All tuk tuks lead to the tailor shop…

I have a confession to make: I kind of get a high out of being scammed abroad. It’s not that I actually end up falling for it, but I’m always curious to see how people around the world will try to screw you over. Whether it’s being invited to dinner in Kuala Lumpur or making a new friend that takes you to his pearl shop in Shanghai, I’m always up for some fun. In this case, though, I was just trying to be a nice guy and it backfired.

So yesterday morning we left the St. Regis to go sightseeing, starting with the Grand Palace. I specifically requested a tuk tuk (my friend has never been to Thailand, and I figure they’re a bit more fun), and sure enough one pulled up. He wanted to charge 400THB (~$13USD), which is probably about four times more than they normally charge. I guess he knew he could rip us off since we were westerners staying at the St. Regis, though I quickly got into my “Thai mindset” and negotiated him down to a more reasonable cost.

We then got to the Grand Palace, only to find it was closed until 1:30PM (I know, great planning on my part to not check first). It was beyond hot, so we actually engaged one of the guys hovering outside the entrance for a couple of minutes, and he suggested we take a tuk tuk to a few of the other temples, and by the time we get back the Grand Palace would be open again. He brought us over to a specific tuk tuk parked a distance away and told us the tour would be 40THB (~$1.30USD). Okay, Thailand is cheap, but it ain’t that cheap.

So I knew right away there was a catch, and I was certainly willing to play along. We stopped at our first stop, the sleeping Buddha, and were told to take our time looking around. We took about 10-15 minutes, and then returned to the tuk tuk. The driver said he just wanted to get something to drink, so stepped away for a moment.

A guy dressed nicely was parked in a nice SUV right next to the tuk tuk, and started talking to us.

“Where you from?”
“New York.”
“Oh, my brother live in New York.” (of course, haven’t heard that one before)

Anyway, he was telling us that the reason the tuk tuks were so cheap today is because it was the Thai national tourism day, so the government is sponsoring free gas, and they have special deals for buying suits as well where the government provides free shipping. He said that if we go to the “Thai National Center” we could see the great deals.

The tuk tuk driver comes back and drives us to our next stop, though enroute says we’ll stop at the “Thai National Center” for a few minutes. Okay, fair enough. Unfortunately the “Thai National Center” seemed to be a tailor shop. The driver said “take your time, look for at least 10-15 minutes.” We walked in there and they immediately shook our hands and offered us drinks, though of course we didn’t accept. We walked around for a couple of minutes and then left again.


Shop #1

Then on the way to our next stop he says “okay, we stop one more shop, okay?” I don’t know why we agreed, though we did, and we found ourselves in a jewelry store, where we walked around for a few minutes. Within a few minutes we were back in the tuk tuk.


Shop #2

At this point the tuk tuk driver became a bit more honest and says he gets vouchers for free gas whenever we walk around in a shop for at least 10-15 minutes, even if we don’t buy anything. So he asked us nicely to look around for 10-15 minutes, and said we don’t need to buy anything. He seemed nice enough and air conditioning in Bangkok is always a nice change of pace, so I figured why not? He promised this would be the last one.

Of course as luck would have it the next shop had to be the pushiest of them all. They immediately offered us beer (which we didn’t accept) and within three minutes had a suit picked out for us. As a matter of fact, he separated my friend and I so we each had separate salespeople and were on different floors of the building. Then when I found a suit I liked, I said I wanted to ask my friend what he thought (mainly to figure out how the hell to get out of there). The salesperson responded with “what are you, pussy? Can’t figure out what you want on your own?” Oh no he didn’t…

I was literally trying to just be a nice guy and stay in there for about 10 minutes so the guy would get his voucher, though I was having a hard time stalling. I kept asking questions, though said I would be back later to order if I decided to get something. I explained I didn’t have a credit card and couldn’t pay for a suit right now, though he said “don’t worry, we friends, you don’t have to pay yet, money not issue.”

At this point they sat us down and this dude starts saying “we are both businessmen, you talk straight with me because I waste my time on you.” When he realized it wasn’t working on me he explained that he gets fired if he doesn’t sell anything, so asked if I could buy at least one shirt.

