Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thailand: The Bad (Part II: Everything Else Edition)

Little do you know that despite this beautiful and peaceful picture of a Thai beach, I'm about to spend 1300 words bitching about Thailand. Enjoy.

So this will probably be a short post, as I flushed out most of my negative vibes in the last entry. But I still have some complaints, mostly due to one incident in particular. I feel like Frank Costanza on Festivus, I got a lotta problems with you people… But I promise, after this I do have some good things to say about the beautiful country of Thailand.

Railei (one of many spellings) was the most scenic beach I visited, while also being the most expensive, which directly coincided with it being ripe for a rip-off

Erti - Thailand had some of the nicest buses I’ve ever been on (a topic I’ll visit in the next post), but the way the companies run the buses and their routes had scamola written all over it. If you’ve ever visited Thailand, you’re probably aware of the term Thai Time. Even if you’ve never been there, you can probably tell what it means. Nothing is on time in Thailand; something is always broke, or someone quit. So often times you’re stuck at a pit stop waiting for another bus/driver/spare part to arrive.

But the way tourist transit works in Thailand is you buy a package to get from one spot to the next, and that package may include a ferry, bus, long boat, and/or taxi ride. The catch is when they transfer you from one mode of transportation to the next. The transfer is always at some roadside shack in the middle of nowhere, with the only thing available being bland sandwiches, maybe some Thai noodles, water, and beer. And all of it is twice as expensive as it would be elsewhere. It’s a giant scam.

Red Ants; scavengers...

But what are you going to do? They probably won’t order you a taxi even if you asked for one (and if they did, it would probably be twice as expensive as a normal cab), sometimes you are stuck there for upwards of three hours, and when you’re staring at a thirteen hour bus ride to Bangkok, sometimes all you want to do is get drunk. It’s exploitation at it’s best, but they know they can get away with it, so what the hell?

Ori - Everybody told me that Thailand is much cheaper and less clinical that Malaysia, but I didn’t find it that way at all. To be fair, I was in Thailand during the absolute peak tourist season, and the only places I visited in Thailand were popular and crowded destinations. Either way, the only thing that was cheaper in Thailand was the alcohol, which is kind of important for a traveler like me, but I thought the food and stay would be a lot less, and they were not. Also, shopping was not more affordable either (Vietnam is where it’s at per Southeast Asia shopping).

Saw this bar at Tonsai Beach near Railei, and it's a subtle shout out to my Great Uncle Howdy's Bar in Old San Juan called the One World Bar (Maybe? I forgot the name of it, so family, please correct me in the comments). Funny thing about Howdy is he ran this bar in Puerto Rico for decades yet the only Spanish he ever learned was Hola.

I was talking to a friend about my trip, and she said she met a German woman in Costa Rica a few years back, and all she talked about was how she hated traveling Americans (obviously, this woman lacked a modicum of tact as she was knowingly telling this to an American traveler) because Europeans had been backpacking through Thailand for years, negotiating every price, and enjoying the low rates they could negotiate down. Then the Americans showed up and ruined everything. Instead of playing the game and haggling, they took the first price given. Eventually, this ruined the economy for all the Europeans looking for a cheap vacation.

You would think it would be love at first sight.

I’m sure there is some truth to this theory. I hate haggling (as you could have noticed from my last post), but at the same time, I ran into exactly zero Americans while I was in Thailand, yet was surrounded by Europeans. So maybe we ran up the prices and bolted, while Europeans are still nostalgic enough to continue traveling to Thailand despite their bitching. I’m also not really sure that a majority of American travelers share my distaste for haggling, but I do know the Europeans I saw at shops and markets loved the whole give and take. Actually, it was kind of disgusting to see European after European taking pleasure in talking a night market vendor down an extra fifty cents on a Chang Beer singlet (the most popular tourist souvenir for Australian, U.K., and Irish visitors).

This was Walking Street on Railei, not nearly as exciting as the whore-lined Walking Street in Patong (or so I heard), but pleasant nonetheless.

