On our first night in Thailand we got a little lost in Bangkok. Round 9pm a friendly lady comes towards us, shows us on the map where we are and points us out the right direction. Then we start chit-chatting a little and when she finds out that we have booked a trip in some travel agency, she tells us that we shouldn't have done that. It was better to go to an agency 'controlled by the governement'. There was one nearby that was still open. And we were lucky: it was the last day of the promotion prices before the high season started. (It was half November, we should have know better, but little did we know at that time.)
The lady calls a Tuk-Tuk for us that brings us to our destination: 'Unseen Travel Agency'. We are received by Fon, who seems to be in charge of the office. She's very open, spontaneous and makes quite a lot of jokes and she helps us (read:rips us off) with a very big eternal Thai smile. We explain to her what we would like to visit and she makes us a package deal of 15.000 Baht each for a one-day trip to Ayutthaya , a half day trip to the floating market and 5 days Koh Samui by bus.
We found that to expensive and when she saw we were hesitating because of the price, she starts looking for a way to give a discount. Are we students? No, we're not and we don't even look like students, we're 30 years old. "Oh wait, we're from Belgium right?". Earlier that day a group of Dutch students made a reservation, she could pin the copy of our id's to their reservation so she could give us a 3000 Baht discount per person. And if we booked the same day, we could still profit of the last day of the discountprices (which would make a difference of at least +/- 2000 Baht extra to be paid each if we booked only the next day.)
It still felt like a lot of money, but since I had to work the five following days and I didn't want my husband to have to arrange everything for our trip afterwards on his own, we were both like "Okay, why not book it at once." Once again, we should have known better. And on top of that we paid cash, so there was no way of getting the transaction cancelled. How stupid can one be?
As soon as we got out of the office we felt a bit uncomfortable about our reservation. When we typed "Unseen Travel Agency" on google later on, we saw nothing but messages about scam. Buses not showing up, peopling having to pay a second time to get on the bus, the bus dropping people off where they shouldn't be dropped off, etc. Our experience wasn't much better.
For our trip to Ayutthaya we were supposed to be picked up at 6 am at our hotel. At 6.30 am we still didn't see anyone, so we ask the receptionist to contact the number mentioned on our reservation ticket. No answer. More than 2 hours later we finally can speak to someone on the phone. To my Thai colleague (who also contacted the agency several times for us) they said the bus was involved in an accident, to the receptionist of the hotel they said they mixed the dates up and to us they told that they had planned a private tour for us, since we had to leave the same night for Koh Samui. The guide was on his way and would arrive round 9am. So he did, but he didn't speak English and was in fact just a taxi driver that was supposed to take us to Ayutthaya.
We were already more than three ours late on the schedule and didn't feel anything for organising a sightseeingtour ourselves in a city we didn't know at all, so we ask the driver to take us to the travel agency. Once in his cab, we notice that he is leaving Bangkok! After a phonecall he drives back towards the center. After another phonecall he tells us that he has to take us back to the hotel and that we can't go to the travel agency. That's where we decided to get out of the car and go their by ourselves.
Once we arrive there we are not allowed to speak to Fon. My Thai colleague had been negotiating with her and she managed that we would be paid back 3000 Baht each. We didn't want to accept it just like that. When we asked for a detailed overview for everything she booked for us, she told us that it was impossible because it was a 'package deal'. Confronted with the fact that she booked a room for 300 Baht/night which she charged us for more or less 2000 Baht/night, she just told us that we had no right to complain about her overcharging. We agreed on the price when we booked, case closed.
Then, Koh Samui. When we arrived at Koh Samui,we found out that the transport from the ferry port to the hotel was not included in the price and that there was no pick-up at the hotel for the last day. The hotel was clean, but very basic: no tv, no airco, no refrigerator, no warm water, just a bed, a fan and a shower right next to the toilet and even no breakfast included. It was really the cheapest 'hut' she could find on the entire island, which she overcharged a maximum for. We got over it pretty fast and decided to move to another beach and book a nice, cosy cabin next to the beach.