After making him realize we really weren’t interested we headed back to the tuk tuk, where the driver says he got his voucher. He asked if we bought anything, and I said no. He asked why not. Um, cause we’re not interested and were just trying to do you a favor, jackass.


Shop #3

Then after making another legitimate stop at a temple he asks if we’ll stop at one more shop. We really didn’t want to, though I was in an overall good mood so agreed. It was the same experience yet again, though this time around we spent maybe five minutes there, though the driver still got his voucher.


Shop #4

Then last but not least we stopped at a jewelry store which seemed to be the most organized and they weren’t pushy at all. This time around we were out in five minutes. Though in fairness, this time we weren’t asked if we wanted to go there, but rather just dropped off there.


Shop #5

The worst part of it all was that rather than bringing us back to the Grand Palace as we agreed upon, he dropped us off at a dock to take a boat cruise to the floating market and then Grand Palace. At this point rather than argue with the douchebag I decided to just pay him the 40THB and find an alternative form of transportation back to the Grand Palace. And he still had the balls to ask “what about tip?”

Comments

  1. Chris says

    Ben,

    Great post! I honestly appreciate reading about these types of scams. Thanks for sharing and continue to disregard the haters. :-)

  2. says

    Hah! The same thing happened to me EXACTLY. I even got the Thai National Tourisim day thing too! Up until today i thought it really was their tourisim day! The jewelery store and suit store also backed up the thai tourisim day gimmick. I even met a “random tourist” from Korea at one of the temples who said, “yeah, it is thai tourisim day, and look at this ring i bought today at some famous jewelry store which had no tax on this day… it wasn’t til later that evening that i realized he was a plant put there to con me.

    The thai’s are the best con men on the planet, and they can be very elaborate and involve many people, even the people supposedly helping you by informing you of the con.

    I bet you were conned (small cons) at least three times and don’t even realize it yet.

  3. Ken says

    @chris,

    Agree. I enjoy hearing about these experiences. Were the suits at least reasonably priced?

  4. YesMissWin says

    It’s why I prefer Vietnam over Thailand – same great hospitality, a whole lot less scamming. I suppose in 5 years I’ll have to find something after Vietnam, but my Dec 2010 trip to Thailand was my last.

  5. ArizonaGuy says

    Nice. Not even sure why you played along. I’d have given the tuk tuk driver some THB to forego the shops I don’t give a damn about or possibly just pay his original 40THB and told him goodbye.

  6. lucky says

    @ Ken — They actually were, and I would have been tempted to buy one, but I just wasn’t in the mood given how hot it was outside and that I was leaving the following day.

  7. Julian says

    I find it quite entertaining and obviously informative about how to avoid (or have fun with) scams in Bangkok.

  8. says

    you were still in a good mood after store 4?? I had a moment not quite as time consuming in HKG where I was walking on Nathan Rd. It was a warm day, so it was jeans and a short sleeve polo. I have this guy who is standing across from a jewelry store come up to me and says that my Omega watch is a fake and he can help me buy a real one. HUH? 30 feet away before you start walking towards me and you spotted my watch and confirmed it was fake??? I didn’t want to drop the DYKWIA and suggest that the watch enjoys being used as a set of brass knuckles when its not being a “fake” on my wrist. I glare into him, considering that I’m about a foot taller than him and easily had 50-75 pounds on the schmuck, and he quickly realizes he made a mistake about the watch being fake. Don’t some of these scammers know just how dumb they can come off? At least be a convincing scammer!

  9. says

    Most of the scams are harmless and only take you for a few extra dollars and a lot of your time….but it gives you a good story….and oddly enough makes my memory of thailand better. Some of the scams like the boat rides can be a little more costly.

    Hey lucky, did they burn a sample of the suit cloth in front of you to prove to you the quality of the material at the Thai national center?

  10. Db says

    Same thing happened to my wife and I! Exact same places, however after the first stop, we figured out he got paid! And what we needed to do to get him the gas.. So we offered to help him. Guy ended up driving us all over town For half a day, stopping and waiting for us. Yes we did make a few stops at suit shops, jewelry shops etc. Each shop was great, free drinks air con. Sure pushy sales people but no worse than Tahiti village in Vegas. Jut told the, their jewelry was to cheap, and their suit fabric was not high end enough.

