HA! Here I thought I was well prepared for Asia.
Having read up on the forums on tourist scams and things to avoid, and also generally considering myself quite street smart. But oh, this played out just so smoothly that I let my guard down. I guess I can’t truly call it Scam, because in the end, there was a happy resolution. Here’s how it went.
Having just went through 24 hours of flight from Montreal, we were pretty jet lagged upon our arrival in Bangkok. Jet lagged to the point where we crashed at 6PM, and woke up bright an early at 5AM. But since we wanted to go see Temples today, this was perfect and would allow us to avoid the crowds. Hopping onto the Chao Praya river boat (the orange flag one that the locals take, we were happily surrounded by local school students), we arrived at Wat Arun.
I had initially thought up the idea of jogging there, and then while catching my breathe, exclaiming ‘Wow, What a run!’….ok….terrible joke.
As can be seen, Wat Arun was absolutely stunning. They allowed us in 30 minutes before the official opening and we had the temple totally to ourselves. In a busy city like Bangkok, we found a moment of total peace among the intricate white ceramic temple.
Continuing our day, we visited another temple called Wat Pho (yeah, I thought up a lame joke for that too…) and finally decided to walk towards the Gold Moutain. It was then that we were approached by a friendly local, who struck up a conversation and wanted to suggest us a few interesting places. For a price of 100THB (about 3-4CAD), his TukTuk driver friend could drive us to these 4 temples, and we would only need to pay at the end. My guard was up, having heard of these scams but since we only had to pay at the end, and it was only 100THB, I thought “eh, it can’t hurt”. He finally suggested also a silk market where the “locals” shop. It’s then that I should’ve realized the problem, but I thought “it’s only 1 stop, we can always just say no”
Arriving at our first temple, we were then approached by another friendly local. Coincidence? He expressed his surprise that we were here, that not many tourists know of this spot. I said a TukTuk driver brought us here. He then asked with concern how much I paid, and then explained that it was a reasonable price. He wanted to know where else we were headed and saw the silk factory. To that he said “oh that’s great! I actually just bought my suit from there. Most tourists buy their suit from Khao San Road, and the quality is bad, but the locals buy it from the silk factory. I had paid only 12,500THB (about 450CAD for a bespoke suit)”. Since that friendly local backed up the claims of the first TukTuk guy, it assuaged my worries. It can’t be THAT big of a coincidence right?….Right??
We happily arrived at the Silk factory and was approached by the salesman. He showed us many suits and dresses and after much negotiation, we settled on a custom made suit. After leaving the shop, we felt pretty good about it. The shop was quite official looking, no concerns there. But we decided to check up on Tripadvisor reviews, and that is when it all went downhill.
The reviews were terrible and they all said they fell victim to the same scam. Friendly local, TukTuk driver, coincidental second local, and the silk factory. Same story each time. Oh how can we have been so stupid… We were panicking and decided to call my VISA to cancel the transaction. After 3 hours of trying to call VISA (by the way, we found out we can call Canada landline for free with Skype!), they said it’s impossible to cancel the transaction and we would have to deal with the merchant ourselves.
We called the merchant and said we don’t want the suit anymore, to cancel it, which they reacted quite angrily to. We then realized that they knew what hotel and room number we were in….and started to panic. What if they are some sort of mafia, and wanted to collect? (Maybe we saw too many movies with this scenario….)
We even went to the Police station and Tourist police to explain our scenario, to which they responded with minimal concern. These dumb tourists right?
And so, we had no choice but to go back to the merchant. They were going to make the suit regardless and even if this was a scam, the money is already lost, so I at least I wanted a suit out of it. We arrived with a lot of skepticism but was greeted by a new friendly salesman. He explained that he knows there are a lot of bad reviews, but that was the previous owner (the reviews dated back to 2016) and that they even changed the name now. A new start. Is this also a made up story?…guess we’ll never know.
I tried on the suit and to my surprise and relief, it fit like a glove! They had taken over 10 measurements at the initial consult and the suit felt like it fit perfectly to each measure. I was so relieved. The material felt good too, but since I’m no expert, I guess we will never be able to fully confirm If it is what they said it was. Quality wise, it felt a lot superior to some regular off the rack Mexx suits I’ve bought in the past.
In the end,
I came out of the store with a beautiful 3-piece suit, custom made with the material and silk lining I had personally chosen. The final price added up was still less than if I bought a cheap off-the-rack suit in Montreal and tailored it separately…did I overpay in Thai standards? Maybe? But in the end what matters is that I was happy with the results.
So was it a scam?
Not fully. A scam would’ve been if they delivered no product or a total garbage product. In the end, I came out with a beautiful bespoke suit.
This experience left a slight sour taste but definitely this cannot be generalized to all merchants in Bangkok. We encountered such friendly and honest locals.
6AM, in a narrow alleyway, a little food stand set up by an 80-year-old grandma serving her family recipe of congee. She didn’t speak any English so we could only communicate with our eyes, our smiles, and body language. The congee was delicious and only costed 40THB (under 2$CAD). We could see the heart she put into making the food, like we were her grandchildren coming in for breakfast.
11AM in another busy alleyway, where from far we could smell the delicious scent of stewed beef noodles. Turns out all the locals eat here, there was even a group of policemen eating there. Always a good sign. And there we had probably the most tender and delicious bowl of braised beef (flank, stomach, thigh) ever. We struck up a conversation with the chef, who smoke basic English, and again was welcomed so warmly. He had such a humble and kind-eyed demeanour, again, like he was feeding family.
Finding these mom-and-pop places was where we had the real Bangkok experience, to see the true local life of the Thais, and not the inflated world of tourists.
Sure, the temples were all truly beautiful, but what left us with a lasting impression was these off-the-beaten track Local experiences.