After two weeks of traveling across SE Asia, I’m finally down to my last 24 hours of vacation. The last day is always the worst for me. Whether I’ve taken one week, two weeks or an entire month off, it feels like the vacation just started. I wonder where all the time went, did I waste time doing ‘a’ when I could have been doing ‘b,’ why did I sleep in, why did I go to sleep at all. Many thoughts running through my mind about what I’ve done and what I need to do before I get back on the plane. Imagine all those thoughts, now imagine having those with only one full day to spend in Bangkok.
Bangkok had been my hub for the entire trip. I flew there from Tokyo and only spent one night there before hopping back on a plane. That night was a brief intro into Bangkok’s crazy nightlife in the Sois (streets) around the Suhkumvit area. Even getting to the area itself was a headache from Suvarnabhumi Airport. I arrived at the airport taxi terminal and told the driver where I wanted to go. I wasn’t sure what hotel I’d be staying in but I knew that there were many 1-5 star hotels in the Suhkumvit area. Despite my sureness that this is where I wanted to be, the taxi driver insisted that I get a hotel near the airport, that I get massage or boom boom, or that I simply go fuck myself… okay, maybe I made that last one up but I’m pretty sure that’s what he thought to himself when he couldn’t persuade me to go to a location that he gets paid to drop tourists off at.
After a night of clubbing in Suhkumvit, I left Bangkok for greener SE Asian pastures, but would return to Suvarnabhumi Intl Airport every 4-5 days to fly to a new location. It seemed to me when I planned my trip, that unless my hub was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (home of low cost Air Asia airline), that Bangkok was the lowest cost city to fly in and out of multiple times. After my third time coming and going from the airport, I was surprised that they didn’t assume I was some international narcotics dealer.
I finally get to the last three days of vacation and settle into Bangkok on the afternoon of my second to last day. That meant that I’d only get one full day in the city since my flight was leaving early morning on the third day. And that gets me to the point of this journal.
I set out early in the morning on that last full day of vacation, hoping to do a self guided highlights tour of Bangkok. After a delicious breakfast buffet at Lebua State Tower hotel, I set out into the sunshine on this working day for many of Bangkok’s honest working people. Of course the first person I ran into was a dishonest working local.
Immediately after I got out of my hotel (I made the mistake of carrying a map in hand), a well dressed and spoken gentleman asked me where I was from, shook my hand when I said Cali (I grew up in Columbus, Ohio but since I spent the better part of my adult years in So Cal and since most people know Los Angeles, I usually say I am from there when I meet foreigners) and then asked me where I was going. Now I had read enough travel guides to know that any person acting too friendly in Thailand is a person that you want to avoid. Immediately my warning signal lit up when he tried getting too personal. I played the game though and told him where I was going and how I would be taking the public taxi boat along the Chao Phraya river. That’s when he went in for the scam. He told me that I should go in the opposite direction of where I was walking and take a private boat and he would personally walk me there. “Nah, man, I know where I am going and what I’m doing,” I told him, more than once, like three times before I finally walked away to which he cursed me and told me I was being stupid for not heeding his advice.
Along I was, walking to the pier, taking pictures of the various street scenes like the street food, the fresh produce markets, the people, doing what I enjoy doing. As I stopped for a few shots on a corner, another well dressed and spoken man approached me and said, “Hey, you are staying at Lebua. I work at Distil (the bar there) and saw you last night. How do you like the hotel? Where are you going today.” Bam! He had me. He said something that made me think he recognized me, his approach was friendly and businesslike, and he seemed like he was dressed for work at the hotel. Although, with his somewhat rotting teeth and the fact that he was middle aged, he didn’t appear like the uber model types that were working at Distil. “Maybe he is a runner at the bar or a cook,” I thought to myself as he started talking more to me. Like the previous person, he then tried to figure out how I was getting to where I said I am going.
“Oh no no, the taxi boats are not running anymore this morning because it is not rush hour,” he said. “They only run during the busy hours. You must take the bus or a tuk tuk to go to the Golden Palace (my destination of choice).” Now because he suggested a public bus as an option, he immediately struck me as being an honest person. When I said that I prefer a taxi, he said, “Take a tuk tuk, it will only cost you 20 baht (barely a dollar if I remember the exchange rate that I am too lazy to look up right now).” I told him that tuk tuk drivers are scammers and will try charging me 100 baht and take me to a jewelry store. He addressed my concern and said that since I am staying at the hotel where he works, he will make sure that the tuk tuk driver only charges me 20 baht. And on top of that, before I get dropped off at the pier (by the way, he said he knew where I could get a taxi boat from but that it wasn’t in walking distance and I believed him) the tuk tuk driver will take me to Lucky Palace.
I don’t remember reading about a Lucky Palace in any of my tour books, but being the adventurous tourist that I am…
(yes I called myself the dreaded travel blogger word: Tourists. If you check off tourist on your entry and exit custom form when you travel, then you are a tourist no matter how real and local you try and get when you travel. It’s okay, being a tourist isn’t a bad thing people)
… I decided to check out this Lucky Palace that he sold me as being a unique place to see. Right behind us, there was a tuk tuk driver and like he promised, he told the driver to only charge me 20 baht. Without asking for money for the help, he shook my hand and told me that he hopes to see me enjoying a drink at the hotel bar later. I bid him adieu and thanked him for his kindness.