  11. AAExPlat says

    When you take transportation in BKK, there are only TWO ways. The skytrain or the METERED taxis. We drove over an hour in a metered taxi from the zoo back to the Hansar (right next door to the St. Regis), and the whole ride cost 100 Baht. To pay 400 THB for a tuk tuk ride is absurd. And to do the song and dance is completely unnecessary when you know the ropes…so many awesome things could have been done instead of being scammed into looking at a ton of shops.

  12. Tom says

    As a Thai native, I’m really sorry and I would like to apologize to everyone who had a bad experience during your visit to Thailand. I feel so ashamed of my own people. I have been studying in the US for a while and have given some of my friends a tour around Bangkok, and as usual, I have encountered these kind of people as I was mistaken as a foreigner as well. However, once they know that I’m Thai (I could speak Thai fluently,) with the addition of mentioning about police/travel police, they usually back away and never bother me again.

  13. Tom says

    Oh, and if you’re not specifically looking for the Tuk Tuk experience, take the regular taxi. All of Tuk Tuks are now looking for only foreigners (maybe to lure you into the “shopping” experience or to rip you off with the ridiculous fare.) The past few years I went back home, I have never successfully hired a Tuk Tuk once they know I’m Thai.

  14. Cook says

    It is all part of the game in most of Asia. One takes it (with extreme caution) or not. Glad that you had a nice time.

  15. Kevin R says

    Its possible the Grand Palace was closed, but that is also one of the scams. It is rarely closed, but you often have individuals stopping you as you try to enter telling you it is closed and offer to take you to a better palace, temple or shopping. I used to do a lot of business in Thailand and the “its closed” scam has been tried on me probably five times when taking customers or co-workers to the Grand Palace. Each time we just walked right past them with no problem.

  16. Speedy says

    If you want a nice suit made (and no it will not be cheap, just more affordable) head to Tanika right next to the SGS (Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit). I would give them a week (a couple of fittings to get things right) but the final product is great. Expect to pay US prices for a better fit and nicer material. If you are looking for a $99 suit with five shirts then take Lucky’s tuk tuk somewhere else.

    Arrive in BKK, select the material and have a fitting, then to Phuket/Bali for three/four days, come back for a second fitting, go to Siem Reap and check out the temples and then come back for a last fitting – leave a couple of days on the back end to get everything right.

  17. vor says

    You could have just offered to pay the driver the standard fare and skip the shops, but then you wouldn’t have anything to write for your blog. I hope you enjoy wasting time, both your own and others’.

  18. worldtraveller2 says

    Hours: The Grand Palace is open every day from 8:30 to 3:30, unless it’s being used for a state function, which is quite rare. Be careful of touts working outside the palace area who tell you its closed, and suggest their own guided tour instead. They’re most likely lying, and their ‘tour’ will be to several shops where they get commissions on your purchases.

  19. Ken says

    “It’s not that I actually end up falling for it, but I’m always curious to see how people around the world will try to screw you over.”

    Uuuhh, I think you ACTUALLY DO end up falling for it. That’s ok, but I must agree with some posters, it is a rather long entry on something that I hope most of us know and I also find it hard to believe that you stuck it out for all the shops. I frequent BKK 4 times a year at least (flying there for the second time this year on Friday on QF9 in First via SIN) and as Tom said, never found a Tuk Tuk willing to take me anywhere. Even if I tell them to skip the stops and I will pay more. Quite irritating. In any case, taxi’s are really good in BKK nowadays and they are, like the tailor and jewelry shops, airconditioned ;) Keep the flight reviews coming!

  20. Pegasus says

    @Kevin R – I got the Grand Palace Closed scam outside the Palace area. I was approached by a man dressed in a white shirt holding a brief case. He introduced himself as a College Professor, spoke fluent English. He said the Palace was closed due to a National Prayer or something. He has a friend who owns a Jewelry store and he wants to take us for a visit. Luckily my radar went up and I declined.

  21. Lark says

    Lucky – Not sure I could have endured what you did, but I enjoyed your story.

