Scam or Adventure? Sometimes It’s Hard to Tell!

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Scam or Adventure? Sometimes It’s Hard to Tell!

Million Mile SecretsScam or Adventure? Sometimes It’s Hard to Tell!Million Mile Secrets Team

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

I’m inspired to travel when I hear other people share stories of their adventures.  So here’s the next installment of our weekly series where the Million Mile Secrets team shares their travel successes (and failures) with you!

Jason:   A few years ago my wife and I visited Thailand on our honeymoon.  It was the first big trip we booked together with miles & points.

Scam Or Adventure Sometimes Its Hard To Tell
The View of the Chao Phraya River From Our Room at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok Wasn’t Too Shabby

Southeast Asia is a great place to visit because you can enjoy Big Travel with Small Money beyond just using miles & points to save on airfare and hotels.  Everything there is cheap!  So I was in deal hunting mode before the plane hit the ground!

We enjoyed our time traveling through Southeast Asia.  But we had an interesting experience with a tuk-tuk driver that I want to share.  Our story might help you avoid a similar situation!

We Were Lucky to Visit Bangkok During “National Sales Week!”

After getting a good night’s sleep at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok, and grabbing some inexpensive Pad Thai, we were ready for to go shopping.  I wanted to see if I could purchase a cheap Thai-Pod at the Pantip Plaza electronics mall.

My wife, Jessica, and I were looking at map trying to figure out the best way to get to the mall when a friendly gentlemen approached us.  He made some small talk asking us where we were from, what we did, and where we were going.  At the time, I was a teacher.  And coincidentally, he was a teacher too!

He gave us some tips on sights to see, which were mostly locations of Buddha statues.  And he let us know that we picked the perfect week to visit because there was a national expo going on with great sales!  He let us know that we could find better deals if we didn’t go to the mall.

And we found out that tuk-tuks with a certain color license plates were officially certified and would charge us less.  So we could get a ride to the deals and tourist sites for only 10 Baht per person (~30 cents each)!

Our new “friend” waived a tuk-tuk over.  We got in after our friend negotiated a cheap fare with our driver.  Just like that, we were off to see a giant Buddha in our first tuk-tuk ride!

Scam Or Adventure Sometimes Its Hard To Tell
This Giant Buddha Was One of Many We Would See That Day

While visiting Buddha sites wasn’t on our original itinerary, we were on vacation and enjoyed the unexpected side trip.  Plus, I was excited to visit the national expo.

After the first Buddha site, we stopped at a dinky tailor shop in a random neighborhood.  We went inside and talked to the tailor for ~5 minutes.  Our conversation consisted of him explaining my options for custom clothing and me telling him that I wasn’t interested.  When we left, the tailor appeared angry with the tuk-tuk driver.

It was a strange detour, but we got back on the road and ready to…see another Buddha.  This one was a smiling Buddha.  At this stop we met another friendly local who talked to us about the Buddha statue.  He even mentioned that we were visiting Bangkok at the perfect time because of the national expo and the great sales they were having.

Enough With the Buddha Statues, Let’s Get to the Sales!

During our adventure, my wife and I discussed our good luck with the timing of our trip and the big sales in Thailand.  Could it be destiny?

Our next stop was a jewelry shop, where our driver let us know he would get a ticket for a free tank of gas if we purchased something.  Why?  Because of the national sale!

I know nothing about jewelry and wasn’t interested in learning.  So I didn’t buy anything and we were off to our next Buddha!

Scam Or Adventure Sometimes Its Hard To Tell
At This Point, I Was Done Looking at Buddha Statues and Just Wanted to Visit the National Expo!

At our next stop, we spent some time walking around the grounds of a temple looking at Buddha statues.  When we were out of sight of our tuk-tuk driver, my wife and I discussed finding a new ride to the electronics mall, but we didn’t really know where we were.  Then, our driver found us and waived us down from the other side of the temple.  He was very customer service oriented.

I asked our driver about the national expo and was expecting he’d take us to a giant convention center.  Instead, he took us to a different tailor.  While you can find get great deals on custom tailored suits in Southeast Asia, I wasn’t sure the work would be done before we left the country.  And I wasn’t sure I could trust anyone involved in this “deal.”

I said to my wife that there must be a national expo somewhere!  Everyone we met kept mentioning it.  It would be hard to believe that everyone in Thailand would be involved in tricking tourists.

But before we could make sense of the situation, it was time to visit another Buddha.

Scam Or Adventure Sometimes Its Hard To Tell
Guess What’s Just Beyond This Guardian? Fun & Adventure? Nope, It’s Another Buddha!

After the last Buddha adventure, I was done with the search for the great sale.  During our ride, the tuk-tuk driver had suggested different trips we could take around the country.  And unfortunately, our last stop wasn’t a large convention center featuring big sales.  It was a travel agency.  At least it wasn’t another Buddha statue.

At this point, we refused to get out of the tuk-tuk, thanked our driver, and told him to take us to our hotel.  He argued for a bit, but at this point “his check out the great sales” charade was over.  He took us to the water taxi for our hotel and we paid him 20 Baht (~60 cents).

