The backpack in front of you belongs to you; the backpack at your back belongs to someone else. That’s how you would want to approach being street-smart in Bangkok especially the touristy spots. That’s not the only way, though. Let me tell you my first-hand account here and how I was able to get out of it.
I wanted to go to Jim Thompson House (JTH) on a Monday morning. For the sake of experience, I tried hailing a tuk tuk even though Grab and Uber are available in Bangkok. I didn’t feel like riding a regular taxi that morning because the night before, I already felt victimized by an unmetered taxi. This is another story but anyway, from hotel to Palladium Mall, I paid Grab Car THB75. Going back to my hotel, because I had no internet connection outside of the hotel, I had to hail an unmetered taxi which charged me THB100.
A tuk tuk was waiting in front of Marriott hotel, across the road. I asked the driver how much he would charge me to bring me to the address (Jim Thompson house) I had the hotel receptionist written in Thai as English isn’t popularly spoken here. He initially said 100 Baht so I said fine. The next lines he said, were uttered in very poor English, most of them I really did not understand. He was smiling, friendly, and looked good-natured while rumbling things and from his gibberish, the message of paying just THB100 was clear to me so I was like, “Whatever, let’s go!”
Aside from the THB100 fare, I also understood that he suggested to drop by two “tourist spots” which were both located on the way to JTH suppossedly. I knew from my research that JTH opens at 9AM but this seemingly concerned driver told me that JTH opens at an hour later. Well and good. I have hours to kill and this driver is offering himself to be some sort of tourist guide for free so why not?
Inside the tuk tuk, he told me that those two stops are commercial shops. Again, that was still okay since shopping is really what Bangkok may be all about anyway. I though if he could bring me somewhere like a small Chatuchak market, that would be great. He showed me a card with words “Petrol Coupon” written over it while telling me that he gets free gas if I buy some stuff from the shops. Must be how they do business here, I thought.
The first shop was an Indian shop selling fabric, customized clothes, wallets made of “authentic” stingray leather among other stuff. The Indian salesman and even the tuk tuk driver were both pushy doing hard selling which instantly annoyed me. I was the only customer on that fabric shop that time so I had all the staffs’ attention. I bought a necktie for THB400, went out of the store, and told the tuk tuk driver that I want to go to JTH directly. The hard-selling turned me off and gave me hint of what situation I was in. The driver almost begged me to drop by this just one shop using that petrol coupon line once again. He insisted that the second shop is on the way to JTH anyway so I eventually agreed.
The second shop was a shop selling precious stones. The salesman gave me a tour of the two-level store, letting me try their jewelries. This shop, again, didn’t have other customers that time. I have a hard time rejecting people to be honest, so even if I didn’t buy gems (because who would buy gems without prior plans?) I bought a pack of 5 cute elephant keychains so as not to totally waste the salesman’s effort. I was THB200 poorer but in all fairness, I thought the quality of the ivory-like items was reasonable.
The tuk tuk driver waiting outside the shop asked me how much I spent inside and that was it for me. He really turned from being friendly to deeply annoying for me. Throughout the ride, he kept on mentioning Manny Pacquiao because I am a Filipino. When I was in Cambodia,too, upon knowing we were Filipinos they would mention Pacquiao and it was fun back then. This particular tuk tuk driver annoyed me because he had to mention the boxer thrice! I just retorted dryly, “He’s a politician now”.
We finally reached JTH at 10AM, an hour was consumed on dropping by those two shops. We had an agreement that he should wait for me after an hour or two to bring me back to Marriott Hotel for THB100. I had the intention of taking all the time I wanted inside JTH and make him wait for nothing. I was willing to pay fare back at my hotel, just not to him. I went out of JTH past 12 noon and as expected, he wasn’t waiting anymore.
