Thailand, being a poor country, is full of people trying to turn a dollar. Most are legit, some are dodgy and some are very dodgy.
The dodgy ones tend to cluster around where tourists go on the basis that you are both naiver and richer than they are. Mostly they’re fairly transparent, such as the friendly stranger who tells you ‘XYZ is closed today’ when it isn’t, and then tries to persuade you to sign up to an over priced tour of an alternative attraction.
The ones at the Grand Palace in Bangkok are in a different league. The other guys are amateurs compared to them.
This is how the scam works.
There are three gates. You can only buy a ticket to go in at the middle gate, which is the one opposite an overpriced French style pavement cafe. Your cab of course cannot get close for love nor money and so will drop you somewhere nearby.
Helpful official looking guys with neat white shirts, Thai flag pins and official looking badges on lanyards will see you working out just where the hell you are and intervene, directing you to one of the other gates, rather than the main gate (which has a sign warning you to ‘beware of wily strangers’). Reasons given include “we’ve opened an extra gate”, “there’s a lot of tour groups ahead, quicker if you try the other gate”.
At this point you believe them as they’re not spruiking anything, and given you can’t read Thai, you can’t tell the difference between a used Patpong bus pass and Thai museums staff pass.
So you go down to the other, wrong, gate and another similarly attired guy will say, “so sorry, we’ve just had to stop people going in as there’s too many people in already” which looks kind of plausible as you are now standing in front of a gate where they are clearly not letting people in. And again you believe him as he doesn’t seem to be selling anything. So you ask him when you should come back and he says something utterly reasonable like “First thing tomorrow to be sure, but you could try around 1pm as the tour groups are often gone by then”.
You of course have trekked across the city, and don’t want to come back tomorrow, as today’s your last day, or whatever so you decide to come back later, which leaves you stuck for ninety or so minutes. So you visibly wonder what to do.
This is when your scammer hooks you. “Look,” he says, “get a tuk tuk down to the river and get a boat to the market or the wats on the other side and come back at 1pm”, and when you look positive, he gets you a tuk tuk, and the tuk tuk guy looks legit, with a nice blue jacket with a logo on it, unlike the usual grubby pants and t-shirt of your standard Bangkok tuk tuk man.
The tuk tuk man then takes you to a pier not used by the river commuter service, but where strangely enough there is a guy doing tours of the river in a longtail boat at considerably more than the going rate …
Now I’ll admit we fell for the scammers in the white shirts, even though we’re experienced travellers. At first we even thought it was just a dodgy tuk tuk man, so we made our excuses, left, flagged down a cab, and went back to the grand palace – incidentally finding the only cab driver in Bangkok who didn’t know how to get to it – he had to stop and ask a newspaper seller – only for our white shirted friends to try the same scam on us again. This time we ignored them …