Saturday, February 7, 2009

trashing the treacherous Thai tuktuks


It is a very rainy Saturday morning, the kind that makes you want to curl up in bed under a thick blanket. But after a long Friday and a brief photopost last night made with my head falling on the keyboard several times as I waited for the image to upload, I am now wide awake from a restful sleep. I also have set my mind to finally write about an experience in Bangkok that, though bringing back unpleasant memories, must be written to expunge the bile from my system and also to warn other travelers to Bangkok of this rampant racket that some locals indulge in.


Take the Tuktuks to Timbuktu

Or to Tibet. Or anywhere else equally if not farther away. And leave them there. You see, such is my disdain for the tuktuk driver and accomplices that ripped us off in Bangkok.

Therefore, the other title of this post would be: Warning: Beware of the Scheming Tuktuk Drivers and Company Who Prey on Gullible Tourists. In a previous post, I said that before going to any place, I always read up about it. I also read reviews by those who have been there to see what are the must see places and what are the places or situations to avoid. I did read something about locals taking advantage of guests but I probably was not keeping too close an eye on that issue.

Not joining a tour group and not having relatives or friends in Bangkok, we were on our own. How hard could that be? Armed with maps and cameras we set off Khao San Road to see as many sights as we could. First stop was at a travel agency to see what they had to offer. A six-hour guided tour of temples and a trip to the famous floating market would cost 650 baht per person but the tour starts at 7 am and it was already 10 am so it was too late for that. I inquired about tickets to the Thai cultural show, Siam Niramit, and was taken aback because the price had gone up to 1,700.00 baht from the internet published 1,200.00 baht. I was berating myself for not booking online while still in the Philippines. I immediately wanted to go to an internet cafe and try to book online hoping that the tickets would still be 1,200 baht.

Right outside the doors of the travel agency was the parking lot of the tuktuks. They call the tuktuks 'open air taxis' but actually they are just like the pedicabs or tricycles we have back home, the only difference is the seat arrangement. I do have a picture of the tuktuk but I don't feel like posting it here. We were standing in the street looking at our big maps, looking for directions to the nearby temples when along comes a very helpful and friendly man helping us find locations on our map.

I said we want to go to the Grand Palace and the nice man said "Oh, the Grand Palace is closed this morning because it is time for Buddhist prayer. Right now it is only open for the monks. You cannot go inside. It will be open to the public at 3 pm." Why, I was very grateful for that information! Imagine if we had gone there and then wasted precious time because we couldn't enter until 3 pm. I was very pleased with the graciousness of the Thai who, using the map, offered an alternate temple tour to us, naming some famous wats and what nots, including the biggest gold exhibit in Thailand and the world famous flower market, where they have all kinds of lovely flowers. I said I'm not really interested in gold but he insisted, "Oh it is a sight to see! It is in a huge auditorium and there is an incredible display of all kinds of things made of gold. And they are waving the 20% tax just for today because it's the gold festival."

And, most importantly, the tuktuk driver would take us to all these wonderful places for only 60 baht total! Doesn't that sound like a great deal? Plus, he said, after we went to the flower market and the standing Buddha and several other wats, we could go to the pier and take a river boat ride to the floating market and after that the boat would take us to the Grand Palace, just in time for it to open in the afternoon. It was sounding better and better by the minute.

Okay, very good, we decided to take the 60 baht tuktuk tour. But, I said, before we do that, let me just pop into an internet cafe because I want to book tickets for Siam Niramit, the cultural show that I really, really wanted to see. The very nice and helpful man said, "Oh, no need! The tuktuk driver will take you to the TAT, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, where you can get the tickets at cost because this is the government agency that is handling the show." Wow. I couldn't ask for anything better!

The man said, when we take the tuktuk, we have to choose one with green government plates, see like this one parked right here. How perfectly convenient! Could I please take a picture of the very nice man and the kind tuktuk driver who was going to take us to all those touristy places for only 60 baht total? Oh, no, they declined. They were Buddhists and on special abstinence from picture taking that day.

So off we went to our first temple and while we were clicking away on our cameras, another nice man got friendly with us and started telling us about how he just came from the gold exhibit and bought some nice pieces of jewelry that he was going to take back home. Not interested in gold at all, I didn't pay much attention. Looking back, it was rather curious that another 'tourist' would approach us and of all things talk about buying gold jewelry. I would expect another tourist to talk about nice places to see.

I told the tuktuk driver, could we please go to the TAT now? I wanted to be sure we had tickets for Siam Niramit already. Tuktuk driver said, oh first we have to go to the gold exhibit as the TAT was just nearby. So next stop was the gold exhibit, which I was expecting to be a showplace the size of a gymnasium filled with intricate Thai art rendered in gold. To my great dismay we were brought to one freakin' 8 x 8 meter jewelry store. Disgusted, I made one cursory walk around the place and walked out.

To the TAT now, I said with a stiff jaw. To the TAT indeed. We were instead brought to a travel agency where guess how much the tickets cost? Two thousand five hundred bloody bahts, and that is for the show only, if we wanted dinner with the show that would be 2,700.00 baht and thank you. If we wanted taxi service with that... never mind. I stood up.