So what really happened? The “Great Palace is closed” scam happened, that’s what! This is a popular scam in Bangkok and had I bothered to check the list of popular scams in this city before I explored it, I should have known. (www.bangkok.com has a list and is worth the read) Any tourist spot which you would inquire from tuk tuk drivers would be answered by, “It is closed for the day.” In my case, I was told that it was still closed that hour. You will be offered to be brought to other tourist destinations instead, which will turn out to be commercial stores. They would say the side tour or the replacement tour is for free or for a low fare, in exchange of petrol coupons they will get from the store owners just by dropping you there even without you buying anything. The truth behind this is that first, there is no petrol coupon, so sorry for those who thought they were doing some charity. Secondly, the items sold on those shops are overpriced already to cover the driver’s commission and lastly, it would be difficult to go out without purchasing anything because of the hard selling they do in there.
That was an awful waste of time, which depending on the circumstance, could be way more precious than just waste of money. My blessing in disguise was that the guided English tour at JTH really starts at 10AM! At 9AM, they start the tour for Thai-speaking guests but for foreigners like me, we get tickets for the 10AM tour so in my case no time was wasted at all.
Monetary speaking, I bought this necktie for 400 baht and a pack of souvenir keychains for 200 baht. I’m thinking I was charged doubled the price of both items, at minimum, so I was scammed by 300 baht (420 Php). I did not pay for the tuk tuk drive which could have cost me 150 baht 2-way by Grab so in total I was scammed by just 150 baht. Eat my money!
So here are some common-sense tips I may have left Manila that day:
- Say no. You are a paying customer and what you want should be obeyed. So what if it’s still too early? So what if a tuk tuk driver and a couple of his accomplices tell you your desired destination is closed? See it for yourself! The driver’s English was bad so the agreement wasn’t clear from the start. So why did I play along? It was me not wanting to offend people, having a hard time saying no, and just being plain dumb. Do not be like me.
- Buy only from reputable and known shops. When having just the slightest doubt, leave. I am naturally suspicious of people selling at big discounts. I was offered scarves made of “pure silk” at 800 baht, lowered down to 600 baht by the Indian seller when I walked away. The neck ties just happened to have caught my attention because I was really looking for something to give to a particular person. The neck tie was 400 baht, cheaper than what I originally intended to give *grin* so yeah, the neck tie’s recipient was also scammed! It if was pure silk, would it really sell at that much discount?
- Bring only the cash you intend to spend on your original itinerary.Put in a little extra for contingency but definitely shouldn’t amount to thousands as Bangkok is a relatively cheap city. I knew from research that the tickets at JTH is at THB150. I planned to eat in its restaurant which I knew wasn’t very affordable plus contingency so in total I just bought THB1500 that morning. That second shop is a gemstone shop. I was offered bracelets, jade, rings, etc. and because the items are at a minimum of 500 baht, even if I were at my most gullible I cannot purchase anything there.Those sting ray leather wallets on the first shop cost more than a thousand baht each so same case.
- Research. To be fair, evil is in any city of the world not just in Manila and Bangkok. So to my next trips, I’ll make it a point to google the popular scams in those cities because other people who have gone there before me definitely have some lessons to impart. When I returned to the hotel and googled the name of the fabric shop, results linking it to tuk tuk scams appeared faster than lightning. That confirmed what I knew all along.
Upon exiting Ratchadaphisek Street, there were taxis and tuktuks as well. The first one was trying to charge me 200 baht, bargained down to 100 and I still walked away. The second one was charging me 150 baht so I bargained half the price and he walked away, telling me to take the skytrain which I happily did at a mere THB37. The taxi just outside JTH was also charging me 200 baht, also lowered down to 100 baht the moment you take one step away. To top it all, another tuktuk driver who was charging me 150 baht, asked me what country I was from, then also offered to take me to Marriott Hotel for just 50 baht if we make stops to two souvenir shops! This scam is so prevalent in Bangkok they tried to scam me twice on the same half day!
Being cynical is lame. If only we can go our everyday lives carefree because people are honest what a world it would be! If only verbal agreements are honored as much as the notarized ones, the tuk tuk driver and I shouldn’t have bothered to outwit nor scam each other.