To truly get inside the mind of an accomplished scammer you must first serve yourself up as a delectable juicy morsel. So thorough is my ability to get served, I now have a list of warnings and common scams operating in South East Asia to share with you. Please do not feel pity. My intentions were always noble and I have done a fine job in redistributing my wealth to others.
The truly astounding fact is that in most cases we had prior knowledge of 90% of these swindles before we left home. Travelling long distances, queuing, disturbed sleep and a liver struggling to process last nights bar top frolics can all exacerbate ones ability to be taken for ride.
These scams have all been tasted and tested throughout our trip through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. However I suspect that similar currency hijacking exists throughout our known galaxy so sit back, enjoy and hold on to your wallet.
The pushy Bangkok travel agent
Bangkok is the gateway for most people visiting South East Asia. The travel agents in particular have a really bad reputation. I am sure there are some good ones out there -- we just didn't find any.
We walked into the travel agent wanting just two tickets to Ko Samui. But in the space of half an hour we managed to sign ourselves up for 20 days of accommodation, travel and sundries. Our itinerary was scribbled on a never-to-be-seen-again piece of paper. We received our tickets the next day in a series of envelopes. Religious holidays were cited as an excuse why we would find it hard to find accommodation without our agents help. By a rough calculation we paid twice the list price on every single item, though we couldn't reconcile correctly because we received no itemised account. Conveniently our travel agent had gone home on a holiday the next day when we collected our tickets. Unseen Travel Bangkok -- why could you not live up to your name?
Bangkok Tuk Tuk
By all means indulge in the delights of a tuk tuk, they are a lot of fun. But if you're going to do some serious shopping or need to be somewhere in a hurry take a taxi or learn public transport. On our second visit to Bangkok we learned very quickly that if the tuk tuk driver knows you're shopping they'll invariably try to take you to a friend's shop along on the way. They get petrol vouchers and all manner of incentives for doing this. We found taxis cheaper and faster because they tend to go straight to your destination with very little conversation and very little fuss.
After a ferry ride which often will be on the back of a twelve hour bus ride all one wants to do is get to accommodation. In general the islands are very small. It does not take an hour to get anywhere and the roads are perfectly adequate for moderately fast travel. You will be sharing your trip with other travellers. Negotiate as a group if you can and wait till you get off your ferry. There will be no shortage of people willing to help. Confidence men actually operate on the ferrys taking money from travellers and take a nice cut by being the nice guys in the middle. It's amazing what a polo shirt can do to make someone look semi official.
Border crossings are particularly bountiful for the practised grifter. I have the following bullet points to make these relatively painless.
» Know how much the visa costs
» Have plenty of passport photos ready
» Don't get any currency changed by a helpful stranger.
» Do not believe a word about a lack of ATMs, financial services or a regular power supply in your intended destination.
» Do not accept help from anyone who is not behind a counter or is part of your tour party.
» Know your exchange rates, have them written down.
In addition, be particularly wary in the immediate vicinity of a border crossing. You are most likely to be preyed upon around borders.
Buying gems in Thailand
(Editor's note) Daniel McConnell was so busy redistributing his wealth to tuk tuk drivers, travel agents, ferry touts, border scam artists and other riff raff that he missed the opportunity to participate in the most infamous of Thai scams -- the Gems scam. There's one thousand and one ways to cook up this scam, but in general, a tourist jumps in a tuk tuk planning to go to nearby tourist attraction and ends up in a gem store, often signing over tens of thousands (of dollars -- not baht) buying what turns out to be coloured glass. Are you a professional gem buyer or a professional tourist? Ask yourself that question before agreeing to enter the gem store.
By Daniel McConnell
Last updated on 11th November, 2008.