The Previously Mentioned Jewel Scam....

So as I had mentioned before, we almost got scammed while we were in Bangkok. We were attempting to go a temple, but almost just before we got there, we met a student who was studying English at the university nearby and he asked us where we were going and when we told him, he told us that because it was New Year's Day, only Thai people were allowed in for prayers and tourists could not go in today. We showed him our map of Bangkok and he showed us some other places we could go instead. There was a sitting Buddha, a standing Buddha and a temple that you could climb to the top of and see the entire city. He also explained to us the difference between taxis & tuk tuks owned by the government (drivers only pay gas) and owned by private companies (drivers pay gas and rent their tuk tuk or taxi). He told us that the government taxis and tuk tuks would have great rates because of it being the first day of the new year. He told us that we would be able to find a tuk tuk driver to take us to all three sites for no more than 40 baht. He also taught us the word "conyan" which he told us means "wait". We left him and went a little bit down the street to a tuk tuk that was pulled over on the side of the road and the Jay showed the driver what we wanted to do and the driver offered to do it all for 50 baht. We said 40, he agreed and we piled in. While we were doing this, the nice student came back and started talking to Jay again and when Jay got in the tuk tuk, he told us the student told him about a silk sale that was going on and was having it's last day today. He put it on our map, too, and it was between the first and second place. Our driver took us to the first site where we saw two really nice temples, one of which had a very large sitting Buddha that was quite lovely. We took some pictures, climbed back in the tuk tuk and when we did, the driver asked if we would mind if he went to the bathroom, which we didn't, so off he went. While he was gone, another man came over to us and started talking to us about where we were from, etc. He said he was a lawyer from New York (went to Cornell) and had been there for about 16 years and was home visiting his father and brother (who was a monk at the temple). He then asked us what we were up to that day and we told him what we were doing and he started raving about the silk sale, how amazing it was and how usually, tourists are not allowed in but for a few days they were and this was the last day. He said the prices were AMAZING for suits ($150 for an Armani suit) and that they kept your measurements on file and would send you a suit at Thai prices any time you wanted. Shortly after that, our driver came back and asked us where next and we said we wanted to go to the Golden Mountain (the last stop) and he tried to convince us to go to the silk sale, saying he got free gas if we did. He tried to get us to go for just one minute but we stayed firm and said we wanted to go to Golden Mountain. He finally took off and ignored what we asked and took us to the silk sale anyway. We got out of the tuk tuk, didn't pay him and went on our merry way, walking to Golden Mountain (and meeting someone else who tried to scam us on the way).

So, here's what one website has to say about the jewel scams here... See if you can find the similarities :
It usually starts with a male stranger approaching you on the way to or nearby any of main tourist attractions, and telling you that you can't go in at the moment. They can come up with dozens of reasons why: "Oh didn't you know it's a Buddhist holiday today", "closed for cleaning", "closed for repairs", "closed because the monks are chanting now", "it's only open on Wednesdays" etc. By far the best approach is just to ignore anyone trying to talk to you on the way in, which may seem rude but it can be very difficult to get away if you start any conversation with them. In the vast majority of cases, there is absolutely no truth in what they are saying, it's just a ruse to get you started in conversation with them. If the place really is closed, find out for yourself from the entrance and don't take anyone's word for it. No one is going to be offended if you try and enter, even if it really is closed for a holiday.

A lot of people understandably don't want to offend or appear ignorant of Thai culture and so are talked out of going to Wat Pho or wherever it is they really intended to go. But not to worry, your new friend knows somewhere equally impressive that is still open - "the famous 100m high Standing Buddha temple". It's not mentioned in your guidebook for some reason, but he will kindly mark the location of it on your map for you. He may also casually talk about a special promotion on gems or jewelry that is on today, but will put no pressure on you to buy any.

After another 5 or 10 minutes of conversation, he will usually offer to arrange a tuk-tuk ride for you to the new temple at a bargain price (10B/20B, say, or even for free) explaining that tuk-tuks overcharge tourists and so he can get that the price that cheap for you because he is Thai. Alternatively, they claim that by taking you there and then to a special export shop they get free petrol coupons and so that is why it is cheap. Either way it's worth remembering that tuk-tuks are no cheaper than taxis in Bangkok, and you can pretty much guarantee that if you are offered even a short ride for less than 40B there is something dodgy going on.

At the new temple (the so-called 'Standing Buddha temple', 'Lucky Buddha temple' etc - really just an average temple in an out-of-the-way location), the tuk-tuk driver waits outside while you go in. Inside you'll be fortunate enough to meet a smartly dressed Thai man who speaks excellent English, and claims to be a university professor / business man / student / tourist official etc. You'll chat for a while (they often have excellent knowledge about your home country), and eventually the conversation gets round to jewelry and gems, confirming the special deal on at the moment that the man on the street mentioned earlier. Essentially, this special deal involves bulk buying gems at a low price in Thailand in order to resell them for a vast profit in your home country. This is dressed up in any number of ways - you don't buy from a shop but from a special "international export center", today is a special export day, it's an opportunity previously only open to Thai students to finance their studies abroad but now tourists can do it as well, there's a special tax break today, it's part of a tourism promotion, it's a wholesale factory price, backed by the government, you get a certificate of authenticity and a money back guarantee etc etc...And if you don't want to buy, why not come along anyway because the experts are happy to teach you about the famous Thai gems for free ?

This is all an elaborate set of lies of course, and you're simply being set up to spend a small fortune on the 'bargain' gems. The man will even mark the location of the gem shop on the map in your Lonely Planet guide for you, so you can tell the tuk-tuk driver where to go. The tuk-tuk driver, who ten minutes before could barely speak any English let alone read a map written in it, looks at your map and strangely enough knows exactly where to go.

On to the gem shop, and you are well looked after with personal service from the manager, free drinks etc. There then follows a high-pressure sales pitch, after which far too many people are persuaded to spend in the region of 100 000B (US$2500), 200 000B (US$5000) or more on gems which they hope to resell at a profit in their home country. The gem shops often pay lowlife foreigners to linger in their shop posing as a customer and casually mention to you that for years they have bought Thai gems from this shop, sold them back in France / USA / Singapore / etc, and have made loads of money doing it. For many people, the knowledge that a fellow foreigner has done it successfully is what finally persuades them to buy. To ensure you get the gems out of Thailand safely, with no problems from customs etc, the shop will offer to mail the gems to your country for you. When you actually come to buy the gems, you may find the shop doesn't have the facilities to accept credit cards itself, rather you have to go and buy gold from a nearby shop with your card and then pay them in the gold you just purchased.

What most people find out soon enough when they try and sell them is that the expensively purchased "gems" are really only worth a tiny fraction of what you paid for them. If you're lucky, you're just sold pretty bits of worthless cut-glass (if you wonder why this is lucky, see what to do after being scammed). Either way, virtually all the money that was spent on the gems is now lost. The receipt, money back guarantee and certificate of authenticity are barely worth the paper they're printed on. The reason the shop wants to mail them abroad for you is, of course, to stop you coming back and demanding your money back when you realise what's happened. Though chances of getting your money back aren't great even when you still have the "gems" with you, they are non-existent if you have mailed them abroad. For a similar reason, after you've made your purchase they may take you sightseeing around Bangkok, take you for a meal, on a night out etc all to try and reduce the amount of time you have to realise you've been scammed. If you've sent the gems abroad, the time they spend taking you round Bangkok is using up the precious time you have of getting to the mail center on time to intercept your package before it leaves the country.

P.S. We later found out that "conyan" means "little penis"

It's been a busy couple of days!

I like Asia. I'm tall here.