Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thailand: The Bad (Taxi Driver Edition)

These longboat taxi's were everywhere in Thailand. You could definitely haggle with the drivers.

(Editor’s Note: 30 Baht = $1)

Since my venture into Thailand started off so promising but then only got worse from there (it wasn’t as bad as that sounds), I left with what Patrick Bateman might call, a negative attitude. As a way to combat that, I’ll first bring up all that I didn’t like about Thailand and finish on the good. Maybe that will help me remember Thailand in a fairer light. So first, the bad.

Doesn't wanna haggle? (This was taken in Malaysia, as this type of sign would never be on a Thia taxi)

I knew Thailand would be different than Malaysia because I wouldn’t be traveling with my mother, which meant less money, no hotel reservations, and the freedom of roaming alone (I’ll get to how that worked out later). From Langkawi, I first headed to the island of Koh Lanta, since a pair of British girls I had met in Kuala Lumpur had spoken so highly of it. I loved Koh Lanta (again, a subject I will get to later), but when I finally reached the dock after a long ten hours of ferry travel, the first thing that happened to me would be a portentous sign of things to come; a native tried to hustle me.

For good measure

There are tons of grafters waiting by the dock when the evening ferry comes in, and they are all trying to rip you off in a variety of ways (motor-bike rental, taxis, tuck-tuck’s [motor-bikes with a cab attached to the side], and ‘resorts’ offering ‘cheap’ rooms or bungalows). It’s one big heist. I didn’t fall prey because I had my bullshit-detector on full force, but here’s how my first conversation went.

Guy: Hey, my friend (everybody uses this in Thailand, including the actual good guys, which makes it’s even harder to detect the bad guys), do you have bungalow?

Me: No, but I’m heading to Long Beach.

Guy: Long Beach… oh, very far. 200 Baht.

Me: It’s the next beach over, so, no.

Guy: 100 Baht.

Me: 50 Baht.

Guy: Oh no, my friend. Way to low. (Speaks to someone in Thai). Long Beach you say?

Me: Yeah.

Guy: Long Beach sold out, no rooms there. (Walks away)

This was a hideously dressed manikin at the night market on Koh Lanta. How are you gonna sell anything with that type of advertisement.

So if I was willing to pay 200 Baht (I later found out that it was almost always 50 Baht to Long Beach), then there are rooms, but when I haggle (and everything, I mean everything, is negotiable in Thailand), it’s sold out? I doubted there wasn’t a single room available in Long Beach (a fact I later confirmed), but it had been a long day and I decided to just grab a room in a guest house near the dock, rent a motor bike the next day, and then find a place in Long Beach for the next few nights. It all worked out fantastically in the end, but it didn’t dawn on me then how ominous that first exchange would be for my remaining time in Thailand. Welcome to Thailand you ignorant tourist, now bend over.

This was the guest house I stayed in on Koh Lanta; actually really nice with friendly service

It wasn’t the last time I had issues with transportation. After an all night 13-hour bus ride to Bangkok from the South, the bus dropped us off somewhere in Bangkok at 4:30 a.m. while all I had was a giant backpack and the address of my hostel. There were cabs, tuck-tucks, and drivers everywhere. I was too tired to haggle, so when a guy said to me, ‘Oh, very far, my friend, 300 Baht,’ I just said okay, and he looked at me like I was crazy. Only after I said, ‘Let’s go,’ did he snap out of his stupor to realize he lucked out with the dumbest tourist on the bus. In actuality, the ride probably only should have cost about 100 Baht. Hell, my three-hour ferry and then 800 km bus ride combined only cost twice as much as it cost to get me the final few kilometers in Bangkok.

I don't have too many pictures representative of me getting ripped off by Thai people, so I just threw in this purty pic to lighten the mood.

But the final straw came 24 hours later, when my Mother (I met her in Bangkok after ten days, after which we flew to Vietnam) and I took a cab at five in the morning to the airport. We were both too tired to notice that the meter was off, but my Mother had flown into Bangkok a few days before, had taken the exact same ride, and knew it should only cost 350 Baht. When we got off at the airport this was the exchange:

Driver: Okay my friend, 1000 Baht.

Me: What, you’ve got to be kidding me? That should cost, at most 500 Baht (my Mother saying over me, ‘350 Baht.’ We’re not exactly the best combo negotiators).

Driver: Oh no, my friend. I get no ride back to town this early in the morning.

Me: (Panning the 5:30 a.m. extremely busy Bangkok International Airport). I’m pretty sure you’ll get a ride in less than twenty minutes.

Driver: 800 Baht.

Me: This is all I got (as I shove 500 Baht into his hand).

The Bungalows that a few of my friends were staying at on Long Beach, Koh Lanta

And it was the truth; it was all the Baht we had left. Either way, we were still ripped off. But that was, really, the last straw for me. I got on that plane thinking, Good riddance, Thailand. The biggest problem with these types of experiences is that I go on my blog, email my friends, or talk to other tourists and all I do is complain about how this guy in such-in-such, Thailand tried to rip me off. Then on the other hand, the cab driver goes back to his garage, house, or coffee shop and complains about a customer bitching about a matter of dollars when the driver is already convinced the customer makes thousands in their job at home (sometimes true). The point is, it breads a dislike or even a hatred. That’s why I hate haggling; someone seems to always come away screwed.

This is a Canadian, Chris, and his mother, Paulette, who rented a tuck-tuck for a day. Unsure of if they got ripped off on the rental price.

See, I worked in the transportation business, in a giant tourist town (Charleston, SC), and I prided myself on being honest and trying, at all costs, to be as fair as possible. I would say the only people I ripped off were the obnoxious drunks and the rich pricks (often times the two categories overlapped), and that was only after I realized they fit the description. I could have made more money, but two things restrained me: my own code of ethics, and pride in my job, company, and city. I could even add family to the latter and then meld the two together. The point is, I wanted people to get off my rickshaw thinking it was well worth the money.

This place definitely didn't rip you off. 60 Baht for some Pad Thai? Plus, it's made on a boat.

One of the things I’ve liked about Georgia so much is the straight forwardness in commerce. A marshrutka from here to here costs this much, every time. You don’t even haggle at bazaars here. It’s no nonsense and there’s clearly a line drawn in the sand. Also, it’s not like they don’t know I’m a foreigner and have little idea how much things cost (most of the time, true). I never feel as if there’s a price for locals and a price for foreigners. I’ve seen a little bit of it in Tbilisi, but as Jesus said, Nobody’s perfect. He said that, right?

The elevated train in Bangkok, which seemed an anomaly in Thailand: well run and cheap.

 (Well, that’s 1200 words on my beef with Thai taxi drivers and I think it’s enough for now. I have a few more bones to pick, which I’ll get to tomorrow, but then I will round it off with some [many, in fact] aspects of Thailand, Thai culture, and even the Thai people that I really did admire).

I don't know if you can call this guy a taxi driver, but he would have probably charged you double what you expected. Plus, is it legal to talk on a cell phone and drive an Elaphant at the same time? In Thailand, probably.


  1. You are worse than thailand!

  2. I never claimed to be good, while you are admitting to Thailand being bad. Thanks for coming out...