The Intricate Maze

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September 10th 2005
Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: 9.499, 100.005

Up and early, today is a travel day. I'll try to describe the oddity that is traveling around SE Asia. There appears to be a large group of drivers driving all sorts of vehicles to random destinations. Somehow it all seems to fall together and form an actual travel network with hubs and all.

To go somewhere, you can walk down any street and find a "Tour Office" or anything advertising travel to another city. This person will quote you a price that includes their own markup on top of the actual costs. It's hard to judge whether you're getting ripped off, but I've not had anything cost more than 400baht and I've had some all day trips. It might seem silly to pay a vendor when you could go direct, but you're sort of paying them for their ability to speak English to you, contact the van company and arrange everything. The vendor will eventually give you a voucher explaining where you are going and how much you paid. The vendor should almost always arrange to have the van pick you up at your hotel, or any other arbitrary location.

I paid 400 baht for a journey from Phuket town to Koh Samui, including the ferry. Perhaps I Was ripped off, but it is less than $10 for an all day trip and I didn't have to worry about anything. A van picked us up at our hotel at 8am and whisked us away to a waypoint on Phuket where all the vans gather together before setting out. We switched to a van traveling to Surit Thani, a city on the east coast of Thailand.

The vans can seat up to 12 people including the driver and are decently comfortable depending on which seat you get. In today's case, the guy next to me had a seat that had a broken reclining lever and was hard to get it to sit up straight. It's funny watching the Austrian couple sitting in the seat behind the broken one protest that someone shouldn't sit there because it reclines into them. I just laugh, because the van is full. The driver doesn't care. Nobody is going to get left behind. People need to take an airplane or train if they can't handle small problems.

The vans often stop at highway rest stops where the waiting vendors are happy to sell way overpriced goods to all the foreigners passing through. Nothing is priced because they charge twice the price to non Thai. I've only spent a week here but I know the "good" price of many common goods and services. It's difficult to bargain them down though. They seem to have a mentality of "if nobody bargains to the foreigner, the foreigner will be forced to pay the high price". This is especially true of the tourist islands.

Our van then finished the journey to Surit Thani where everyone unloaded into some vendors office. Why would the vendor be so kind as to let us wait there? Why to try and sell us a room in Koh Samui of course! Anyone who buys a room in advance without seeing it first is a fool. After waiting around for 15 minutes, the nicest bus I've yet seen on this trip came to drive us to the ferry. The ride ended up being over an hour. The bus was really decked out inside and had a sound system that would make a lot of punks in America jealous. I-Robot was the feature but we only made it about 2/3 of the way through so I'll have to buy the pirated copy now. I'm surprised the driver wasn't selling copies as we got off the bus.

At the end of the bus ride, we rushed to get onto the ferry to Koh Samui. The previous ferries we took had an air conditioned cabin with big seats. This one was more of an institutionalized ferry with hard seats with bolt heats sticking into your ass. After positioning yourself, it was a nice ride and I read a book about an American who worked in Laos in the 90s.

Koh Samui is a relatively big island. They tell us it would take 2 hours to drive all the way around it. All of the beaches are on the other side from the ferry so we had to take a taxi. We met up with a German couple who were also looking for a taxi. The German girl had read that you shouldn't have to pay more than 50 baht for a ride anywhere on the island from the ferry. Gas prices are a little higher so and the information was probably a little dated so you could extrapolate that to maybe 65 or 70 at the most. The first driver wouldn't take 4 of us for 100 baht each. He seemed to indicate nobody would take us, and nobody around would. We waited 15 minutes and eventually someone else showed up who accepted our 400 baht for 4 people. The tourist islands often use the excuse "you can afford this, its cheap to you". Right, well, in my country eating at a restaurant is more money than you earn in a week bitch. They don't realize that its not the price, but the principle of charging people different rates based on origin that drives us crazy. If everyone had to pay some exorbanant price, it wouldn't bother me.

When we got to a guesthouse, the same spiel came at us. "Oh, I give you this for 700 per night, normal price is 800". So you say "I won't pay more than 500" and get "No place on this island will sell you for less than 1000. I give you 600 if you stay 3 nights". Eventually I got it down to 500 a night for 2 nights, but at that point I just get tired of bargaining anymore. It's low season so I should get a better price, but at some point you're arguing a dollar.

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