ITAT poses to be the travel agent appointed by the Thai government but the real Tourism Authority of Thailand is TAT not ITAT. This tour agency works with a very kunning but to my knowledge illegal scheme. They use fake tourist police officers (uniform and badge included) to lure you to their offices. There they will try to sell you bus/train/airplane tickets at a price that is much higher, even more than double the normal prices. They qouted us 1600 baht for a bus ride from Bangkok to Vientiane (should be around 800) http://www.travelfish.org/transport/laos/vientiane_and_surrounds/vientiane/vientiane/all. They also quoted a price of 1800 baht from Bangkok to Koh Tao (should be 1050 according to http://www.lomprayah.com/E/route.htm one of the official catamaran services to Koh Tao).
I know that using a travel agent costs money but these prices are absurd. It was a lot cheaper to go to the office of one of the boat companies or go to the bus station and buy your ticket there.
This is how we got scammed (feel like an idiot for falling for it, been to Bangkok 4 times): Me and some friends went to the grand palace at noon and we were approached by a man that seemed to be from the Bangkok Tourist Police. He asked us if we were going to the grand palace and we said yes. He told us it was closed at noon for an hour and a half which is true according to travelfish. Then he told some story about thai government wanting tourists not to be scammed and offered us a tuk-tuk tour to 3 temples (traimit, large standing buddha and the marble temple) which were quite nice and a ride back to the grand palace for 30baht per tuk-tuk. And because it was our first day he would let the tuk tuk driver take us to the TAT office so we could book busrides without being scammed. (We read about some terrible stories here on travelfish and on tripadvisor about tourist being drugged through the air conditioning systems and being robbed and left by the roadside.. We went along for the ride visiting the temples and booking some suspiciously high priced busrides at the ITAT office (it was later on that we noticed the extra I).
After that the tuk-tuk driver forced us to visit a tailor (it was far away from where we started) so he could get some free gas from the tailor as a reward.
So please tell everyone you know about this scam and post it on other places, you will allready find other similar stories like ours confirming this. Just google "ITAT, bangkok scam". I will also try to get this information to Lonely Planet and Rough guide if anyone here has a connection like that please inform them about this elaborate scam.
I feel really ashamed to have fallen for this scheme as I am a seasoned south-east-asia traveller but my shame should not be more important than the succes of your holiday.
#1 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
After 4 trips you fell for the oldest Grand Palace scam LOL
What can I say? Think
Apart from checking prices on the net you can visit 2 travel agents and get quotes. 99% of agents are honest and easy to book with. Don't ever trust the scammers hanging out the front of the Grand Palace who target dumb 1st timers. After 4 trips you should be embarrassed to fall for that old scam.
#2 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
Yes.. but we should also be thanking him for rising above the humiliation and sharing the story. Hopefully this might save one or two others from falling for the same thing.
One consideration though, when comparing prices. You can't assume that the prices from the guidebook are up to date. I have no idea of what the price from Bkk to Vientianne should be, but you reference the Laos section of this website. Unless it's been updated recently, you may find that the prices are out of date (as many were a year ago).
My point being... just don't always assume it's a scam just because the costs are higher than a guidebook, which can be outdated.
Generally speaking, I would never book anything from someone that approaches me on the street. ALWAYS go to a local travel agent, or in some cases, just go to the bus station and pay directly.
People post these warnings every week here or on other sites and there's many lining up to be scammed. Don't leave your brain at the airport when you travel. If Air Asia is selling 1000 baht flights why would a bus cost 1800 baht?
Bus prices wouldn't have changed much in 5 years. Tour prices haven't.
#4 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
"(We read about some terrible stories here on travelfish and on tripadvisor about tourist being drugged through the air conditioning systems and being robbed and left by the roadside.."
Drugged thru aircon systems? You really believe that myth? Would take an advantaged chemist to do that and likely to result in accidental deaths.
Thefts do occur on buses from time to time but it's a matter of idiotic tourists putting valuables in bags not on their person.
There is nothing wrong with using travel agents but their normal commission is 100-200 baht not 1000 baht.
If you book for multiple people or book multiple things they will cut their commission down.
#5 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
The real tourist police confirmed the story of people being drugged on busses with a spray. Not the story about the air conditioning.
We contacted the "real" tourist police of Bangkok and one of their people tried to help us. But we payed cash so there was nothing he could do, he really tried his best. We were overcharged a 30%. He was very shocked by our story of the "fake" tourist police person.
