Thursday, 25 October 2007
Plundering Farang Pockets
One of the good things about living as a foreigner in Thailand is that you’re very rarely overcharged. Tourists may be more vulnerable than me, but I find that in the markets or even in a touristy place, the locals usually give me the proper price. They don’t seem to mark up the price for the farang. Fruit and vegetables for example often have the price marked on them which is useful if you can read it and for bigger items they’ll usually settle on a realistic price very quickly.
There isn’t a big culture of haggling here as it’s too confrontational, though maybe in a Sukhumvit street market, they’ll try their luck with too high an asking price. Thailand is the perfect market and there’s always cut-throat competition for your custom.
All of which makes it such a pity that official treatment of Thailand’s foreign guests is far less welcoming. Double pricing at government run places is rampant. When recently we went to the Bangkok zoo, a big notice at the entrance reads, ‘Foreigners 100 baht’. What foreigners don’t know is that the Thais go in for only 50 baht.
In this case it didn’t bother me as this was not too big a mark up and it was good value at the price. In addition, native English speakers get the special extra of some good laughs from the warning signs put up for their benefit.
On the tiger’s enclosure it says, ‘Animals could be harmful. Please keep out of the fence.’ It had me thinking about the niceties of meaning and it’s right up there with, ‘Do not use the lift in case of fire’. My mother tongue and its conditionals are just so very difficult and if you can sit on the fence, why couldn’t they ask you to keep out of it?
Much more serious though is the policy of charging non-Thais no less than ten times the usual fee for entry to National Parks. Thus when you land on the beach on Koh Samet you pay 400 baht against the 40 baht charged to the Thais. I’m perfectly happy to pay six pounds sterling if they spent the money maintaining the island for everyone’s enjoyment but there’s very little evidence of that.
Apart from the fact that I landed several times before I realized they should have given me a receipt, the place is a complete mess. The ferry point at Na Dan is one of the dirtiest places in the world and it’s an utter disgrace.
Recently they doubled the fee for entry to all National Parks from 200 baht to 400 baht. An overnight increase of a hundred percent is strange but what seems positively bizarre is that the fee for all National Parks is the same whether you’re paying for entry to an ancient monument, a vast wilderness that needs considerable upkeep, or to see some hills with a few ordinary looking trees on them. There’s very little for your money in terms of sights and facilities at some of the National Parks but the price is always the same.
On Koh Chang there are two modest waterfalls within the National Park that are nice enough but since they doubled the fee, I’m sure their takings must have fallen and local tourism significantly damaged. The most glaring case though is at Khao Phra Viharn temple in Si Saket province in the North East.
When visiting I always try to stay overnight nearby at Suan Loong Daeng, a delightful small resort so as to make a start to the temple in the cool of the morning. The temple itself is actually in Cambodia and the Cambodians charge a modest 400 baht for entry to foreigners which is worth every satang.
However, as you reach the hills before the border, there’s a barrier across the road and you have to pay 400 baht to go through and continue along the road. The Thais have scheduled the approach as a National Park so as to get their cut from the tourist traffic, though there’s nothing much to see on the their side. To my knowledge they’ve not provided any facilities either, except sufficient toilets at the car park for an incontinent army, which unfortunately rarely have any water.
What causes particular resentment among foreign residents is that the double pricing is based solely on race and not on residence. If you have a long nose and a pasty face you pay ten times the Thai rate notwithstanding that you’ve been resident in Thailand for many years spending the hard currency they insist you bring in, paying your local taxes and never murdering anyone. If you tell the stooges at the gate that you live here, they’ll still charge you ten times what your Thai wife has to pay. It’s as if to remind you that you’re only here on sufferance!
It’s thus left to the real people of Thailand to extend their celebrated welcome to visitors and to justify the special reputation of The Land of Smiles. In contrast insensitive official policy and off putting para-military faces refusing visas and extracting foreign money seem to do all they can to scare away both tourists and foreign residents. I’m sure they’d say they’re trying everything to attract us though.
A year or two back the previous government was completing a prestigious zoo project called the Chiang Mai Night Safari Park. Apart from the fact they were a bit short of animals and the then prime minister no less flew to Kenya to get some more, they were also worried that just looking at animals can be a bit boring. What could they do to really pull in the crowds?
The Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment in charge of the park, one Plodprasop, then held a press conference and announced an ‘exotic buffet’. ‘Lovers of wild cuisine are in for a treat,’ he is quoted as saying. (The Nation, 17 November 2005.) ‘The zoo will be outstanding with several restaurants offering visitors the chance to experience exotic foods such as imported horse, kangaroo, giraffe, snake, elephant, tiger and lion meat. We will also provide domestic crocodile and dog meat from Sakhon Nakhon province’. Yum!
Yes, sometimes I do find ‘Amazing Thailand’ amazing indeed.