Bangkok, for me, is in no doubt one of the most vibrant cities I’ve been to. I went there with my brother to see temples, eat legit Thai food, hone my haggling skills and shop til I drop — but we did more than that and it was awesome. Although it is a popular party city, it never occurred to me to go partying there (hence, my lack of “appropriate clothes” LOL). Thanks to my good friend Karen, her then-boyfriend now husband Troy and their super cool friends, our BKK trip was lit!
But did you know we got scammed in Bangkok??
The funny thing is, we didn’t even know it until a couple of months after the trip!
Here’s how we got the “aaahh” moment: We used to tell our friends who are about to go to BKK or who just got back from BKK that we had a day of free tuktuk and taxi rides because of a “special holiday”. Turns out, most of them also had the same experience! Of course, we initially thought it was just lucky of us to unknowingly visit during a special holiday but later on, I stumbled upon some travel forums and blogs about this experience and apparently, it’s a scam.
To give you a heads up, here are the shady deals we got in Bangkok:
#1 “The Grand Palace is closed today.”
We were walking along Ratchadamnoen Avenue or somewhere near that area towards the Grand Palace. We were thinking we’ll just walk so we could also explore the streets, the people and maybe grab a bite on some street stalls. A man suddenly approached us near a tuktuk parking area. “Are you looking for something? Are you lost?” He had a very friendly face.
“No. We’re just walking towards the Grand Palace.”
“Grand Palace is closed today,” he said.
My brother and I got confused. We checked online and read blogs about the closing days of Grand Palace and that day was not a closing day. The stranger explained that it’s a SPECIAL HOLIDAY imposed by the government.
“The good news is,” he said while flashing a welcoming smile, “you can ride tuktuks and taxis for free for the entire day today!”
Of course, we heard the word FREE and we’re sold. We fell for it.
So off we went in his tuktuk…
#2 Free tuktuk and taxi rides for the day because of a “special holiday”
Yes, that “special holiday” that makes you feel kind of special to have been so lucky to come right on that day… The driver explained to us that this particular holiday often comes as a surprise and no exact date is usually announced by the government to minimize individual jewelry exporters. It sounded quite rubbish but convinced that the Grand Palace is close, we thought we got a pretty good deal to be on a free tuktuk and a free tour wherever!
Why didn’t we research about these possibilities beforehand? I don’t know. The trip was kind of last minute and we only searched for “places we should go in Thailand”. We know better now.
#3 Free tour on selected temples and landmarks in exchange for a visit to a jewelry shop/warehouse.
The driver took us to several temples and landmarks including Wat Pho, Wat Traimit, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Intharawihan, Giant Swing and Dusit Zoo. The catch was, he had to take us to a jewelry shop as part of their tourism campaign since they’re primary exporters of many different gems.
When we got out of the so-called “Lucky Buddha Temple”, the driver (we were right behind him as we were walking back to the tuktuk) “stumbled” into a couple who asked if we already went to the gem shop. The man was extremely enthused about his purchase and even bragged about it. It was some sort of a huge ruby ring that he said he got for only a fraction of the price. He said he’s from China but comes to Bangkok often to await this special holiday. Last year, he allegedly purchased a ring for $2,500 and was able to sell it for $15,000. I swear, the way it all took place just seems normal. Of course, we were convinced it really was some sort of special tourism-related holiday so naturally, we would bump into people who are also on the same “tour” as us. Little did we know, that couple was just trying to spark excitement.
Our next stop was the gem and jewelry shop. I forgot the name but it was something like Thai Jewelry Export Center. You can see how rocks were made into rubies, jades, etc. They even bring you to a room where lapidaries work! You’ll see how the process work – even how they shape diamonds! An aged woman approached us and told us about how they export all kinds of jewelry to the rest of the world and how these jewelry are sold at the lowest prices just for today.
We bought one necklace for my mom for a cheap price. It was placed in a tiny bottle along with other necklaces of the same kind. They said it was an unpolished gem of birthstones. Now I think it’s really not. Anyway, I was also about to purchase a ruby ring but thank heavens I didn’t. If you purchase these jewelries, you can’t leave the store with them. What will happen is that they will ship it to you. The problem is, according to several buyers who sadly got scammed, the jewelry they will ship to you is not the one you purchased. I mean, sure it looks the same but it is now the fake version of it.
#4 A couple of stopovers at “Authorized” TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) agencies so the driver can claim his free gas.
Yes. Another stopover. And it was getting dark.
With puppy dog eyes, the driver asked us to visit authorized TAT agencies so he can claim his free gas – a reward given to them by the government for taking tourists around. He said we don’t even have to book anything at the agency. It’s just how this special holiday goes as it’s a day to promote tourism. So we agreed thinking it was going to be a short stop. When we got there, a man sat with us to sell numerous tours across Thailand. Hard selling at its finest. I remember saying “no, thanks” a million of times. But the man was VERY persistent. I think we sat there for at least 30 minutes listening to him, trying to turn down all his offers nicely. Boy, was he persistent. A couple beside our table was even convinced to book a tour!!! What stopped the man in front of us was when we said, “We have to seek for our mom’s approval because we have no money.” He studied our faces for a second and then said we can just call our mom and wait for her there. Of course, we pretended to agree. Thanks to our sibling telepathic powers, we can think the same once we share a look even just for a splitsec. Some five seconds later, I pretended to talk to my mom on the phone, as if she was looking for the place. Naturally, I stood up, gestured to the man that I need to get the call, then walked to the door tagging my brother along. The moment we got out, we walked straight to the tuktuk and left. The driver then asked us if we purchased anything and when we told him we didn’t, he told us we’ll go to another agency before claiming his free gas.
It was past 6 in the evening and we just want to get on with our Bangkok vacation! So, we used the “mom on the phone” act again. The driver sped to claim his free gas and then dropped us on a random street. We took a cab back to the hotel thinking it was going to be free. It wasn’t.
At the end of the day, our Bangkok day tour was still fun and unforgettable. We were still able to visit some landmarks, although not all the ones we originally planned to see. This scam could rob you of other travel opportunities, not to mention ruin your itinerary. But at least we never really paid so much for anything, right? So yes, my brother and I are thinking of going back to Bangkok soon. This time, no more “special holidays.”8