It was my first trip to this country and I had only been here a couple of days. It wasn't the best way to begin my first adventure at backpacking but I tried to not let it leave a sour taste in my mouth. It must not have because I ended up moving here a few years after this event and have been here ever since.
Keep in mind that this scam is not specific to Bangkok or even Thailand. It exists in some capacity or another in just about every tourist destination so please don't think I am trying to talk trash about this country because I am not. It was the first time I had ever been done-over abroad and well, maybe you should keep it in mind not just for visiting here but for traveling abroad just in a general sense.
Phase one: I was lost
This probably isn't as much of a factor today thanks to the fact that all of us have a computer in our pockets these day complete with very advanced map programs. However, this was the early 2000's and smartphones were not a thing. I was wandering around away from my guesthouse on Koh Sahn Road in Bangkok (this seems to be the starting point for everyone on their first trip to this country as a backpacker) and I wandered a bit too far.
I was still feeling good and had the whole day ahead of me so rather than flag down a taxi I just decided to walk around a bit. A lot of the areas of Bangkok are just like any other big city in that it was busy, rather featureless, and really not much reason for a tourist to be there. Then I heard a voice - it was friendly and the dude was speaking English.
In the shade, sat on some plastic chairs on the side of the road there was a middle-aged man drinking a beer. He was nicely dressed and spoke excellent English. He asked me if I wanted a beer. Being a fan of day-drinking (a tradition that carries on to this day) I said "sure."
Phase two: Gain their trust
He told me how he was a university professor and we talked about where I was from, talked about my experiences traveling etc. It wasn't anything major... it just seemed like a normal conversation that you would have with anyone that you just met. It was nice. We had a couple of rounds and he paid for each of them. This was starting to make me feel like a cheapskate so I offered to get the next one. I think in con-artist school the first thing you have to do to your mark is gain their trust, and he had mine.
Phase three: Move to the con spot
We were having a lot of laughs and at one point he said "my friend has a great restaurant nearby here, it's authentic Thai food - do you want to come and join?" (something like that.) I, like almost all backpackers, didn't have a plan for that or really any of my other days so i figured "why not?"
it wasn't this restaurant, but something similar
True to his word, the restaurant was nearby, and he paid for the taxi. When we went inside it did seem genuine in the way that I would never go into a place like this because it didn't have the appeal that tourists are looking for. We were given menus and none of it was in English - my new "pal" took over and asked me questions about "what do i like" etc. We ended up getting a normal amount of food and beers and I had no reason at this point to really suspect anything was wrong. I would find that out a bit later.
The food was really good too. I was having a great 2nd day in Bangkok!
Phase four: Leave your mark high and dry
At one point, my companion got up to use the restroom and left me alone at the table. It took me about half an hour before I realized that he wasn't coming back. I didn't know what to think at this point but eventually I asked for the bill feeling as though "well this guy has already spent a bunch on all the beers and the taxi, this little shitty restaurant can't possibly be expensive."
But it was. It was very expensive
A meal of maybe 6 beers total combined with a fish, some soup and i don't know what else but it wasn't huge came to a grand total of around 5,000 Baht (at that point in time the USD was very strong so this was around $100.)
I want you to understand that it is almost impossible to spend this much money on a meal anywhere in Thailand unless it is seriously high-class and this place was definitely not that.
I had been conned. Next thing I know the chefs and other staff are all at attention, expecting me to try to run for it or to complain. I didn't really know the country very well at this point and did have that much money on me (I wonder if the con-artist checked out the contents of my wallet for the one round i was "allowed" to pay for previously at the roadside bar.)
This man made me want to avoid friendly Thai strangers for a long while after that and that might be the worst part. I was now on the defensive anytime anything was happening and I probably acted like a jerk in many situations where the people didn't deserve it (but maybe fended off a few con-artists too.)
I have often thought of going back to these situations now that i can speak and read Thai and see how the situation would pan out then... i'd probably get stabbed.
That was a really shitty way to begin my first ever trip to Thailand but the rest of the trip was so epic that I soon forgot about it and tried to just take it in stride and learn from it. However, I have never forgotten that day and I just wonder how many people this person has done that to.
The crazy thing in my mind was that this particular con took the guy like 2 and half hours to pull off.... for $100 that I presume he has to split with that shady restaurant. It doesn't seem like a very efficient system. I have seen a documentary about exactly this sort of scenario in Europe so I'm thinking it must be a worldwide thing. Would you have handled the situation differently?