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Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam

Hong Kong, China
Level Contributor
6 posts
28 reviews
29 helpful votes
Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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Post 1/2

There is a simlar post from 2009 that has been inactive for >6mths & closed but I have fresh news. It was thanks to this forum that I wasn't scammed, so I feel obliged to share my experience.

My partner & I are seasoned travellers (both business & leisure) and been to both popular and exotic places. This was my 6th trip to Bangkok in recent years and I still almost fell for it. We are also Asian, so are not as obvious as tourists in Bangkok, as Westerners are.

As my partner hadn't yet been to the touristy places in Bangkok in previous trips, on the Friday before the King's birthday we went to see the Grand Palace. On arrival at around 11am, we were walking past a quiet side gate of the palace. There were 2 middle-aged men in what appeared to be casual uniform (charcoal grey button up top and trousers, palace log sewn onto lapel) walking in past the soldier guarding the gates and they appeared to work there.

One of them, on seeing us peeking into the gate, first gestured for us to go further (to the main gate maybe?), but when we didn't move on immediately, one of them came back out and asked us where we were going, to which we replied the Palace.

He told us that the Palace was shut for a Buddhist ceremony and would only reopen at 1pm. We were unpleasantly surprised as we would have nothing to do for 2 hours. He suggested we visit the White Buddha and the Happy Buddha, and also visit the Export Centre to kill time. He made large marks on our map where these places were. When we asked what the last was, he informed us that it is only open to the public one week a year and is usually for trade, where you can get gems like earrings, rings, bracelets, etc. This day happened to be the last day, and we could find some good bargains. All this in time for us to be back by 1pm when the palace reopens.

Since none of these places are very close by he suggested we take a tuk tuk, and it would only cost THB 40 (which is ridiculously cheap even for Bangkok for the distance).

We noticed that he had a permit type of plaque pinned above his breast pocket (above the embroidered palace logo), which indicated "Tourist Police - No. 1155". We thought we bumped into a friendly and helpful tourist policeman and was quite grateful.

He started to walk away but we actually asked him to help us explain to a Tuk Tuk where we wanted to go and bargain it down to THB 40 as no doubt they would charge us more, him being a local. He gladly did so and flagged a Tuk Tuk which happened to pass by (most of them were parked on the other side of the road and few passed by earlier) and explained to the man in Thai where we wanted to go and he agreed to THB 40.

So we waved goodbye to the "Tourist Police", and he said he would "See us later when we returned, since he worked in the Palace."

Hong Kong, China
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6 posts
28 reviews
29 helpful votes
1. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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Post 2/2

First the tuk tuk took us to the White Stone Buddha (Wat Ratchanddaram). To our surprise the Tuk Tuk driver actually parked and walked us to the temple and told us a little about the temple - every bit the Tour Guide, and he spoke passable English too. We thought he was going out of his way to be helpful and friendly, so that we would tip him generously. We actually thought this was strategic training by the authorities teaching Tuk Tuk drivers and other people involve din the tourist industry to exceed expectations (especially after the previous unrest and political issues driving tourist numbers down).

The White Stone Buddha relics was indeed nice and not many tourists were there. After we came down (Tuk Tuk driver waiting by the entrance), he took us on foot next door to the "Lucky Buddha"), apparently one of the oldest Buddhas in the area. We paid our respects and a middle-aged man guarding the donation box and the fortune telling sticks (looks like a well-off man on volunteer duty at the temple) struck up a conversation with us, but in a very laid back manner, and seated back in his chair.

After the preliminary "where are you from's" he asked us where we are going next. My partner actually proactively told him we were going to the Export Centre. When he found out we had never been before, he looked all surprised and said he goes every year, and only this year he bought a sapphire-ring.

He pulled out a official receipt showing he made a purchase from "Premier Sapphire Factory Export Center Co. Ltd.", address: 463/9-12 1st Floor, Look-Luang Road, Mahanak, Dusit, Bangkok 10300, with Phone No 0-2628-3565 which cost him USD8,900.- He indicated that it is a bargain and he is able to re-sell it to the Nathan Road jewellers in Hong Kong (where we are from) with a big markup. He even reminded us not to buy loose stones and only finished products - in hindsight I guess loose stones have more of a fair value and finished products are more arguable as they can say the mark up is for the labour.

We expressed concern about being ripped off since we are tourists and he is a local. He said the marked price is the correct price, no bargaining allowed since it is monitored by the government agencies. He reminded us to tell the centre that they are "gifts" and not for re-sale otherwise they are technically not allowed to sell to us. He was laid back all the time and appeared to be merely sharing info on a good deal to us.

As we turned to leave after thanking him, a tall American, clean-cut, in his late 30s/early 40s wearing a short-sleeve casual white linen shirt and with a ruck sack, came in to look at the temple, asked if it was the Lucky Buddha, and struck up a conversation with my partner (or vice versa). He overheard my conversation with the Thai man that we had never been to the Export Centre and replied, "Are you kidding? I have been going every year for 5 years. I buy something for resale back in San Francisco, and it is my Bangkok trip paid for."

