Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bamboozled in Bangkok

On our first full day in Bangkok we took every mode of transportation bar the SkyTrain (way too easy to navigate, what's the fun in that?).

#1 taxi southeast to the Chinese embassy.

#2 requested scooter taxi to Grand Palace (near our hostel), but ended up being dropped off in the north.

#3 looked at taking the Metro, but seemed to take the long way around so decided to take the bus.
The driver said that we needed to change bus and kindly let us know when and wrote our destination in Thai on a piece of paper.  We got on the next bus, showed the ticket collector the piece of paper and she told us we had a long way to go.  Fine, we aren't in a hurry. We are dropped off, but there is no sign of the Grand Palace.  We ask a local if we can walk to the palace.  We're not sure exactly what she says, but it will either take 5 hours or 5 days to walk.  Either way, we get back in a taxi (we discover later that the bus took us to the far east).  We finally make it to the palace in the west at 1:30pm.
 As we walk by one of the gates, we are told that the palace is closed, but would re-open at 3pm.  In the meantime, a tuk tuk can take us to another temple, stop by the tourism office (TAT) and then drop us back to at the palace. (Does anyone see what is about to happen?) Because we don't speak Thai the guy got us a deal for 20bahts.  Before we have time to think, we are whisked away in a tuk tuk, #4 mode of transportation for the day.

We visit a temple with a giant gold standing Buddha while the tuk tuk driver patiently waits.  When we return, the driver says he needs to use the toilet.  There is a man sitting nearby who starts up a conversation with us.  After a few pleasantries...

"Where are you heading next?"

"Chiang Mai."

"Oh, I just got back from Chiang Mai with my family.  Have you booked your accommodation?"

"No, not yet."

"You need to book before you go.  It is school holidays at the moment and because of the tsunami in Japan there are more tourists here.  All the hotels are full.  I had to sleep in my car one night."

"Okay, thanks for letting us know."

"Ask the driver to take you to the TAT.  They can help you find accommodation.  They are run by the government so they don't charge commission."

Just then our driver returns and asks us where we want to go next.  "TAT, please."
We are taken to the TAT office.  We tell the rep that we want to go to Chiang Mai and then to Laos.  The helpful rep puts together a great package for us: train tickets, accommodation for 4 nights in a hotel, a 3 day 2 night hill tribe trek with elephant and bamboo raft rides including meals, mini van to the Laos border, 1 night accommodation with dinner, 2 day boat journey to Luang Prabang.  We hand over our credit card and book it.  We then book a day tour to the floating markets for the following day.  We pay cash for this trip.

Back in the tuk tuk we are quite pleased that we were able to sort out the rest of our stay in Thailand.  We arrive back at the Grand Palace at 3pm.  We thought the driver might try to charge us more than the agreed 20baht as we had been gone for so long.  No, he smiled and thanked us.

Over the next couple of hours, we slowly came to the realisation that we had fallen for the most common scam in Bangkok.  There were several times throughout the process that Yumi thought something wasn't right, but couldn't quite put her finger on it.  What we didn't know was if all the bookings were fake or if we were just overcharged for them.  Either way, we took action.  Thomas called the credit card company to get the payment stopped and Yumi went into research mode.

Thomas went for a beer while Yumi calculated that we had been charged £100 in commision!  (Just to give you an idea, we spend less than £20 a day on accommodation, food and transport)
The silver lining of the story?  Thomas met 3 nice Nepalese artisans at the pub, we found out how cheaply we can do things on our own and we know how to spot a scam.

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