Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Khwap Kun Krap

Means thank you in Thai (khwap kun kra if you happen to be female) and is the only phrase I have managed to master, so I'm using it a lot. I must say though, that I'm not completely at ease with the Thais and am finding them rather duplicitous at the moment. Thailand is known as the "land of smiles", but they certainly aren't always sincere. Yesterday I was the subject of a scam (I could see it a mile off, but I went along with it out of curiosity). A "friendly stranger" informed me that a wat (temple) I wanted to visit was closed for the day (though to be fair it might have been as it was a public holiday and I had already had one wat shut on me). Instead he suggested another itinerary that would take in a couple of wats and a "super silk market" sandwiched between them. The whole trip, the guy said, would only cost me 10 baht (slightly less than 15 pence) for my own, personal tuk-tuk. Since this seemed cheap, and one of the wats was on my "to do" list anyway I said "what the hell".

The wats were pretty standard (though I'm no expert on wats), but it was the "silk market" that was supposed to be the trap. The market turned out to be a tailor's shop selling silk and cashmere suits. The tuk-tuk driver would get a coupon from the shop for bringing me there, which he could then redeem for money (plus get a commission for any sales); and I was supposed to be subject to the hard sell. They only had to look at me in my clothes (I was down to my last T-shirt) and week-old stubble to know that they had no chance, and I was out of there pretty quickly. A bit too quickly for my tuk-tuk driver though, because it was not enough time for him to get his coupon, so I agreed to go to another shop (a jeweller's this time) and stay there for a minimum of 5 minutes. In the end the experience was quite good fun as the driver was highly sympathetic and I got to be carted around the place for next to nothing. Actually it is possible to use this scam to your advantage when you are in Bangkok: you just go up to a tuk-tuk driver and ask to be taken around town for free, and in return you agree to go into a few shops and travel agents during the day.

This isn't my first experience of Thai dodgy dealing either: in Krabi I was given horrendously inflated quotes for rooms by travel agencies posing as official tourist information centres. However I'm assuming that these goings-on are only symptomatic of heavily touristed areas and hopefully won't be present slightly off the beaten track; and in a way it is partly understandable when you see the horrors of the Khao San Road and Silom Street. The former is full to bursting with backpackers behaving like they would back home on a Saturday night after last orders, and the latter is for the slightly older tourist who has come for very "particular reasons" (I didn't go into any of the clubs, but their names and the touts outside left little room for my imagination). It's a pity that such a beautiful (at least in parts) city should have to experience the worst that tourism has to offer.

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