There are all sorts of scams in South East Asia. When my husband and I, and a travel friend were in Bangkok a few months ago, we got caught up in an elaborate one called the Lucky Buddha Scam.
We were on our way to visit the Reclining Buddha, a major tourist attraction in the city. When we stopped to look at our map we were approached by a friendly local who spoke excellent English. He informed us the Reclining Buddha was closed that day due the King’s recent death. We were disappointed, but when the man suggested we visit another temple, the Lucky Buddha Temple, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, we thought it was a great idea. Our helpful guide even called over a tuk tuk driver and arranged for the driver to take us to the Lucky Buddha Temple for a bargain price (less than one US dollar).
Upon arrival, our driver led us onto the temple grounds and indicated we were to go into one of the temple buildings. A large reclining Buddha was on a dais inside (not the real one), and an official-looking man was seated at a table. He asked us to sit with him for a minute, and we assumed he was a guide or a temple guard.
He spoke English well and explained he worked in New York City at the United Nations, and he was back in Bangkok on a holiday. He also mentioned he was in town to buy jewelry. Apparently, the factory to buy the jewelry was only open one day a year, and this was the day. His plan was to buy the jewelry and resale it back in the United States for a huge profit. We should have caught on at this point that something fishy was going on, but we just thought he was being helpful.
We said goodbye to him and left the building. To our surprise, our tuk tuk driver was waiting. He ushered us over to the temple and pointed inside. A Buddhist monk was in the temple blessing some people. Another man was seated on the floor praying. He motioned us over and told us to sit, as it was disrespectful to stand in front of the Lucky Buddha.
He was friendly and spoke English very well. He asked us lots of questions about ourselves and told us he was a chef and lived in San Francisco and was back home because of the king’s recent death. And guess what? He’d just bought some expensive rings. He showed us his forms for purchasing the rings, and they looked very official. We weren’t interested in buying any jewelry, but we didn’t want to be rude, and so we stayed and listened to his story. By this time, we knew we were in a high-pressure sales situation, and this whole scenario was part of an elaborate scam to get us to buy fake jewelry.
When we finally left the temple, our driver was still waiting. We told him we wanted to go to the river taxi, but he took us up and down a maze of streets until we were at the jewelry factory. When we refused to get out of the tuk tuk and demanded he take us where we wanted, his demeanor changed, and he became angry and rude. We roared off, clinging to the sides of the tuk tuk, as he took us to an expensive riverboat tour company office. Once again we told him we wanted to go to the river taxi.
Cursing and swearing in Thai, he careened down one street after another, nearly hitting several unwary pedestrians. Realizing our lives were in danger, we jumped out of the tuk tuk as soon as he stopped and tossed him the fare we’d agreed on. We heaved a sigh of relief when he thundered off in a burst of gas fumes.
We’d wasted most of the day wrapped up in this scam, but we were all unharmed and we’d had an interesting adventure. Best of all, the entire escapade only cost us a small bit of change. Funny thing…there’s no such thing as the Lucky Buddha. It’s all a big con. We’ll certainly be more suspicious of friendly locals on our next trip.
The “Lucky Buddha”