On tuk tuks and tourist scams

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
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Trip End Sep 16, 2006


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

After spending several hot and smoggy in Bangkok, we decided to venture to locations north. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand but it is worlds away from Bangkok. Not quite provincial (although there are some areas that feel as such) and not quite a big city (although there are some areas that feel as such), Chiang Mai in a welcome change from the incessant smog, pollution and tourist scams that are ever present in the capital. In fact it is a common perception of people in Bangkok that people in the north are lazy, and nowhere was this more evident in daily life than in the tuk tuk drivers.

We've touched on the tuk tuks before. In Bangkok, the drivers of these dangerous, open air three wheeled vehicles are constantly hounding obvious tourists (such as myself) in any way you can imagine.

If you see a tuk tuk parked in front of a store, rest assured that the driver is inside and when you walk by, he will yell "TUK TUK" at you, as if:
1) You didn't realize you just had to step around this bizarre vehicle because it was parked on the sidewalk, and
2) As if he didn't know 5,000 other drivers haven't just asked you within the last 10 minutes (including, most likely, him).

Other times tuk tuk drivers will be driving towards us, slowing down and honking at us as if:
1) He didn't realize that he is holding up legions of traffic by doing so and
2) He didn't realize that we are headed in the opposite direction that he is driving.

On occasion, tuk tuk drivers have team up with others to do their dirty work together. One day in Bangkok Eva and I were wandering down a street and stopped for a moment to look at our Groovy Bangkok street map when a very friendly, English speaking Thai gentleman asked us if we needed help finding our way. We told him we were heading to see the "Golden Mountain" temple, and he told us that unfortunately the temple was closed to foreigners as today was Buddha Day. "Good thing we ran into you," we may have said in some form or another. Our helpful new friend told us of a Black Buddha which is open to visitors only one day a year, and it was just our luck that today was the day! Also, this month was a special promotion from the Tourism Authority of Thailand that they would reimburse tourists for the gasoline charges incurred on tuk tuk rides, but that we need to be careful because we should only take vehicles marked with a special blue stickers, marking that they're authorized by the Thai government as being legit.

What a serious of miraculous coincidences it was then when a special blue sticker tuk tuk pulled up to us and before we knew it our helpful friend ushered us into the vehicle to see the miracle Black Buddha, and for the low low discount price of 20 baht (50 cents). We snapped a photo of our friend and the tuk tuk driver (see photo album) and were a little confused by the drivers hesitancy to be photographed. No matter, we were off to see the Black Buddha!

It was about two minutes into our journey when the reality of these series of extremely fortunate events started to gel. Eva had read about tuk tuk scams where they offer ridiculously low prices to Bangkok newbies and before you know it, your driver has brought you around town all day and instead of 20 baht you wind up with a 1000 baht bill as the tuk tuk driver takes you, literally and figuratively, for a ride.

We arrived at the Black Buddha temple, an out of the way place down an alley which increased our trepidation for the situation. The tuk tuk driver was out of the vehicle even before us, and Eva and I waked hesitantly onto the grounds. I handed the 20 baht note to the tuk tuk driver and said "Thank you" in Thai, but the driver suspiciously refused the offer. I insisted, and pushed the money into his hand, shooed him off and walked on.

Inside the temple, another "helpful" Thai offered to show us around. We saw the Black Buddha (which was as we discovered later one of hundreds throughout Bangkok) and refused any further helpful advice and walked out of the temple. Our driver was still waiting outside in his tuk tuk, and when he saw us leave he yelled out at us and we shuffled on, ignoring him.

Later that day (and on subsequent days) we were approached by no less than 15 helpful strangers, all asking "Where you from?" or "Where you going?" Eventually Eva observed the modus operandi of these gentlemen when she observed a pair of men in a tuk tuk and was puzzled when the passenger got out without paying. The passenger then walked up to me from behind and offered to "help" me.

Of course this story is supposed to be about Chiang Mai, the much more laid back capital to the north, by which I can tell you that the tuk tuk drivers are in fact much nicer, and in fact we noticed many of them sleeping in the back of their tuk tuks, though when we walked by they still managed to get out a lazy "TUK TUK...?" between snores.

See our photos for further pictures and stories of this beautiful and much more laid back alternative to Bangkok-- an entirely different and far less scammy side of Thailand.

Adam
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Comments

middlefiche
middlefiche on

Tuk you!
I just Tuk-tuk this opportunity to finally write. I know it Tuk-tuk me a while but since no one else had commented on this last entry, I might as well jump in.

I'm glad you Tuk Tuk so many pictures. I feel like quitting my job and joining you, but alas...not gonna happen. And just to prove that point, I must now get my Tuk-tukus in my own Tuk-tuk and take-take myself to do my tax-tax.

Tata,
Anj

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