So I am in Bangkok. The first morning I wake up 6ish, surprisingly. My hotel being at a stone’s throw from all the Bangkok buzz, I spent the whole night roaming around Khao San Road just to soak the atmosphere up.
Resolved to profit from the early rising and explore the city to its core, I set off right after delicious breakfast. When I reach the first crossroads, suddenly everything seems a little bigger and less so congested as from the previous night and it does occur to me that it might be a much less straightforward exploring than I am used to.
Standing at the crossroads, studying a map, turning it upside down and left and right (yes, I prefer using orientation sense) I suddenly hear a gentle voice. “Hello, young lady.” I turn my head and on my left I see a man sitting on a street barrier, profiting from the shadow cast by the surrounding trees. “Where are you going?” he continues. I clearly do have a plan of what I want to see but at this point feel somewhat confused by the options the crossroads is throwing at me. And since the man looks okay to me, I approach him and ask him a few questions as to what direction would be best to take. He engages in a simple get to know you conversation with me, which is not exactly what I feel like, but I tell myself ‘Let’s not be rude here.’ And so I somewhat reluctantly answer his questions. But then he seems to be getting to the point of our conversation, which is directions and sightseeing.
He tells me that my plan is not bad but the day isn’t right. “Today Friday young lady. Today we give respect to our King. You see all the people in black going to the temple?” he points at the crossroads. And it seems right. I can indeed see bunches of people dressed all in black coming from different directions. He suggests that I change my plan. “Why don’t you go to this and that temple and then you can take a boat on the river? I can take you with a tuk-tuk young lady,” he continues. I know this is probably just some low-level marketing trick and my gut is telling me not to trust him that much.
On the other hand, when I look again at the crossroads, a great deal of laziness takes hold of me and his idea actually starts growing on me. I like tuk-tuks and feel that a ride on one in Bangkok could provide for some nice memories of the trip. And so I give in. I ask him about the price. “20 baht,” he answers. At this point I stare at him in shock and amazement at the same time. He offers me something which seems like a three-hour or more ride for a price that can’t even buy a bottle of water. Now I am sure it stinks but my sluggishness and the idea of the tuk-tuk ride combined speed up the decision-making process and inject a certain level of confidence in this otherwise shaky business deal. He takes me to a parking place and introduces me to my driver. I figure the guy has his own drivers and he himself is in charge of ‘marketing’ only. And so the ride begins.
It’s fun at first. The driver takes me to some nice places, mostly temples, smaller and bigger, and the ride in the city centre slowly waking up is indeed enjoyable. What is less enjoyable is the fact that the driver drags me to shops, travel agencies, tailors and whatnot but at that point I have already done my math and tell myself ‘Whatever. That’s what you have to endure for such a ridiculous price.’
The tuk-tuk ride is coming to its end and because I feel stupid and guilty for paying 20 baht only I give the driver a generous tip. I know he gets tips from all the places he took me to but since I haven’t bought anything… My generous me awakens. This makes the driver even more eager to bring me to the boat trip, which is supposed to be the highlight of the tuk-tuk tour. He promises a 1000-baht wonderful boat trip with an amazing floating market. Unfortunately, rarely when on holiday do I count money or act in a budget-wise manner. ‘It’s a holiday,’ I usually tell myself. ‘Have fun for God’s sake,’ I reason with myself. It’s therefore only logical that for many locals it may not be so difficult to convince me.
When we get to the river cruise point it all dawns on me even more. “1500 baht, madam,” blurts a fat boat boss showing me places and spots the boat is going to take me to on a very basic map. I know at this point, as an only client there, that I am not paying for what he is advertising but I am tired already and think ‘We live only once and since you are already here.’ Playing short-handed, I collect last powers to haggle the price, blame them for not having a unified price and how come tuk-tuk driver says 1000 when it’s 1500. “1300 baht for you only madam,” he gives in. “Promotion for you because you are such a lovely lady.” I know it’s a rip off anyway but at least a feeling of minor victory over the scam clan makes me feel momentarily proud and I nod in agreement. I pull out a bunch of crumpled banknotes out of my pocket and willingly give them to the fat boss.
And so the ‘sail’ begins.
I am admiring the driver for manoeuvring the boat on the not so calm river so skilfully, asking myself whether I have forked out 1300 baht for something that is close to mild white water rafting. I feel somewhat dizzy but once we get on the canals the water becomes still and I actually start enjoying myself, leaving the whole Bangkok and tourism newbie errors behind for a moment.
Suddenly another boat approaches ours, an elderly lady in it, boat loaded with lots of stuff. I want to be a nice tourist so I reply to the lady’s hello with a hello too and add a nice smile. But this is not meant to be a random small talk. The driver manoeuvres the boat closer and the lady starts eagerly offering all those useless trinkets to me. When it finally becomes clear to me, as I am probably the only one who takes such a long time understanding the complicated web of Bangkok scams, that this is another premeditated economic attack, I start shaking my head vehemently to make it clear that I am not buying any gimcrackery whatsoever and think to myself that they have already ripped me off enough and this time I mean to be adamant. Unfortunately, my driver and the lady are adamant too and none of them seems to want to let go. And since I want to get rid of the small shopping boat as quickly as possible I finally give in and say yes to Chang she pulls out of her cooling box. I pay a ridiculous 100 baht for a small can (and curse myself again for being so naive) but think it might be actually nice to sip beer while on a boat tour around Bangkok canals.
I grab the can with a resigned expression and consider our business to be completed, as opposed to the lady, however. “And a drink for the driver, young lady?” she goes, ramping her sales attempts up…. ‘Damn’, I think shaking my head in disbelief. ‘They won’t let me breathe these commercial leeches’. I’m thinking though that if I don’t buy a beer for the driver he could hate me and curse me all the way long and, who knows, he might want to flip the boat over or what. So I just wave my hand resignedly again, pull out another 100 baht and let it be. Holy mishmash!
After about 40 minutes as opposed to the advertised 60, still wondering where this floating market will pop up, we seem to be back on the Bangkok river. I try to hide my surprise first, but then it becomes crystal clear to me that there will be no floating market when we approach a pier. Another fat boss helps me get off the boat but as if in return asks immediately for 20 baht which he explains as ‘a charge for using the pier.’
Well, well, well what a ride! By that time I have already come to terms with the fact that I may incline towards such experiences but still feel a bit sorry for not seeing the floating market. When suddenly it hits me! ‘Hang on’, I think, ‘it must have been the elderly lady with her stuffed boat!’ And so I close this story with a feeling that I actually did see a tiny fraction of the market and even shopped there! Brilliant! I am enjoying the trip to the fullest.