The guy from the ITAT was unbelievably rude to us and the tourist police officer. He also threatenend one of us, He wanted to get my friend jailed because he told our story to other scammed tourists arriving in tuk-tuks. One of their personal also accused me of working for a different travel agent when someone who was about to be scammed came to talk to me about the establishment.
Tomorrow we will have to take the bus and boat that we payed too much for. I will let you know how it plays out.
#6 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
"The real tourist police confirmed the story of people being drugged on busses with a spray. Not the story about the air conditioning.
We contacted the "real" tourist police of Bangkok and one of their people tried to help us. But we payed cash so there was nothing he could do, he really tried his best. We were overcharged a 30%. He was very shocked by our story of the "fake" tourist police person."
Of course he was shocked. That's the fake behaviour Thais engage in to pretend to care. They would have laughed as soon as you left.
After 4 trips you shouldn't be so gullible!
Most of these scams operate from KSR or in front of the Grand Palace. That's been the case for decades and the tourist police know full well but lowly paid police officers really don't care about weaterners getting ripped off and they just pretend to care.
If you stay in Suk, Silom or Pratunam you can walk 100m along a soi and come across 3 or 4 travel agents that won't rip you off or simply book from a hotel travel desk which many have.
Why a person would book from some weirdo operation from a tuk tuk ride I don't know. TT drivers in the tourist areas are just pests. It's cheaper and more comfortable to get a taxi with aircon.
#7 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
So we arrived at Koh Tao without any major problems. The bus was ok but by far not the best possible VIP bus and the boat was kinda sucky. Off course it was a Songserm boat, they are the cheapest company but they know about the scam and they're pretty slow, so avoid them. Longprayah seems to be more expensive but has a good reputation, it will be faster as well.
We saw a lot of tourist on the bus and boat that were worse off than us booking long package tours via these scams, we just booked transportation because we arranged the rest via internet etc... Oh yeah the agency lied about the kind of boat of course but whatever. At least we spared about 20 people arriving at the agency being scammed. We signed them that it was a bad operation.
So hard lesson learned, but lesson learned. I will return to my previous way of preparing thoroughly via internet and guidebooks and ignoring all locals that try to talk to me.
Thailand is great, but tourism is slowly killing the good clean fun especially in Bangkok and the south.
#8 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
Not sure what good clean fun you refer to. Thailand has had lots of dirty fun since the Vietnam war and lots of scams. Apart from a few overdeveloped spots I haven't noticed much of a difference during the last decade. You can still find cheap rooms, good cheap tours and nice food markets. Same same year after year. As long as you avoid xmas/ny period it's relatively quiet around the country re tourists outside a few spots which attract the dills.
#9 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
I happened to be walking by the TAT head office in Bangkok today, and I stopped into to let them know what happened to you. After telling your story (and showing them your report here on travelfish, which they printed out) to one of the regular young workers, he brought out an old guy who seemed to be the "head honcho" there. He was actually pretty pissed off that a tour company was basically posing as the TAT, and he told me that it's definitely illegal for someone to wear a uniform and pretend to be tourist police in an effort to scam tourists into making inflated bookings.
They wanted me to file an official complaint myself but I told him I couldn't because the scam didn't happen to me but rather to "an acquaintance". In any case, he seemed sincere enough that he was going to instigate an investigation about this particular scam because it does claim actual illegal activity (someone pretending to be tourist police) as opposed to what they normally see, which is gross overcharging in exchange for poor services - really bad but not actually against the law.
He also told me that if you're still in Thailand, you should stop by the TAT office to file an official complaint and tell the story exactly as it happened to you (ask for Khun Sutee). It's easy to get there: take the BTS sky train to National Stadium station, take exit #2, and walk straight at the bottom of the stairs for no more than a few hundred meters. The office is right there on the left (it's a big grey building with an official looking silver sign that reads "Department of Tourism".
As you said, actual tourist police won't do much because, let's be honest, they're just around to collect their paychecks. However, the actual TAT (at least its hierarchy) do care about their reputation, and this scam is not only illegal but it could also reflect negatively on the TAT directly if tourists never figure out that ITAT is actually not the real thing and go back to their home countries complaining of being scammed by the "official" Thai tourism authority. Even if the TAT don't do anything (and let's face it - this is Thailand so they probably won't), it's best to bring your complaint directly to the authorities rather than just posting it here in a travel forum. If everyone who complains in an online forum actually filed an official complaint with the government, maybe they'd realize the extent of the problem and do more about it. Maybe
Good luck with the rest of your trip,
As part of an effort to crack down on this sort of thing, the TAT have made it "illegal" to display their logo or even just "TAT" on any shop fronts. They sent people around Chiang Mai a few months ago and made everyone either remove or cover up any such offenses. So now you see a lot of "T_T" around town or signs with a blank square pasted on top. Of course the "head honcho" guy at the TAT office can't really be surprised that other offices pose as the TAT - it's been going on for years and still one of the most common scams in Bangkok. Bureaucrats just don't like to lose face and in front of all his staff he had to fake ignorance and outrage.
