A Touch Of Class
Back in the old days, I used to take a taxi from the airport to the nearest bus station (Morchit), then ride the bus to Pattaya. In recent years, I've been using the "Thai Limo Service" for a direct ride. This costs a lot more, but is much more convenient. I've always been pleased with the service.
So, I paid the 1,500 baht charge, the driver put my suitcase in the back and off we went. He asked if I would be willing to pay the tollway charges, and of course I agreed. The tollway is a lot faster.
We entered the tollway and I paid at the first booth- 40 baht, I think. Before long we hit some traffic. We weren't out of Bangkok yet. He said we could save time by taking a different route, then getting back on the tollway later. Who am I to argue? He's the expert. I don't drive in Bangkok.
Well, we got off the tollway and the surroundings quickly became unfamiliar (although I don't drive here, I do take taxis a lot, and much of Bangkok has met my eye before). We went over a long bridge, crossing the filthy Chao Phraya River. Traffic off the tollway wasn't moving much faster than on. The driver seemed to be getting impatient. He was making sudden turns into narrow alleys and overtaking other vehicles rather recklessly, I thought. What the hell was he up to? If this had been a metered cab, I'd have suspected he was giving me the scenic tour to run up the fare. But this was for a set, fixed price. Every time the fare is agreed beforehand and a driver takes me on a route I do not recognize or expect, I have the same chilling thought: He is taking me somewhere to be robbed, raped and murdered.
Then, much to my relief, I realized HE WAS LOST! We were driving in circles! I saw buildings I had seen just minutes before. The guy was in a panic. He kept flashing me nervous, furtive glances to see if I was upset. I put on my best poker face and leaned the seat back to try and relax. Of course, I wasn't happy about this. But I know how useless it is to complain. He is Thai. He must SAVE FACE. He cannot admit a mistake. Thais must be perfect. We crossed the river again, doubling back over the same bridge.
By the time he found his way back to the tollway, I needed a beer and a bathroom. I asked him to pull over at a petrol station before we got back on the road. My bladder now emptied and a large cold Heineken in hand, I felt better. I told him "mai pen rai," and he broke into a smile of relief. He understood that I noticed his error and that I wasn't going to make a big deal about it. I still had my life, I still had my wallet, and I still had my virginity- rectally speaking, that is. My worst fears had not been realized- and, hey!, I was back in Thailand! What's a few minutes lost after a 16 hour flight? I took a long, hard pull on my beer and felt the warm glow of the alcohol seep slowly into my tired limbs.
During the two-hour drive to Pattaya, we made one more pit-stop for beer and to pee. He let me select radio stations, but all I could find between the static were commercials and disc jockeys talking- no music. We made some small talk and he could see I was tired and bored with the long drive. Several times he suggested I just go to sleep. In a taxi? I don't like to fall asleep in taxis; I'm afraid of where and in what condition I might wake up.
When we finally reached Pattaya, he explained that he would have to stop by the Thai Limo office to file the paperwork. This is standard procedure and I'm used to it. The driver parks out front, then runs inside to let them know he has arrived with the customer. This only takes a minute, then he returns to the car and takes you to your hotel.
Wasn't I surprised when instead of going to the office on Pattaya 3rd. Rd. that I've been to so many times before, we pulled up in front of a JEWELRY STORE! It was somewhere on the North Rd., I think, and I believe the sign out front said "World's Largest Jewelry Store," or some similar such unlikely, grandiose claim. I thought of Lonely Planet's warnings about jewelry store scams and my heart raced as I thought to myself, "No way am I getting out here to enter that goddamned jewelry store! No fucking way! It will take ten men to drag me kicking and screaming into that stupid tourist trap!" Then the driver got out and went into the building. He didn't say a word to me about going along. I sat there a few seconds and a beautiful, young woman in a traditional costume approached and gestured for me to roll down the electric window. Oh, fuck! Here we go! I rolled the window down expecting a sales pitch and an invitation to follow her inside (a honey trap!), but all she did was hand me a business card and smile sweetly. I rolled the window back up and watched her cute little ass wiggle back and forth against the tight-fitting Thai silk as she glided away. Swish, swish, swish….I could feel something beginning to stir in my pants and inwardly scolded myself for thinking impure thoughts about such a fine, chaste young lady. Damn!, I wished he'd stopped by a soapy massage parlour instead. Hey, maybe that would be next!