    Just back from Havana, and ran in to a couple:

    1) This did not happen to my wife and I, but a fellow foriegner recounted the story over a cigar in the Ambos Mundos hotel bar (great bartenders there, by the way): Two males, walking through Old Havana. Nice Cuban women approach them, strike up a conversation, ask them if they would like to go to a club they know for some salsa lessons. Guys go with girls to club, dance a couple hours with a few drinks of course. The guys understood that they were buying the girls drinks, but then at the end the club also added a large ‘Service Charge’ for the dancing… All in all, it was still not very much money, and they enjoyed a couple of hours of dancing… Does not sound like the worst scam in the world to fall for.
    2) The other one was fairly typical – men approaching us in the street asking if we wanted to buy authentic Cuban cigars, cheap. If we were you, we would have followed them wherever and gotten more detail on the scam. But we’re not you, so we continued to politely decline their offers. :)
    Overall, Havana a cool place and a great experience.

  22. beachfan says

    Yep, the “it’s closed” is your first clear signal it’s a scam. Couldn’t believe I fell for it, and wouldn’t have forgiven myself except we figured it out on the way to our first stop (Golden Buddha). When we said we didn’t want to go the store, about 20 times in a row, he then said Palace is open and took us back.

    Surprised you kept saying yes, but kudos for you for still being in a good mood after the third store.

  23. Andre says

    The mirror question was almost funnier than the whole post.

    I understand the value of these detours for blog posts, but unless you’re familiar with the whole “shopping tour”, I would be worried that one time they would take something instead of trying to sell you something.

    Thanks for the post, I generally don’t open myself up to these kind of tours, but I’ll know what the proposed route is for BKK next month.

  24. LarryInNYC says

    The most amusing parts of this post are 1) that Ben _still_ thinks the Grand Palace was closed and 2) he believes that the tuk-tuk drivers are paid based on time spent and not on actual sales.

    Like Ben, my GF and I actually went along on one of these scams (at the time, twenty years ago, it was Thai rubies that could be returned at any Thai consulate in the world if you could not sell them for a profit). It cost us about 45 minutes of time and was actually fun (we did enjoy the offered drinks). After 20 minutes of playing with the stones the lady in the shop looked at us and said “You no buy red rubies?” We shook our heads sadly and she packed up the cases of stones and bid us good day.

    This kind of stuff is rampant throughout the world. If you take an organized tour from any resort in Quintana Roo to the Mayan ruins it will include at least one market stop for which the guides are compensated.

    Just this week I saw a sign in a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York: “We welcome groups. Tour guides inquire for information.” What do you want to be the “information” is the kind printed in green ink on white paper?

  25. says

    Shopping “tours” are one of BKK’s biggest scams and they are generally very harmless and can even be fun if you don’t buy anything and just go with the flow. Sounds like all this cost you was a little time and your pride.

  26. Carberrie says

    I hope you don’t seriously believe the Grand Palace was closed! There are always scammers there telling you that. I never play along with scams because I’m more concerned about my safety than seeing what may happen…

  27. JL says

    Lucky, thanks for sharing, as this is the type of situation that people run into all over the world. Sounds like you knew you needed to be on your guard, handled the whole thing with good humor and treated it like a “cultural experience” which I think is the right attitude.

    I have to say, though, as someone who usually travels solo, that I’d have felt much more uncomfortable in this situation traveling alone rather than traveling with a friend, as you were. It’s easy to feel kind of “ganged up on” when you’re alone and surrounded by people speaking a different language.

  28. says

    As was already noted, The Grand Palace was probably not closed and I don’t think it was National Tourism Day. It’s just a well-run scam, though a pretty harmless one in my opinion. To each his own, but I agree with Lucky that it can be fun to see what kind of scam it is, especially if you don’t mind wasting the time.
    To commenters blasting the post… Couldn’t you have just, uh, stopped reading when you figured out you weren’t interested? No blog is tailored to your own exact interests.

  29. JohnnieD says

    I certainly would not have continued the ‘tour’ after the first stop, but I’m glad to read about it. My wife and I are visiting BKK in the fall so scam information is very helpful!!
    Keep doing stuff like this Ben because I find it helpful.

  30. Dan says

    Ha. Thanks for the story.

    For those who think the tuk-tuks are only scams, well, I’ve taken them a few times without any hassle. Heck, even took one from Khao San Road to the Plaza Athenee. I forget what we paid, but it wasn’t too bad.

