12/22/09: Bangkok, Thailand
In the aftermath of our first big scam incident, I can only think of one thing: scams. Perhaps we were a bit too naïve (ok, so ‘perhaps’ is not the correct word here), but they really are everywhere in Bangkok. Now that our first scam-perience is in the books as a victory for the good guys, I’m glad it happened to us because it really opened our eyes to, as Aladdin would put it, a whole new world.
Narrowly Avoided Scam #1: Last night we went to the train station to book our now-needed tickets to Chiang Mai, using, of course, a small portion of our newly-pocketed 7,400 baht. Upon arrival, a blue-shirted man at the information desk outside the station came forward to help us book our seats. Remember how I said that the scamster from before was a nice man? This man was really really nice. If he worked at a restaurant where customers tip, he’d be a millionaire. Anyway, he led us to the inside information desk (one with bars separating passengers from the window attendant, so it had to be legit), where he had the lady look up our train schedule. “Sorry, no seats left on your train? Would you like to take a bus?”
Now a bit suspicious of bus travel, we didn’t really want to, but let him lead us upstairs to the tourist travel agency that booked buses. Each seat would cost about $11 more than if there was room on the train. We both waited for the nice nice man to leave, before looking at each other skeptically and then walking right back down to the train ticket window. Sure enough, 159 seats left on the train. Hmmmm.
[Side note: Shortly thereafter, I watched an “official” looking man in a green shirt talk to another lost-looking backpacker who had come to the train station, presumably to book a train. After a bit of conversation, the tourist followed the man upstairs to the travel agency next to the one we were taken to. Hmmmm.]
Narrowly Avoided Scam #2: This morning we went to the Grand Palace, one of only three reasons to visit the hole that is Bangkok (the other two being Wat Pho and the city’s impressive movie theaters). As we walked from the ferry station to the awe-inspiring conglomerate of gold-plated temples and mansions, a man asked us if we were going to see the Grand Palace. We tried to ignore him, but he kept talking, saying how Zhou wouldn’t be allowed in since her dress didn’t cover her knees, or something like that. Had this been before we did all our scam research, we might have believed him. Now we knew that we was going to try and direct us to another temple, probably with a tuk-tuk driver friend of his who could make a side stop at a gem store. This being the case, I took the man by the throat and told him we’d been messed with one too many times and weren’t going to stand for it anymore. Just kidding – we simply kept walking, and I said in passing she was let in the day before wearing the same dress.
Narrowly Avoided Scam #3: Still having not reached the main gates of the Grand Palace, a man standing by a smaller, unguarded set of gates was shouting to passers-by, “entrance to Grand Palace this way!” I looked down the alley and saw at the end of it one of the complexes impressive buildings, albeit past a fence. It seemed like the truth, but at the same time it seemed odd. We kept walking and soon after found the real entrance. At the bottom of the sign outside? “Do not trust wily strangers.”
After noticing a few other oddities – merchants renting long pants and sleeved shirts for 30 baht literally 30 feet away from where they were being rented for free inside the main entrance, men in fake name tags helping strangers before they reached the ticket line, etc – we are glad to be leaving Bangkok today. However, we still have the biggest scam of all to overcome in a week: trying to cross to border and get to our already booked hostel in Siem Reap. We’ve done a lot of reading on the subject and now think we have a good grasp on the best way to cross into Cambodia, so we’ll let you know how it goes at the end of December.
[Addendum: We have recently learned of the newest scam, “push-pocketing.” Someone drops their cell phone or wallet into your pocket or luggage and then confronts you for having stolen it. They have a friend who “witnesses” the whole situation and they threaten to call police if you don’t give them some money. Obviously a tourist in a foreign country doesn’t stand much chance with the police against two locals, so this one seems like a tough one to stop. Hopefully we won’t run into it.]
Thought of the Day: People in a hurry never seem to understand elevator theory: if you get in first, you’re going to be the last one out.
Picture of the Day: I’m not a big fan of short people who carry umbrellas around in the heat because I often get jabbed in the neck by them, but I’ll make an exception for Zhou.