Getting scammed – The cancelled bus scam
This post is the third instalment in a series of posts about scams we encountered in Asia. We came across the cancelled bus scam in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. We suspect this scam is found across Asia so hopefully by reading this post you can avoid being scammed.
The cancelled bus scam
We are budget travellers so we use public transport as much as possible for day trips. This was no different when we visited Kanchanaburi in Northern Thailand. Kanchanaburi is a tourist hub for people visiting the bridge on the river Kwai and the war memorial so it has a decent infrastructure. We decided to visit Erawan waterfalls by public bus.
The night before visiting Erawan we researched how to get there online. The 8170 bus goes from the bus station to Erawan every 50 minutes from 8.00am until 5.20pm. Perfect, we decided to get the 8.50am bus. On arriving at the bus station we located the right stand and waited for the bus to arrive. While we were waiting we met Katja, another traveller and we chatted while we waited. Katja’s accommodation had drawn her a map to the bus station and written the bus times down for her. I saw 8.50am on the list and felt relieved we were on the same page. While standing at the stop a man in crisp shirt and ironed trousers approached us asking where we were going “Oh unfortunately that bus left early, it was full. The next bus will be at 9.20am”. We shared a confused look, 50 minutes from 8.50am is 9.40am not 9.20am. But he was insistent and even pointed to a board by the stop that confirmed the next bus would be 9.20am.
After double checking when the bus would arrive we all decided to go for a coffee across the road from the bus station and get to know one another. When 9.10am arrived we settled our bill and went back to the bus station. And lucky for us the bus was there. We hopped on.
“This bus is cancelled, it won’t be leaving the station” shouted a man who claimed to be the bus driver. This was surprising to me since the bus was full of locals patiently waiting for it to leave the station. “Why are these people waiting if the bus is cancelled?” I asked. Ignoring my question the man repeated “I am the driver, this bus is cancelled”, “I don’t think it is, I think we’ll wait here with the other people”. It was at this point the man started to get angry and raised his voice. By then we had been joined by another travelling couple from Taiwan who had tried to get on the bus and were being ushered off after being told the same thing. I was pretty annoyed at this point as I could see we were clearly being had but I looked at Jake’s face, Jake is much less confrontational than me, and could see he just wanted off the bus. I very reluctantly agreed to leave the bus.
When we got off the bus another man arrived to solve our problem by taking us to Erawan in a private bus. Fancy that! At this point quite a group of foreigners had formed Me, Jake, Katya, our Taiwanese friends and a French couple. We were all being ushered away from the public bus that cost 45baht per person to a private bus that cost double. I was irate and told the “bus driver” I wasn’t convinced he was the driver and I knew that he was just doing this because we were foreigners. Despite having my say nothing changed and we didn’t want to waste anymore time waiting in the station only to be denied access to the next public bus so we got on the private bus with the other travellers.
The cancelled bus scam is simple. They made us miss our first bus by telling us it was gone and had us arrive back at the stop when there would not be a bus driver present and plenty of time for them to convince us the bus wasn’t leaving the station. They intimidated us into leaving the bus and paying more for a private bus. I guess the pretend bus driver got a cut of what we paid to the private bus driver.
I found this scam especially frustrating because I knew we were being scammed but I couldn’t do anything about it. The man was intimidating and angry and travel 101 tells travellers not to get in arguments with locals so I had to walk away.
In the end the private bus got us there quickly and didn’t cost much more in western standards, We also got to know the other couples which was cool. Despite this scam we would recommend visiting Erawan, it was beautiful. You can get more information on the bus here.
How to reduce your chances of falling for the cancelled bus scam
Do your research. We had checked online and written down the times but we weren’t sure how up to date the website was. Websites in Thailand aren’t as sophisticated or accurate as the UK. With hindsight we should have asked our hotel to confirm the bus times. This would have given us extra confidence to stay on the bus.
Ignore people offering help or advising you against what you already know. This is harder than you think. In the UK buses get cancelled and bus drivers tell you that. The public transport is pretty horrific in Thailand so its not unbelievable a bus would be cancelled. Unfortunately we learnt you can only really trust yourself in Thailand.
Unfortunately while people are desperate for money things like this will happen. Just be aware of it and don’t beat yourself up to much if you fall for a scam. It happens to us all.
Take care and travel safe,
What advice would you offer someone faced with the cancelled bus scam? Have you encountered it anywhere else in the world? Embarking on a trip? Get clued up on other scams we encountered here.