Warning: long story ahead...
Our second day in Bangkok started like any other. We woke up later than we said we would, laid around in bed for an hour checking every social media app, and eventually got dressed because our stomachs were calling out for breakfast. After getting some food, we decided to hit up our first temple on our itinerary which is when our trouble started...
We were trying to cross a busy intersection when a Thai women appeared by our side and helped us cross the street. She then started to make small talk with us, and I was surprised by how well she spoke English. She told us how she spent time in Germany and asked about our plans for the day. When we told her where we were headed, she told us that the temple was usually closed around this time of the day for students. Noticing our disappointment, she suggested we take a river tour and visit the floating market instead. My ears perked up at the mention of the floating market because it was on my Thailand bucket list.
So she continued on about this fantastic new plan, and I was totally suckered in. She then calls over this tuk tuk driver and arranged our ride to the pier for only 20 baht.
Giddy and excited about our new plans, we hopped onto the tuk tuk as it took us to our new destination. When we got there, a man approached us and told us about the river tour: a private boat taking us around Chao Phraya river stopping at all the best sites and the floating market. He even quoted us a cheaper price than what the lady told us it should be!
If you read my post on Halong Bay, then you know that our private boat in Vietnam turned out pretty well (for the most part), so I was sold. Thankfully, my friend, Ashley, was much more sensible and less naive than I was and saw through this whole scheme.
One of us (not me) actually did proper research on common scams and read a story that was identical to what was happening to us. Turns out this scam was a whole elaborate scheme with an entire cast of people all in on the plot, preying on naive, unsuspecting tourists like me. The Thai lady who spoke English well was in on it. The tuk tuk driver was in on it. And the tour guide was in on it.
After realizing that something was not right, my friend pulled me aside, told me about the scam, and we backed out of that sketchy pier as fast as possible.
I actually thought Ashley was being cynical when she told me we were being scammed. Throughout my travels, I've always met kind people who were willing to go out of their ways to help, so it was hard for me to believe that woman who was so friendly to us could be so deceiving. But in retrospect, I realize that I was just naive and there were red flags from the beginning.
For example, she told us the temple was closed, but wen we checked in the morning, it said it was opened. Her whole spiel about what we should do instead was very scripted. And the tuk tuk she called over was just conveniently waiting in the wings. Then when we got to the "pier" (which was actually a sketchy looking alleyway with a slab of concrete leading out to the river), the tour guide immediately approached us as if he was expecting us.
When you're exhausted from traveling so much, it's easy to let your guard down. Constantly being on guard is draining, especially in places like Bangkok where some seem to have a Master's degree in scamming and pick pocketing. Plus it's hard to believe that someone could just take advantage of tourists like that without guilt, but that's just the not-so-sunny side of traveling. So while this experience shattered my rose-colored glasses and hardened my demeanor, it was a lesson I needed to learn.
What we experienced was only one of many common scams in Bangkok, so here are a few to watch out for:
1. Be wary of locals who speak English well
If a Thai person who's dressed nicely and speaks English well approaches you, be on your guard! Be especially careful if they try to tell an attraction is closed because it's usually not true. Even in they seem super friendly and offering help, it's better to just politely smile and turn away.
2. Cheap tuk tuk rides
The tuk tuk we took when we were getting scammed was only 20 baht, which is around 50 cents. That should've been a red flag. If the price for a tuk tuk is super cheap, it's probably too good to be true.
Often times, they'll end up taking you to a jewelry shop or something similar, and if you spend a little time there he'll get commission to help his poor family, so you feel sorry for the guy and agree. But one shop turns into three, and you've basically spent a whole day getting swindled. Plus you have no idea where you are, which could be a real problem if the driver refuses to take you back.
Or another scenario is the tuk tuk driver tells you not to go somewhere and offers a better suggestion instead and he'll take you there for cheap. Thinking you're getting insider advice from a local, you agree. He then drives you there and tells you he'll wait outside until you're done. However, when you come back, he's nowhere to be found, and the tuk tuks in the area are charging 5x what you originally paid to get there. You, my friend, just got hoodwinked.
3. Taxi meters
Always, always, always insist on using the meter before you get into a taxi. If they simply quote you a price, find another ride. There is also the option of using Uber, which I personally preferred, but you've got to plan ahead. The traffic in Bangkok is awful, so if the Uber says it's 5 minutes away, it's more like 30. Using Uber also allows you to track the route, so you know they're not taking detours to rack up the price.
4. Stolen luggage
We didn't personally experience this, but I read about many nightmare stories of luggage being stolen during overnight buses or sleeper trains. Apparently, thieves sneak into the storage area at the bottom of the bus, unbeknownst to the passengers above. Even locked bags aren't safe!
But that's not always the case because I actually had a really good personal experience on the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. Before I went to sleep, I transferred all of my important belongings to my purse (cash, passport, etc.) and hugged it close to my chest as I slept. Sometime during the night, I woke up and my purse wasn't there anymore. It had fallen through the curtain covering my bunk into the middle of the aisle where anyone could've grabbed it. So obviously I was in panic mode, but the conductor had picked it up and brought it to me. At first I was sketched out, but nothing was missing (not a single dollar!), which restored my faith in humanity.
5. Fake tourist police
I noticed there were a lot of tourist "police" or "aids" hanging around Bangkok's train station. These people look official, but they're most likely not, so just be cautious. Never trust anyone who tells you where you can buy "real" diamonds or "luxury" suits for cheap.