You’ve just gotten off a long bus, train or plane ride. It’s hot. You’re tired. But you want to see this exciting new city you’ve just arrived in. Bangkok is full of enticing food, markets and temples – and you don’t want to miss any of it by sleeping on your first day, do you?

So you wander out into the streets unsure of where you’re headed. Very soon you’re approached by a friendly gentlemen who happens to speak perfect English.

A small voice in the back of your head blares a warning alarm as he tells you about a special holiday happening only today! How lucky you are to have arrived on this exact day! He explains that all the temples in the city are open for free in celebration of this magical day. And even better – the tuk-tuks will take you on a tour of these temples for only 10 baht! It’s amazing!

You just have to make sure you take the (insert color here) tuk-tuks, not the (insert different color here) ones. And as luck would have it, a tuk-tuk of the recommended color is pulling up right now!

At this point the voice in your head is screaming that there’s no way any of this can be true and you should walk away NOW.

But that’s not what happens.

Instead, you throw caution to the wind and before you know it you’re zipping through the streets of Bangkok on your way to the first temple. “What the hell?” you think. At least it’ll be a good story.

And it is good story. You get swept along to a few temples (which are in fact free at all times) and then promptly taken to a shop that the driver’s friend just happens to own. You’ll politely decline to buy a custom suit, jewelry, or whatever else they’re pushing. The driver will get pissed, you’ll get dropped off at a random corner near Khao San Road and you’ll give him his 10 baht before he drives off to look for his next victim.

Bangkok Temple

View inside one of the temples.

This was how my first few hours in Bangkok played out. And I’ve heard the exact same story from dozens of other seasoned travelers. Man on the Lam Raymond Walsh has written about his experience with the scam. The Globetrotter Girls tell their story. Traveling Canucks add their version. Here’s another report. And another. And another. Aaaaand another.

I’ve heard this story from pretty much everyone I’ve ever met who’s been to Thailand.

But the thing is, I’m not even mad about my experience with the scam. For approximately US$0.30 I was driven around Bangkok for a couple hours, visited a few beautiful temples and got an amusing story to tell my friends. All I had to do was decline to buy a custom-made dress.

As far as scams go, I definitely got the better end of this deal.

Bangkok Gold Buddha

A golden buddha spotted on our “tour”.

Not that I’m recommending you happily hop in the first tuk-tuk that appears to you in Bangkok! There are far worse versions of the scam where you can end up feeling truly pressured to part with your money (like the Globetrotter Girls’ horrifying tale). It’s definitely better to decide which temples to visit on your own and pay a tuk-tuk driver to take you directly there.

But if you have fallen victim to this sort of scheme, take comfort that you’re not alone! Some of the most well-traveled people I know (including me!) have been taken for this ride. And we all write about it on the internet in the hopes of saving you, dear reader, from the same embarrassing fate.

Have you fallen victim to the infamous Bangkok tuk-tuk/gem scam? Spill your story in the comments!

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks

    Oh Bangkok… you always keep things interesting!

    • Kit Whelan

      Indeed! :)

  • Danny

    We experienced a mild version of the free guide and tour scam in Bangkok, and it was advertised at the front desk of our hotel! We had an a/c van drive us around :)

    I didn’t mind the scam (we only went to a big jewelry presentation after visiting the royal palace and a few other places). Our guide was nice, but I wish he was honest. Once we realized the remainder of the tour was going to places for him to get a commission, we insisted we were done, got dropped off at our hotel, and somewhat reluctantly gave him a tip. Just know you really don’t have to buy anything. I was here with my family. My mom bought some jewelry after the jewelry presentation. A win for the scammers, haha.

    Later in the trip, with some youths from our hostel, we voluntarily hopped on another tuk tuk temple tour, and ended up being dragged to a suit factory. Pretty sure someone in our group ordered a suit. Another win for the scammers…

    But as you mentioned, these are pretty light in the world of tourist scams. I’m just glad there were no horror stories to report after we decided to trust our guides.

    • Kit Whelan

      Glad you also had the “mild” version of the scam. At least it’s a story! :)

  • unlucky idiot

    daaaaaaaaaamn!!!! i’ve just spent more than 2000 euros a week ago for tailored “cashmere suits and coats” after falling for this (in hindsight) obvious scam!!! i’ll have to pick up the stuff in one week. do you think there is anything I can do? e.g. ask my credit card company to undo the money transfer as I’ve been scammed?

    • Kit Whelan

      Well if you get the suits and coats, it’s not really a scam is it? Now if you don’t get them, then I would definitely advise contacting your credit card company to see what your options are.

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