Bamboozled in Bangkok
It all seems so easy and fun to flag down a tuk-tuk on a Bangkok street to zip around and see the sights. Our friendly English-speaking driver smiled as we piled into the back and asked him to take us to Wat Po. As we followed along on our street map, we realized that we were not moving in the right direction. "Are we there yet?" "Well, actually", he explained to us, there is a special ceremony at Wat Po for the next hour, so he was taking us to an expo center where we could view some cultural exhibits. Shorthand for a souvenir store whose owner pays him to deliver unsuspecting tourists to visit the shop. There was no "special ceremony" interrupting Wat Po's visiting hours. Just a simple scam by the tuk-tuk driver in cahoots with the shop owner. After a different driver tried the same story later that day, we became wise to the ruse. We had snapped this photo of ourselves early on, while we were still blissfully unaware of the bamboozle.
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Tuk-Tuk Adventures in Bangkok
Riding around in a tuk-tuk in Bangkok outside of Wat Pho (Pho Temple) which was near the Arun Residence where we were staying. Tuk-Tuk's are an incredibly iconic experience that I highly recommend if you've never been to Bangkok but a word of caution: They are pretty much all part of an intricately and skillfully organized racket. The tuk-tuk drivers (or touts who are incognito) will lure you into taking a trip to see all of the temples starting at around 20 baht (less than $1 US). It sounds great but the way that the drivers really get paid is a type of commission deal where they are allied with a network of jewelry and tailor shops that pay them to bring traffic to their stores. Once you are in the tuk-tuk, the driver (who is often genuinely friendly--a classic Thai trait) will offer his own temple circuit itinerary to you. Inevitably, the conversation will turn to shopping and he'll suggest some "great" shopping location. Where it gets really interesting is at the temples. You'll quite likely "bump into" a local who is there to pay his respects who will very innocently reveal confidential insider info on a government shop that just happens to be open to the public for that day meaning you have access to their wholesale prices. That being said, if you are aware of the scam, riding a tuk-tuk is actually a really fun way to see Bangkok. You might let the driver know you're in the know & negotiate just stopping briefly at one of the shops (that usually suffices).
By Chris Franek