When thinking about our experience in Bangkok, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to start with this story. There are so many things that I want to cover to make sure other people don’t fall for one of the same scams in Bangkok. Apparently there are numerous scams in Bangkok and the “Lucky Buddha” scam is just one of them.
First, I do want to mention that even though we were tricked into being a part of this scam, nothing bad happened to us. We also didn’t spend any money, and in then end the tuk tuk driver that tried to scam us was probably more frustrated than we were. I think we were more frustrated that we didn’t realize right away that it was a scam. We also didn’t realize exactly how elaborate the whole scam was until we looked it up on the internet later that day.
What is the “Lucky Buddha” Scam?
Like I said, there are many different scams and all of them probably run a little different compared to each other. The short summary of the lucky Buddha scam is this:
We’ve read that some are gem/jewelry scams and others can be clothing/suit scams, but both seem to happen in very similar ways. All these people want you to do is buy something from their shop. I don’t know if any of them are legit, but the fact that they have to run these scams in order to get people to their shops makes me think they’re not.
The scams are pretty elaborate and usually involve at least two people that will come off as very charming and friendly in order to gain your trust. At the end of this article you can read the full story of our scam experience and how we dealt with it.
How to Avoid Scams in Bangkok
The best way to avoid scams is to realize it’s a scam from the start. Here are some helpful tips to sniff out a scam:
- Don’t trust anyone that tells you a temple or palace is closed. 99% of the time this is a lie. Say “thanks for letting us know” and find the main entrance. Usually you’ll find that the temple is open and the guy that approached you was trying to scam you.
- There is no Lucky Buddha. Avoid anyone that mentions it. That’s all. Just ignore them.
- There is no special day the factories are open to the public. Also, these tuk tuk drivers will not bring you to a factory, they will bring you to a shop. If you are actually interested in buying jewelry or a custom made suit, I would ask your hotel if they can recommend a reputable shop you can go to.
What to Do If You Realize You’re Caught in a Scam
- Don’t panic. These people are NOT trying to hurt you, they are trying to make money.
- Ask the driver to take you back to where they picked you up. This may work, if the driver realizes you’re not going to buy something. Tell him you’re not interested in buying anything and you would just like to go back to where he picked you up.
- Slip out quietly. If the driver seems persistent, you may need to just find your own way back to your hotel or where you were picked up. If you want to get away I would recommend doing it at your next temple stop. Whatever entrance your driver dropped you off at, just go out a different way and get a taxi or tuk tuk back to where you want to be.
Our “Lucky Buddha” Scam Experience
We were staying at the Inn a Day Bangkok hotel which was conveniently just a few blocks from some of the main temples and attractions in the area. We left our hotel that morning and headed over towards Wat Pho to start our tour of temples for the day. On our way around the back side of Wat Pho we stopped to look at our map quickly where we were approached by a tuk tuk driver that asked us what our plans were for the day. We were very vague and just said that we were planning to see some temples and wander around… basically just trying to brush him off. He was friendly though and told us that Wat Pho was closed that morning because it was a religious holiday and the monks were praying.
Looking back, this is where Lynn said she should have known it was a scam. She had read some things online before we left the states about the scams in Bangkok, but she said it just didn’t register in her mind at the time. Anyway, when we didn’t call him out and walk away I think the guy knew he had us.
He continued, telling us that he could take us to other temples that were open, and when we were done he would bring us back to Wat Pho in the afternoon when it would be open again. We were intrigued, because some of the places he was going to bring us were places we wanted to go. Lynn bargained with him and we agreed to pay him $4 for the day.
What happened next is what Lynn and I always think back to and remember, because our driver went through such a dramatic transformation from the moment we met him to the moment he dropped us off 4 hours later.
As our driver brought us to our first stop, the Buddha of Wat Indrawiharn, he was our best friend. He told us how he loved America and American culture. He made pop culture references and talked about American politics… joking about Bill Clinton and Hollywood celebrities. Our driver even went as far as offering us the opportunity to get behind the wheel of his tuk tuk and drive. We didn’t take him up on that offer, but we did have him take a few pictures of us sitting behind the wheel pretending to drive. For the first 45 minutes of our trip with him he was laughing, joking and talked only about doing whatever we wanted to do… anything to make us happy.
During our initial conversation with him, he offered to take us to 3 different locations:
- Buddha of Wat Indra Viharn (also known as the Tall Buddha)
- The so-called “Lucky Buddha”
- Wat Benchamabophit
While we rode with him to the Buddha of Wat Indrawiharn, he also mentioned that it was a very special day in Bangkok and he would take us to the suit factories. We told him we weren’t interested in buying any suits, and we just wanted to go to the temples. He continued though, saying that this was the last day of a very special event where they open the factories to the public. Even if we didn’t want to buy a suit, it was very interesting to visit the factories. I’ll admit, at this point we were both questioning what we may have gotten into.
We continued though and after our first stop he brought us to the temple of the lucky Buddha (FYI, this isn’t an actual thing, it’s made up). I read something about how the Thai people consider all Buddhas to be lucky. I should also mention that he gave us a map with all of our stops circled on it. We carried the map with us into our next temple, which was all part of his plan. Looking back, at this point we really should have noticed all of the signs, but just kept going because nothing really bad had happened… we were just visiting temples.
