Friday, November 20, 2009

Tuk You, Buddy

Chakri Mahaprasad Hall (Grand Palace, Bangkok,...Image via Wikipedia
Today I went to the apparently magnificent Grand Palace. I say apparently as I was refused entry because I was not wearing long pants. Never mind that the shorts were so long that they only revealed one inch of skin above my ankle and I did have on a long sleeve shirt.

Nonetheless, the guidebook did say appropriate dress, (long pants,long sleeve shirt) and I did fail to meet the criteria. I am a guest in this country and if I fail to meet clearly stated requirements that is my fault and nobody elses.

As I take the deserved walk of shame away from the gate of The Grand Palace I run into a tuk tuk driver ( a tuk tuk is a sort of motorcycle with a buck seat, like a motorised rickshaw offering to take me to a number of free sights around the city.

I ask him how much and he says whatever you want to pay. I'm leery, and I ask again, how much? Same response.

He takes me to three interesting sights, but sandwiched among them is five different stores. It seems he gets a petrol voucher by bringing tourists to these stores. I'm already hip to this, as someone at the first sight we visit fills me in and tells me I should pay only 10 - 20 baht, as he is going to be compensated for bringing me to these stores.

At some point he fesses up with a help a brother out kind of vibe. Fine.

At three of the five stores, I actually make some small purchases, while salespeople entice me to buy expensive jewelry. After store number five I'm getting exasperated.

We go on to the third tourist destination, The Temple of the Golden Mount. All three destinations have been magnificent, but I'm somewhat annoyed at the whole process.

Part of the deal is a ride back to my hotel, and we have both met our obligations, so it is time to end this odd charade. Before departing for my hotel he insists on being paid, which is fine. Given that I "helped a brother out", I take him at his word and give him about 350 baht ( about $10), far more than I was advised to.

We pull away from the temple and he drives about ten feet and pulls over and says "do you want to get out here?". Clearly he is not happy with his compensation, but I stand my ground, reminding him that I did him a favour and that he said I could pay whatever I wanted.

Reluctantly he drives me to my hotel.

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, but just because an individual is smiling and unflailingly polite, doesn't mean that they're not trying to screw you.