Scams in Bangkok

Bangkok Travel Blog

 › entry 15 of 16 › view all entries

Well, our last day in Thailand. I thought it would be a short one to write, just commenting on which Wats we saw and the surliness of people in Bangkok, but it turned out to be quite eventful.


To start with, we wanted to see Ko Ratanakosin, and do the Ratanakosin Temples and River Walking tour. As by now usual for Bangkok, the taxi driver tried to rip us off badly – 150 Baht. We finally settled on 40 Baht and asked to go to the Grand Palace.

He insisted on taking us to a shopping centre so I could buy long pants (you can’t go into the Palace in shorts apparently). We refused to go, so he took us to a very cheap market instead. Since our guidebook says that pants are available on loan, we got out and walked around for 10 minutes then hopped in saying we had pants. He collected commission so we were all happy. But no – we were not off to the Grand Palace yet – he wanted us to go to another shopping centre and look around, this time admitting he would get five litres of petrol as commission. It was easier to agree, so we quickly looked at a gem workshop and a silk shop. Finally we made it to the Grand Palace.


We were dropped off at Lak Meuang, the city centre monument, and walked into the Grand Palace, where we had to leave driver’s licences to borrow pants (for me) and shows with heels (for Jodie).

Jodie also had to buy socks (but I didn’t?). Guides tried to rip us off, so we didn’t bother. We had a quick look around the Gran Palace, then paid a hefty 400 Baht to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). It was okay, with an interesting Angkor Wat miniature outside. The small jade Buddha was in the middle of the huge temple surrounded by all the other Buddha images. In all, it was almost identical to the Royal Palace in Phnom Phen, except larger and the concrete monuments were covered by mosaics of coloured glass. The sweltering heat ensued that we did not dawdle.


It was on our way to Wat Pho that a stranger (the first kind person we met in Bangkok) bumped into us, and commented that Wat Pho is closed at lunch (like the Grand Palace is) and reopens at 1pm.

He suggested the ‘Standing Buddha’ and ‘Sitting Buddha’ temples and the government expo to visit before, and told us not to be ripped off by Tuk Tuk’s, as the week-long government expo has subsidised government Tuk Tuk’s (white number plates) so Tuk Tuk’s will show us all of them for 15 Baht. We hailed a white number plate Tuk Tuk, and when we asked the fare to visit all of these, the guy said ti was only 15 Baht today, as the government pays for the fuel during the week long expo.


We set off to the ‘Standing Buddha’ Temple in the government Tuk Tuk. He waited while we went inside. In the small temple the only worshipper started chatting to us, asking what country we came from (always the first question people ask here – and usually asked at most temples). When we said Australia, he said he was just there, we worked as a chef for a Thai restaurant in Wollongong. He asked us why we came to this temple, as it is rarely used, and we said we were visited several temples and the expo. He said not to let the Tuk Tuk driver rip us off, it is only 15 Baht with the government subside. Apparently the expo is open as a way to encourage visitors to Thailand (needed now that Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and Laos are open to visitors). They have tax-free souvenirs and jewellery. People with a passport are allowed to buy a single set of jewellery tax-free, which they can sell back at home for usually twice the price. He himself did this when he went to Australia, and most Thai students do it to subsidise the cost of going overseas to study. The expo is now open to tourists to encourage them to spread the benefits of visiting Thailand. He also recommended another temple, the temple of the Black Buddha. We went there next, and spoke to another guy. He was from Phuket (south Thailand) on his way to Hong Kong on holiday. He asked what we were doing and when we replied he said, oh yeah everyone in Thailand does that to support going overseas, but this is the first time it is open to non-Thais. He said he did it before when he went to Munich, and was doing it again this time on his trip to Hong Kong (obviously they were layering it on a bit thick at this point).


The next stop was the expo. We had a look around the hall (which had a fair few other people in it) and looked at the jewellery. The lady explained the expo conditions, that we could only get a single set and had to export it for personal use (although we were allowed to resell it), and we would get it minus the 195% duty tax. She showed us all the documents showing the government expo guarantee and that at Australia we could get a refund at the Thai embassy within three months if we wanted, since it comes with a certificate of government guarantee, which has our passport numbers stamped on it.


It is embarrassing to say, but we thought all of this sounded quite reasonable. Afterall, it was government run, several people confirmed that the government expo was on, the government Tuk Tuk gave us the cheap fair, and we had met other people that did it. We decided that if it was a scam it was the most elaborate we had ever heard of.


So we picked some jewellery (worth $2500 Australian) and since we didn’t have the cash they gave us a driver to go to the bank. We became suspicious at that and asked why they didn’t have their own credit card facilities. We still went to the bank and withdrew money, but when they said to go to a gold shop and purchase the amount in gold instead, we thought enough is enough, let’s just go back to the expo. There we said we didn’t want to buy anymore as we said it was a risky thing, as we were worried it was a scam. They assured us it wasn’t, and did not seem fussed when we left (they certainly didn’t try a hard sell). When I started talking to another two guys that walked in the Expo Hall though (they said they heard about it from locals) and I warned them we thought it was a scam, the expo people nearly threw me out!


We needed to confirm it for ourselves, so we started looking at Tuk Tuks – all had normal yellow number plates, there is no such thing as government Tuk Tuks. We went to Wat Pho (where we saw the reclining Buddha – the largest in Thailand it was simply enormous) and asked about opening times - they don’t close for lunch. The whole thing was made up – no government Tuk Tuks, expos, duty-free jewellery, conversations with strangers in Wats, nothing. Just a huge scam. It sounds pretty obvious in retrospect, but everyone was so convincing, there were so many people in on it, it constantly showed ‘government approval’ and loads of other tourists were doing it too! We should have known by the fact that we met half a dozen friendly people in a raw, in a city where everyone had tried to rip us off. We felt really stupid, but at least we didn’t loose any money (in fact we had the best Tuk Tuk service in Bangkok)!


Sick of the evil city we went to the airport early, and hopped on our plane to Sydney. All night flight, we’ll be back in Canberra tomorrow.

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photo by: Deats