We've only heard good things about Thailand. How everything's so cheap, everyone's so friendly, there's never a want of things to do. Our first stop was the Grand Palace. A monumental historical and architectural feat, this was one of the most touristy places of all but we had to go there. So on our way we went, with our maps in hand and backpacks slung. We would stop occasionally and ask strangers if we were on the right track every now and then. As we neared this one busy street close to the Palace, we asked this really nice man if we were going towards the Grand Palace.
"The Grand Palace is closed today. It's a national holiday. It will open up again at 1:30." He replied, "But let me show you some other things you can do while you wait."
He took my map and circled a couple of spots saying, "you want to go to the Sleeping Buddha right? And the Lucky Buddha? Well, they're all here, here and here."
Then he mentions that today is our lucky day because Thailand's national holiday also happens to be a government holiday where there are special discounts in certain factory stores and tuk tuks and taxis all happen to be very cheap. We were able to get a tuk tuk to take us to all these five places and wait for us for the very affordable price of 50Baht! (That's about $1.25USd) Valerie and I really were incredulous over our incredible luck so we quickly accepted his offer to get us a tuk tuk to ride on. As we parted, I tried to tip our awesome adviser but he rejected my offer, stating, "I'm Thai. I only want you to have a good time here." with a big grin.
We get to our first stop and it's this slightly shabby temple.
"You know how Thailand is famous for their sapphires and rubies right? Well, you guys should definitely buy some jewelry here and then sell it overseas. Normally, they only let Thai citizens buy but today, because it's a national holiday, tourists are getting discounts too! You should go to this factory store called Pan-Siamese Gems and purchase some gems. I just bought a high quality set today and I'm planning on selling it and going on vacation with my family to Australia. Whatever you buy here, you can sell for triple the price!"
My heart soared when I heard his story. I had been debating about whether I should go to Korea in three weeks or not and budget concerns were one of my biggest obstacles. The entrepreneur (hah!) in me figured I should just buy a stone for about $500USD and then sell it back for about $1,000USD when I get back to Hong Kong or the States. Viola! Korea, here I come! Viola! Christmas presents for everyone! I seriously had a daydream about it in the tuk tuk where I pictured me handing presents left and right to my family.
Once we got back on the tuk tuk, I asked my driver about the jewelry thing and he seemed really happy and knew exactly what I was talking about. Without us telling him the name of the store, he took Val and I to Pan-Siamese Gems. Val and I couldn't believe our good fortune! It's the same place so it must be legit!
I walked away from that store with a $400USD sapphire stone in my pocket. There's also a certificate of authentification as well as promises of the stone being "blue velvet" and A-grade and all that. I was so pleased with my business-making skills.
After the jewelry place, we were taken to a traveling agency highly recommended by the Seep. He said they don't tax and gave the best prices. So we went in and, without comparing any other prices, plunked down $2,000Baht (around $60USD) each for tickets to go see the floating markets, rose garden and crocodile farm the next day.
The rest of the day turned out to be pretty satisfactory. I mean, we ended up back at the Grand Palace and wandered around town a bit. After that tuk tuk driver (his name sounded like "Seep") dropped us off, we weren't able to find another tuk tuk who would give us such a great discount anymore. I even asked about the government holiday deal and they just looked like they didn't understand.As we ended up back at our hostel, the "Barn Thai Inn" off Khao San road, I started having doubts about my purchase. At one point, I even commented to Val, "man wouldn't it be funny if that first man we met, that man at the temple, the tuk tuk driver and the store owners were all in on the big elaborate scam?" But then we laughed it off because that sort of thing only happens in the movies, right?
Right when I got back to our hostel, I started talking to my innkeeper Jat about what we did today. I got to the part about the saphire and that's when Jat looked up and said, "you didn't buy anything from them did you?"
I said as a matter of fact, I did, and even before the words came out of his mouth, my heart sank.
"Did they take you on a tuk tuk ride? Did they tell you it was a government holiday and that there were factory stores giving you great discounts? Did they charge you very cheap for the tuk tuks?"
Shit. Shit. Shit. And more shit.