This is a story I wrote for the Toronto Star in 2006, reprinted here as a supplemental to an episode of The Bangkok Podcast on tourist scams.

“Why are you being so stupid?” shouted ‘The Godfather’ through uneven brown teeth as he jabbed a gaudily-jeweled finger toward me. I sat across the rickety table from him, as a bead of sweat marched its way down my temple, sticky from the tropical heat. How did I wind up here?

Despite every Thai tourist guide saying never to trust anyone offering you free rides or cheap gems, fifteen thousand people per year – forty per day – spend between $50 and $100 million dollars (US) on low-quality stones with the intention of selling them in their home country at huge profits. However, most discover that their ‘precious gems’ are worth little more than the postage it would take to send them back to Thailand. Technically, it’s legal – as one tourist policeman told me, there’s no law against jacking up the price. But it’s the smoke and mirrors interactive narrative that pulls you in.

To find out what’s so convincing about these well-publicized scams, a friend and I set out to be led down the garden path. With Thai skills on mute and our map upside down, we headed out to get swindled.