This is a tuk tuk. Vrrrrrm vrrrrm.
Domino #1: His eyes light up as he speaks, “You are in luck my friend. Today and today only the government is sponsoring taxi rides for tourists. Today, on the birthday of Buddha you pay only 40 baht ($1.20 US) and a taxi driver will take you anywhere you need to go today.” Your eyes light up as you listen.
You’re in a new country on a new continent and this is the first person to approach you in a friendly manner and speak in a friendly tone. “Here,” he says, “let me see your map.” “Place X is nice, go here first. Y is the next place you could see, take lots of pictures at Y. And Z is amazing, don’t leave Bangkok without seeing Z.” Local advice is insider advice; you listen intently. Excited for the day, you grab your map, shake hands, and hop in the first tuk tuk you see.
A tuk tuk is essentially a three wheeled motorcycle converted into a carriage. Weaving in and out of traffic, the wind on your face, and a full day ahead of you. At red lights noises lessen and conversations flow. Your driver is a native of
Thailand. His short stature and shy smile are less than intimidating. Mr. Yan works in the city and sends money to his wife and children up north. Domino #2. “Go ahead,” he says, “I’ll wait for you here."
X is a quiet Buddhist temple; just the kind of peace you need sometimes in a city of echoes and distraction. A deep breath invites that peace to you now. Slow down. Relax every muscle in the body. Your feet move slowly, taking you to the star attraction of X; sleeping Buddha. Smile for the camera now, this is a moment to be remembered. “My friend,” a voice sounds, “let me take a picture of you, I insist.” Snap.
"Where you come from?" he asks. "USA," you reply. "Oh...I have brother in California," he adds. The man is a caretaker of the temple and practicing Buddhist. A conversation follows; although mundane and outright boring at times, small talk breaks the silence between us. The usual words are exchanged for a few minutes and then the silence makes it's way between you again. "Be careful in Bangkok" he says, "Many people want steal your money. Only trust information from tourist office."
Domino #3. "Thank you," you reply and leave.
Half expecting the tuk tuk driver to have left after so much time, you are surprised to see him waiting for you. Say hello, sit down, put your butt in a comfortable place, and head to Y. Y is another Buddhist temple, even larger than the last. Again, the quiet soothes you as you stroll the premises. Lined rows of golden sculptures, elaborate murals of many colors, the smell of incense and the wonder that is sensory input. Smile.
A man is walking at your pace and in your direction; out of respect you acknowledge his presence. Again, the usual conversation follows ripe with "where are you from's" and "where are you going's." John is from England. He's here on holiday and this is his third time in Bangkok. He is a conversationalist and is just as inquisitive as he is responsive. He speaks in a friendly tone and seems genuinely interested in Thai culture. The conversation flows naturally and ends. As you part ways he asks, "Did you get a fair price on a tuk tuk? Today there is a special government rate." "Yeah...40 baht for the day, thanks,"
you reply. "Good," he says, "just trying to help out. Enjoy Thailand." Domino #4.
Exit the temple, and again, your right hand man Mr. Yan (awesome rhyming) is waiting for you. "I need favor," he says, "in order to receive government money I need voucher from tourist office. Can you help me one minute?" he asks. "Sure," you reply. Images of Mr. Yan's wife and little children come to mind and speed your decision process in the direction of yes. A five minute ride takes you to (I kid you not on the name) the T.I.T or Tourist Information of Thailand.
The 10 year old inside of you silently giggles at the name and you walk up to a representative smiling. "Welcome to Thailand," a woman says. As she speaks, the tiniest wittle white puppy comes up and lays on his wittle tummy. As yapping and unrealistically small as small dogs can be, you just can't not rub a dogs tummy when it lays on its back. Another tourist seems to chat happily with another representative. "Can I help you with anything?" she asks politely. "Yes, I'd like to go south to Patong in a couple of days,
how often do buses leave and how much do they normally cost?" you ask, ignorant of all modes of transport and pricing. "Let's see...to Patong...May 1st... the bus is 3000 baht ($90 US)...good price this time of year. If you use credit card price comes down to 2800." Domino #5.
You pause. Today was like a dream; beautiful scenery, peaceful temples, and you had the equivalent of a private chauffeur for the price of pennies. Not to mention a wittle white puppy is wagging its wittle white tail and looking up at you. Further, the price sounds more than fair based on what you pay in your home country. So you pull out your wallet and reach for cash, therein lies only 300 baht. You reach for your credit card only to realize it is back at your hotel. "I need to come back later to pay for this," you explain to her.
When you inform the woman of your plight, her mannerisms begin to change. Immediately her focus seems to shift from helping people to money and money alone. She becomes aggressive about obtaining cash or credit card information and is no longer the friendly woman you
approached earlier. Your instincts tell you to leave and to purchase a ticket elsewhere and thankfully you listen to them. Realizing (by deduction) the connection between the T.I.T. and the tuk tuk driver, you decide to walk to your next destination.
You spend the rest of the day sightseeing and simultaneously reflecting on the day and its mysteries. Arrive at your hotel and curiosity leads you directly to Mr. Google. A simple search of the words "tuk tuk" and "T.I.T. Bangkok" lead to tourism sites and basic information on the city itself (useless). "tuk tuk scam Bangkok," however, takes you elsewhere and confirms an underlying suspicion in your mind...the whole operation was a scam.
Suddenly the dominoes start to fall. First was the overly friendly man that stopped you to help with directions. Second, the shy tuk tuk driver sending money home to his wife and kids. Third was the caretaker who snapped a picture of you. Fourth, the English tourist here on holiday for the third time. Fifth, the sweet representative trying to find you the best price on bus tickets. I'd count the dog as well but she is an innocent bystander. The day was
dream. That dream was constructed to make you feel excited and each domino was put in place to make you feel at ease; to instill vulnerability and alter your decision process.
As luck would have it, you make it out in one piece. Your cash is with you, your credit card information is safe, and you pay only 1/3 of the price the "sweet" representative quoted you on the bus ride to Patong. You barely glanced at the other tourist in the room getting information, and yet, in your mind her image is vivid; poor girl. Anger tells you to attack. Your imagination runs wild with the things you could do in this moment: A brick to the window of the T.I.T, a letter to the government, a protest outside of the T.I.T to save other tourists from being scammed, but you know you would only help a few people and slow an operation for a fleeting moment. Business would be back to normal in no time.
So you write. And maybe someone reads your words and avoids any problems in the future. One might say that when travelling; overly friendly = questionable behavior, and when something sounds
too good to be true, it probably is, but that is for you to decide. Take care my friends.
Over and out.
Here's more information on the tuk tuk and other scams in Thailand. Check them out if you'd like : http://www.bangkokscams.com/undercover/the-great-tuk-tuk-scam.html
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