A few minutes later, I am at Lucky Palace and am ushered into a temple with a Golden Reclining Buddha. “Hmmm, is this the famous reclining Buddha?” I thought to myself. I thought this was at Wat Po, maybe I read wrong. As I was thinking this, a man who was sitting there began telling me all sorts of things about this palace and how it was just visited by the Thai royal family a few hours earlier. I asked him about the Buddha and he said that it indeed was the famous reclining Buddha. “Well just my luck, I would have missed it,” I said to myself, thinking that I was now seeing one of Bangkok’s must see sights. After giving them a 20 baht donation, I walked around the Lucky Palace grounds, going into other temples (which I would later recognize of poor replicas of the actual beautiful temples and wats that tourists like myself go to Bangkok to see).
We leave Lucky Palace and before I could say, “Take me to the taxi boat now,” the driver insist that I visit his friend or cousin or baby momma’s jewelry store. “Ha!” I laughed. I knew this scam and I was ready for it. “No, I am not going to any jewelry store,” I told him with conviction. “Please, it will only take a minute. Just go in and look, maybe you like something and buy,” he said in a persuasive tone of voice. After a few minutes of going back and forth and insisting to him that I was not going to step off and go inside a jewelry store, I finally said to him, “Look, I will give you 50 baht to take me directly to the pier. Stop asking me to go to the jewelry store or I will get off at the next stop. Either take the 50 baht and stop talking to me or take 20 baht and let me be on my way.” Money talks apparently and he shut up from then on and we went directly to the pier.
At this pier, I noticed there were no other passengers waiting. Uh oh. I was greeted by someone who seemed to be expecting me. Uh oh. I was led to a table where a 40 something Thai woman was waiting with a tourist map. Uh oh. I sat down and listened to her show me where the boat would be taking me, what places I’d be seeing, etc. I then asked her how much this boat ride would be. She got a calculator (for some reason, Thais never can just tell you a price, they have to show you on a calculator) and punched in 1500 baht. That’s when the black in me came out.
“Bullshit!” I said. I pulled out my guidebook and showed her the page that talked about taxi boats and how they only cost 70 baht to go to the exact place she was showing me. She informed me that this boat is a private tour boat and I must pay the price quoted. I told her again that I was under the assumption that I was taking the public taxi boats and I kindly… okay I’m lying, I practically got Samuel L. Jackson on her… asked her where the nearest public taxi pier was. She said it was around the corner and then gave me a pissed off look because I didn’t take the bait. I got up and began walking down this one way street. You would have thought I was Shaft the way I walked down that street, head held high up, shoulders straight, back arched in a, “You don’t want to fuck with me right now patna” strut that told every person on the street who even thought of approaching me that they better think twice and apologize for thinking it the first time.
I saw my bitch ass driver as I walked down the street, turned to him and said, “I told you to take me to the public taxi bitch (yes, I called him a bitch)!” I am not sure he knows what a bitch is but he looked at me, shrugged and I just laughed. As I made my way around the corner and back onto a busy, safe street, the last 30 minutes rewound in my head like a Hollywood montage. Then it hit me.
“Dammit!” I said as I realized that I had my water bottle in my backpack where it could be seen. The water bottle from the hotel. That had the hotel’s image and name on it. Yes, the man on the street knew where I was staying because he saw it on my water bottle. He must have spotted me when I was taking pictures on the corner. That or either the original pest called him, gave him the rundown on me and so he already knew what to say to me when he spotted me. Either way, he scammed me. Even though he didn’t get a cent from me, he could have had I went for the bait and taken the private boat tour.
I was pissed at myself for a few minutes. I had been scammed in Thailand finally and even though it only costs me about 3 dollars and one hour of my time, it was the principle. At that point, Bangkok left a stain in my mouth. Not once, not twice, but seemingly every five minutes, someone there was trying to scam me. In a country that calls itself “The Land of Smiles,” it appeared that every smile was not one to be trusted.
That would not be the only time that day that someone in Bangkok tried to run game on me. As I walked from Wat Po to the Golden Palace, numerous Thais standing right outside the palace walls tried to tell me that the palace was closed. “Okay, then why do I see people walking in and out of the palace?” I asked. “It is open for Thai people only from noon until 1500,” was the reply. “I didn’t know that Thai women had blond hair” I retorted and pointed to a very European looking woman walking inside the palace gate just a few meters away.
Again, I just had to laugh at the audacity that these people had. It’s like every tourist is a pawn to them. They smile, they act friendly, they do whatever they can to get you to look at them, to listen to them. The Land of Smiles is a Land of Scams. My best advice is to do what I did most of the time while in Phuket and Bangkok. I said the four words every traveler should know and when that didn’t work, I cursed them out in Italian and used a hand gesture where I touch my fingers to my chin in an upward motion. I figured that everyone knows that as the Italian symbol for “fuck off.” It works, believe me, I did it numerous times and wasn’t bothered. Also, don’t even acknowledge that someone is trying to get your attention or talk to you. If you make eye contact, they have you. You have to be rude to people when you travel if you want to avoid being hassled and possibly hustled. If I am the typical “rude American” to these pests when I travel, then so be it. I’d rather that they think that then think that I can be scammed on.
I apologize to the friendly, honest, trustworthy Thais out there. I know that these people represent a small percentage of who you are. But seriously, if you want people to stop thinking of your country as one big whorehouse where you can buy any new movie on dvd and just about anything else counterfeit, then maybe you should stop being a country where everyone wants to take you to a whorehouse, massage parlor, sell you dvds or fake Louis Vuittons, and get you to take Viagra and Cialis. You want people to see you like they see Singapore, well start getting rid of the corruption and sleaze like Singapore did. Until then, you’re exactly what people saw in the ‘Hangover II.’
What have your vacations been like when it comes to dealing with scammers and beggars? Do you think that cities that dub themselves as “tourist locations” should do more to stop scamming and begging?