Over at our sister blogs at BangkokScams.com, someone recently sent us a report of a scam that they experienced at the Bangkok train station at Hua Lamphong. This station is a major terminal that serves lines to the north, northeast, east and south of Thailand. We were told that last year he was scammed by a Thai person that told him that there were no seats left on the train and that he would be better off going by coach. He was then taken to a nearby travel agents. I decided to do some undercover work and I drove into Bangkok yesterday to see if I could duplicate this scam. Time had passed and I wanted to know if the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) or the State Railway of Thailand had clamped down on this scam or not.
I walked into the station from the side entrance. I had a daypack to give the impression that I was going on a short trip somewhere. I decided my destination would be Surat Thani. I wandered around a bit looking lost to see if I could get any nibbles. Nothing. On the far side of the concourse was a large information booth that looked official. I decided to go over there and ask for a timetable for the train. I felt that I needed more props. Next to the counter there was a sign that warned people in English not to trust anyone that came up to you to sell tickets. It was starting to look like maybe that the local authorities were actually doing something about the scams here after all. But, I decided to persevere. I continued to wander around in circles looking lost and confused. I glanced down at the timetable and then up at the ticket booths.
Finally I got a bite. A guy came up to me with an official looking i.d. card around his neck that said “Tourist Information”. He asked in good English where I was going. I said Surat Thani. He then asked where I would go next. I said Koh Samui. Then I kicked myself. I had pronounced it with a Thai accent. I should have said “ko” as in “low”. He continued to give me advice but didn’t offer to buy me tickets or anything. No sign of a scam but this guy was being too helpful to be true. Out of the corner of my eye I could see other scammers lurking but they were keeping their distance. I decided to leave and approach the station again from a different direction.
Around the front of the station I had better luck. I spotted three Thai ladies working the farang crowd. Around their neck they were wearing i.d. cards. It wasn’t long before I was approached and she asked me where I was going. I repeated my story. She told me that she worked for the Tourist Authority of Thailand, she flashed me the official logo, and said she would take me to the travel agents to buy the train ticket. She took me around the side of the station where I could see a row of shops all with the words “TAT” on banners. One even said “Lonely Planet” as if the famous publisher approved of them. Now, I knew that to be a travel agent you need to have a license from the TAT. But this scam artist was giving me the impression that her office WAS the TAT. You should know that the TAT only give out free tourism information. They don’t sell tickets. So, don’t be fooled by these people.
She took me to the shop called Tongchai Tour and I was told to sit down. She promptly left to look for more prey. I decided to play along to see where this was going. I got a free drink which was good as I was thirsty by this time. I told the travel agent where I wanted to go. He said that there were two trains that I could catch. Actually, I already knew that there were eleven trains per day that went to Surat Thani as I had the timetable in my pocket. So, lie number one. I said that I wanted to go for the 7.30 p.m. train. He said he would ring and check. After a short phone conversation he told me the bad news. No tickets left. However, I was in luck. I could catch one of their VIP buses that would take me to Koh Samui for only 900 baht. I said I would think about. I asked for his namecard so that I could ring him about it later. Mr. Janchai gave me his card and I left.
Now, this wasn’t a positive scam yet, though he was giving me misleading information about the number of trains available. He should have said to me, “could I go at another time”. I needed to confirm it was a scam by going back to the station to see if I could still buy a ticket by myself. This is easy to do. You can in fact book tickets up to 60 days in advance so there is no real need for you to use any of these local travel agents. If you go to the concourse, at the far side there is the information booth that I told you about (see picture below). There is a sign here pointing out the advance booking office. When I went in, the place was empty, but very efficient. I asked the guy in English about the availability of tickets on the Surat Thani train. He said that there were some left but they were running out fast. That confirmed it. I was scammed. I don’t know who Mr Janchai telephoned, but it obviously wasn’t this office.
Whenever you are travelling in Thailand, don’t trust blindly anyone that approaches you and who speaks in perfect English. As a rule, Thai people are shy and are nervous about using English. These people all had i.d. cards around their neck. Some said TAT. It is easy for the scammers to make these cards themselves. They are two a penny. If you are at a train or bus station then buy the ticket yourself. There is no need to make use of these scam artists who just want to direct you to travel agents which give them a nice fat commission. There is no point giving these guys a commission when you can easily do everything yourself. One final word. Only a small minority of Thai people that work in the Tourism industry are scammers. If you are approached by a Thai person then please give them the benefit of the doubt. If you are not sure about their integrity, then just say politely that you have to go. If you know that they are a scammer then just tell them that you saw their picture on BangkokScams.com!
If you have experienced a scam in Bangkok, or while travelling around Thailand, then please submit your report at BangkokScams.com. Don’t forget to give details of the location. We will then do our best to investigate the scam. If we all work together, we can then beat these scammers at their own game.
Visit ThailandPhotoMap.com to see this location on Google Earth.
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