When asked by my partner, he said he was an engineer with Intel, and that he resale value back at San Francisco would be 100% higher than the price in Bangkok, although the retailers would further mark up another 100% in turn. Basically, the profit is shared.

We swapped stories about the ridiculously cheap Tuk Tuk rides and he said it is because the Tuk Tuk drivers get fuel coupons when they go to the Export Centre, which is fair.

So off we went - him to his Tuk Tuk and us to ours. I didn't pay much attention as I planned to, at most, buy a small bracelet or earring from the Export Centre at the USD100 mark. When my partner told me the intention was to buy something more expensive (refer to receipt shown by the Thai man), I became more sceptical.

What convinced my partner was the American man telling us of the bargains he had. This was however what alarmed me.

I remember seeing the same American exiting the temple when we first went in. How come we went back there when we left and were exiting (we spent some 10 minutes inside)? What was a seasoned traveller to Bangkok (his 5th trip to Export Center?) doing revisting a very touristy attraction?

We became more suspicious and thankfully I had my Blackberry with me and it had roaming. I googled "Bangkok Export Centre" and the old thread on Tripadvisor came up. By then the Tuk tuk was on the way to the Export Centre.

When we came to a busier street, we asked the driver to stop and said we preferred to eat first, to ask him to leave. We gave him THB50 for his time (since the agreed price was THB40 for the whole trip), and he left without another word - didn't even ask why, which added to our suspicious.

We took a metered cab back to the Grand Palace's main entrance - it was 12:15pm by then (not yet 1pm), and hey, of course the palace wasn't closed, and it looked like it never was that morning judging from the throngs of people there.

To sum up:

- Export Centre scam still alive and kicking

- The "Tourist Police" (or at least someone working in the palace) is also in on it

- They even hired an American "tourist" to help convince us

The scam is bigger than ever. Beware!

Toronto, Canada
Destination Expert
for Bangkok
Level Contributor
6,697 posts
59 reviews
58 helpful votes
2. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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The 1155 isn't a badge number. It's actually the number for the tourist police hotline. Also the tourist police dress like glorified security guards (which IMO are they are, infact security guards are probably more effective and less on a power trip).

So next time you see someone with a tourist police "badge" and 1155, pull out your phone and give the hotline a call ;)

Sydney
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5,649 posts
24 reviews
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Interesting that this American guy has been mentioned on numerous occasions in this obviously well rehearsed/executed scam...Maybe a bit of 'tea money' Mmonkie to the local constabulary is the way to go here!!

Bangkok, Thailand
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19,553 posts
28 reviews
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4. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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The amount of scammers around the Palace pretty much illustrates that there is already a huge pile of tea money passing hands. I doubt a couple unsatisfied customers, greasing a few palms, is going to tip the scale.

Most Thais that deal with foreigners on a regular basis think that we are far game.

Toronto, Canada
Destination Expert
for Bangkok
Level Contributor
6,697 posts
59 reviews
58 helpful votes
5. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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Was just in the area this afternoon with a visiting friend. Surprisingly we didn't get any touts on us.

There was a tuk tuk guy who said to us "cannot...." before he could say more another younger tuk tuk guy just said "scam scam" and started laughing, the older tuk tuk guy started to say somthing and the younger just laughed... Weird.

After that no one talked to us. We even had cameras and I was wearing a chang t-shirt too.

Edited: 10 years ago
Pattaya, Thailand
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773 posts
1 review
6. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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Yeah,those Chang t-shirts are a dead giveaway, funny

Edited: 10 years ago
Vancouver, Canada
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17 posts
720 reviews
473 helpful votes
7. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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I had the exact same scenario, word perfect including the last day etc., but my guy in the temple was "working as a chef" at the Mango restaurant in London and had regularly traded large buys every year to finance his trips back to his family in Phuket.

We went to the place and bought a small pair of ear rings. It could well be that they are fake. I won't know until I get them checked out. Where however? Is everyone in Thailand a scammer? Is there such a thing as a real sapphire in Bangkok, or are all the "jewellers" crooks?

Edited: 10 years ago
Antipodes
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9,919 posts
119 reviews
527 helpful votes
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"Is everyone in Thailand a scammer?"

Is every visitor to Thailand from Vancouver a fool that buys things they don't know the value of?

Edited: 10 years ago
Vancouver, Canada
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17 posts
720 reviews
473 helpful votes
9. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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THank you Magnetic. In some countries, when you enter what is apparently a high security Jewelry shop with cameras etc and counters laid out similar to such shops in New York and London, it is possible to imagine that the gems are real. After all, are there not some real gems in your country other than the scenery? Maybe, all Sapphires on sale are fake, or wildly mis-priced.

Antipodes
Level Contributor
9,919 posts
119 reviews
527 helpful votes
10. Re: Thailand - Bangkok Export Centre scam
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I'll note that down as a "yes" then.

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