Vandee Gems Gallery (AKA The Export Centre)
July 22, 2002
On the 14 June my wife and I arrived in Bangkok from Chiang Mai on the overnight coach. We had hardly slept, but we decided to go out and scout around before having lunch. We were accosted by Tuk-Tuk drivers offering cheap rides, but I had read in my guide to be wary of these so we did not take any of them up on their offers. However near the golden mount we were approached by a very helpful guy who saw us looking at our map and suggested various places to go. I was expecting him to tell us that the Palace was closed, but he did not - instead saying it was closed until 2.30pm. Luckily for us though it was a promote tourism day and we could get a tuk-tuk anywhere we liked for 10B each. Again I thought he would try and get one for us, but he walked off, so I thought the story must be true. We walked around the corner, discussed it and then approached a tuk-tuk driver who independently confirmed it.
So off we went to one temple, we had a look around, then at the second temple we fell into conversation with a nice young man who asked us if we were Buddhists. After a little chat he told us about this promotion whereby we could buy gems tax free and sell them for 100% profit back home. It was a scheme organised by the Thai Government to encourage tourists to spend money in Thailand and help the economy. He had a receipt from the Thai Export Centre. Then he left for the airport - not even trying to push us in the direction of a jewellery shop.
Once we got to The Export Centre (in fact the Vandee Gems Gallery), U-Dom, the salesperson explained the whole scheme. I must admit it sounded strange and in almost any other country I would not have believed it, but a lot of things in Thailand work differently, so I thought it might well be true. Also I could not in my tired state connect any of these separate people to the shop. I have been all over the world and I have never come across such an elaborate scam - what I did not realise was that this was not all laid on for us, but that these guys are doing this all day long. That is the full time job of the man at the temple to bring in tourists to the shop.
We bought 2 sets of jewellery, for 122,500B each. They even took us out for dinner that night and a driver drove us up to Ayutthaya the next day. I never felt entirely happy about it though and I realised we had been conned after talking to our guide at the Wat Po the next day. The Tourist Police were not particularly helpful, but they told us to negotiate a refund - 70-80% being the going rate. So we went back and after an hour of arguing this woman she agreed to buy the jewels back at 90%. It took us a week to get the jewels back (they had been sent to Sydney) and another week to get the full 90% (we got the money in 2 installments).
The point I want to make is that nowhere are you warned in enough detail about this scam. All it said in my guide (which I only saw later) was watch out for "jewellery con men and touts". This does not in any way prepare you for the complexity and subtlety of this con. I just expected people to be trying to entice me into their shops. I am going to write to the authors of The Rough Guide to tell them to put in more detail, but all the guides should have more in them warning people. So should the hotels in Bangkok - if every hotel had something up in their rooms the scam would almost end overnight, because almost everyone has to check into a hotel in Bangkok before going out.
Also for anyone trying to get their money back always remember that you have a good negotiating position. We realised when we were haggling that they really were very worried that we would sit outside the shop and stop anyone else coming in. They knew that they would lose far more from that than giving us our money back. When we went back to get our money my wife waited outside and they were trying to get her to go inside for 20 minutes before we agreed and we could see how stressed they were. Manat Soiploy was very surprised that we got such a big refund, the only reason I can think of for that is that they thought we really would picket their shop.
Do not be frightened of them.