Sami - You’re not a tourist in Thailand until you’ve crashed a motorbike, which I did in Koh Pangang. I wanted to explore the island from where I was (a beach on the North shore of the island). Unfortunately the island is extremely hilly, and the roads that cut through the mainland are terrible: narrow, muddy, and filled with potholes. But I made it the entire day criss-crossing the island without so much as a slight slip. Unfortunately, when I set out that evening to do a favor for a friend (long story short, I had to find a Sea Gypsy selling awesome jewelry at Hadd Rin, home to the famous Full Moon Parties and on the complete opposite side of the island. The biggest catch: the guy only came out at night), I made it almost the whole way to where the road gets better, hit a foot-deep pothole going about 30 km/hr, and ate shit.

This is not the motor bike I crashed

I only had a few scratches on my palms, knee, and elbow, but there were a few nicks on the right side of the bike. Nothing monumental, easily fixable, but I knew I would have to pay some sort of restitution. So when I returned the bike the next morning, I didn’t even try to hide the fact that I’d crashed (the bandage wrapped around my right elbow would have given me away anyway). Immediately (without even asking about what happened or if I was okay) they pulled out a sheet with a list or replacement parts and costs. As two guys were going over the entire bike and punching numbers into a calculator, I started to get a little apprehensive. Then when they showed me the calculator reading 8300 Baht (Approx. $275), I immediately said, ‘No way.’

This was a French guy me and my buddy Armin met on the night-ferry to Koh Pangang. Despite the fact that we banded together to split a cab fare (yes, that truck is an island cab), it didn't matter because it was still per person.

There were maybe ten scratches on the entire bike, which all could have been buffed out and fixed for a matter of dollars, but they insisted that they had to order brand new body parts. I eventually talked them down to 6100 Baht, still an outrageous sum in my eyes, but I had a ferry to catch and they had my passport, so I was past the point of caring. Now I understand that I signed a contract and I have to honor my signature, but I knew this company would not buy any new parts, and that they are relying on tourists like myself trying to navigate these terrible roads and in doing so, scratch up the bike after which they can charge a ridiculous amount of money. It had scam written all over it.

Tonsai beach was much cheaper than neighboring Railei, but also much crunchier. My hair started dreading itself as I was walking over there.

Did they make me crash the bike? Of course not, but the completely impersonal transaction that ensued when I returned the bike and the matter in which they came up with the price (like it was all part of the whole deal; a closing cost per se)… the whole thing rubbed me as dishonest and wrong. There’s no doubt about it, I’m the dumb tourist for falling off the bike, but the entire ordeal reminded me of the completely cold and impersonal way in which I found myself continually treated in any sort of business transaction.

Again, I don't have many shots of being ripped off in Thailand, so here's a nice shot of a few Thai flags ripping in the wind off the back end of one of my many ferry rides.

Okay, hopefully these past two posts will act as some sort of catharsis and provide closure for my Thai angst. I’m actually looking forward to typing up my positive thoughts on the country, including some good words on the many Europeans I met. Despite my scathing words above, I don’t hate Europeans. I just don’t like Europeans who have a natural distaste towards Americans based on half-baked theories (we have it tough enough when we travel). Anyway, there are some aspects I really cherished about Thailand, and I’m looking forward to airing them. End on a good note, yeah?


  1. Wow, I can't believe you had such a bad experience after falling off your bike. We left one broken at the top of a hill in Langkawi and were offered a replacement no problem! Then on the last day the starter motor failed when taking it back & the guy was cool with that too. We even got our RM50 deposit back!

  2. Serata, I believe the key to everything was you and Sam were in Malaysia, not Thailand.

    Also, thank you for not giving me shit for my somewhat unkind words about Europeans.

  3. Hey, I enjoyed this post. From some conversations I've had recently, I was getting frustrated with just being the 'American' to some people. I'm sorry you were as well, but it is nice to know some one was going through the same.