Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai?

Tourist posing in bikini in front of a waterfall

I think i did but you know what? I’m not mad because if it was a scam i think it was a really good scam! Plus, not that it shouldn’t matter, the actual amount was pretty small. Ready to laugh at my expense? Here goes…

I was told by the hotel staff that Doi Inthanon is a “must see, you can’t say you’ve been to Chiang Mai if you don’t go to Doi Inthanon.”  Well, if that’s the case, I better go or at least research it, right? Oh, in case you haven’t read my “Dental vacation, wait what? SERIOUSLY?!” post, the reason why I was in Chiang Mai without having done any research on things to do there was because of my last minute need to get some dental treatment. Have a read if you’re interested in dental vacationing.

Anyways, Doi Inthanon is a national park that is on one of the mountains at the tail end of the Himalayan mountain range. It’s the highest point in Thailand and a source of great pride, I’m guessing, from the way it was described to me by the hotel staff. On this mountain are hiking trails, waterfalls, a monument in which the remains of a King of Chiang Mai is entombed. There is also 2 stupa’s in a park dedicated to a king and his wife as well as a temple. The mountain is also home to tribal people who were poppy farmers (think opium) until a king seized it all and made them farm something else, like flowers. There are a few trails that you can hike with one of them being a mandatory guided one. You have to hire a local guide (member of one of the Hill Tribes) to guide you. This particular trail is not too difficult and will lead you to a more waterfalls. Yup, I wanna go.

So what are the options? At the time I was trying to get there (early May 2019) the options were $800 TBH to rent a car (You must have an international drivers license by law but a tour agent said as long as my drivers license is written in English it will be allowed), even though mine is, I didn’t chance it. I didn’t want to drive on the “other side” of the road and I didn’t want to get potentially scammed by the usual vehicular scams ie dents, damages etc. I also didn’t want to mess with getting gas and fiddling with insurance. Same applies to renting a motorcycle/moped (I don’t know how to operate one anyways) and it’s at least an hour and a half drive. So my only options were a tour which ranged from $800 to $1200 TBH but included a lot of stops like tribe’s markets and a hot springs, which according to reviews was just a hole in the ground and nothing else. According to the tour agent you’d get to spend at most 45 minutes at the top where all the good stuff is. That just won’t cut it for me and the exorbitant amount of time I take to make images. So what’s left was taxis and private guides with a car. The hotel offered to get me a taxi for $3500 TBH and the driver will take me wherever I wanted to go and wait at wherever I wanted to stop. Private guides with cars were upwards of $4000 TBH and a Grab driver tried to sell me on $4500 TBH when I told him it was way too expensive he told me $3200 TBH to get up to the Visitor Information Centre which was about 1/2 up the mountain. When I declined that he dropped the price to $2800 TBH, WTH?! Right? Lol. OH! Forgot to add, if you get a cheap price ask them if the price includes gas, because you don’t want to get waylaid after the fact OR you can offer to pay the gas at the gas station to ensure you pay the actual amount and not some inflated figure. Anyways, I really had no choice but to go with the taxi service that the hotel (The Signature Hotel @Thapae, click here if you want to read my review of it) offered to get me. When the front desk clerk got off the phone, she informed me that the price would be $3200 TBH. BONUS! The wait for the taxi was about 5 minutes and the clerk told me I needed to pay the driver upfront. I figured it should be ok, it’s arranged by the hotel, right? The clerk then, in Thai, spoke with the driver and informed me that she told him all the spots I wanted to go, another bonus! Even though the vehicle wasn’t one of those slick looking metered taxis, it looked well cared for.

So off we went, we chatted a bit which consisted mainly of him trying to get me to change my destination to one an additional 2 hours away! I declined and he proceeded to informed me that we would make a pit stop to put in gas and at that rest stop I should use the toilet and or get some snacks because there won’t be any from that point until the top of the mountain. Awesome, sounds like a plan. About 45 minutes into the drive, the driver woke me up because we were at the pit stop. Darn meds always get me, lol. So at the gas station, the driver gets out, to check the engine compartment with an attendant, while another attendant put in gas. He closes the hood and pays and we drive over to the parking area for our snack and toilet break.

Fifteen minutes later we were on our way and roughly 45 minutes later we reached the Doi Inthanon National Park check point where I had to get out and pay the entrance fee of $300 TBH (foreigner’s price). I got back into the car and off we went to the first waterfall and then he starts complaining that the weather is so hot. Well, ya but it’s supposed to get cooler the higher you go. After all, it’s recommend in all the brochures and tour info guides to bring a jacket because at the top is the only place in all of Thailand where there’s “snow” (actually frost). Anyways, we get to the parking area of the Sirithan waterfall and I get out to go check it out while he pops the hood to “cool” the car because the weather is too hot (it really is hot in Chiang Mai, hotter than Singapore). I haven’t realized anything is wrong yet at this point, I’m already heading down the trail. The trail is pretty short and down a slight, stepped incline with sturdy hand rails that ends in a platform quite far from the falls. There are paths to the falls but they have been closed (looks like for a while now since the paths were overgrown) and blocked with “Do Not Enter” signs. So you’ll have to settle for view of the falls from between the trees. Roughly thirty minutes go by and I’m done and back at the car and we’re off again. Driver carried on as if thre were no issues and I asked if the car was ok, and he replied yes, it’s just too hot and Mitsubishi cars aren’t made to go up mountains. No clue how or why he came up with that…

Sirithan Falls within Doi Inthanon National Park.

