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Touring Bangkok by Tuk Tuk: Should it Be Avoided?
Tuk Tuk travel in Bangkok's city streets isn't entirely cheap or convenient. If you want to avoid being conned in a catch - an expensive game-play - then read on.
Singles, partners, or threesomes sitting opposite each other, may find the open-sided, roofed, three-wheeled tuk tuks quick, light and easy as they fly by the Thai capital's historic landmarks, monuments and buildings. That is until the driver stops, not only at one of them but at a totally unexpected place: some kind shop in which he has made a secretive deal with one of more of its proprietors.
It's very easy, in fact, to throw in the towel, climb aboard one and plunk down exhausted on one of the leather seats, as tuk tuks will be lying in wait for you outside popular tourist spots such as the Grand Palace or at the bottom of the spiral steps which lead up to the top of the Golden Mount. You may determinedly have set out to walk everywhere armed with a street map showing you where to go. Your independence remains intact. You can't go wrong until the early afternoon heat which adds to the hot fumes from Bangkok's congested roads, takes its toll, leaving you feeling tired, sweaty and sleepy.
Once you've committed yourself to an enticing extraordinarily cheap one or two Baht ride, that independence - something you've taken for granted - disappears in a flash. The driver will gladly take you to your next planned port of call that may be the Marble Temple and onto the Standing Buddha - places he knows very well - and back to your accommodation, providing he throws you into playing a game, a game to get petrol coupons.
He'll take you to tailor shops that make suits and other clothing; items that deal in expensive ornaments and fake jewelry:
"just look, look, lookie!!!" He'll advise anxiously. "You don't need to buy anything. Just make an effort and show a genuine interest."
If your game or play-acting isn't up to the mark his chances of getting coupons from that particular store will fail completely and you'll be made to feel a complete failure, as though it's your fault.
Once you cotton on to realizing the whole process is a scam, you may even let your guard down. Not only not cooperating enough with the driver, but actually letting the shop owners know that you know what they're up to. The whole thing can fall apart if you refuse to buy anything, challenge the shop owner by asking too many questions, and your feigned interest also falls apart as does your relaxing enjoyment of Bangkok.
Is this what you came to Bangkok to experience? Is this what you expected from an inexpensive, laid-back Thai holiday? Not if your staying at one of the budget hotels in Khaosan Road. Most visitors who pass through here are backpackers; budget travelers who are in search of art and culture; who'll have little interest in expensive jewelry - fake or otherwise - and clothing retailers. The shop proprietors may, on the off-chance, get one or perhaps two who may buy something, but I guess they'll be few and far between.
They can't honestly expect all Westerners to be 'rolling in it.' They can't 'win em all.'
Meanwhile the rest of Bangkok's tourists - whether from Khaosan or elsewhere - should hire a bike, take a taxi, or put their best feet forward if they don't want their Bangkok experience to end in a tumultuous ordeal in which anxious tuk tuk drivers could end up being disappointed - no petrol coupons from this ride.
But if all tourists avoid the tuk tuks, how are the drivers going to get their coupons?
The solution, of course, is for the Thai State - vis-a-vis the government - to provide subsidies for the tuk tuk drivers to get petrol coupons, then they wouldn't have to resort to getting tourists involved in playing ridiculous charades. Everyone, then, would be happy - well, almost!