January 2014: Bangkok, Thailand.
I fell for two scams my first day. A local man on the street corner asked me about my plans. I said I planned to take a train to Chiang Mai. He said I needed to book a bus with a travel agent. His tuk-tuk driver friend gave me a ride to a travel agency. The agent I spoke to booked a round-trip overnight bus for me. She told me the price in Baht, and for some reason I didn’t think to ask what that was in USD. When I mentioned it to the owner of my hostel, he said I got ripped off, and that I could have paid half that price.
I returned to the travel agency with the excuse that I had made a mistake and needed my money back, which I didn’t think would be a problem since I paid in cash. She said they don’t give refunds.
Later that day a tuk-tuk driver offered me a ride anywhere I wanted for only $2 USD. I pointed out all the temples I wanted to see on a map. He agreed to take me to all of them, and said I could pay him at the end. I was hesitant to trust him after what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t cover all that ground on my feet in one day.
After the first temple he took me to a tailor. I said I wasn’t going to buy a suit. He said if I just look around, I’ll get a free beer. I didn’t care about the beer, but he refused to continue with our temple tour until I went in, so I did.
The tailor showed me around his store, and after I looked at several suits, he asked what I wanted to buy. My honesty disappointed him. I walked out of the store with no suit and no beer. My driver was angry and yelled at me for not buying anything. “But I told you I wasn’t going to buy a suit,” I said.
He took me to my second temple. When I returned to the parking lot where he promised to be waiting, he was nowhere to be found. I later learned that the drivers and tailors are partners. The drivers charge so little because they plan to split the profits with the tailor. That’s why I was abandoned. I wasn’t worth his time.
Another tuk-tuk driver brought me to a jewelry store. Once again I said I would not buy anything, and once again he insisted. Inside this store I managed to find some souvenir shirts, so I bought one. When I returned to the tuk-tuk, I showed off my shirt and said, “Hey, look, I bought something.” He was upset because I didn’t spend enough money.
February 2014: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
While walking along the Mekong River, a tuk-tuk driver approached me. He asked me where I wanted to go, but I told him that I only wanted to walk. He wouldn’t take no for answer, so I said maybe another time. He said he’d give me ten minutes to think about it, and I walked away.
When my time was up, I turned around to discover him standing right behind me, asking if I’m ready to go. Again, I said no. Then he offered to take my picture in front of the river. I let him take the picture, which meant I owed him. But I continued to say no.
He gave me ten minutes to think about it again. This time I tried harder to escape. While walking away down the road, I noticed to my horror that he was following me in his tuk-tuk. Eventually a big truck separated us. I stopped dead in my tracks, let him drive forward, then turned around and walked back towards the river.
I felt so smart. I believed I had lost, and felt such relief and excitement. But that was short lived. Minutes later I turned around to find myself face-to-face with him again. He asked if I was ready to go now. This time I said he could pick me up from my hostel later. He agreed, and asked for the address. I made one up off the top of my head. He apologized, saying he couldn’t pick me because he didn’t know where that was. Oh, well.
That was the last I ever saw of him.