Enjoying Southeast Asia
Last winter, me and the girlfriend went on a one month tour of Southeast Asia. It was a fantastic trip, and the countries we visited were very beautiful; we stopped by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan. We took in a lot of sights, ate many different types of food, and took in the countryside.
We also encountered many friendly locals, and some not so friendly. In Southeast Asia, a walking caucasian man is a symbol of a walking dollar sign. Many of the people there see this as a fact; however, most of the people we encountered in the less frequented areas or in the poorer areas were very nice and hospitable. In the more touristy areas, niceness and hospitality sometimes fall by the wayside. Nowhere do they fall further than at Phuket, which sees over 3 million visitors a year annually.
I want to tell you guys a story of how me and my girlfriend were nearly scammed out of thousands of dollars during our stay at Phuket, and how we managed to escape with the somewhat smaller loss of three hours of our time!
The woman on the scooter and the mystery prize
It happened during one of the three mornings that we stayed in Phuket. We had left the hotel to go on a walk, and perhaps to grab a bite to eat. We were stopped by a British woman on a scooter only a few hundred feet from our hotel. She asked us if we would like to scratch some cards to see if we were winners. I asked her what the catch was; she said “no catch and no obligations! Just scratch to see if you win, if you want to.”
I didn’t see the harm in scratching a couple of cards, so I went ahead and scratched it with my girlfriend. My girlfriend’s card was a dud, but the card I had been given was a “big winner”, and I had the choice of a camcorder, a vacation, and I don’t even remember what the third choice was; maybe it was a car. The woman immediately performed some kino on me and asked my girlfriend if I was a lucky man; she then told us how lucky we were, said something about there being some kind of presentation to see first, and that we were both a bit too young but they should still accept us. She then called her “boss” to see if they had time to see us, and then she walked with us to bring us over to the place where they were doing the timeshare presentations.
At this point, alarm bells should have been ringing off in our heads! We were both skeptical, but there was the low-hanging fruit of a won prize to claim. This lure kept us in the game and brought us into the hands of John, our main timeshare presenter.
John, our friendly timeshare presenter
John was a friendly guy and introduced us to the concept. He asked us if he had half an hour to an hour to spare, and I said “yes, but no more than that.” He brought us to a cafe, bought us drinks, and told us some stories about Thailand. He told us a little bit about what the timeshare program was about, but he was not willing to share details when pressed. When he asked us “do you think I’m honest?”, my girlfriend aptly replied “I think that you’re doing your job!”
We still wanted the prize, so to allay our concerns, John gave us the envelope with the two scratched cards and said we could redeem those at anytime. The process started to drag on and we both became impatient. John sensed this, so he offered to bring us on a tour to see one of the timeshares. I guess we must have seemed like big fish to catch at the time, or just very gullible because we were too nice to just tell him to get to the point or we were walking.
We spent another half an hour or so touring the grounds of one of the timeshares, and though the place was OK, I would have rated it on the same level as a three star hotel. The whole time, John was attempting to use neuro-linguistic programming on us by subtly dropping hints here and there to make the place seem better than it really was. He would say things such as “These places are a really great bargain; a developer once built these homes for the Thais, but they don’t like living in vertical homes, so we were able to buy these places up cheap and pass on the savings to you.”
Cutting a deal with Frankenstein
Finally, we were both getting very impatient as more than two hours had passed. We were getting ready to just leave, prize or no prize, since we were wasting valuable vacation time in a place we were only staying at for three days. We walked back to the office with John, where we sat down at a table and met Frank, the negotiator. The office was full of round tables and had perhaps 7 to 8 groups sitting there along with us.
I normally try not to judge people by their appearance, but Frank was a very scary looking character. Perhaps John felt that intimidating us after all of that would be the best pressure tactic to get us to buy. Our jaws dropped when we found out the initial price for entrance into their program: $11,000!
Unfortunately for both John and Frank, I had already become very impatient, and I had developed a bad feeling in my gut from seeing Frank. I asked for 5 minutes alone with my girlfriend; we both agreed that this was a waste of time and that it was time to just claim the prizes and leave. We then went back to them and told them “no” flat out.
The final tactic was thrown into play against us: the planting of seeds of doubt. Frank would ask us “why?”, and then show us BS charts showing how their program would save us money. John would say things like “I think that it would be stupid to pass up a great offer like this. Frank’s only going to make this offer for you today.” John was very skilled at his job, because although I resisted against being manipulated, I still felt an impact from hearing statements like that.
Frank offered us a $3,000 “trial” for 6 months, which we also said no to. John had told us earlier on that we could always just say no if we felt like it, so I called him out on that and said that they had wasted enough of our time.
Escaping from the jaws of the trap
John then showed us to the booth where we could claim our prize. We did, and the prize ended up being a 5-day stay at one of their timeshares! It also had to be used within the next 12 months. This was less than useless to us, because we have no plans to ever return to Phuket, and certainly not at one of their time shares.
We were supposed to receive free t-shirts, but they didn’t have any at the place, so we sat down and waited for another 5 to 10 minutes. I’m not sure if this was yet another tactic of some sort, but John came out during this time and told us that he was sorry that we hadn’t joined.
During that time, we saw other representatives pass by with families and couples in tow. I called out to one of those families and ask them if they had also won the big prize. The guy said “yes”, and I then told them to be careful and to watch out. Their guide was dragging them on and didn’t look very happy about that.
After those 10 minutes, we were told that the t-shirts were out of stock, but they could be delivered to our hotel. We told them to deliver them to the hotel we were staying at and then walked off. Some ways down the road, a guy with a scooter stopped us just to tell us that he’d be delivering the t-shirts. I was so pissed at the time that I thought the guy was another representative, and I didn’t actually hear anything that he said; I blithly ignored him and walked on by. My girlfriend heard, though, and told me that’s what he said.
It turns out that we never received the t-shirts. Not the next day, and not ever! At least we could have gotten that out of the wasted time, but even the t-shirts were a scam.
I am proud that I followed my gut and that we said no, in spite of all of the pressure and tactics used against us. I am sure that me and my girlfriend were like two giant bluefin tunas swimming in the ocean, and that we were that close to getting ensnared and caught.
I am less proud of the fact that we were so gullible about the process in the first place; although I felt that we were being manipulated, the bait of a stupid prize lured us on. Here are the main lessons learned for the next time I encounter one of these guys:
- Never be reluctant to just flat out say “no” and walk away right then and there. These people are not your friends, no matter how friendly they may seem.
- There is just about never such a thing as a “great deal that will pass you by” that requires hours of the salesman’s time in order to marinate you and soften you up. If it was really that great of a deal, it would sell itself.
- Any place that sees three million tourists a year is bound to have more of these sharks swimming about; although parts of the Phuket area were quite beautiful, such as Ko Phi Phi (where “The Beach” was filmed), and the road to the Big Buddha was quite nice with traditional restaurants, I found that the majority of Phuket was more fluff than substance, and the mass tourism definitely ruined the place.
So, reader, what do you think about our little encounter with trouble in Paradise? We walked away with a bad mood and three hours of our day completely wasted, but otherwise none the worse for wear. I would love to hear your own stories and feedback.