This rather charming warning sign comes from Wat Pho, Bangkok, home of a 50m reclining Buddha and, it would appear, a gang of light-fingered Playmobil people.
Outside the nearby Royal Palace, however, the sign warns, succinctly and sweetly, “Beware of wily strangers.”
And wily, to be honest, is the perfect word. For ten lines that only wily strangers will use — with handy translation — read on.
1: The place you are visiting is closed today. I know a great place…
Which we will visit by way of a thousand pressure selling joints. Some of them, quite possibly, offering gemstones at a knockdown price that will make one or the other of us very, very rich. Guess who?!
2: Do you have a reservation for that guesthouse?
You don’t? No worries! I will talk rapidly to the receptionist in Thai, explain to you in English that the guesthouse is full, then escort you to an overpriced outlet which pays commission, charging you triple the fare we agreed for the privilege.
3: Today is a very special holiday. Buddha Day.
Now, this is a VERY special holiday. It occurs just once a year in the Thai Buddhist calendar, but for a handful of bewildered new arrivals and their kindly local guides, every day is Buddha Day!
4: You come from [city]? I was in [city] some years ago, studying law.
A trustworthy profession. And I am a trustworthy chap. Having funded seven years study overseas, my super-rich parents like nothing better than to pop down and see me chatting up tourists at the canal boat station.
5: [Insert colour] of tuk-tuk/taxi is a very special tuk-tuk. A government tuk-tuk/taxi…
Yep! Forget the subway, the Skytrain and the bus system. Bangkok Mass Transit is now investing in non-branded three- and four-wheelers. Oooh! Would you believe it? There’s one right next to us, and he’ll take you to wherever you want to go…
6: All you need to do is visit the factory/workshop/tailors/travel agency. Spend ten minutes. No need to buy.
I will dump you in a shop that pays me commission. Expect a minute or two of brutal interrogation as to when, precisely, you intend to hand over the cash, then a physical escort to the door. Mai pen rai (never mind)!
7: I am a student of English. Collecting for charity/looking for conversation practice.
And, as they say in all the best English conversation classes, charity begins at home. Or possibly in the restaurant we end up in. Your choice!
8: What price? It’s for good luck!
Good luck is, indeed, a priceless asset. But, once you have released the lucky birds, fed the lucky fish or nurtured the lucky pigeons, good luck will suddenly come quite expensive.
9: I am a teacher. On my way home to meet my wife.
But I have stopped to talk to you in the street during school hours all the same. We don’t get many tourists in Bangkok, and I do like to help you falang out. Now, would you like a tuk-tuk tour?
10: There is a temple near here, the most beautiful temple in Thailand/with a very big Buddha, which is open only one day of the year. Today!
Every day is an open day for this particular temple. And, best of all, it is only a hundred yards away from a store which pays me a very large commission!