Monday, August 31, 2009

Bangkok Airport Scam, Thailand

Are you aware of the terrible Bangkok airport scams highlighted in the media recently?

It's so terrible that I feel obliged to describe it here. Briefly this is how it works.

You browse in the duty-free shop, pick up a few things and here and there, and without realising it you've wandered out of the shop.

Suddenly, Security people pounce on you, accusing you of shoplifting. You can't speak Thai and they don't speak English so your protests are useless.

They take you to an office for interrogation. During questioning a guy enters, and offers to help since he speaks Thai (for a fee).

You are given a choice. Either settle the case with US$10,000 or go to a notorious Thai jail while you wait for your case to be heard in court.

Many western travellers have fallen prey to this scam. Thailand might be the Land of the Smiles, but there are corrupt Thai people and officials waiting to fleece tourists.

The Thai Prime Minister has promised to take action. Meanwhile, be very very careful when you shop at Bangkok international airport.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Travel Scams in Indonesia

Where corruption in a country is endemic, scams targeted at travellers flourish.

Indonesia, known for the rugged beauty of its countryside and volcanoes, is one example.

A cab driver in Padang (Sumatra) tried a scam on me. I was on the way to the airport from Padang, and we had agreed on the fare.

As we headed for the airport he pulled out a laminated list of cab fares, and said, "Actually, these are the official fares."

One glance and I put it down. "But we had agreed on the price, ok?"

Thwarted by my reply his brains went into a counter attack mode.

The morning traffic was heavy, and he was driving as though a Sumatran tiger was hot on his tail.

"Do you have any Singapore money? I'd like some as souvenirs," he said.

I was prepared for this. "Oh, I carry only Indonesian money. No Singapore money." He kept quiet.

As a rule I avoid taking cabs. Cab drivers the world over are the same when they spot a tourist. Their minds go, "Aha, walking ATMs."

You see the airport bus had failed to turn up at the last minute to pick me up from my hotel, leaving me with no choice but to catch a cab. Another scam?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nigerian Scams

Mention "Nigeria" and most people associate the country with scams.

One day, I received an e-mail purportedly from a Nigerian girl together with her photo. She looked prettty by Nigerian standards, and I guess she'd have easily sent Nigerian men's
pulse racing.

In her rather long e-mail she bemoaned how her father had to remain in prison because her family had no money to secure his release. Could I help? All I had to do was to deposit some money in a bank account.

Her liberal use of expressions of endearments was calculated to soften my heart, calling me "my love", "my darling" but the total effect would have been the same if a gorilla was capable of speech and spouted the same endearments.

Most Nigerian scams target a person's greed, telling him that he had won a lottery or could share in a huge windfall provided he sent over some money to cover administrative costs or legal paperwork.

Travel Scams

The following account is by Alex whose interesting blog, beautifully illustrated with his superb images,can be found at (A Malaysian Photo Blog and Travelogue)

I hope he doesn't mind I give his account prominence here as I think all travellers should be alerted to the various travel scams. ROGER

"In Thailand, there is a scam infamously known as the Bangkok Gem Scam.

Love, lust, deceit & money. Why leave his wallet and gold ring in the presence of a total stranger. That is silly.

Well, I was charmed by a sweet talker to part away my RM200 late last year. I was actually waiting for an inter-city train at KL Sentral to Kedah. I was reading a book on the departure platform. This 40++ guy approached me and bombarded me with his 'problem'. From the conversation, I was 'convinced' that:

a) He was robbed while sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur
b) He is the new Citibank Regional Manager posted to Malaysia head office. He has in-depth knowledge about Citibank opration including the exact name of the BIG BOSS.
c) He needed RM200 to book a hotel in Penang while waiting for his credit card to be reissued.
d) He was holding a valid ticket to Butterworth.
e) He gave his hand phone number to me and also asked for my banking account number for him to deposit back my money.

Strange enough, the number given to me was valid. I waited for three weeks and called him again asking him to return my money. Later, I threatened to lodge a police report. It was a losing battle. End of day....nobody pick up my call anymore.

I learnt my lesson...the hard way!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Scams in Vietnam

Every country I dare say has its own scams, and Vietnam is no exception. A friend who visited Vietnam recently fell for a common scam in Saigon or Ho Chi Ming City (HCMC).

This friend had heard rumours of tourists being robbed by Vietnamese women while he was holidaying in HCMC. But still he was charmed by a Vietnamese lady, and succumbed to temptation. He followed her to an apartment.

His carnal exertions concluded, he took a shower. When he came out of the bathroom, he was surprised the lady had quietly vanished. On checking his wallet, he discovered his money had also done a similar vanishing act. Even more devastating was the loss of his gold neck chain.