Hoping to see and smell some flowers to quell the rising bile inside of me, I asked if we were going to the flower market now. Tuktuk driver, in a stroke of creative genius, said that we couldn't go to the flower market anymore because the riverboat cruise will start at twelve noon and we can't miss that. I said how about the standing Buddha and this temple and that temple and the other places that we agreed upon before the start of this tuktuk tour? He said, Oh, no more time for that, we don't want to be late for the riverboat ride to the floating market.

Honestly, we didn't want to see his lying face anymore or spend anymore time with him so we didn't protest. We paid him 60 baht, as agreed, and he delivered us to this dinghy pier for the riverboat ride to the floating market. It was supposed to be a one hour river ride for a huge amount of money which I will not publish here because it makes my stomach turn. We could have refused, right then and there and demanded to be taken back to Khao San Road but I don't know why, we paid up and got into the boat, even as we knew in our guts that we were being ripped off. Maybe there was that hope inside wishing that the whole thing would have a redeeming factor along the way.

So we just resigned ourselves to enjoying the boat ride for all it was, whatever it would bring. This included screaming when the boat captain would drive very fast and the boat would seem to jump out of the river and spray us with the murky water. The river system in Bangkok is actually like a regular street highway, with small side streets/side riverlets (?), and with regular traffic. There are lots of river taxis, too. It seems like a faster means of going somewhere because streets of Bangkok are just as busy as Manila streets.

They say that the river cruise along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok is similar to the boat rides along the canals of Venice. I have not been to Venice yet (one day, one day) but I sure hope the similarity is not true. Because the sights along the Chao Phraya River are not very pleasant to see. I was wondering, are they really showcasing these scenes for the whole world to see? I read somewhere that Thailand is a country of extremes and the river boat ride showed one extreme of this country. (pics later)

Our boat captain was very quiet and I envied the other legitimate looking cruise boats plying the river alongside us because I could hear their tour guides explaining the history of Bangkok and how the river system is an integral part of Thai history and lifestyle. So note to self and to other travellers: sometimes it pays to have a good human guide, aside from google.

So now to the famous floating market. We went to a side street or side riverlet ( I just made up that word) and there came to us two bancas each with a woman paddling an oar and peddling her wares to us. Of course we didn't buy anything. The prices of their souvenir items were double the prices we saw on Khao San Road. Clearly another rip-off.

The real floating market, Damnoen Saduak, is a festive place teaming with bancas with assorted colorful merchandise. And it is actually a one-and-a-half to a two-hour ride away from Bangkok proper, in Ratchaburi province 110 kilometers away. Obviously, we were nowhere near that. Which is just as well, perhaps, as shopping was not really included in my agenda on this trip. Nor is it ever. All my trips have always been about seeing and experiencing the place and the people, never has it been about shopping. So to those who are wondering where I went shopping in Bangkok, it being the shopping capital of Asia, the answer is ... ah, I will tell you about it in another post.

So after that pathetic facsimile of a floating market we were soon docking unto a pier. Is this a stop over? We paid for a one hour river cruise. The boat driver now said, "This is my route. I end here." I said again, "But when we paid, it was for a one hour boat ride. It's only been thirty minutes!" To which he replied, "This is my route. I end here." I had to watch my blood pressure and my wrinkles so I let it go.

Thus was the end of our Chao Praya River misadventure. I couldn't believe that smart girl that I am, I actually let ourselves be bamboozled into that sham tour. You know what I did, the next day, I went back to the same vicinity, took out my big map and started inquiring, from a taxi driver this time, about directions and stuff like that. Soon enough, another nice helpful man came along and pointed out some places in the map and asked questions like what places would I like to go to that day, and things like that. I said, I want to go to the Grand Palace and then to the floating market and then do some shopping and then go to the airport at 8 pm. You know what he said? "Oh, the Grand Palace is closed this morning because it is time for Buddhist prayer. Right now it is only open for the monks. You cannot go inside. It will be open to the public at 3 pm." He then proceeded to propose an alternative tour that would take me to some other wats, a river cruise and the floating market plus a trip to the airport. "And how much would that be," asked a much wiser me. "Two thousand baht," he said.

Yeah, right!


Dominique said...

Sounds like the International Conspiracy of Tricycle Drivers.

Dominique said...

"Abstinence from picture-taking..." Oh, boy!

backpacklife said...

thanks for the definitive info doki. my friends who have been there does not recommend a Bangkok tour. Instead, they highly recommend Changmai, then Phuket.

Bonnie M. said...

Ay! Ang sad naman... nagpaloko ka sa mga tuk-tuk drivers. It's always best to ask the hotel concierge for information, you know. And from what I know, the Grand Palace is open from 10 am to 5 pm everyday. I hope that despite of that unfortunate tuk-tuk incident, you enjoyed your Bangkok.

Ligaya said...

doc ness! :-) hehe, for what it's worth, you've had an authentic Bangkok cultural experience... you actually experienced the scam all the websites talk about hehehe... good thing you didn't buy the jewelry. hehe makes me want to post about my own awful bangkok moments... with all that, though, i STILL want to go back :-)