i look like a sweet, innocent girl. i look naive and young. really young. in fact, since arriving almost a week ago, i’ve been told 5 times that i look no older than 20. to which i reply that i’ll be turning 27 this year only to see dropped jaws and wide eyes. (thank you awesome genes and pale skin!) so when i’m walking down the streets of Bangkok, alone, I look like a prime target. (well i kind of am.)
but what these Thai’s fail to realize is that while I look like I don’t know any better – I’m not a dumbass. (I can be a dumbass, but I am not.) on top of that, i’m extremely perceptive. so when i was walking to grand palace one day, a nice “teacher” – we’ll call him con man 1 – stopped me to say it was closed and instead, i needed to visit a different landmark. my belly told me to be careful. (as did every scam article I read before coming here.)
extremely helpful, con man 1 told me to only ride in tuk-tuks with yellow license plates as they are legit. he asked me where i was heading and what i was doing. he said i needed to book my train to Chiang Mai at the TAT, the tourism authority of Thailand, because they would be cheap and very helpful. (He actually said TIT – but I wasn’t going to go there with a random, older Thai guy on the street.) and then he hailed me a tuk tuk (enter con man 2) to take me to said destinations for only 20 baht, round trip. Wat Saket – TAT – Th Khao San. (I did not say where I was staying, nor was I staying directly on Khao San this day, but I chose the destination because I felt something was wrong and it’s pretty busy.)
The tuk-tuk driver was very friendly. Con Man 2 told me about Bangkok, the King and the city. He smiled big and asked me what I thought of Thailand. I answered politely, mainly because I was alone and powerless in the situation and going along with everything just seemed to be in my best interest. (Note: I probably shouldn’t have got into the tuk tuk, in the future I’ll save myself the anxiety and walk away.) He took me to the first stop and said he would wait as I toured it. (another flag – when a tuk tuk driver, who normally banks on giving people rides is going to wait 1.5 hours for you to tour something, and take you around for 20 baht, there’s something coming.)
While inside Wat Saket, I had the most beautiful time. I walked behind monks up the steps to the top of the mount. listening to the bells they rang along the way. When i arrived to the top, i saw a different monk giving a ceremony with a sea of people behind him – praying with roses in their hands. i stayed the whole time because it was beautiful and a moment i didn’t want to miss. (i also hoped con man 2 gave up on me and left.) but when i exited the long winding staircase, there he was. smiling. he ushered me to the buddha to pray. a part of my plan, anyway. i walked up to the room, took of my shoes and quietly walked in front of the buddha. alone again, i knelt and bowed my head and began to pray. but not for long, meet con man 3.
con man 3 asked me if i was buddhist. he complimented me on knowing what to do and began to speak to me about buddhism. always the learner, my father’s daughter, i listened intently as he told me about the religion of Thailand. The breakdown by percentage, and the different versions of Buddha you see around Asia and how it is just meant to bring an image to the mind for what Buddha represents. I loved talking with him. It made me smile and my heart was already singing with joy after the ceremony. I soaked it in and really began to think maybe just a few bad eggs were spoiling the bunch.
He told me about Thailand, and Chiang Mai. About long neck. Con man 3 told me that since I was alone, I needed to go to the TAT to book my trips, because it would be cheapest and the people would be nice. (Ding, ding, ding! the con.) he continued to be friendly and when i walked out, i rang the gong. in true buddhist tradition. i was asking for safety on my journey, and safety for others on theirs – among other things.
i left the gong, and walked back to my tuk tuk. i took the long way to think about everything i had been through, and prepare myself for what could potentially happen at the TAT. luckily, i had limited money on me – and no cards. if they tried to book anything more than a bus ticket, i’d have say no. i knew 800 baht wouldn’t get me far.
so walking to my tuk tuk – i saw con man 3, quietly talking on his cell phone in the corner. i couldn’t find my tuk tuk driver, but another man told me he was in the bathroom and would be right out. i was going to jump into another one and he came running. to the TAT we went.
con man 4. (plus his side accomplice, con woman 1). again, very friendly – con man 4 asked me where i was going, what my timeline was, what i wanted to do. he wanted me to do a 3 day trek complete with guest house for three nights, food, guides and small groups to make friends easily. he added long neck (per con man 3’s suggestion) and talked with me about a ticket to my next journey in Phitsanulok. At the end of a 5-day schedule, he smiled and said, “yes – now the real question, how much?”
well friends, a 5-day excursion in Chiang Mai was only going to cost me 9,500 baht. (about $300 USD.) Not bad, except I knew a train ticket to Chiang Mai was only 750 baht, per some digging earlier in the day. I asked for the cost breakdown per trip – 2500 baht for the 3 day trek,1500 for the one day, and no prices for just tickets to a city. It was all or nothing. I said it was too much, and I wasn’t going to do it. Con man 4 got angry. His polite and smiling face quickly went sour, as he mumbled to con woman 1 under his breath. He didn’t make eye contact and I got up to leave. “Thank you,” I said in Thai and walked outside.
I was surprised to see con woman 1 talking with my tuk tuk driver when i exited. clearly informing him of my not purchasing a ticket. when we got into the tuk tuk – con man 2, was mad. he asked why i didn’t buy a ticket, and i told him it was too much. he said he’d take me to a different TAT. I insisted he return me to Khao San road, as I was tired. he poked at me saying it was too much – a girl from America going cheap, cheap. He insisted again that I go to a different place, and I once again declined, saying I didn’t have enough on me. He raced through the streets, no longer smiling or telling me about his city. When we pulled up he needed to get change and told his friend in Thai how I had not purchased a ticket, how little he made, scowling as he handed me my bills. I quickly left the tuk tuk, happy to be out of the situation unscathed.
on the way back i did the math in my head – and the four con men would have gotten about 2000 extra baht if i had paid then as opposed to waiting. i walked back to my hostel in an indirect way, hoping i wasn’t being followed.
when i got back to my air conditioned room, I grabbed 1000 baht. Marched right back out in the sweltering heat and booked my ticket to Chiang Mai on the train, at an independent travel place.
I took a deep breath and gave thanks to Buddha. i thought about all the good things that happened that day, and put all the bad out of my mind. i remained positive throughout the day, that it would all be fine. and i let go of my fear and anxiety before dinner.
i let it go and celebrated my last night in Bangkok with two new friends. Because I was leaving for Chiang Mai the next day, and I couldn’t wait.