"You could have been murdered," I said.

Another common scam also involves women. You fall for the charms of a Vietnamese woman thinking she's so sweet and innocent-looking. She suggests going to her place. Intoxicated with lust, you agree. You can't believe your luck, she's only 20 years old at the most, and you with your liver-spotted face and 60-year-old arthritic body.

Just as you are about to translate thoughts into action, there's a peremptory knock on the door. A Vietnamese man rushes in and accuses you angrily of messing around with his wife. He wants monetary compensation.

Your dream vanishes, and so does all the money in your wallet. POOF! Gone in 60 seconds!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Images of Sapa, Vietnam

Walking past H'mong homes I noticed that the little kids were looked after by their older siblings. Their parents were nowhere to be seen, presumably working in the fields.
I stayed in this hotel, appropriately named Tulip Hotel, which cost me US$5. The room was spacious with attached toilets and hot water. Mine was on the top level, affording me a panoramic view of the mountains. I spent much of my time on the balcony reading, eating lychee and gazing at the distant mountains beyond which lies Yunnan in China. Hotels in Vietnam are excellent value for money.

Water from a waterfall rushing downstream. To reach the waterfall I had to trek all the way down to the valley. The return journey was, arrgh..., up,up,up......On the way up, a group of Vietnamese students enlisted my help in practising their English. I didn't mind as it helped to distract attention away from my aching legs.

Even horses find the steep roads of Sapa a huge challenge.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Travel scams

One of the things I'd like to know when I do my travel research or homework, is to find out the prevalent scams in a particular country. Since travellers are viewed as walking ATMs, all sorts of scams are honed to perfection to relieve them of their money.

So far I've been spared except for the usual crooked cab drivers.

Allow me to relate a common scam perpetrated on me while travelling solo in Europe.

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris a tall, heavy-set Frenchman accosted me.

"Where are you from?" he asked.


"Oh, Singapore. Aha, today I went to the airport to meet a Singapore friend but he didn't turn up. I'm supposed to give this coat to him. Never mind, I'll give it to you for free."

Smelling a rat, and a big one at that, I said, "I've no money."

"How much do you have? Give me whatever you have," he said, with an edge to his voice.

I emptied my pockets for theatrical effect. "No franc," I emphasised.

Disappointed he retreated. From afar, I spotted him getting into a small car with his coat. Doubtless, to look for another victim.

Please share with our readers if you have encountered any scams on your travels.

Unable to post pictures

I've been unable to post any pictures for the past few days. Pointing to the image icon generates a "Error on page" on the bottom of my screen. Clearing the cache, cookies etc doesn't solve the problem.

Anyone knows the solution?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting to Sapa from Hanoi, Vietnam

There are countless travel agencies in Hanoi which organise packaged tours to the hill resort of Sapa. However, it's more fun and cheaper to get there independently.

This is how you go about it:

  1. take an overnight train from Hanoi railway station to Lau Cai near the Chinese border
  2. arrive in Lau Cai early the next morning
  3. mini-vans wait outside station to ferry you to Sapa
  4. the road up to Sapa is winding but the terraced slopes for crop cultivation provide some distraction.

In winter, Sapa can be very cold while in summer the weather is perfect.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Singapore Green Transport Week

Green Transport Week kicks off tomorrow with a mass cycling event from three points, converging at SMU for a concert.

Register for the event at Green Transport Week website (just Google it). Info on starting points also available here.

Even those with foldable bikes are welcome.

See you there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trekking in Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

Pine TreeTrail: the toughest of the lot. Notice the information boards to my left. They give useful information as to the length of the trek, and flora and fauna to look out for.
This is why people come to Fraser's Hill for: to trek and to bask in the beauty of nature.

For photography buffs, Fraser's Hill is a gem.

There are 4 trekking trails in Fraser's Hill, the start of each is very clearly signposted (unlike those in Cameron Highlands, see earlier posts on this).

Of the four trails, only one is tough - the Pine Tree trail which is 7 km long, taking about 4 hours to reach the summit and another 3.5 hours for the return trip. Some parts are rather steep as they are in fact mountain slopes. Leeches also lie in wait for a blood transfusion.

As it's a whole day trip, careful preparations must be made in terms of proper attire, food, water and so on. This is no theme park! It's a real jungle out there, friend.

It's a tough, lung- busting trek but for those who are fit and don't have any underlying health problem, it's exciting and enjoyable. The latest time you must leave the summit is 2pm. Bear in mind the jungle is thick so it starts to get quite dark earlier.

Before going on the trek it's prudent to inform your hotel.

