Saturday, 11 July 2009

Back to Bangkok

Something has never Changed.

semi-overcast 31 °C
Unlike Pattaya, Bangkok haven't changed the slightest since my last visit about 6 years ago, especially around the Grand Palace area. To my surprise, another thing that hasn't changed.
As I stopped to look at a map around the Grand Palace area, a Thai man approached me and introduced himself as a lecturer in a university nearby. He also indicated a Thai man with him is a tourist police. I decided to listen as it may be official business. He first introduced to me some tourist sites such as the giant standing Buddha (the fist time I heard), and I should pay a visit to a temple with a "Lucky Buddha" as he scribbled all over my map. Finally he said I should visit the "Exports Centre", and a jewellery store. As this point, I struck with flashback of something very similar in my last visit here.

The only difference was, in the last time, there was no mention of a "Exports Centre", only a jewellery store. I was quite adventurous then (or another word for naive), and let their tuk-tuk drove me to a temple where I was greeted by a Thai who spoke with reasonably fluent English. He was friendly and gave us a guided tour around the temple, which was not in any way impressive nor historical. After asking where I came from, he said he too worked in Sydney before. In fact was able to tell me something that showed that he worked there before. In short, he was quite a smooth operator. After the temple tour, their tuk-tuk drove us to the Royal Lapidary. We were shown around the workshop and the watched the jewellers at work. The size and the set up of the place convinced me that this was legitimate and established business premise, and the fact that I was able to use credit card to do purchases had eased my concern, so much so that I ended up with a pair of ruby and opal rings.

It was the research I did online after I got back home that made me regretted the purchase with a vengeance. The few internet sites I read had little or no positive things to say about Royal Lapidary (I noticed there are considerably more web pages devoted to this notorious tourist destination. The overall tone is still predominately negative). I felt so disheartened about the purchase after the "research" that I decided to hide them away and tried to forget the whole thing. Last year, before I left Sydney for a few years overseas trip, I decided to to sell them at whatever price, even if it meant a big loss. I got a valuation from jewellers in Sydney and to my total pleasant surprise, the two gemstone rings had appreciated by 50% in value! Maybe the rings are simply cheap when I bought them, or the sales pitch that these gemstones increase in value over time because demand outstrips supply is simply true. As an investment (the reason of my purchase), doing way better than the stock market.
This is NOT, I repeat, NOT an endorsement of Royal Lapidary (nor defending their unorthodox selling method). Even if their merchandise is authentic, and may or may not be cheap, the way they go about it is doing harm to their reputation.

It is not really scam in the sense that they're selling fakes or inferior products with greatly inflated prices (The gem valuer in Sydney told me that the ruby ring is of good quality and design and the opal one is of okay quality). They just simply employ very questionable "marketing techniques".
I guess they are desperately trying to get traffic into their doors. It would be a standard practise if they just hand out some pamphlets on the streets in tourist spots or stands on the airport, but instead they are deploying these dodgy, and off-putting tactics. They are in sore need of some good marketing courses.

What I surprise was after all these years, little had changed. With the rampant official corruption in Thailand, I guess this won't changed any time soon.

The best things to do with any kind of touts is simply walk away, and beware of any Thai offering friendly tourist advice. And ah yes, beware of everything you read on the Internet. Some can be written in anger.

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