Saturday, September 12, 2009

Highway Robbery

Does being ripped off not matter when the currency is not worth much? Does the fact that you have been conned for $20 mean less than being conned for $200? Does it make it okay that $20 to the person that is conning you means a whole lot more than $20 means to you? Should i be less angry being taken for a ride in Thailand than if I was misled in, say, America?

What sits more comfortably with me? Paying a hefty price for something just because it is in a luxurious resort or getting absolutely nothing and paying the equivalent of $20 for the privilege? Is the former better, simply because I get SOMETHING out of it at least? Or does it all fall under the category of being used?

I pose all of these questions because, for much of the time I have spent here in Bangkok, I have felt as though I am nothing but an ATM machine. Do I feel bad about feeling this way? Of course. Hence my mixed feeings. Hence my need to blog. I am surrounded by Thai city dwellers whose lives are lived in poverty. Who am I to bicker and squabble over the fact that I paid $30 for a boat ride but then find out that any other boat could have done the same trip for $5? Should I complain that I was told that it would take me 2 hours and would involve stopping at various sites between A and B, to take photographs, but then find out that all it really is, is a speed boat dash across the dirty river to the tourist precinct? Here I am, getting dropped off by the shuttle service belonging to one of the most exclusive hotels in the city.... what kind of disgraceful human being would I be to complain about the fact that I didn’t get enough time to take good photographs? It just would not have sat well with me. However, once you have been conned once, twice and then three times, you begin to feel that there has to be a point where you say 'enough is enough'".

The problem with all of this is that I never want to be the person that cannot empathise with those who are less fortunate than I am. I struggled being served by indonesians on the cruise ship in the Carribean because it didn't feel right. I couldn't complain about the boat ride today because it would not have felt right.

I did however get to the point today where I really just was not happy with the circumstances. I had been pushed too far, and I became annoyed. I have come out of the Grand Palace (see photos later) and the heat was unbearable. I wanted to go back to the hotel, so I walked up to a "tuk-tuk". I asked the man if he could take me to the hotel. At that point, he proceeded to tell me that, for only THB50 (ie. $2) I could have a ride around the tourist area, get taken to see a sitting Buddha, go and see the Palace.... oh, but I would need to go and visit a silk factory. There always seems to be a "but" when it comes to Bangkok Tuk Tuks. They get commission for taking tourists to certain shops, and this is a known fact. I remember it from back in 2005 and I remembered it then. I figured that for $2, I could handle being dragged through a silk factory if it meant that I could see just a bit more of Bangkok before I headed back to the hotel. So I agreed to get into the Tuk Tuk.

We set off, heading for this so called "sitting Buddha" that tourists should see. It turned out to be just a small temple with a couple of gold Buddha statues and nothing else. He encouraged me to go on in, saying that it was great. By then I knew that i had been well and truly had. However, I could not work out why he would drive me around for a measily THB50. He was using up gas in his Tuk Tuk to take me places. What was in it for him?

Well, I soon worked out what was in it for him. I came out of the temple and told him that I actually wasnt all that interested in seeing anything else, and that it would be good if he could take me to the hotel. I told him i was not interested in any silk factory or any further tourist destinations. He looked shocked and said "no, no ma'am, no you must go to factory. I need you to go to factory."

My eyes narrowed.

"Is that right?" I said. And why would you need to go there? He said that if he took me there, he would get a gas voucher, which meant that he could continue working for the night. I did not have the heart to walk away - and this is where all tourists fall down. We simply cannot say no.

I agreed for him to take me to the factory but I would only stay for a minute and I would not be buying anything. He nodded and quickly took me to the factory. I got out, literally walked into the shop, tried to look interested and walked out again. The Tuk Tuk Driver looked devastated as I came out, and he told me that he would not get his gas voucher because I was in there for such a short time. By then, I was angry and I wanted out of the game. So, I told him that I would give him his THB50 and get out then and there. He started pleading with me. “No, no, miss, I take you to just one more place. They give voucher. Pleeeeeease, miss, please, pleeeeeease.” I asked him how much the voucher was. I would give him THB100, just to take me straight back to the hotel. This was not good enough, he said. I told him that I would pay the value of the voucher and that would be that. He shook his head, and said that he would get double the value of the voucher if I purchased something.

