Let us tell you a story about two naïve first-time tourists in Bangkok during their first day in the city. The day started out really lovely. A nice breakfast at the hotel, hot and humid weather and tons of plans for the two whole days we were given in Bangkok. 500 meters down the road from our guest house, in the vincinity of Siam Square, a really friendly native came to speak with us while we were investigating the map and wondered where to go.
His story was convincing; he was a teacher whose sister worked in a bank in Finland (this is the cue for your first facepalm). He had a lot of suggestions on what to do in Bangkok this particular day, since the city was celebrating the king’s birthday (or something) and all the shops were closed (at least that’s what we were told). He pointed out some sights on our map that were worth visiting along with one store that was open despite the national holiday, and told us to hail one of the seemingly millions of tuk-tuks roaming the streets. He informed us that the tuk-tuks with yellow licence plates were trustworthy since they are subject to government control, and yo and behold, a yellow plate tuk-tuk was convieniently waiting behind our backs (actually there’s nothing really suspicious about this since the tuk-tuks are literally everywhere). We thought ”what the hell”, jumped in and drove away into the hysterical traffic.
The first stop was the Lucky Buddha (facepalm no 2 for those of you who have visited Bangkok). The tuk-tuk driver told us to pay the entrence fee at the booth and take our time in the temple while waiting for us outside. The temple was really nice compared to all of the zero temples we had seen so far. In one of the buildings we even got a blessing from a monk and some holy water in a bottle. When returning to the tuk-tuk, the driver dissappeared to the mens’ room for a couple of minutes and meanwhile a friendly ”lawyer” approached us and started to chit chat. We led a normal tourist-to-native discussion about where we were from and what we were planning to do in Bangkok. We told him about the places the ”teacher” had recommended and also mentioned the one open store marked on our map. The lawyer concurred that the shop was really good and told us about a once in a lifetime opportunity to order good and cheap suits if we were to visit the shop today (cue next facepalm).
We totally bought the story since he was just another native willing to give foreigners an inside hint about great deals in the city, and headed towards the tailor shop in our private tuk-tuk. Once there, we hadn’t even time to count to three before we had ordered two male suits, one female suit, three shirts and two ties. And for a really really good price, or that’s what we thought at the moment. Some signatures and credit card payments later, we happily walked out the door thinking that we had made the deal of our lifetime. After all, tailored suits are exactly what you’re supposed to spend money on while in Thailand, right?
The tuk-tuk driver, surprisingly still waiting outside the tailor’s shop, asked us what we wanted to do next. We told him that the river would be nice to see, and he of course knew just the spot where to take us. ”Thai pier, two hundred bahts cheaper than tourist pier” he told us, and we swallowed the bait. The river boat was waiting at the end of a narrow alley so crowded with cows and monks that the tuk-tuk only just came through. No tourist would ever had found this pier, but hey, it was the ”thai pier”. Still overwhelmed and dizzy by the pace of this morning’s events, we believed that this was a good deal and payed for the tickets. It seemed a little odd at the time that we were the only two customers in a boat made for around 16, but then again, it was the ”thai pier” (no, it didn’t cross our minds that natives most likely don’t take tour like this on the river). The boat driver took us upstream to look at temples from behind, old houses, new houses, a miniature (corrupt) floating market, a crocodile zoo and the Bangkok skyline, while shouting ”foto foto” at everything he though was worth spendning megabytes on.
After the boat ride, when looking for the skytrain station to take us back to where we started that morning, we were approached by another friendly native asking us what we we’re looking for. We answered and he started to talk to us about things to see and do in Bangkok and hailed a tuk-tuk for us to take us to an area for ”young people like you” where there supposedly were a lot of good places to eat. When the tuk-tuk driver stopped at a tailor’s shop and the salesmen almost dragged us in to the store, we started to suspect that there was something fishy going on with the tuk-tuk drivers and the ”friendly natives”. There also weren’t any places to eat in sight.
Back at the hotel, we googled around for the tailor’s shop we visited and found nothing but a site about Bangkok scams. One sad story after another revealed that the teacher, the lawyer, the tuk-tuk driver, the floating market, the zoo, the Lucky Buddha, the boat driver and the tailor’s shop were probably all part of a team tricking naïve foreigners like us into buying expensive goods and services to get a share of the European gold.
The buyer’s remorse was overwhelming! How could we be so stupid? Why didn’t we see through this obvious scam? Why didn’t we even stop to think for a while? We knew there would be scam attempts, but nothing as elaborate as this. The shame was undescribable and the whole vacation seemed ruined. We hated Bangkok and would definitely never come back to this corrupt city again, whatsoever! The only comfort were the testimonials on the scam website, stating that the scam is true but that the products actually were really good. Now overly suspicious, we assumed that the happy stories were written by the scammers themselves. Anyways, we had agreed on a first fitting of the clothes the next morning, so after a nearly sleepless night and a lot of mental preparation to confront the con artists and demand our money back, we headed for the scene of the crime once again.
Open minded but reserved, we inspected the clothes and found that they actually were surprisingly nice and well done. The fabric felt good (cashmere wool, according to them), the male pants fitted perfectly and the clothes had details that made a professional impression. We did, though, have a number of complaints about sleeve and leg lengths, baggy pants, too wide shirts and so forth, but the salesman/tailor was really forthcoming and promised to fix these things to satisfy us. We promised to return the same evening for a second fitting and headed out into the city for some real sightseeing. When we returned, almost every complaint had been dealt with, although some of the pieces still weren’t in perfect shape. We complained again and the tailor threw in another tie free of charge and promised to fix the mistakes and deliver the corrected pieces to our hotel later the same night. Back at the hotel, we stumbled upon another travelling couple with almost identical suit bags as ours. The mutual sympathy was communicated through a shameful smile by both parties… When the last pieces were delivered we inspected them one last time in the hotel room, and we must say that we actually were quite satisfied with the clothes. So at this point, we didn’t feel all that bad about spending a lot of money on products we didn’t know anything about. We did, however, feel really bad about letting ourselves be dragged in to this whole circus.
Considering the small back streets and alleys the tuk-tuk driver took us to, this episode could after all have turned out much worse than it did. Yes, we probably did pay way too much for the suits and yes, we did get ripped off by the river tour and the temple. But on the other hand, we didn’t lose our passports or travel documents (or lives for that matter), we did get something in return for our money and we can’t get tailored suits this cheap home in Finland. And after all, it’s only money.
The more permanent effect of this scam is the lesson we learned about trusting people: just don’t.