Scamming the Scammer

The first thing I did when we got back to the hotel was Google the details of our trip.  And I found a travel blog post detailing someone else’s experience that was EXACTLY like ours.  From the national expo to the friendly strangers at each stop confirming the great timing of our trip.  As you’ve probably guessed by now, the driver and his team make money by getting kickbacks from the stores they take unsuspecting tourists to visit.

We felt the sweet kiss of shame that comes with realizing you’ve been had.  And we followed that up with what most couples do when they’re embarrassed, we blamed each other for the experience.

Once we came to our senses, we settled on denial as the best method for handling the situation.  After all, we totally scammed the scammer for a discounted 4-hour tour of every Buddha in Bangkok for the rock bottom price of 60 cents!

Bottom Line

Team member Jason took a wonderful honeymoon trip to Southeast Asia!  Even though it’s a cheap place to visit, it’s always good to pay attention for “deals” that are too good to be true.

In Bangok, Jason and his wife were taken on a 4-hour journey to countless Buddha statues and boutique shops by a less than honest tuk-tuk driver and his team.  These scammers make money from the kickbacks shop owners pay them if you make a purchase.

Have you ever experienced this type of scam?  Let me know in the comments!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Last year in Ankara Turkey a shoe shiner dropped his brush while walking down the street in front of me. I picked it up and handed it to him and he followed me for the next 10 minutes insisting to shine my shoes and he was offended that I wouldn’t let him. I was not going to stop and didnt know what the intent of this person. My Asics running shoes didnt really need a shine anyways…

That guys needs to do a better job of understanding his target market. I wonder if the brush drop was one of his sales tactics.

Yes. It is. This is a common scam in Turkey. Shoe shiner just happens to drop his brush while he just happens to be walking in front of a tourist. The kind tourist returns the brush, and the grateful shoe shiner insists on a “free shine.”

Of course while you’re sitting on a park bench in your socks some sort of upsell begins. Either he has a sick child in the hospital, or he can “repair” your shoes for a fee, etc. etc. etc.

I wish I was kidding when I say that I met an American guy who paid $50 for a free shoeshine of his Nikes. “I guess I paid a little too much,” he told me. “But the guy did a *really* good job!”

For $50 my Nikes better look brand new!

Good to hear that I wasn’t the only one who got scammed in Me and my partner were crossing the street when this overly friendly, well dressed woman started talking to us. Asked us where we were from, saying that she has a sister who lives in California.blah,blah,blah. Then asked us “have you tried the tuk tuk yet?” We said NO. She said, “oh, let me get one for you. Don’t worry, my treat”. THAT SHOULD’VE RAISED RED FLAGS!!.lol But no, we got in and guess what, the Tuk Tuk driver drove us to a jewelry store far away from the Metro. Embarrassing, since we consider ourselves as seasoned travelers.

Just think of it as an adventure tax. If you travel long enough, you’ll eventually have to pay up.

Same here with our tuk tuk driver in Bangkok but we figured it out as soon as we got to the tailors and joked about it with our driver. It actually made the day more fun and less touristy.

Wow, what a great way to turn lemons into lemonade! I wish I had thought of this!

Another great reminder that I can do a better job improving my attitude!

i had a somewhat similar experience in jamaica: a “driver” (who turned out to be somebody’s uncle, who owned a car and needed the work) who drove us everywhere we wanted to go during our one week stay. i was with a friend who was born there but lived in the USA. we were the guests of her relatives and they insisted on the arrangement “for our safety.”

it quickly became clear that his job was to take us to all the establishments he knew on their side of the island. our job was to appreciate what they had and spend money.

the difference? well, many. we were “offered” and agreed to this arrangement before we arrived (out of politeness to our hosts.) he didn’t lie. he told us where he wanted to take us next to make sure we wanted to go there. he also took us everywhere we wanted to go and he took us to plenty of places where no money could change hands, just to give us an experience. and the arrangement was still cheaper and infinitely easier than a rental car, even after the generous tip we gave him at the end of it all.

as a result of this arrangement, to which i was initially opposed, 90% of what i saw and experienced in jamaica is usually missed or outright off-limits to tourists. dinner half-way up a mountain where ONLY locals go? check. a jungle-like tropical plant nursery? check. a roadside “market” where local fishermen and farmers hang out under the trees by the beach and sell their fresh wares to any car that knows to pull off onto the shoulder and wait a minute or two for them to make their way across to sand? check and yum.

i am all for these kinds of exchanges — the places we were taken weren’t all commercial and the money we did spend was well worth it. but i agree with all the other commenters who say that these arrangements should always be spelled out up front and always consensual, not based on trickery.

as every traveler knows, we all need a trustworthy tuk-tuk from time to time…

That sounds like an amazing trip! It really helps when you know someone who knows a local or have friends who can connect you with the right people.

Thanks for sharing!

We had the same experience with my three kids. Even though we didn’t know it was a scam at first, we figured it out once we got to the tailor, but after hearing the sales pitch and prices, we went for it. I actually ended up buying a tailor made sports and some skirts for my wife. They came to our hotel that night for the fitting, and then delivered the next day. Great price and value. I get comments all the time when I wear the sports coat.

Good on you! On a subsequent trip to the area I got a tailored blazer, but it was at a place recommended by a friend. Glad to hear it was a good experience!

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