Well, if this was as hard as they were going to try to get me to buy jewelry, it wasn't so bad. My feelings began to soften as I realized how considerate and thoughtful it actually was of Thai Limo to bring me by this place. They probably figured what a shame it would be for tourists to miss out on the jewelry-store-tour experience just because they opted for their premium taxi service instead of the cheaper metered taxis and tuk-tuks. I don't suppose they could have any sort of kickback arrangement worked out with the jewelry store- nothing so crass and vulgar as that! Naw! Not Thai Limo- the taxi service that operates under the same emblem as the national airline. Certainly this is done purely out of a selfless regard for the customer. My mind then wandered back to that first, fateful trip I made to Thailand so many years ago, as I fondly recalled the jewelry store tour a tuk-tuk driver gave me and my farang buddy– with a few temples thrown in here and there.
He picked us up on Khao San Rd. where we were staying in a squalid, little room for 80 baht a night. We were dressed in shorts, tank-tops and flip flops and hadn't shaved for a couple of days. What fun it was to be greeted at every jewelry store as if we were celebrities! Pretty girls offered us free soft drinks and very imposing-looking businessmen in well-tailored suits spoke to us in their plush offices as if we were their equals. We were just scruffy backpacker hippies! We had very little money and certainly no credit cards. The tuk-tuk driver explained that it didn't matter if we bought anything- he was happy if we just entered the stores. I felt a little nervous about all this, but my buddy found it rather amusing so I just played along.
The climax of the tour was a visit to Patpong. The driver urged us to follow a tout into a go-go bar where we witnessed naked women performing various gynecologically-improbable feats of wonder. Most edifying! It was early afternoon and the place looked rather empty. In fact, I'm sure there were no other customers. After about twenty minutes the show ended with vaginally-discharged darts popping our overhead-held balloons. Somebody brought all the girls Coca Cola to drink in small plastic cups and soon we each had a naked girl in our laps. My gal asked me if I wanted to go upstairs and quoted me a price that was way beyond my budget. I looked over to my friend, but he was busy nursing- if you get my meaning. Since I wasn't going upstairs and my friend looked about ready to do the deed where he sat on the barstool, I suggested we'd had enough and requested the bill.
Hmmm, let's see, 2,000 baht for two Singha beers… (that was about $80 USD at the time. The baht was trading at 25 to the dollar.) That beer must have been awfully strong, because I'm usually pretty good at math and I'm not comprehending something. I requested clarification and we were immediately surrounded by several well-muscled young Thai gentlemen all eager to aid our understanding. Two more guys moved towards the door, seemingly anxious to prevent us from leaving. Explanation: we had purchased Coca Cola for the girls. "WHAT?!" I asked my buddy if he had placed the order. I asked him if anyone had requested that we buy drinks for the girls. "No" to both questions. The circle of Thai muscle pulled tighter around us. Thoroughly sphinctered, I saw no way out of this hole but to pay.
Oh well. It must have been all our fault. A cultural misunderstanding. We couldn't speak a word of Thai and the muscle men clearly did not have a very good command of the English language. All they could manage to bark out was, "You buy lady dink! You pay!" They seemed very sincere and earnest. All very nice fellows, I'm sure. Probably university students earning a little extra tuition money at their part-time job.
Moments later my driver appeared and roused me from this reverie. It had sure been a long time since my first trip to Thailand and that first jewelry store tour! Although I do feel nostalgic about the experience, my curiosity has been satisfied. I would not be going inside this "World's Largest Jewelry Store!" today, thanks. But, just think how considerate and thoughtful it was to bring me here! What a touch of class from Thai Limo!
It's what I love about Thailand – you just never know what is going to happen next. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride!