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Bangkok infamous Grand Palace tuk-tuk Gem Scam

January 29th, 2010

The previous post, Places to visit and things to do in Bangkok – Part 2 mentioned about Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.

The photos taken was actually the second trip to Grand Palace.

During the first trip, it was intercepted and I was diverted to somewhere else. Participated in Ocean’s 11 5.

One fine early morning, I walked to the Grand Palace and it appeared to be closed.

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Although my sixth sense told me I probably went to the wrong side and that the entrance should be somewhere else, a fine young man passed by and politely asked if I was visiting the Grand Palace and if I’m a Thai.

He said that usually the palace is open for visit from 8.30am but on that particular day, there was a ceremony and only Thai people are allowed to enter. I should come back at 12pm.

At the meantime, he recommended a few places nearby which are Standing Buddha temple, Sitting Buddha temple and a wholesale factory.

He also informed me that the Thai Tourism is running promotion for tourists, and Tuk-Tuk gets free gasoline from the government to bring tourists around at a mere 20 baht per hour!

He easily flagged a tuk-tuk that passed by and told him the places to visit and for three hours to charge me 60 baht only.

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At such a cheap fare, I hopped onto the tuk-tuk without any second thought! Thanking the ‘Good Samaritan’, the photo above shows him continuing his journey while I went on board for temple visits.

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First stop was the Standing Buddha temple, which is actually Wat Indrawiharn. There weren’t many visitors, a few European tourists and some locals too.
The tuk-tuk driver was still waiting outside when I got out.

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He then dropped me at a Sitting Buddha temple. I have no idea what is the actual name and this time, there weren’t any visitors in the temple, save for a ’security person’ that take cares of the place. The temple actually consists of two sides with the Buddha statues in both of them. Each has a ’security person’ and in short, both recommended a visit to the factory that sells jewellery. It is a wholesale or factory that is usually not open to the public.

It is now open to public for a seven day sale to attract visitors as the number of tourists to their country are diminishing through protest and bad economy. The sales are tax free and they are certified jewellers, and the goods can be refunded in foreign countries through Thai embassy.

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Since it wasn’t that all interesting to visit any other temples, I then told the tuk-tuk driver that I would like to pay the factory a visit. The driver acknowledges and drove straight to a gem store.

I had photos of the temple ’security person’ with a wide smile, the tuk-tuk driver and the gem store entrance. However, I figure this time around I shouldn’t publish them.

Gem Store or Factory
Upon arriving the gem store, a sales person opened the door, invited me in and briefed that they are certified and their goods are meant for wholesale, usually sold to shops in shopping complex (MBK) and not to the public directly.
He asked what is my budget and I told him I was only looking around, but long story short, I selected some and swiped my credit card for them.
Their service is so good that the sales person offered to secure my purchase there for safekeeping and to send a driver to pick me up before my return flight to collect them.
He advised that I should not take tuk-tuk or taxi as they will be given commission if they send me there. I proceeded to seal and sign the envelope and then left the shop.

On the way back with the tuk-tuk, although I had some doubts about the purchase and the so-called promotion, I figured if it is a scam and the it started in the early morning from the first person I met at Grand Palace, that would be an Ocean’s 11 (ok, five only) type of scam.
Don’t you think so?

And I did told you earlier that I participated in the Ocean 5. Yes, it was an elaborate type of scam.
I cannot believe myself that they are all linked! A syndicate.

Reveal of the Scam
The turning point was when I went back to the hotel, I :
1) Asked the receptionist if there’s such thing as tuk-tuk promotion for tourists (they said no, and most likely is a taxi or tuk-tuk group that run such campaign)
2) Got into the room and called Grand Palace number, they said they are not closed in the morning and open everyday!
3) Search the internet with the gem store name and boom…. list of tourists asking if the Gem Store is legit and they got diverted in their tourist attraction and cheap tuk-tuk trips to temples just like what happened to me!

Realization
I am now CONFIRMED a fool.

Well, to my consolation, I did not take the goods earlier and I thought I could just cancel the transaction and everything will be fine.

Another PITA
I made a call to Maybank (long haul call, from Bangkok to Malaysia) gone through the automated voice system for ‘Credit Card’ and got waiting for 15 mins.
I got impatient as I knew it like the back of my hand that I will have to wait for cows to come home for calls to be attended to during working hours.
Next thing I did was I selected the Report Lost Card option and told them I got a fraud transaction and heck they transfer me to the ‘Credit Card’ department again. This time I waited for one whole freaking hour. 60 minutes to be exact!
I called Maybank and selected the Report Lost Card option again and started to raise my voice that I’m calling from Bangkok and I took one whole hour waiting without anybody attending to me. This time the customer service at the other end diverted me to the next available personnel for credit card and I was then attended to.
Unfortunately, the transaction has been posted. That’s quick considering some merchants only post the transaction at the end of the day or the next day. So the only way for me is to call the merchant requesting them to void the transaction. :-(
Just so you know, the calls to Maybank costed me more than 1000 baht, yeah, just to WAIT for them to attend to me, because the operators are STILL busy, and they will attend to me SHORTLY while all the operators are always STILL busy, and I will be attended to SHORTLY….

So, the next most important thing to do is to call the Gem Store requesting them to void my transaction. This is tricky. How do you get back to the person who made such a elaborate scam to get your money and then for them to refund you back?
Do or die.
They did ask me what was the problem and I just said I need my credit back into my card, and since the goods are still with them, I wouldn’t be travelling over to the store get a refund.
Luckily, the second call to them was successful and the guy at the other end confirmed that the transaction has been voided.

I did a check with Maybank again (only successful the next early morning around 6am) to verify that the transaction doesn’t exist anymore.

Beware
So I’d just like to share my foolishness to you, as a lesson for all, that while you do search for places to visit on the internet, try searching with SCAM keyword too.

Apparently, this Grand Palace and Gem scam has been dated as old as 2003! I only have myself to blame.

When I Googled for the scam stories, it seems that many had fallen into such scams and some even had more trouble getting their money back. I should be considered fortunate.

Some of those worth reading:
Top 10 Scams in Thailand
Bangkok Tourist Traps
Bangkok Warnings
The Great Tuk-Tuk Scam!
Bangkok and the gems set up…
This Ain’t No Magic Carpet Ride…

I have learnt my lesson, please do not fall into the same trap. :-)

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Bangkok Trip, Travel and Fun – Part 2

January 22nd, 2010

This post is a sequel to Bangkok Trip, Travel and Fun – Part 1.

Chatuchak Weekend Market / JJ Market

If you’re planning a holiday to Bangkok, make sure if falls on a weekend or at least for a Saturday or Sunday!
This is because you must pay a visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market or better known as JJ Market. Your Bangkok shopping trip will not be complete without this.

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Image from thailandforvisitors.com

Chatuchak market open only on weekends and the stalls are open by 10am till evening. It is easily accessible and within walking distance of Mo Chit station of the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line.
Taking the BTS train that you will be awed by the size of the market, with the view of it from the skytrain.

Notice the number of taxis and vans parked by the road from the photo below. (Can you see something else that is wrong with the photo?)
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The place is quite compact and the pathways are narrow. There are too many shops for you to shop around in a day.
The stalls are categorized to sections but you can still see different types of goods sold everywhere in the market.

Tips for visiting Chatuchak weekend market:
Wear light clothes, do not wear long pants as it is extremely warm. Do go early.
Bargaining is expected, if not mandatory, at Chatuchak and the prices are generally substantially cheaper than the shopping centers and street stalls on Silom and Sukhumvit.
Beware of pickpockets and careful of your belongings.

If you’re one that thinks the price and value of your purchase ranks higher than your comfort during your shopping, this might be your shopping heaven. The prices of goods are cheapest here as compared to the city’s shopping complex or roadside stalls. Learn how to bargain!

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

The Grand Palace of Bangkok served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards. The Grand Palace is now opened for public visit ever since the present King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, relocated permanently to the Chitralada Palace.

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Clockwise from topleft:
1. The entry sign that shows DO NOT TRUST WILLY STRANGERS. We had an interesting misadventure on that, and more on that in the next post.
2. Many mythological giants like these that guard the temples.
3. Palace guard that does not move (except his eyes).
4. Ticketing counters before the entrance. Thai enters for free. Remember to wear decently before your visit.

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The Emerald Buddha (fourth from left) sits high up on an altar of gold designed to represent the traditional aerial chariot (Busabok, Sk. Pushpaka) attributed to Hindu gods on the murals of this country.

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Before you exit the Grand Palace, there is a Wat Phra Keo Museum that display samples of architectural temple fragments that have been replaced by new ones.
Cannons (above) are all lined up in display.

Chinatown / Yaowarat

Chinatown is Chinese community centric area and is a colourful, exotic and busy area, packed with market stalls and probably the greatest concentration of gold shops in the city.

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Most of the vendors here are able to speak Mandarin.

In Chinatown, I visited Lao Li (now Overseas Restaurant – 海外天) for a small bowl of claypot Shark Fin’s soup.

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Learn more about Bangkok’s Chinatown here.

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Central World shopping center and Bangkok’s traffic.

Baiyoke Tower II

Baiyoke (bye-yook) Tower II is located on 222 Rajprarop Road in the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok, Thailand, and is the country’s tallest building.
It contains the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia, with an open-air 360-degree revolving roof deck on the 84th floor.

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While the revolving roof deck is open 1030 – 2230 daily, I figured that Bangkok’s skyline at night would be much better than the morning view.

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You might want to have your dinner at the tower as there are quite a number of restaurants for your choosing. Do make early reservation and you might want to ask for window seats. After your dinner you will still have time for a skyline view of Bangkok at the revolving platform on 84th floor and the observation deck at 78th floor.

