The land of smiles, otherwise known as Thailand, is a beautiful country. There’s so much on offer there from big bustling cities to tranquil beaches. It’s the honeymoon destination for many, the backpacker party raving destination for others and the family destination too.
Tourist or expat – scores of people find comfort here and it’s a rite of passage for some.
It’s easy to see why with its low cost of living and warm weather. Feeling like royalty whilst holidaying in Thailand isn’t unachievable either. Warm welcomes are frequent and the standard of some accommodation is undeniably impressive.
But, whilst there are so many positive things to say about Thailand, like many countries, there are also scammers lurking about waiting to catch their next victim.
Being a victim of such scams, I can tell you that it’s not a situation that you want to find yourself in. Unless your name is Bella Swan and you live for danger (Twilight reference –sorry, not sorry).
So to walk you through my personal experience, let me first paint a picture for you.
Going abroad to Asia meant being prepared for a lot of eventualities. Things like checking out health risks and their prevention. Stuff like the dreaded dengue fever – there’s no vaccination against this disease; all you can do is use mosquito repellents. Anyway, despite being prepared, it seems I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen – mosquito gel or not!
It was the summer of 2013 (isn’t that how all stories are supposed to start?) I was holidaying with a good friend of mine. We were on the final leg of our journey, our holiday, our trip of a life-time. We’d explored the islands, partied the nights away and generally just lapped up Thailand and all its beauty.
We decided to venture out and do a bit of late night shopping at a market. Why not grab a few bargains before heading home?
Instead of coming home with a couple of rip-off purses, we instead returned to the hotel penniless and feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.
What happened you ask? Being used to the various promoters lurking about in most holiday destinations, we didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary when being promoted and lured into one of the bars.
Up the stairs we went, following a gentleman who worked there. Or did he? (I’ll get to that in a second.)
We sat down in this almost-empty bar and ordered two drinks. They were very reasonably priced at 100 baht, approximately £2 or $3 US.
The only people in this almost-empty bar were locals. Almost instantly as we sat down, two of these locals approached us – one woman and a lady boy. They joined our tables, sitting themselves beside us, one on either side, practically on our laps. Their English vocabulary was limited but they managed to both compliment us on our noses. A strange compliment, but a compliment nonetheless. Then they kept smiling and saying thank you. We had no idea why they were thanking us and offering the wai gesture (a slight bow with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion). We just smiled politely and then began to feel uncomfortable so decided to leave.
Before we had the chance to leave, more ‘locals’ came up to us and started thanking us. By this point, everyone who had occupied the bar was now at our table.
Alarm bells rang and we stood up to pay for our drinks and leave. One of the bar staff marched over to us in a rage, clearly angered by our early exit and aggressively shouted at us to pay for our drinks, which is of course where we were headed. We walked over to the till, all of the locals following behind us. We were told how much we owed – not 100 baht each, not 200 baht in total but over 2000 baht (approximately £40 or $65 US).
Naturally we argued our case, thinking that they must have accidentally got this wrong. No – they didn’t have it wrong. They had it right. So right. The entire thing was staged. The ‘locals’ clearly weren’t locals enjoying a drink. They were there to rip off naive tourists like ourselves. They came over with drinks in hand, ‘thanking’ us for a drink which we were about to pay for whether we wanted to or not – each drink costing more than the next.
Again, we argued our case and using a bit of quick mental arithmetic, we worked out that even if we had offered to pay for these strangers drinks (in what world?) the bill would still be far less than it was. We spoke of how the gentleman who had brought us into the bar had promised us that every drink on sale tonight was 100 baht. Suddenly, this so called man didn’t exist. They claimed they had never heard of him, that no man works for them. In an attempt to make us question our sanity, we continued to argue our case however they became more aggressive.
We were stranded alone in a bar with the front door slammed closed. At this stage, we became emotional and the only solution was to pay up and then make a bee-line for the exit. Fortunately we had this amount of money on us due to the mere fact that we planned to go on a shopping spree. I don’t know what our fate would have been had we not been able to produce this amount but fortunately we didn’t need to stick around to find this out.
The moral of the story is, don’t let yourself be fooled. Even the most experienced travellers can fall victim to scams like this. I’ve travelled all over the world, independently, as part of a pair and as a group. Con-artists can target any unsuspecting victim at any moment. And whilst the majority of the world is lovely and the majority of your travels will be trouble-free, the sad fact is that situations like these can arise. And no matter how many people tell you to be careful, it doesn’t always come down to that. It’s simply about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.