Our driver walked in through the temple gates with us and told us we had to walk up the stairs and in through the temple doors to see the lucky Buddha. We didn’t realize until later, but it was all part of the scam. He wanted us to walk in exactly where we did so that we would “randomly” meet this stranger that was also visiting the lucky Buddha. This man was well educated, friendly, and spoke English very well. He was a business man that traveled a lot. He asked us what brought us to the lucky Buddha and we told him that our tuk tuk driver had brought us here. He asked us where else we were planning to go so we showed him the map that our driver had given us. The man noticed the circle for the factory and asked us what we were going to do there. It’s funny because Lynn actually told the man that she thought our driver was trying to pull one over on us and bring us to some suit shop to buy suits. The man actually said, “What makes you think he would do that?” He was a good liar and a good story teller though. Without us giving any information he told us the same story that our driver had told us, about the factories being open to the public. He said it was on the news this morning (didn’t we watch the news this morning? of course he knew we hadn’t). He himself had bought a suit for this business travels the other day that was deeply discounted.
This tactic is the brilliant part of it all… If one person tells you something, it may be hard to believe them, but if two complete strangers tell you the same story it makes it easier to believe.
The man at the temple didn’t just try to sell us on the story of the factory though. He was very conversational and he continued to talk about his job and asked us questions about what brought us to Bangkok. He even brought us into the temple and taught us the proper way to pray to the lucky Buddha (which is common and you’ll notice a lot of other scam stories mention this as well).
We left the lucky Buddha temple and headed to the “factory” before we would continue to our final temple stop. Lynn and I figured we would walk around a little and then leave so that we could continue to Wat Benchamabophit. We pulled up to a building that was not a factory at all and our driver told us to go through the doors. That is when everything got weird.
We walked through the doors into a suit shop and were greeted by a salesman. Looking around, the only people in the shop were other westerners just like us. I think we were all looking at each other wondering what we were doing in this shop and if we had all fallen for the same scam. The salesmen we talked to were aggressive and every answer we had for why we didn’t need a suit, they had a reason why we did need one. It was frustrating and uncomfortable, but after a few minutes we said “no thank you” and left.
After that we told our driver we weren’t interested in buying a suit and thought that would be the end of it. He said OK and we headed off to Wat Benchamabophit. I was a little annoyed by the whole thing and when we got to Wat Benchamabophit we even discussed just walking out a different entrance and catching a tuk tuk back to Wat Pho. We didn’t do that, because we had agreed to pay him money, but we also didn’t know how elaborate and ridiculous the whole situation would get… Starting with our driver checking on us in the temple to make sure we hadn’t disappeared on him.
When we left Wat Benchamabophit our driver was supposed to bring us back to Wat Pho so that we could continue our day. He told us that he wanted to bring us to one more suit shop. We said no, that we weren’t interested. He asked us if please he could just bring us to one more, so that he could get gas cards for bringing customers to the shop. It was very important to him. We really just wanted to get back to Wat Pho, so we agreed to go to one more shop so he could get his gas cards and then he would bring us back to where he picked us up. We made it clear to him that we would not be buying a suit though.
This time we walked into the suit shop, walked around and when we were approached by a salesman we just said we weren’t really interested and within a couple minutes we left. As we walked out, we could see that our driver did not look very happy. We shouldn’t even have asked what was wrong, but we did. He said that we didn’t stay in the shop long enough so he didn’t get his gas cards. We actually asked him how much he would actually have to pay for the gas if he didn’t have the gas cards. He said it would be around 500 baht (around $15). Not something we were willing to just give him, but later we also learned that 500 baht was a lie too. The gas cards were for 5 liters of gas, and 5 liters of gas was not worth $15.
Writing this just really bothers me now, because I can’t believe we continued to get pulled into this scam… but for some reason we agreed to go to one more suit shop and stay inside for 10 minutes so he could get his full gas card. I think the main reasons we agreed to it was because:
- He was very good at making us feel bad for him, and
- We had no clue where we were and just wanted to make sure we could get back to a more familiar area.
We went into the next shop and I checked the time right as we walked in. We looked around, talked to a few salesmen and even went through the motions of potentially picking out a suit and buying one. We were looking at different colors and styles, and every two minutes I was looking at the time. Ten minutes seemed to take forever. After ten minutes, I even decided to stay an extra couple minutes to make sure we were in there long enough. After pretending for ten minutes that we were interested, it was hard to just walk out the door because they thought they had us ready to buy a suit. We left though and when we walked out Lynn said to our driver, “Did we stay long enough for you to get your cards?” That infuriated him. He didn’t want us mentioning it anywhere near the shop.
When we got to the tuk tuk he asked us if we had bought a suit. We told him no, and he was livid. It was a complete 180 from the laughing, joking guy that had picked us up outside of Wat Pho. Now he was telling us that in order for him to get paid he needed us to buy a suit. Well, that wasn’t going to happen and we were very clear about that from the beginning. I guess he just thought that the shop salesmen would be able to convince us to buy a suit. Apparently he knew very little about how cheap Lynn and I are.
That wasn’t the end though because we still had to get back to Wat Pho, where he had picked us up. From this point on he did not say another word and he drove like a maniac weaving in and out of traffic. It was a little scary, but I realized we were at least headed in the right direction. He ended up dropping us off further north of where he picked us up, but it was close enough. When we got out of the tuk tuk I held out his money that we owed him and he snapped it out of my hand. At that point, I don’t think he even cared about the $4, but he took it.
Even though we kind of kick ourselves for actually falling for the scam, it ended up being an interesting story to tell and we got to ride around Bangkok for just $4. After all that it almost feels like we were the ones that scammed him, because we got him to take us to a couple places we wanted to visit and we didn’t pay much for it.
I still wonder how many tourists fall victim to this scam and actually end up buying stuff. Both of the scammers we interacted with were very friendly and convincing. They are truly experts at what they do.
My advice for people traveling to Bangkok is to just be aware of what’s going on around you. I don’t think that any of these people are trying to hurt anyone, but they do want to make money. Getting caught in one of these scams is more a waste of time than it is anything else. Aside from this, we still had a great time in Bangkok and got to see quite a bit.