So we have been enjoying the rest of our trip.
But we have been talking a lot about the scam day and the scam we were involved in was pretty elaborate.
At one of the temples (a small unimpressive one) we visited with the tuk-tuk driver we were approached by a caucausian male speaking perfect French and English. He was wearing a padi t-shirt and was trying to convince us to do the advanced open water course. We didn't really pay any attention to this. It was later on that we thought it was a bit fishy. I asked for prices for dive courses @ the ITAT office. The prices for an open water course were less than 8000 baht, which is an impossible price.
The bus to Chumphon stopped at a big restaurant/bar. Nothing wrong with that but the prices were insanely high (100 baht for a snickers and a coke, didn't buy it off course). The stop took half an hour and then we got back on the bus, and 200 meters further down the road was a big "real" bus station. We arrived in Chumphon @ 3 o'clock in the morning (sleeper bus???) and were just left at the pier which had a convenient expensive shop as well the boat didn't leave until 7 o'clock. It was a regular boat (Songserm is the name of the operator) not a catemaran as promised.
We have been very wary since then and we only take public and government transport and sangtheaws.
The good clean fun part: been to Kanchanaburi, ayuthaya, bangkok, chiang mai and sukhothai without ever really being enoyed by scams and such.
They tried to scam my sister at the Nong Khai//Vientiane border crossing... crazy Thai.
#12 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
We just got scammed by ITAT in Bangkok in a similar fashion. In front of the National Museum while looking at a map a friendly local said there was a one day festival and the government was subsidizing tuk tuks to take people to the festival and other temples. He didn't ask for money so we believed him. The tuk tuk was only 60 Baht and the driver would take us all the places the guy annotated on our map as well as the ITAT office. We took the bait. At the first temple we were the only tourists which was nice and low and behold a Caucasian guy started chatting with us and said "oh by the way this ITAT office is Thai government run and they have the best prices, etc" His English was good and said he taught SCUBA in the south and was from Belgium. So our tuk tuk driver took us to ITAT who proceeded to rip us off royally. I estimate they doubled the prices they charged us for extremely shoddy hotels they put us in. We trusted them since we thought they were a Thai Government agency. What rubes we were! Next day we Googled ITAT and discovered the scam. We went to the Thai tourist police who "strangely" asked me not to mention ITAT in my complaint but only to say we needed protection while getting a refund. Could it be that the Thai Tourist Police are getting kickbacks? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course ITAT claimed cancellation fees and airport taxes and would only refund about 2/3 of what they charged us. So we didn't take the "refund" and sure enough they put us in dreadful hotels and ruined our trip. Of course a couple of days later a taxi dropped us off at a fake entrance to the Royal Palace and the people there said it was closed for lunch and by the way we can get you a cheap tuk tuk to tour other temples while the Palace is closed!! Could it be the Thai Tourist Police are not on the job once again!? What a surprise. By the way the Royal Palace does not close for lunch. Bangkok is full of scams. One in law from China just took a one week tour from China to Bangkok and got hit up for shows and fees while in Bangkok and ended up paying $500 more than the initial tour price which was also $500. I personally know three guys who were drugged in Thailand while drinking booze in robbery attempts. One on the train to Chaing Mai and the other in Bangkok. We developed a rule of thumb that if someone spoke English in Bangkok then they were a scammer. A non-English speaker was OK. Don't speak to strangers and in Bangkok that applies to adults as well as children! Trust noone! ITAT is simply Evil!
#13 Bozo9999 has been a member since 5/1/2013. Posts: 2
Sorry to hear about what happened to you guys. It's a real shame, because Thailand is a cool place to go on holiday. I think the biggest problem is that many tourists don't know they are being scammed or don't care. In the long run these scams will definitely ruin the countries reputation.
Maybe take a look at Laos next time, super friendly people and many cool places to see, and by my experience few scams.
#14 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19