Once back in Bangkok we were again supposed to be picked-up at the hotel to go to the floating market. Once again no-one showed up! This time their excuse was that they thought we no longer wanted to go there. Why shouldn't we?! We decided to go to the travel agency to ask the money back for that trip. But Fon knew it was our last day, so she just threw us out and said that if we had a problem, we should go to the police, knowing that they wouldn't do anything about it. And if they did, it wouldn't be settled in one day time.
We got very disgusted by this travel agency and their lack of respect and honesty. That's way we decided to share our story in this blog. Hopefully people will read it and never book their trips at Unseen Travel Agency in Bangkok. And we give everyone a good piece of advice: don't believe what people tell you in the streets (the friendly lady must have worked for the agency), think twice and never book immediately at an agency you don't know. Check it first out on the internet and go back afterwards. And always pay with visa, even if they are charging 10% extra for it.
Please spread this blog or share the url (http://www.myspace.com/Dirky_D/blog/526437620) with everyone you know. This kind of practises must stop. The sooner the better.
NOTE: It must be said that Thailand is a beautiful country with friendly people, delicious food and stunning sceneries. It's really worth visiting. Just be careful not to get ripped of by dishonest agencies.
#1 dirkvdv has been a member since 13/7/2012. Posts: 2
No shortage of fools waiting to be ripped off. Book hotels yourself on the net - agoda/wotif (50% discounts often compared to walk in rates) and tours book thru normal travel agents who NEVER approach u on the street unless you walk past their shop directly and they say hello.
#2 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
I do 1 day tours. Often great value for snorkelling - 500-900 baht for a full day trip involving a few islands plus lunch and drinks. Bargain!
You simply can't do snorkelling trips like this independently without paying a lot for your own longtail boat rental and there's only a few islands with both rooms and great off shore snorkelling.
But temples I just do myself with taxi or whatever.
#4 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307
I don't snorkle - all the things I do I can do on my own here. And when I was in Africa I operated the same way, although what I did for fun there didn't require any real overhead.
Now when I go "touring" it's on my motorbike. I like to ride.
According to your posts on Lonely Planet Thorn Tree this actually happend over two years ago. Still it helps to get the word out. Tourists should be warned not to fall for the "friendly person on the street" who gets commission for getting you to one of these ripoff travel agents. Shop around, compare prices, etc. And don't book your whole holiday at one place like that. Arrange and pay as you go.
It was my former boss that suggested me to book our trips on the spot. He was an experienced traveller and he had never had problems with his bookings via local agencies in Thailand. That's why we didn't book anything in advance or via the internet.
The least one can say is that we have been foolish and that we have paid a certain price for this lesson.
As Captain Bob said, this happened already two years ago. I've put it on several sites and now also on Travelfish. The only reason why I reposted this blog, is to keep warning other people for scam. Scam is of all times and will always exist as long as people (like us at that time) are unkowing and don't have a lot of travel experience.
#7 dirkvdv has been a member since 13/7/2012. Posts: 2
I always book on the spot too. Just in proper travel shops which is 99.99% of them. Never book something thru some dodgy person who approaches you on the street. Seriously what kind of travel agent would send people 5km away to randomly approach people at 9pm to attract customers? Think about it!!!!
The advice you were given was fine but you didn't follow it. He didnt say anything about trusting randoms on the street at 9pm did he?
In places like Samui/Krabi/Phuket some agents will sit out front of their shop to sell but they don't walk around all over the place trying to sell travel tours.
Thing is a travel agent in Bangkok will know little about the islands and vice versa. They mainly know about their direct area. So if you want a room in Samui don't book via an agent in Bangkok. Fly to Samui and book it yourself or via the net. Same with tours book a krabi tour in krabi and a bangkok tour in bangkok. You can book a tour the day before. Never any need to book 2 weeks worth of stuff and if they promise some big discount you know they are lying because their commission is 100-200 baht. You bargain and they lower the price by 100 baht and that's it. No lower. If they promise a 40% discount for 2 weeks worth of bookings you know it's a scam.
#8 longbeach has been a member since 28/3/2012. Posts: 307