We should have asked for his name, so we could officially credit him with the most expensive cab drive in our lives. But we didn’t, so for the purpose of this entry, his name will be Bill.
Bill was approached by us today on Khao San Road, the main tourist strip in Bangkok. We’d spend the morning seeing some sights of Bangkok – namely the Grand Palace – and having lunch with my friend Rachel. After lunch she put us in a Tuk Tuk and sent us to Khao San for a beer in the afternoon sun. A tallie each and we were pretty sleepy, but tipsy enough to convince ourselves it was time to give bartering a try. So we began approaching drivers in the hope of a cheap lift home.
We were offered a lift for 150Baht, which yesterday we would have accepted and been dropped in the wrong place… true story, that. But we got tough this time, and with a shrug of the shoulders, Jamie suggested 50Baht instead. A few of the drivers shook their heads and walked away, but two were left, discussing which one of them would do it. Finally, Bill accepted our offer, under the condition that he had to stop for fuel on the way. That was the first sign that something was up.
The journey began easily enough – Bill was very chatty, keen to know where we were from, how long we were staying, and what our favourite sights had been so far. Then he started asking about whether or not we’d found any nice suits yet. Very nice suits in Bangkok, he says. Very nice. Yes, we know, but on day two of a seven month around the world trip, we won’t be buying any suits today thank you Bill. Ahhh but you’ll look while I look, yes. This store? You been here? No? Ok we stop here. Two stops, then free!
What? Have we just been picked up by a tuk-tuk driving personal shopper? We ask him to point out where we are on the map and while we wanted to go east, we’ve gone north. But there are a number of tuk-tuks parked outside this shop so we hop out, on the guarantee that this is stop one, and we go inside to humour him. Looking around, and flipping through a few magazines for suits, we kill about 3 minutes, all the while sales people offering us cheap suits. But we’re not having a bar of this. Outside again we go and Bill looks disappointed to say the least. Almost angrily, he says there is one more shop and at the next one, we must stay longer. Give it a chance, he says. At around this point, Jamie reminds me that we’d been warned of these tuk-tuk scams. Drivers are on a commission to get foreigners into the shops that are further from the main drag. They take you out shopping and then if you don’t buy, the won’t drive you anywhere. Harmless maybe, because you can always find another driver, but time consuming. I must have lost that information somewhere in my mid-term memory though, because I can’t recall being warned of being forced to shop by aggressive thai men, but hey, what can you do. After 4 hours of sight seeing with no food in my stomach, I had finally been fed and watered and I was happy to go along for the ride.
To the second shop we went, and this one was bigger, with the whole front entrance dedicated to sitting space for the tailors/salespeople waiting to serve new customers. We were met at the door by Daniel, who seemed harmless enough. I figured I may as well use this place for their bathroom in case Bill left us roadside, so I left Jamie with the magazines and excused myself for a few minutes. Perhaps I should never have left him alone though, because I returned and Jamie had his ‘………….the suits are really nice here, Em, and they’re really good value……’ face on. Uh oh. He began to look at fabrics while I rolled my eyes, not believing that he’d been dragged into this scam so easily, but also remembering that my boyfriend only has two suits and both are navy, neither of which go nicely next to one of my black cocktail dresses. He found a very nice dark grey wool, and looked ready to buy. Only 9000Baht, Daniel says. He takes our phone and downloads an iPhone app for currency conversion to show us that it was approximately $260. Jamie face changes to say ‘…hmm how can I make myself feel better about this indulgence…’ before generously suggesting that I get myself something too, like a dress. Ha! Now I’m involved in the scam too. Still on a high from a belly full of fried rice and beer, I say ok. I pick out a pattern and get taken to the thai silk area, and choose a rather beautiful navy silk for a strapless dress. Daniel offers a discount for two items and my ‘bargain brain’ is buzzing. Time to haggle.
First offer is 13000Baht for suit and dress. I suggested 10000B but it appears this may be a little extreme, as he shows us the receipts of earlier transactions, to prove that we’re already getting a deal. I go for 11000B next, and Daniel starts to waver. He walks away for a moment and Jamie whispers to me ‘You play good cop, I’ll play bad cop.’ Good idea in theory, but Jamie was obviously too keen for a new suit and wasn’t nearly ‘bad cop’ enough! Daniel comes back and says $400 AUD, whatever the conversion is. It comes down to 12000B which is $390 (thank you, Google!) and Jamie goes to put the deposit on his credit card. We get measured up for our respective purchases, and are invited back tomorrow evening for a fitting before we fly to Chiang Mai. We can also come back in April for another fitting, before the items are posted to the UK for us. We walk out, expecting Bill to have legged it, but alas! There he is, waiting for proof of purchase, and he gleefully drives us to our original destination while we sit in the back, shaking our heads in scammed shame.
Finally, we reached our destination. Bill turned out to be quite the tour guide, and after asking a few questions about how much we spent, he was really pleasant as we hopped out. Obviously he’d done the mental calculations and had worked out he’d made quite the commission from us today. As we’d laughed about it on the ride home, we decided he deserved the original fare and handed over the 50Baht, thanking him for the experience. Surprised, he accepted it happily and shook our hands, wishing us well.
A quick stop at the 7-Eleven for ice creams and water and we were home, almost 2 hours later, and $400 poorer than we intended. But hey, hopefully in May we’ll have a suit and a dress to show for it! A lesson to us both – maybe next time, don’t barter too cheap, unless you’re willing to buy a suit on the way home.