Even This Seasoned Travel Blogger Gets Taken For A Ride
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Travel Blogger
When you first get to Bangkok, you can’t help but notice the tuk-tuks buzzing around everywhere.
People are riding in the back and your first thought is “gee, that looks like fun. I’m going to take a ride in one of those things!”
Tuk-tuks are mopeds with a golf cart-looking device attached to the back for carrying passengers. They are the quintessential mode of transportation in Thailand and Bangkok in particular. While there you must experience them at least once, but when you do, be wary of this scam that’s typical throughout the city.
From City Tour To Boat Ride To A Temple To A Men’s Tailor Shop
Here’s my story.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I had nothing to do and wanted to see the city. So I flagged down a tuk-tuk on the street and, after a slight negotiation, agreed to a fee of 500 baht (about $15 USD) to give me an hour tour.
The cheerful driver said he would show me the reclining Budda – one of the city’s must-see sights – and as we went through the streets, I was sitting all comfortable in the back, pleased at the fact I was getting a personal tour for such a cheap price.
Or so I thought.
After about 20 minutes – mostly calm ones, too; I was kind of hoping we would be weaving between cars stuck in traffic, perhaps get up on one wheel like a James Bond stunt – when he veered off the street and down an alley.
I did a “huh,” and also noticed two other tuk-tuks in front of us had done the same. I thought at first this was some kind of shortcut but the alley ended, the driver stopped, got out and instructed me to do the same.
We walked up to some short of shed, which I noticed was on the river. I was trying to piece together things but before I had a chance to process what was happening, he sat me down at a concrete table where a fast-taking Thai guy pulled out a map, started pointing to things along the river then shoved a calculator in my direction.
It had a number of something like 3500 on it, and I suddenly realized he was trying to sell me a river boat tour.
Now normally, my instincts would kick in, I would protest and demand to the driver that we get back in the vehicle and either resume the tour as promised or take me back to the hotel.
But two things were working against me here. One was the fact that my brain was only operating at about 75% capacity, a combination of a little jet lag layover and my first night in Bangkok. Secondly was the fact that I had nothing else to do and the thought that taking a ride along the river in a boat didn’t seem like such a bad way to spend part of the afternoon.
After a few back-and-forths with the calculator, we agreed to a price of 1500 baht and I stepped onto an old wooden boat on what was the dirtiest river I had ever seen in my life. Along the way, I grabbed a 100 baht beer. Things weren’t too bad.
After about 15 bouncy minutes, the boat pulled up to a dock – where I had to pay a 30 baht docking fee – at some type of temple. I don’t know what it was – still don’t – but it sure wasn’t the reclining Budda! It resembled but also was not the Grand Palace.
The skipper told me I had half an hour, so I walked around the well-groomed grounds (this took six minutes), poked around some more and went back to the dock. When I got back to the shack, I woke up the tuk-tuk driver and told him to take me pronto to Hemingway’s, an ex-pats bar I had been told about that was close to my hotel.
But he kept saying something about needing gas. He then stopped along the street and instructed me to get out and go into a place that was his “sponsor.” Turns out, this was an upscale men’s tailor shop and the second I walked in, I felt as if I was being mentally measured for a suit!
I took one slow lap around the place – at least it was air conditioned – and had the driver drop me at Hemingway’s.
Yes, I had been taken for a ride, and not the one I expected when I was happily buzzing through Bangkok’s streets in the back of a tuk-tuk thinking I was getting a one-hour tour of the city for 500 baht.
It wound up costing me 2000 baht but I can’t say it was an awful experience. I rather enjoyed being on the river (I could have done without the temple but with another beer) and got to see a part of Bangkok that I would not have otherwise in my short two-night stay.
Still, you need to be aware that this exists and if you simply want to go for a ride and not be taken for a ride, then make your intentions clear from the start.
And if you still find yourself sitting at a concrete table at the end of an alley, then at least to insist on going to some other attraction than the one I visited.