Short Change & Motorbikes
Early in my trip, I went to change $500 USD American Express Traveller's Cheques for Thai Baht (I needed to pay for an air ticket to China). I went to the FX booth that is on your right as you enter the Nana Entertainment Plaza. I think it is a branch of the Bangkok Bank.
The rate of exchange on that day worked out to about 22,500 Baht. I signed the cheques, and the clerk quickly counted out several 1,000 Baht banknotes plus about 500 Baht and some small change, and handed me the money. Normally I don't bother counting when I change money, because I usually change much smaller amounts, but due to the large transaction, I decided to count it myself just to be sure.
It is a good thing I did. My first count revealed that the 500 Baht and small change was correct, but there was only 20,000 Baht in 1,000 Baht notes. I recounted again, and it was still 20,000 Baht. I noticed that during my 2nd count, the cashier started to pay close attention to me. After this count, I pushed all the money back without saying a word. She counted it herself again. There was another lady in the booth, presumably her supervisor, who also counted it. They then talked briefly, and the clerk added 2 more 1,000 notes to the pile and handed it back to me, again without saying a word. I counted it once again, then left.
Obviously, this incident was a bit of a shock. 2,000 Baht is not a lot of money for me, but is at least a few day's wages to a regular Bangkok resident. I cannot imagine a bank teller in my home country being a few days wages short when counting out a sum of money to a customer. Moreover, her count was short by 2 banknotes, not 1. I can see a clerk very occasionally miscounting by 1, but missing a count by 2 out of 22 is a lot more suspicious.
The question is, was this an honest mistake, or was it an attempt to cheat me? I have not spent a lot of time in Thailand, and am not sure how to interpret expressions on a Thai person's face. The clerk had an alarmed look – I don't know if this was guilt/fear at getting caught out, or embarrassment at making a mistake.
Needless to say, the moral of the story is always count your money in the Land of Smiles.
2) Motorcycle Accidents
I met a waitress at an A-Go-Go bar on the 3rd floor, NEP. She was very cute and affectionate, rather tall for an Isaan lady, said she was 19 and looked it. As is the custom of the waitresses in this bar, she started to grope me a bit, and made it quite clear that she was available to leave the bar with me. I had just come to watch the show, but did not mind the attention at all, so I groped back a bit. I felt something like a scar on her thigh, and was curious so I asked her if I could have a look at it. She was shy at first, but eventually lifted her skirt enough to let me look at it. It was indeed a scar, 3 or 4 inches (10 cm) long, quite large but fully healed.
I asked her how she had got the scar. She had been in a motorcycle accident when she was 16. The injury did not, thank God, seem to be disabling in any way – she did not have a limp. However, I wonder if this would have prevented her from being a dancer in this bar. Would she be to shy to show her scarred leg on the stage? She was certainly young and good looking enough to be a dancer, and was not at all shy about being taken out of the bar by a customer.
Several days later, I was in another A-Go-Go. I caught the eye of an attractive lady dancing on the stage, and invited her over to have a drink with me. She too had a scar on her leg. It wasn't so noticeable when she was dancing, but up close I could see it was quite large and deep. I asked her how she got it, and sure enough, another motorcycle accident.
I have read on several Thai related websites how dangerous motorcycles are in the LOS. But seeing these 2 ladies with such ugly scars made me feel sad and a bit outraged at the poor motorcycle safety practiced in Thailand. A scar like this would be no big deal to me, since I am a man. In fact, if I had a scar like this, I would make up some B.S. story about how I got it ("Yeah, I was in the Gulf back in '91 – caught a bit of flack leading a charge against an Iraqi position."). But feminine vanity being what it is, scars matter a lot more to women, and these two were so young and pretty. It really made me feel sorry for them.
I ride a motorcycle here in my hometown, and am extremely safety-conscious. There were many examples of unsafe riding in Thailand that shocked me. I think the worst of it was how a lot of women, while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, will sit side-saddle rather than straddle the bike because they are wearing a dress or skirt. Sure, I know Thai ladies are modest creatures in public – they are not about to put their bare legs and undergarments on display to everyone by straddling a bike in a skirt. But you sit side-saddle, one sudden turn of the bike can easily throw you off, right into the path of the vehicle that is probably (remember that this is Thailand) tailgating behind you. Surely woman can bring along a pair of trousers when they have to ride a bike, and change into a skirt or dress later if necessary?
Scams against tourists are not uncommon and it pays to be alert at all times. With the huge number of motorcycles and the errant manner with which they are ridden, accidents are an unfortunate aspect of life in Thailand. Spend enough time walking around and you will see a lot of accidents, some of them fatal.