1 Oct 2014

Bangkok, Tuk-tuks and Scams

Arriving in Bangkok was quite extraordinary. My first impression was that their driving "skills" are something to be desired. Apparently there are no rules when it comes to driving there. No rules at all. Overtaking can be done whenever and however. You know those sneaky drivers who weave in and out of cars on the motorway and you just want to throttle them? Welcome to Thailand. Hard shoulders are driven on quite freely, and there is apparently no correct lane to use, whether you're turning left or right - you just sneak in at the last minute. In the UK we'd call that selfish, in Thailand they'd call it efficient. In fact, such a move in the UK would be lethal, and you would rightly endure the wrath and death glares of other drivers. Drivers in Thailand on the other hand will cut each other up like it's no big deal. Sometimes I felt like we were going sideways more than we were actually moving forwards. It was like being inside a video game - helloooo Mario Kart - and a three year old kid was controlling the gears. That's how crazy it was. Yet their ability to whiz in and out in such meticulous fashion without crashing is quite remarkable, and would suggest that my "three year old kid" analogy was quite wrong. Naturally I had to hold on quite tightly to my possessions (you can never trust people driving past on scooters, ready to pluck an iPhone from your hand whilst you take a photo of some temple or other).

This was my first experience in a tuk-tuk, and certainly one I wouldn't forget. I soon learnt that it all begins with a price negotiation (I've got better at this over time). It usually goes something like this: I pretend to look outraged at the initial sum they demand, and immediately halve it. The driver looks incredibly offended and contorts his face into a "are you effin' kidding me?" whilst you threaten to take the next tuk-tuk that comes along instead. Begrudgingly, he concedes to your close-fistedness, hoping to squeeze an extra 20 baht out of you. You look at him, stupefied, repeating 80 baht to him so many times that he finally relents.  Bloody foreigners, he thinks. But he probably hasn't given a ride for the past 3 hours. I can't work out if my haggling makes me an awful person. The price he is offering is cheap by UK standards, but then you're not exactly paying for comfort, (or aircon I might add). And everything in Thailand is cheaper, anyway. Many of them are also sponsored by questionable tailors, jewellers and fake tourist agencies. 

On one journey, my friend Jaz and I were headed to Chatuchak market, but the tuk-tuk driver insisted on taking us to one of his sponsors. We complained, but to no avail. Apparently that was the price for haggling so profoundly. We owed it to him. "Go inside and spend 10, 15 minutes", he told us. We stood outside Emporium Armani, surrounded by derelict buildings and mangy dogs. A classy place for such a classy brand. Something's not quite right. But wait..shouldn't it be Emporio Armani? Click. We stood outside the shop, scared for our lives, and peeked in nervously. Automatically we were shuffled in by owners and shop assistants. Was this all part of a larger plan to kill us? Does that door in the corner lead to a dungeon? These were thoughts going through my head at the time. However, they proceeded to throw fabrics at us left, right and centre. What if they smothered me with them? Must keep my cool. Apparently I had to buy a pashmina. "Today, good price. Cheap, cheap", he motioned to me in broken English. Once the fear that they'd lock us up in some back room and throw a bag over our heads had subsided, I merrily (maybe a slight exaggeration) waved my hand through all the shirts, suits, and scarves on offer, stopping at some shiny ties, before grabbing Jaz's hand and leaving. The tuk-tuk driver seemed somewhat annoyed that we'd spent little more than 2 minutes in his sponsor's shop, and that we'd come away empty handed. His commission wouldn't be good that day.

I was slowly being introduced to the scams, cons, and trickery prevalent in Thailand.

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