For a description of the Pine Tree trail I'd like to refer you to
Check out his Pine Tree Trail trekking experience.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Shock While Trekking in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Path leading to the jungle trails.

Cameron Highlands is my favourite hill resort in Malaysia to which I make a yearly pilgrimage (from Singapore). Up there in the crisp cool air not surprisingly I come alive, and there's an extra spring in my step.

The greatest delights in Cameron Highlands for me personally are the profusion of beautiful flowers, the vegetable farms, the tea estates and the trekking opportunities.

The trekking trails are relatively easy with just that bit of difficulty to make it challenging for the tough guys. Even while trekking alone on many occasions I've never encountered any problems.

But one day while trekking alone I had a shock when I spotted a very short guy on the trail. The first thought that went through my mind was This is an apparition.A spirit? The Malays and aborigines believe the jungle is full of spirits, and perhaps I was staring at one.

To say that I was not scared at this point would be an outright lie. I kept my eyes riveted on him, and finally summoned enough courage to approach him and asked what he was doing in the jungle.

"I'm looking for birds," he said, looking up at the trees while in his hands he clutched something.

"Where do you live?" I asked.

He pointed into the jungle.

Since that incident, whenever I trek in Cameron Highlands I try to see if there is any kind of dwelling in the jungle.

Or was he an apparition?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trekking In Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

Fraser's Hill is awash with beautiful flowers.
A jungle trail.

A jungle trail.

Bishop Trail
One of the delights of Fraser's Hill for me is the opportunity to trek in the jungle. There are trails of varying levels of difficulty. Unless you try to be the next edition of Rambo, you'll not get lost as the trails are well-marked.

The Bishop Trail is an example of an easy trail. I took a leisurely walk on the undulating trail which even your grandmother will scoff at being too easy. The pleasure was in observing the lush foliage, the occasional birdsong from some well-hidden bird up on the jungle canopy and wild flowers.

However, some do underestimate the potential danger of trekking in a jungle. In 2005, a Singapore teen and his three Malaysian cousins were lost for four days while trekking on the Bishop Trail. A ground and air rescue operation was mounted. Finally, an orang asli tracker found them beside a stream.

On long treks I make sure I am fully prepared with adequate food, water, a poncho, insect repellent, a sweater, lighters, a survival kit, a medical kit, torch light, a roll of raffia and a cell phone. From experience, the key is eating regularly and not wait till you're hungry. Munching on groundnuts I discover is a good way to keep my energy level up. (If I trek alone, I normally arm myself with a weapon for you'll never know who you'll meet in the depth of the jungle - maybe Bigfoot or a WW2 Japanese soldier).

Happy trekking!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

The entrance to Fraser's Hill remains largely the same.
Fraser's Hill Corporation office with its hotel wing.
The golf course.
The golf club house.
The much photographed clock tower in "town".

The last time I went to Fraser's Hill, I stayed in a charming but crumbling old bungalow but on this trip i was astonished at the transformation that has taken place.

The Fraser's Hill Corporation that oversees the bungalows is now spanking new, with a hotel wing attached.

The old bungalows have also undergone a complete renovation, and are now privatised.

From Yong Peng on the North-South Highway, I veered off onto the old trunk road to Labis, Segamat, Gemas, Bahau, Durian Tipus, Manchis, Telemong, Karak Highway, Bentong to Fraser's Hill.

Any mention of Fraser's Hill inevitably draws comparison with the other popular hill resort of Cameron Highlands. I'll touch on this point in future posts.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sapa, Vietnam

The hill resort of Sapa in north-west Vietnam
H'mong girls at a church service.

It was a humbling experience to see simple country folks like the H'mong worshipping with such fervour in a church. I joined them, and sitting in their midst it was moving to see such a strong belief in their faith. Though their faith was shining bright, the church building has seen better days, and urgently needs a bit of renovation. The church has a dark secret: a priest was murdered here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sapa Tribal People,Vietnam

H'mong girls roam Sapa town selling souvenirs to tourists, and they speak pretty good English too. Note the capacious basket the girl is carrying on her back.
Villages dot the valley. You can trek in the valley, and stay at a little hut like this.
Valley with neatly terraced fields for food cultivation.

H'mong baby accompanies mum on shopping trip.

Mt Fansipan (3143 m) is the highest peak in Vietnam and the whole of Indochina.. If Mt Everest is the roof of the world, then Fansipan is the roof of Indochina.
In Sapa, the tribal people fascinated me. Maybe in a past life I was one of them. The mountains, the valley and the rustic life will not fail to impress you. Life is slow and peaceful. I don't know about you but it suits me eminently.