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.
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.
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!