The Scam

The following was written 7-18 on a bench in Bangkok.

3:10PM I’m already being the stereotypical tourist, doing the whole Khao San thing and wandering the streets of Banglamphu, so, I figure, why not fall into a scam. Take the tourist image all the way.

Here’s how it worked:

I was wandering down a busy street, staring at UNICEF and wondering why they need a large, gated, guarded compound that looks like a government building. A nice looking Thai walked up behind me and asks if I was searching for anything. I said no, only looking at the buildings. He asked where I was going, and I said nowhere particular. First he tried to get me to go to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, but I told him I’d already been there. He asked if I’d seen the giant standing Buddha, and I told him I hadn’t. He told me I should go because it normally costs 200 Baht, but today is a Buddhist holiday, so it’s free. And Grand Palace and Wat Pho were no good today, anyways, them both being so crowded from the holiday visitors.

After giving him my Lonely Planet for the map, he marked the big Buddha and Locky Temple, which I was to go to after. I told him thanks, and that I may walk that way, but he said no, tuk-tuk was better. Today, being the holiday, it would only cost 20 Baht instead of the usual 100. Just then, a tuk-tuk driver who seemed to be old friends with the Thai I was chatting with pulled up and asked if I needed a tuk-tuk. Before I could say anything, the two exchanged a few quick words in Thai and, the next thing I knew, I was in the tuk-tuk racing to the big Buddha. For 20 Baht

It was indeed free to see the statue, though I don’t know if that was usual or not. A few minutes there and the driver said ok, he’ll take me to the Locky Temple to see the Buddha there. When we got to the temple, I was told by someone standing around front that it was not open yet, but I could enter in 5 minutes. I waited 15, and nothing changed. I could see inside the room, and all it was was a bunch of old people eating breakfast and a few monks. It didn’t look anything special, nor did they appear to be finishing anytime soon, so I left.

The tuk-tuk beckoned me back and I was told now he would take me to the “Thai Expo Center” for some kind of coupon. I had no idea what that meant, but thought the guy had been nice enough yet, and all this for only 20 Baht So we zoomed off and parked in front of a gem shop. Some expo, eh? He told me to go inside for the coupon, so I wandered in. Yup, it was a gem shop. I asked the guy who opened the door for a coupon for the tuk-tuk and he asked if that was all. No gem? I told him that was indeed all. He looked disappointed, but scribbled something in Thai on a piece of paper, and I left. The driver was surprised to see me come out so soon, but motioned me back in to the tuk-tuk and we took off. In a little, he pulled over and told me what’s what.

The paper I had gotten was worthless. (I still don’t know what was written on it.) What he was after was a free gasoline coupon that the shop would give him for bringing me. Two if I purchased something. He was the one to ask for it, not me, and I would have to stay for at least 10 minutes, looking interested in an item. I was not required to buy, though it would be nice if I did.

We would try again, he said. This time at a tailor’s. I couldn’t blame the guy for wanting free gas, and it wasn’t costing me anything, save time, which I have a surplus of. Hell, he was driving me all over the district for only 20 Baht and gas here costs 28 (per what, I don’t know).

I went in to the Tailor’s he took me to, and the greeter asked what I was interested in. Shirt, suit, jacket? I latched onto his first suggestion and replied shirt. He showed me a few up front, which I browsed through, but was disinterested in. He then led me to the back of the store and asked me if I was looking for a solid color or pattern, but I said I wasn’t sure. By this time I was getting into it, and, when he asked me what color I wanted, I replied something darker. He showed me a few and I analyzed the craftsmanship and fabric, but, to pretend as if I actually had something in mind, I asked if he had any long-sleeved. Not here, I was told, but it could be made. No, I didn’t want to deal with that, I told him, thinking this an easy way out. But he was insistent and handed me his card should I change my mind. To add a final little flare onto my performance, I asked to see his fabrics. He showed me, I browsed for a bit, thanked him, and told him I might be back.

Feeling pleased with myself, I strutted out to the driver and asked how I was. Did I take long enough? The coupon promotion ended yesterday, he grudgingly informed me, so my performance was all for not. But he knew of another shop that would give him what he was after, so off we went.

This is a great time waster, I thought to myself. I’m glad I fell into it.

The next shop had no showroom, so I would have to change my act. Improv. Upon entrance on stage left, I was quickly shuffled to a seat by one of those Thais whose tailor has watched Saturday Night Fever one too many times. He gave me a few catalogs to look through, saying everything in there was next year’s model and would cost me thousands of dollars in the States. I believed him. The price, at least.

I flipped through the first catalog, set it down, and looked through the second. Then I picked up the first once more, turned to a random page, and told him I liked that one. It was actually a nice looking suit and I may have been genuinely interested in it if I weren’t morally opposed to the concept of “dressing up”. He took me over to the other side of the store and showed me the fabric. I asked him how much and he directed me to a couch. I was told to sit, while he ran off to find a calculator. (Thais rarely like to tell you a price, but will instead type it on a calculator for you to see.) He came back and showed me number: 4500 Baht.

I was surprised. That honestly was a good price. I acted to hesitate and he pulled off a similar suit from the rack beside us, beckoning me to analyze the craftsmanship. I hesitated and he asked what was wrong. Too much? Student? Tight budget? A new number on the calculator: 4000. Again I hesitated and asked for a card so that I could think about it and come back. No, he said, this was a one day sale. I hesitated more, saying that 4000 Baht was a good price, but was a lot for me to put down all at once (true). After a bit of back-and-forth, I was able to escape, saying I’d think and come back later today. He knew I had no intention of doing so. On my exit, I thought I should ask what time he closed to sound a little more interested.

Back on the street, the tuk-tuk driver didn’t look cheerful, so I didn’t ask how I’d done. He questioned if I’d been to the Grand Palace. Yes, I had. Wat Pho? Yup. Long tail boats? No, hadn’t seen those. Well, he would take me there.

He did so, I looked, snapped a couple of photos, and told the whole pier no, I didn’t want a 700 Baht ride. I only wished to look. Dodging the post-card saleswoman best I could (but failing), I walked back to the street. The driver asked what I would do now. Walk, I said. He asked for the money, and I handed him 20 Baht, thanking him for showing me around.

I really don’t know how much was a scam. It very well could be a holiday. Perhaps he got his coupon. Maybe two. Regardless, it cost me only 20 Baht (For what is really more of a 100 Baht ride) and time. And the boats were only a block from where he picked me up.

Afterwards, I wandered down the street to stumble upon a bakery that happened to serve slices of expensive (by Thai standards) and excellent chocolate cake.

I haven’t done much since then.

Yesterday’s initial shock is wearing off, and I’m once again taking a liking to Bangkok. We have a funny relationship, the city and I.