I was angry. However, my heart told me that I had to just get this fraud over and done with as soon as possible, so I could get on with things. So, I agreed to do it, but on the condition that he take me straight back to my hotel afterwards. He nodded, and off we went to the next factory.

The factory ended up being quite interesting – it was a jewellery factory. However, I was followed around by about ten Thai salesmen, trying to sell me diamonds, rubies, sapphires and anything else that has been taken out from the ground. I did them a favour, purchased a silver ring of about $20 worth and then came out. The Tuk Tuk driver had his voucher, got double for getting the sale and I wanted to do was go back to the hotel.

Was it over?

No. He wasn’t going to take me to the hotel as planned. He said that it was too far and that he could not take me there. He would drop me off at the pier and I would have to take the boat back. By then, my patience had been tested as far as it could go, and so I told him to pull over and let me out. I told him that I would not be paying him his THB50 for the “pleasure” of the tour and that he should be very happy with himself, having wasted two hours of my time. He apologised but apologies in this town mean nothing, not when you have gotten what you wanted. He drove off, looking for the next tourist to scam.

I am angry at myself for being yet another tourist scammed into thinking that they were getting something for very little. In the end, I got nothing. Well, that is not true. I got an insight into the way things work in Bangkok. Scam or be scammed. The thing is, I know what Bangkok is like and years ago, I would not have fallen for a scam like that. However, when you have a bit of money in the pocket and you are not as careful as you are when you are a backpacker, you become a magnet for scammers like this.

At the end of the day, no one was hurt. It didn’t cost me a thing, except it took two hours out of my day. He got his voucher, plus I am sure that he would have gotten the voucher from the first factory as well, despite him saying that he wasn’t. He got double the voucher value because I purchased a stupid ring.

So that leads me to the initial question - what sits more comfortably with me? Paying a hefty price for something just because it is in a luxurious resort or getting absolutely nothing and paying the no more than $20 for the privilege? Is the former better, simply because I get SOMETHING out of it at least? Or does it all fall under the category of being used?

It all falls under the category of being used. It still sits uncomfortably with me. However, instead of being very angry about it, I put it down to experience. Being scammed in Bangkok is just as much a part of Bangkok than anything else. Perhaps the experience itself is just another dimension of Bangkok that we all need to accept as being the reality.


  1. Desperate people do desperate things. It cost you nothing Babe, but let the experience make you more cautious.

  2. Scamming happens. Everywhere. It's not the scamming that is of consequence ... it is the recognizing it and handling of it. If something was learned, good. If the experience did NOT dampen or squelch your philanthropic and "helping others" drive, but instead sharpened and honed it into something solid and realistic and effective -- even better!

  3. And if it reminded that in the final analysis it isn't about "us", it's about "others" and how best to relate to others ... then very best of all!

  4. Next time you want transport from Sydney Airport
    let me know I will show you a couple of factorys
    on the way

  5. Mother, you are hilarious. Honestly.


  6. Insightful words - I understand your frustrations. I read your post and all I can think is that it is an attack of your personal values. The brazen way that visitors are harvested for their tourist dollars seems so out of touch with the reality that we see in a policed western society, and yet I would imagine that if they didn't "offer" the cheap taxi fare at all, not only would they not have a job, but the factories that rely so heavily on the tourist trade would close also.

    Would this lead to increased crime, or much more underhand ways to extract money? Undoubtably.

    Its a joy to live vicariously through you. Not having the time or ability to literally drop into locations opens up a virtual reality guide that is seldom spoken about or shown in the holiday brochures.

    Where to next?

    Safe flight home.

  7. *shy smile*

    my Boy writes beautifully.... *dreamy sigh*


  8. LOL! That is The Classic Scam. LOL. It happened to me but I didn't buy anything and I forced the driver to take me back to the hotel by writing the numberplate of his tuk tuk down and then threatening to report him to the tourist police. Evil roar.
    p.s Kate
    I didn't know you were in Asia now.