    Now, the one “scam” I did “fall” for was a factory tour in Chiang Mai. It cost 400 THB, which was cheap for a tour with private driver, and knew that there would be some, um, shopping opportunities.

    What I didn’t realize was that the “factories” were complete fakes. How did I know? Well, the silk place was alright, but when we got to the silver factory, it was pretty obvious what was going on when the sales floor was about 100x the size of the “factory.”

    Afterward, the guide told us that if we wanted a “real” tour, he’d take us on one. He ended up taking us to Wat Doi Sup, which was actually quite nice.

  31. Mike says

    Is 40THB the price you negotiated down to? If so, why’d you pay him the full amount if he didn’t return you to the agreed upon place? Letting him get away with that at full price is just encouraging him to rip the next guy off.

  32. Kevin says

    I’m with JL: “Sounds like you knew you needed to be on your guard, handled the whole thing with good humor and treated it like a “cultural experience”

    Definitely a nice cultural experience to a newbie in BKK :-)

  33. says

    same thing happened to my husband and i.

    now…i was raised a little mennonite girl. I don’t know if you know about mennonites, but we are pacifist and generally uncomfortable with conflict.

    This was my first experience yelling at a tuk tuk driver and i am guessing it won’t be my last.

  34. RakSiam says

    wow, all of you guys are going to Bangkok at the same time.

    I am happy to say that in the many, many times I have been to Bangkok I have NEVER ridden in a tuk tuk. Taxis are so cheap. And air conditioned. And there’s so much air pollution… Just crazy.

  35. SAN Greg says

    The comments are most informative! Thanks for posting your experiences, Ben. Most of us will be all the wiser. And Tom, no need to apologize – most people from Thailand I’m sure are decent like you. A few bad apples won’t paint the whole picture.

  36. BrewerSEA says

    I had a similar experience in Egypt last summer. The driver I hired through my hotel to see the ancient sites took me to his friend’s carpet school at the end of my day. I was tired and didn’t feel like being scammed. When he next tried to take me to a papyrus shop I blew up at him and gave him no tip when I got back to the hotel. I then yelled at the hotel manager for a few minutes who comped my dinner that night and assured me they wouldn’t contract with him again. I learned my lesson and didn’t fall for similar scams in Thailand and India.

    Also, why do you say this is your friend’s first time in Thailand? This same friend was with you on your Beaches and Mountains trip, to name one example. :confused:

  37. purplnuprl says

    Same stuff happens in the US. Get a wine tour in a Napa or Sonoma and the driver will take you where he is compensated.

  38. Joel says

    Your recent post in regard to possibly flying Saudia led me to your Thai friends. I’ve also had the same experience, except I fell for it — the suits and a jewelry necklace my mother would love. A woman her age wouldn’t ever try to scam me, right? By the way, the tuk tuk driver finally admitted he received a commission for each sale. After returning to the hotel, I searched the tailor and jeweler names. It was all indeed a scam. When I contacted the tailor, they said the clothing was already made, so I would either pay a certain amount for that and get nothing in return, or I could pay the full amount and receive what was ordered. I chose the latter. Then, on my last night in Bangkok, the tailor personally delivered the suits to my hotel room. He had just picked up his son from school, so the little tyke watched cartoons while I tried everything on. What a crazy experience.

  39. says

    I’ve seen this also referred to as the “gem scam.” This happened to us in Bangkok, and the really funny thing is that I didn’t realize how complex and comprehensive the scam was until I was blogging about it back home in the US weeks later: http://wp.me/p2Mkhg-dC

  40. Richard says

    The gem scam is different. This is just taking you to shops you dont want to go to and being put in front of salesmen. The Gem scam involves selling you bits of worthless crap as expensive stones.

  41. John Britto says

    This is very true. You could easily get scammed when you get into one of the tuk tuks or you listen to one of the brokers on the road. I had a tough time at first and decided to go back without a suit. It was towards the end of my holiday that I met George Baron who happens to be be a tailor and he has a shop named Barons Fashions. They did great work with my suits and it gave me the satisfaction I was looking for.

  42. Charlie Carter says

    I have got all my suits and shirts stitched from Tailor Pro on both my previous visits and I haven’t been disappointed with their work. They have some of the best fabric collections in the city and they take utmost care to make sure that all your needs are met. I would say that they are definitely worth the money spent.

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