Sirithan Falls within Doi Inthanon National Park.

Sirithan Falls within Doi Inthanon National Park.

Sirithan Falls within Doi Inthanon National Park.

So just before the next tourist spot, Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail, I can see white “smoke” coming from the under the hood and the driver complains again of the weather being too hot and we pull into the parking area just as the car stops. I thought the driver just stopped the car in the middle of the area to let me out since he was telling me to go see the waterfalls and that the car just needs to “cool down”. I headed towards the trail but was stopped by some people under a makeshift gazebo. Apparently I had to pay for a guide to take me on this trail ($300 TBH) and that it’ll take about an hour and a half to get to the end point and that’s where my driver will pick me up. Well, I didn’t think too highly of the hike so I turned around just in time to see the car’s hood popped up with lots of white “smoke” billowing up and my driver along with some tour bus drivers pushing the car to a better parking spot. I went to enquire about the car and was reassured that it was ok and that it only needed to cool down but for now just go on the hike. I saw some people handing him water as he tried to pour some into the radiator. Hmmm, something is off but well, what else could I do since I’m already there. I might as well go on the hike, better than sitting around watching him pour water. So I paid the fee and off I went with my guide leading the way. Since the tour group before me was already full and had left, I get a guide all to myself, but I’m pretty sure I paid more than the participants of the tour group, as I saw the stack of money left by the tour group. Maybe my math is wrong or there’s a group discount, lol. Along the way, you’ll be able to see some of the opium poppy farms that have been converted to flower farms and 3 water falls, one of which you can swim in the resulting pool of water at the base. As you come up to the flower farms, you’re actually right up at the edge of the property. Where we were, the plants closest to use weren’t in bloom so I asked if we can go in, the answer, from another guide (we caught up), was “no”. My guide was looking around (don’t know what he was looking for but I was looking around to find a better shot and when the other group left, my guide motioned me over to where he was and he took me further into the farm, bonus! My guide mentioned that it will probably change to marijuana farms when marijuana becomes legal in Thailand. Interesting. Along the way, if you’re thirsty, there’s water, if you dare to drink it. Someone stuck a bamboo tube to catch some run off water and there’s even a makeshift bamboo cup for you to use. From where the water came from, I couldn’t see but it looked awfully sketchy to me. As I had two bottles of Gatroade with me I declined a sip but my guide drank some so it’s gotta be safe, right? I have to say, I found these waterfalls quite impressive and by now, I’m totally over the car ordeal. The hike is all down hill and really steep in some parts but not that bad if you can handle stairs that can be described as ladders in some sections. I’m actually quite content with this hike, my guide wasn’t rushing me at all and was a good sport about me taking photos with him in them and including him in my selfies (he was reluctant but obliged). He even pointed out things along the way and tried to spot birds and animals. As we reached the end point I was taking pictures of the other tourists taking their photos as my guide went to talk to another guide. They both came up to me to inform me that my driver couldn’t or didn’t want to come down then go back up again to the summit so I had to hike back up the friggin’ mountain. I thought to myself, YES!!! I can still get to the top of the mountain to see the other stuff. Well, my enthusiasm quickly died as we hit the first of the very steep inclines. Truth be told, I had to stop 3 times to catch my breath and at one point I felt light headed, my guide was cool about it and not laboured at all. I asked him how many times he hikes this trail he said 3 and I said something like, lucky he doesn’t have to walk back up each time like now and he replied, “no no no walk down, walk up is one time. Every day three times”. Well damn! No wonder he’s not fazed! I feel I need to also note that, as you can see in the photo’s, he’s wearing slippers! What you don’t see in the photos is my backpack with camera gear/tripod, and my waist pouch with 2 DSLR + attached lenses.

