It was on the last full day we were in Bangkok (Monday 30 October) that visiting temples, including the "lucky" temple, was arranged for us by a Thai man we met on the street. Friendly and helpful (and given some of our nightmare experiences with taxis and tuktuks, we were highly appreciative of this), we allowed him to help organise the tour understanding we would go to the export centres. We had planned to just go along as a thanks to the tuktuks driver, as we thought they got a little something out of it and we were only paying 20 baht for the whole time they took us around. It seemed a fair trade off, and we never intended purchasing anything.
The second temple we visited, we were met by another Thai man. This time he spoke to us about how lucky we were to see this temple and how not many tourists knew about it, how he was visiting the temple as he was about to be wed in Chiang Mai, and that he'd come to Bangkok to organise a suit and visit the temple for a blessing. Also how he'd bought jewellery, as he came during the one week in the year that the wholesale export centres sold their jewellery to the public, absent the 195% tax and very well priced. He told us about how he had a sister who lived in Sydney, who sold it at Angus and Cootes for more than what she paid in Thailand, thereby making a good profit and how we should visit the centre too and do the same. He was very friendly, very chatty about things other than jewellery, and we happily talked to him. He suggested the Royal Lapidary.
We went to the Royal Lapidary and after a quick glance over the silver jewellery, just settled on purchasing a couple of small, relatively inexpensive, items for ourselves. That should have been the end of the story.
On to the next temple for more sightseeing.
This time, we bump into two tourists and they say hello and talk to us about the temple and unfortunately, jewellery. Dressed, looking and sounding like tourists, my sister and I made the mistake of thoroughly falling for their suggestion of purchasing more expensive jewellery at the Blue Dragon – 18ct white gold, with sapphires. They sounded so genuine, and gave the story that so many others before us have heard. How they come every year, make a profit, etc etc. This time it was Andy the chef from London (I've heard he also comes from the US), and his friend being a Belgium guy. Saying how I knew someone in London etc, Andy even gave me the name of his restaurant – Mango Leaf – and his email address. Andy says, and confirmed by his Belgian friend, that it's the last day for the sale to the public and that they had bought themselves items for around 5,000 pounds, encouraging that we should do the same. He even knew an Australian who had done it, selling the jewellery at Michael Hill jewellers. They say that the public, with this special offer, can only buy a set or three pieces, and they reiterate that its being sold without the additional 195% tax. Further, they say not to let on that you're buying to resell, as the wholesaler cannot sell to the public unless it's for souvenirs/personal use, according to Thai law.
Buoyed by the fact that we've heard it now from tourists as well and despite the fact that it sounds too good to true (should have trusted that old adage!), we advise our tuktuk driver to go to the Blue Dragon as suggested by the tourists.
Its not hard to guess what happens next. We bought jewellery which we weren't that interested in, with the sole purpose for resale overseas. We then went on to Phuket where we enjoyed a week of holidaying. As soon as we got back to Sydney (ie. Same day), we went around to the jewellers looking to sell – and received disheartening replies. One jeweller was kind enough to look at our jewellery though he was not interested, and at least reassured us there was nothing wrong with the jewellery themselves. However, the ring I had purchased (I had only purchased one item) he valued at AUD$1500. I had paid around AUD$2500. Moving on to other jewellers, we had no such luck. In fact, as soon as we said they were sapphires, many jewellers guessed where we'd just come from.
So the next day after spending a night thinking of how we're going to get rid of the jewels and still clueless about being scammed, I decide that I should do a little research on Thai sapphires, so I can at least know about what I'm attempting to sell. It was rather crushing to see instead all the links to websites warning about gem scans, and then to go into one to read of several experiences just like our own.
My sister and I are really upset about this. It has thoroughly ruined our experience of Thailand – in particular, Bangkok where we were approached by many other 'friendly' Thais, and now distrust what their ulterior motives were given they suggested places to shop. It is unfortunate that after being approached by a few, this particular elaborate scam eventually paid off for the scammers and cost my sister and I thousands of dollars.
If there is anything we can do, I'd like to know it. But because we're back in Australia now, I'm doubtful that there are any avenues open for us to seek a refund other than attempting to contact mastercard and see what can be done. As a very minimal relief, at least the jewellery we have isn't fake. But, knowing that you've paid an extra thousand for something that you don't need nor truly wanted due to an elaborate scam has managed to really tarnish our overall holiday experience in Thailand. Its become the worst I've ever had and has really fostered an intense distrust for supposedly "friendly" people in Bangkok. This is especially as I look back on some of the other encounters I had that were seemingly innocent, and realise that those 'friendly' people were likely trying to make me buy something as well, despite the pleasantness of their 'chitchat' to begin with.
Utterly disillusioning and disheartening. Thank you Bangkok for a wonderful holidaying experience.
I really hope the postings and publicity of other tourist's activities on numerous websites and elsewhere help to garner some sort of response, particularly from government, as to the scams that are going on. That they're able to get away with this behaviour, and that some of these places are also practically (if not outright) protected by police, is utterly deplorable.