Diving scams in Thailand
As frustrating as it may be, travellers to Thailand continue to fall victim to a seemingly limitless variety of scams. Of course there's the obvious ones like gem stores and free tuk tuks, but sometimes you only need to let your guard down for a moment and even the most battle-hardened traveller can get done faster than you can say "Free tuk tuk".
A few years ago, I was in a hurry to get from one of the Gulf Islands to Bangkok to catch a flight so instead of going to Surat Thani and getting a government bus from the bus station I opted for a "through ticket" from the island to Khao San Road. Of course I should have known better. When I sauntered into the travel agent, I was told there were two bus services available -- VIP or Air-con -- with a difference in price of a couple of hundred baht. I opted for the latter as I'd seen the salubrious VIP buses, with their almost fully reclining seats, frosty air-con and spacious downstairs luggage hold and figured I didn't need such luxuries.
The ferry connection went well and we arrived at the travel agent in Surat Thani at dusk, there were four of us who had air-con tickets with another dozen or so on the VIP service.
We waited, and waited and waited.
Eventually, at around 10pm, a suitable flashy VIP bus pulled up. All glistening and shiny, with the windows already frosted up, the bus sat that, tantalising us on that steaming Surat Thani evening.
The VIP crowd got up and duly boarded the bus, then when they were all in, safely enconsed in their sub-zero coccoon, one of the staff wandered over to us and asked us where our bags were. When we replied, asking where our bus was, the staffer looked at us oddly and thumbed over his shoulder at the VIP bus... it's there.
"Cool" I remember thinking -- "they've stuffed up the ticketing and we've got a VIP service for the price of an air-con ticket".
It turned out that the Air-con service was actually the luggage compartment of the VIP service.
Yes, you read that correctly, we were to be stowed, along with the bags, in the dark, windowless downstairs section, which, to their credit, had been furnished with a clapped out old sofa for the four of us to sit on. There was no TV, there was no bathroom (we were not permitted to use the upstairs one) and there was in fact no air-con! Instead, it was explained to us, the VIP section would be so cold, the cool air would drift down to our dank hole in the bowels of the omnibus.
We screamed, we ranted, we raved. We cried, we begged -- hell we even offered to pay for an upgrade -- all to no avail.
In the end the trip wasn't too bad, but I've never, ever used a through service from a travel agent again.
So imagine my surprise, or lack there of when I received an email detailing the activities of the very same travel agent that ripped me off, Chao Wang Travel and Tour.
It's a new scam for Thailand, and one worth warning people of. Chao Wang is apparently not the only operator engaged in this particular scam.
The scam begins in Ko Phi Phi, where travellers are sold an open water package on Ko Tao which includes transfers from Ko Phi Phi to the island (ie boat to Krabi, bus to Surat Thani or Chumphon, followed by a boat to either Ko Pha Ngan and then on to Ko Tao, or, in the case of Chumphon, straight to Ko Tao). The scam's trap centres around Surat Thani and/or Chumphon where, once you're dropped at the travel agent, you're told that the ferry is full and you will need to catch the boat the next day. At a glance that doesn't sound like a big deal, except that:
a) The boat is not full
b) You'll be required to buy a new boat ticket for the next day
c) You'll have to pay for accommodation
c) Worst of all, you'll forfeit one day's worth of your Open Water diving course
So, the moral of the story is, if you're on Phi Phi and planning to go diving on Ko Tao (or anywhere else for that matter) organise your diving course once you get there -- do not organise it (and certainly don't pay for it in advance) on Ko Phi Phi.
Oh and just in case you forgot, don't user Chao Wang Travel and Tours.
If you've been scammed, please feel free to detail your woes below!
#1 Posted: 18/2/2008 - 14:50
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