Local guides for the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flower farms on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Have a drink of this “clean” run off water on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tourists enjoying a swim and the view at one of the waterfalls on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Me and my guide in front of a waterfall on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Nearing the end of the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Parts of the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Parts of the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

By the time we got back to the car, a little more than 3 hours had passed and I was drenched, head to toe from sweat. Lucky I brought a hotel hand towel. My hiking shirt was so drenched I could wring water out! Not as quick dry as I believed it to be, haha . The car’s hood was down and I asked about the condition and again, driver said it’s ok, so off we went. Not even 10 minutes later we see smoke again and this time my driver gives up and finally admits we can’t make it to the top but on the way down he’ll take me to see some “more beautiful” places. With no choices and getting frustrated, I said “fine”. He makes a U-turn and drive a ways before finding a spot to stop the car. So now that I can’t get to the top, I’m getting mad and worried about being stuck in a busted car with no view. Flashbacks of my first car, a 1979 Mustang, and all the engine problems it came with didn’t help. But I thought, if this car can still run and all that it needed was water then the issue wasn’t that bad and the smoke wasn’t smoke, just steam. I guess my face showed my unhappiness as he started to apologize profusely while blaming the weather and Mitsubishi (for making crappy cars) and insisting that the places he was going to show me were “really beautiful.” Now I’m thinking i was lucky I didn’t let him persuade me to go to the other place or I would have seen nothing! So all the way down the mountain, every time the over heating light came on, we had to stop, sometimes he put in some water and we’d continue. Before we reached the bottom of the mountain he did take me to see another waterfall.

To get to the Wachirathan Waterfall you drive down this, what looked to me, like a one way path but you can just barely fit two cars, something to note if you’re driving. The area around the waterfall is nice. There are gift shops and a coffee shop where you can get some food and drinks. There’s also a short trail you can follow to see where the water pools and get closer to the falls. Apparently you can play in the water further along the stream even though there are signs posted saying “no Swimming”. After almost an hour, I make my way back to the parking lot and the car isn’t where it was parked when I got out. Great. So I whip out my phone as I walk towards the souvenir shops at the lower half of the parking lot to buy a drink, thinking I’d just call the hotel to send out another car hopefully cheaper than it would cost to get a Grab taxi. At the lower half of the parking lot is where I see my driver waving at me. So I skipped the drink and got into the car, thankful I didn’t have to spend anymore money for transport on this excursion.

Wachirathan Falls within Doi Ithanon National Park

Wachirathan Falls within Doi Ithanon National Park

As soon as we reached the bottom of the mountain, lots of steam billowed out and we had to stop. Luckily, I guess, it was in front of a residential type area where at least I can get out of the car and walk around and find something to drink (I finished the 2 bottles of Gatorade on the hike back up the mountain). Plus my driver was out of water and had to go look for some. I thought nothing of it until he came back and told me he found some water at a public restroom just across the street. As he was gathering his empty water bottles, he turned to me then said “oh there’s a police station beside the restrooms”. I wondered why he mentioned that, not like I could steal his busted car, right? Or did I look like I was gonna hurt him? Anyways, he came back with the water for his car and I told him I was gonna find something to drink and he quickly volunteered to go buy some, his treat. Well, that’s nice. When he came back I watched him pour the water into the radiator(attempting to anyways because the steam just kept pushing the water away). Took him awhile to figure it out or maybe he got tired of refilling his water bottles so he waited until we couldn’t see the steam coming out the radiator before attempting to pour anymore water in. It was during this time that he brought out a cloth and started wiping the engine compartment and I realized that the car was spotless inside and out and so was the engine compartment. There shouldn’t be any engine issues if someone is this meticulous with his car, right? At this point I started taking pictures and looking for the radiator cap because I remember not being able to touch the cap due to the extreme heat when I had engine problems in my Mustang, so how did he get the cap off so quickly? I couldn’t find the cap. Having filled the radiator, we continued on. A little ways into the drive, I was taking pictures out the window of the sunset (better than nothing, I had try to get some shots) I was vaguely aware that the driver was reaching around the front compartments. A few minutes later he exclaimed something along the lines of “I found it” and showed me the radiator cap! What The @$#%@^@! As soon as he could, he stopped to put it on. After that, all the while driving he kept complaining that the weather was too hot and that the cap didn’t solve the problem because the over heating light came back on. About 45 minutes away from the hotel we stopped one last time in front of some houses along the highway and he went into the yard of one of them and came out with a big bucket of water. I don’t know if kept the radiator cap on or not after that, I just gave up caring.

Taxi with overheating issues

Taxi with overheating issues

Taxi with overheating issues

Taxi with overheating issues

Back at the hotel, he wouldn’t discount the fee with the excuse that he took me to additional “beautiful places”. I reminded him that he took me to one other place, his response was continued apologizing. Quick math…if I had paid for going up 1/2 way it would have cost me about $2800 TBH according to the Grab driver I spoke with days ago, so this driver now is only ripping me off $500 TBH which is about $22 SGD. I’m just too tired to fight over $22. So I walked away and into the hotel. The front desk clerk, the same one who got me the taxi asked me how it went and when I told her of the car problems she tried to go outside to argue with the driver but he had already left. She apologized for my troubles and making an effort to call someone, I didn’t stick around to find out, I was tired and hungry.

So if you book a cab and the car + driver shown in the above pictures show up, don’t take it. Unless you think my ordeal is just a series of unfortunate events. For me, the icing on the cake was the strategic use of aircon in the car. Now this was a good scam, totally didn’t see this one coming, a $22 “life lesson”, cheap right? LOL.

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