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Photo above is the Central World shopping mall viewed from Baiyoke Sky. Notice the heavy traffic in front of the mall.

To get to Baiyoke Tower II, you can take the BTS to Chit Lom of Sukhumvit line, follow the signboard to Central World and you may choose to take a taxi or tuk-tuk if the traffic permits. Walking is also possible and the distance is around 1km. It is advisable to walk as the heavy traffic might costs you both time and money.

My preferred drink:
OISHI Green Tea (green cap – the others are not as good)
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No, this is not advertorial but the Oishi Green Tea is what replenishes the dehydration of the body during the entire trip, besides having plain water and coconut.

Holiday in Bangkok?
In my opinion, Bangkok is a holiday destination that is value for money.
It is a very attractive city for shopping and the local people are nice and friendly.
However, the locals might speak very little English except for hotel staff.
Do take caution though as there are some things you should learn being tourists in Bangkok.

Have you been to Bangkok and is there anything you liked or disliked there? Please comment below this post.

Up next : The misadventures in Bangkok.

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Bangkok Trip, Travel and Fun – Part 1

January 19th, 2010

During my last two posts about Phuket here and here, it is my visit to Thailand.
Following the Phuket trip, I flown from Phuket to Bangkok, and it’s quite cheap with Thai AirAsia. :-)

Like to know what are the interesting places and activities I visited?

Chao Phraya Cruise

The Chao Phraya (Thai: แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา) is a major river in Thailand. By now, you might have known that I booked most of the tours from Hotels2Thailand.

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I was interested with the Chao Phraya cruise as it is a 2 hour cruise program with dinner on a cruise along the Chao Phraya river with scenic views.

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Click to enlarge

The very friendly customer service of Hotels2Thailand recommended me to travel by taxi to the River Pier this time around as it is much cheaper than getting the additional charges for pickup, due to the hotel that I stay is near. Again, I am delighted with the Thais’ efficiency in work and friendliness.

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The booking, as we know when we arrived River Pier 1 at Siphraya (Charoen Krung 30 Rd.) is that we will be boarding the Chao Phraya Princess Cruise 3.

There were many such cruises providing dinner and with similar program.

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It was a buffet-style dinner suitable for family, groups and also romantic for couples.

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Passengers can also mobilize to the front of the cruise to enjoy the wind and scenic views by the Chao Phraya river.
The passengers are entertained by singers and the dance floor is open for everyone after the dinner.

Learn more about it from Hotels2Thailand or ThaiCruise.com.

Sightseeing and shopping

They say that Bangkok is a shopping haven.
Travelling with BTS, you can stop at Siam station and within walking distance, you can shop at Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Siam Center or MBK Center, all within Siam Square which is a shopping and entertainment area in the Siam District.

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Things are cheaper at MBK center as it is a shopping complex more than a shopping mall.

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I went for the Mc Donald’s samurai pork burger as well.

Tony Roma’s

In Bangkok, along the streets you can see hawkers selling various types of food and something that I don’t see often in Malaysia is pork noodles, and pork rice.

That brings us to the Tony Roma’s!

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When Tony Roma’s first came to Malaysia, I yearned to try their baby back ribs again, but unfortunately, Malaysian Tony Roma’s only serves beef.

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Tony Roma’s famous baby back ribs, are porky. They are juicy, tender and super soft.
Well, if you’re non pork eater, you may want to try their appetizer sampler. The sauce for the Fire Wings are the same as the baby back ribs if I’m not mistaken.

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There are only two Tony Roma’s restaurants in Bangkok.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

The floating market is a one of the place you have to visit. Although I have been to Bangkok before, this is my first time to the floating market and it is truly an eye-opener.
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is located at Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi Province, about 105 kms from Bangkok.

The tour that I signed up for include round trip transfer (pick up from hotel but return to Khao San Road). It is a very good tour, for only 350 baht per person, you get to travel more than 100km from Bangkok and back, and with boat paddling service provided along the floating market.

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Apply sun protection cream and remember your sun glasses. :-)

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Vendors make sales on their own boat, as well as those that put up their stalls by the river.

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After one round of paddling through the floating market, you will be given time to walk around the market before travelling back with their van transfer.

The coconut ice-cream is my favourite. Pork noodles and tom yam noodles by the river is a must-try. Price around 25 baht a bowl only.

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If you’d like to visit the floating market, as recommended by a friend of mine, I joined the Mama Travel & Tour as it is much cheaper than the other advertised tour.

Mama Travel & Tour
144 Khao san Rd., Pranakorn, Bangkok,10200
Tel : 02-6291163,02-6291045
Fax : 02-6291046
email : mamatour1 [at] hotmail [dot] com

More details of the floating market here and here.

Up next : Bangkok Trip, Travel and Fun – Part 2

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