View from the hill!

View from the hill!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Scammed in Bangkok

Thai's are very friendly people, I noticed this within minutes of arriving in Bangkok. The downfall of being in such a friendly city is that sometimes it is hard to determine if the warm smiles and small talk are disguising an ulterior motive.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was caught in 2 scams in the short time I was in Bangkok! Here are the 2 scenereo's:

The first occurred within minutes of arriving in the city center. I had taken a bus to Kho San Rd. and when I found that many guest houses were full I decided to walk to a Hosteling International property not far away. This hostel was full too. At this point I had decided to just try to hold off on finding a bed untill I heard back from Bill with whether or not I could definitely stay with him so I thought I would kill some time by checking out some local attractions, more specifically some near by temples.

A nice little man was walking beside me and started a rather normal conversation (I usually hear this same exact conversation about 4 times a day):
Nice Smiling Man: "Wow, you are so tall."
Me: "Yes, Yes....6 feet"
NSM: "From Holland? Germany? Sweeden?"
Me: "No, No from the US!"
NSM: "Oh wow, so tall!"
So, this didnt seem like much out of the ordinary. Soon the man started telling me about how he was a teacher just down the road. Then he asked what I had planned for the day and I told him I was going to checkout some temples. And this is where I should have known....he says "Oh, no temples closed today. It's Buddist holiday so being used for prayer. Don't open till 5pm."

Well shit, I had just arrived so how was I supposed to know any better. He then sat down with me and wrote out an entire itinerary of what I should do instead. I thought he was so kind to spend the time to do this. I didnt really understand everything he was telling me, but it involved seeing a festival that was happening because of this holiday, going to a street lined with custom tailors and then stopping by the tourist office. He was so enthusiastic and excited for me to go on this day long adventure. He even got me my first tuk tuk and told me how to track down an "official" tuk tuk.

Once inside the 3 wheeled motorized scooter (which is named from the sound it makes) the driver was extremly friendly. He took me to a very small temple, where I could only look inside because there were indeed some monks in there praying. So, I was assured that the little smiling man must be right, it did appear to be a holiday. Next up the driver took me to a tailor. I kept telling him I didnt really want to go bc afterall I hadn't changed my clothes (or even brushed my teeth) in 3 days because I had come straight from the airport and the longest fligt in history. He said if I just went inside for a few minutes he would get free gas. AHAAAA, so he gets free gasoline from taking me to this stupid tailor. But I went along with it because the driver was so nice, I thought I would do him a favor and get him some gas. After 10 minutes of pretending to be interested in getting a custom made suite (this would be of interest to me in a) I had more money and b) I had a job!) I went back to the tuk tuk. Next up he dropped me at the TAT (Thailand Authority of Tourism). Here some girl tried to get me to book a trip to Chiang Mai with her. I was getting more and more annoyed with how much time I was wasting on this little tuk tuk trip and just wishing I could get to this festival they spoke of.

When I got back to my driver he quickly turned from friendly little man to very nasty tuk tuk driver. He said this "festival" (which I think was made up the entire time) was too far and I had to take a taxi. I said that wasn't an option and I wanted him to take me to a main road. He started yelling at me to get out and walk. He refused to point to where we were on a map so as he drove away I was completely lost and feeling defeated. I then had to track down a taxi and get them to take me to the nearest train staion. Not the best way to spend my first 2 hours in Bangkok.

Scenerio #2:
My second day in Bangkok started with a trip to the Vietnam Embassy. I needed to get my Vietnam Visa and thought Bangkokwould be the easiest place to do this. After finding the embassy it was already after 10 am and I needed to go back at 3:30 to pick up my passport/visa. Seeing as I had such a limited amount of time I thought I would just go check out some of the local shopping spots. First stop was Siam Square. This is a huge commercial shopping district. The streets around the square are lined with trendy boutiques and street stalls with young college students and wanna be designers selling their pieces. Then there are also several malls, including the upscale Siam Paragon (which even has a Mercedes dealership inside) and the huge MBK, sort of like a market but inside. After spending almost an hour inside MBK I was thoroughly overwhelmed. It is a lot to take in for all of your senses- the smell of Thai food wafting through the air, the shound of Thai's yelling their promotions and trying to lure you to their store, the sight of hundreds of stalls selling everything from knock off purses to dried fish and insects, the feel of hundreds of sweaty bodies brushed up against you as you try to make your way through the 6 floors. After this I decided to go outside to get some fresh air and figure out where to go next. Soon enough a nice little lady started taking to me. I had my map in my had so she asked what I was looking for. I told her the name of the next shopping area I was going to find and also mentioned that I needed to go to the train station to buy my ticket to Chaing Mai. And she said "Oh, no they close for lunch. Mall close for 2 hours mid-day. You would be better to go to the temples today." She had awhole speel about why i should do the temples, because they would be too crowded on the weekends, etc., etc. I was pretty determined not to go to the temples, no matter what she told me. But next thing I knew she was calling me a tuk tuk and showing me on the map where I needed to go to get my train ticket. I thought I just needed to go to the train station but she said no, it was better to go to the office. I have no idea why I listened to her (maybe I was still in a haze from the mall craziness I had just expereinced) anyhow, here I was back in another tuk tuk not really sure where he was taking me. And sure enough we showed up at another TAT office. UGH. But I thought maybe they do sell tickets here and I can just get it here and be done with it. Wrong. They were really mean and since I only needed the train ticket to Chiang Mai and not a whole tour package they refused to sell me a ticket. When I got back out to the tuk tuk, guess what.....he had suddenly transformed into a nasty tuk tuk driver just like the day before. Refusing to drive me ot the train station, he left me out on the street. So once again I found myself lost and looking for a taxi to the train station.

Well, it may have taken me 2 times to finally learn this common Thai scam but you can be sure it will never happen to me again. As soon as my backpack arrived later that day I was reading my Lonely Planet book and sure enough this common scam was the first thing listed in the"Dangers &Annoyance" section!

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