Bangkok

Fake Tourism Authority of Thailand – Lucky Buddha Scam Bangkok

Disclaimer: Before you read the article let me be clear, the experience I talk about here has nothing to do with the real Tourism Authority of Thailand and they are in no way connected to this. They are legitimate. This experience is about a travel agency and a bunch of scammers making you believe that you are be interacting with the Tourism Authority of Thailand when in fact you are not.

It’s just day number 3 in Bangkok and I have already been scammed!

I had heard before coming to Bangkok that scams are quite common here but I never thought I would fall for it. So here’s what happened.

My husband and I were walking from our hotel, near Khao San road, to a temple nearby. We were using Google maps for directons to the temple.

A Friendly Stranger

A stranger passing by noticed this and beckoned us. We ignored him at first, but then he approached us and asked us where we wanted to go. His English was very good and he seemed very friendly. After giving us directions to the temple we were looking for, he advised us about all the places we should visit while in Bangkok. He even taught us how to say “thank you” and “hello” in Thai. We were very pleased with how warm the locals seemed. That was the beginning of the scam.

The stranger then mentioned that it was “Lucky Buddha day” today, a special day which happens only once a year. On this day, entrance to certain temples is free and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) offers 20% discount on hotel and travel bookings. He advised us to book our hotels through Tourism Authority of Thailand only as they are the best source of information and cheap deals. He also asked us to take a tuk tuk that would take us around to some temples and Tourism Authority of Thailand at just 40 Baht as part of the “Lucky Buddha Day” deal.

We thanked him and were about to set off on our own. However, he insisted that we should take a tuk tuk as the walk up to the temple is quite long and immediately called a nearby tuk tuk. He spoke to the tuk tuk driver in Thai and told him where to take us and how much to charge. We felt this was a bit weird but we couldn’t decline as he was being so nice to us. This was the second mistake.

Tuk Tuk Ride and More Friendly Locals

The tuk tuk driver took us to three temples. The temples were not as impressive as other Bangkok temples we had already seen. However, the temple didn’t charge any entrance fee so we just shrugged it off.

In the second temple, there was another “friendly” stranger who approached us. He asked us where we were from. He also talked about the Lucky Buddha day and the deals at Tourism Authority of Thailand . However, he said that the Lucky Buddha day happens every week. This should have been our clue that something is off but we were too daft to notice. After we told him that we were visiting from Canada, he proceeded to tell us about a friend in Calgary who visits Bangkok often. He then told us that his friend had once been scammed by Booking.com and that’s why he now always books his trip through Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). This reinforced the idea that we should always book through TAT.

We thanked him for the information and left the temple. The Tuk Tuk driver then took us to another temple where surprise there was another friendly stranger who said almost the same things. Looking back, I don’t know why we didn’t connect the dots. We assumed that the locals are very friendly and helpful. I blame lack of sleep and the heat for our slow brains.

Fake Tourism Authority Of Thailand and the Lucky Buddha Scam

The tuk tuk driver then took us to the what was supposedly TAT but in reality was a seedy travel agency.

On entering we were greeted by a friendly travel agent who was also fluent in English. We told him that we were looking to book accommodation in Phuket for a week. Fortunately, our other accommodation had already been booked in advance on Booking.com. Only, the one week in Phuket was unplanned and our journey from Bangkok to Krabi was unplanned.

As per our request, he looked for cheap accommodation near Patong Beach. He finally showed us a room for 480 CAD for 6 nights. we thought it was a reasonable price to pay and approved the amount. He then proceeded to book our train tickets from Bangkok to Krabi. That cost us 200 CAD.

While we were waiting for the confirmation to come through, he proceeded to tell us about the different tours from Phuket to Phi Phi islands. He said it’s better to book it in advance since the tours now take only 60 people per day. I don’t know if that information is true. We enquired about the price and he quoted around 240 CAD for both my husband and I for a one day tour. From my earlier research, I knew the tickets on GetYourGuide.com was way cheaper than that. So we declined.

Realization Of the Scam

For a while, we were not even aware that we were scammed. It’s only when we arrived back at our hotel and had our internet connection, we realised that the room that we had booked in Phuket was available for a much lower price on Agoda.com. The room actually cost 326.84 CAD. Now, you may say that the price difference may be due to the fact that he booked on a different website. Well… no. The hotel confirmation document he gave me said that he had booked it on Agoda.com as well and had a Agoda Booking ID. So, we had been overcharged 153.16 CAD on the same hotel room.

Regarding travel to Krabi from Bangkok, the travel agent told us that the flights were completely booked. So, we booked train tickets. However, this is not true either. When I came back to the hotel, I found several flights available at just $112 for two passengers. The flight just take an hour to go from Bangkok to Krabi. Now we are stuck with train tickets which takes 14 hrs with a transfer in between. I don’t even know if this train ticket is legit. Only time will tell. If the tickets are fake, I would have lost another 200 CAD.

If the train tickets are legit, I looked up online and the train tickets cost around 66 CAD per person. So it comes to 132 CAD in total. So, again I had been overcharged around 68 CAD. So the total overcharge is about 221 CAD.

People will argue that the overcharge is not a scam. The travel agent simply charged commission for his services. This is the normal procedure in most travel agencies. Also, the amount that I was overcharged was not much and just 221 CAD.

To this, I will say I don’t mind the overcharge so much. As a travel blogger I understand that travel agents need to be paid for their services and the information they offer. What I don’t like is the elaborate way in which this was orchestrated – like giving the impression of friendly strangers, the fake Lucky Buddha day, the travel agency masquerading as Tourism Authority of Thailand. This is what makes it a scam. If you are still in doubt, Google “Lucky Buddha Scam” and you’ll see how many people have been fooled by this.

I have to say one thing in the travel agent’s defense though. He actually provided us some information and printout maps of Bangkok. He showed us what places to visit and how to get there. So, we are grateful to him for that.

My impression of Bangkok is a bit tainted right now. However, as someone advised me, I shouldn’t judge an entire place by one horrible experience. I will take it as a life lesson and try to love Bangkok again.

Lessons for future travels and advice on how to avoid travel scams

  1. Not all friendly strangers are good peeople.
  2. Stay alert when visiting Asian countries like Thailand and India. I am including India in the mix because I am aware of such things happening in my home country too.
  3. Do your research before you travel.
  4. If your spidy senses tell you something is off, trust that instinct.

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