20B charge. We thanked him and I requested him if  I can take one picture of him; since he has helped us a lot. He humbly denied citing the festival and he being a Buddhist could not pose for photos that day. It was queer. We boarded the tuk-tuk and it started. I said Velu that something didn't seem right. When we asked him to take to Grand Palace, he told the same bull and cock story

After 5 mins of commute, the tuk-tuk driver stopped in front of a Buddhist temple which was our first sight seeing stop. We decided we would ask him to go off and that we have made changes to our plans. When we communicated this, he got wild and started yelling and demanding 400B. We told him it wont work out; we could give his 20Baht at the max. He also spoke on the phone and our guess is that he talked to this tout who advised him to leave us alone.

He left us after hurling some abuses in Thai. We found a taxi and went back to Grand Palace which was not closed. The taxi driver confirmed our suspicion when he said it was always best to hire a taxi; adding that tuk-tuk guys are "no good". I later read about these kind of scams on the internet. They take you to shops and lure you to buy expensive items and gems; the touts get commission. A bad start for the trip :)

In the course of next couple of days, we figured out they were a team. They operated at the corner of the street; this guy hooks innocent victims and signals to the rickshaw guy lurking in the corner when the plot is set.

I did manage to click a pic of that fellow while trying to click other pictures much before asking him.

Offering help


The so called Government Tuk-Tuk with Yellow flag. Explaining the itinerary to the driver. 

31 comments:

  1. what a scam!!!your presence of mind saved you!! :)

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    1. Rajlakshmi,

      I still am disappointed with us. I feel I shouldnt have let him carry on for that long. We wasted 2 hours of our time

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  2. Ha ha... It is very easy to get pushed around by the locals. especially when it is such a popular tourist place. We can read the mindsets of those guys as we are from India. It is lot worse at home na? Phew! Imagine the plight of someone who is new to this. Pungi baja denge...

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    1. :) True. At least we did not get duped. But still I hate myself for behaving like a proper tourist - maps and all! Was that how we were in Costa Rica? Remember staring at William when we walked inside the boat with a piece of fish? :D

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    2. Sometimes, a self drawn map helps.
      I think William said he was eating chicken, but i still like to think it was fish. :-p Wait, was it the other way around. Whatever! It was hot steaming and heavenly! :-D

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    3. Yeah he was eating chicken and you thought it was fish :D

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  3. Once bitten twice shy. You will keep this incident in mind , I'm sure.

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    1. In fact, after that sadly we started doubting anyone and everyone

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  4. Before I visited Bsngkok,I was warned of this.
    I insisted on taking taxi from the hotel itself..I know it turns out to be relatively expensive.
    I remember having stayed at a hotel on Sukhamvit Road.
    Isnt Palace awesome?

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    1. Yeah, I did read about them but I forgot almost. Palace was good but crowded

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  5. Pardon me, B, but I can't help giggling! "The biggest mistake was holding the map". B, thats a riot! :-) i just could see the entire scene, you and Velu standing at the junction, looking all touristy with the caps on the heads and maps in the hands! and gazing open mouthed all around for the Grand Palace while it was right before you. I am reminded of some old Mario Cartoons in the Illustrated Weekly. :-D

    Soberly, thats really a good lesson for all. You guys with all your experience got nearly duped!

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    Replies
    1. is there a like button here?

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    2. Yes Balan. As I stated on the post, that was the biggest mistake. But we never indulge in such sort of touristy stuff. I think we got that map somewhere free and started using it. That was the first and last time.

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  6. When we visited Bangkok, one fellow dressed as policeman started offering us help, but we had already been warned not take help from such people. In fact, I had read there are gangs working together, attracting innocent tourists with some irresistible deals for using the water scooters, and then letting them use it, and while they are in the middle of the sea, the scooter starts giving them trouble, and these people come and take you to the police saying you have broken the various parts and that you have to pay so many thousand bahts, here the police is also the part of the gang. It is really scary.
    Thank God you had a safe trip.

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    1. Rama,

      A couple of such incidents happened after that. Everyday at least one try. But we were on guard. At Wat Pho, policeman liky guy insisting there is no route ahead. Or about the water scooters, thats a famous scam now. Yeah, its only at places like Bangkok and Pattaya. Other areas were safe and people were friendly.

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  7. The guy will turn livid if he ever get to know his photo is here. But what a scam and what an innovative idea...

    Good that you did not buy his plot...

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    1. Yeah, he didnt know I had already clicked his pic. But I wanted a portrait shot of him :)

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  8. Ohh..how scarry! Seriously? Are there even such tourist traps? Good that you guys had a escape!

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    1. Yeah they have many other ways as well. Better to say a firm NO and move on

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  9. hmm.. good you realized it at the early stage... !!

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    1. Better that way it was. But I still feel I should have been more wise

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  10. This is quite a regular affair in Bangkok so one has to act clever with these kind of people! Notwithstanding, Bangkok is still a lovely destination besides the rest of Thailand:)

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  11. It's important to stay alert as you did while traveling to new places. Touts are everywhere and so are cheats. It is a very good thing that you kept firm about what you wanted. Wonder how these kind of things are dealt with older travelers - aged parents who go for a tour on their own - these touts could rip them off unless they stay super alert at all times.

    By the way those Tuk tuks sound like the autos in UP. :)

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    1. Yeah, it would be easier with older folks I think. But they would be more wiser with all their experience and wisdom to get ripped of hopefully. The ricks are very colorful in Bangkok

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  12. You were smart enough to see through the scam early in the plot!

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  13. I wanted to get away from there instantly I was starting to get uneasy but was being gentle and Vela was goal listening to him unknown of us being duped.

    Wanted fire alarm

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I'd love to know what you thought :-) Please shoot!