Taxis, Limos, Motorbikes, Jets And Limos…
Taxis, Limos, Motorbikes, Jets, and Car Rentals in the LOS!!!
Many interesting things happened on a previous trip to the LOS and I will share them with the Stick readers in this humorous and sometimes scathing report.
I will start with my arrival in Bangkok.
There are always surprises to be had in the Kingdom for anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in the most beloved Don Muang airport.
My first gripe is one that all visitors have experienced in virtually all 3rd world countries and that is the taxi touts at the airport. Although Thailand tried to clean up its act a long time ago with the concept of metered taxis, they have a long way to go. Here is what I mean…
The first problem that you come to is as you are about to leave the terminal where you are barraged by dozens of sales people pushing their taxis and limo service. Now before we go any further, let me stress to you that to my knowledge, Thailand does not even have any such thing as what Westerners think of as a stretch limousine. A year a ago, I actually tried to rent a real stretch limo and I wasted the better part of half a day calling God knows how many advertised ‘limo’ companies and you know what?…NONE of them had a limo. Although this is not one of the major things that separates the West from the LOS, but it seems to me as though there are definitely some wealthy Thais would love to preen around in a limo on special occasions to gain face. It seems rather odd that you cannot seem to rent a stretch limo. Rather stupid in my opinion. Someone should really consider importing one of these limos because I think that they could make a lot of money.
Now, on to the airport ‘limo’ concept that really gets to me. Last year on one of my trips to the glorious LOS, I arrived and I felt like I had just gotten the crap kicked out of me after 20 hours of transit time. The taxi line was longer than a line for free tickets to the World Cup, so I decided to take up one of those limo offers to get to my hotel as soon as possible rather than waiting in the stifling heat.
Now I had already known from a previous trip that I was NOT going to be getting a real stretch limo, but rather a late model comfortable car for me to enjoy my trip into Sukhumvit in. All of the salespeople that I saw had these placards with nice color photos of their cars. Some of the placards had pictures of cars that were Mercedes and those were the ones that I honed in on, but all looked new and nice.
Now, after numerous trips to Asia, I learned long ago to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS wait an extra minute or two for a newer taxi (when there are many waiting) when I go anywhere because on more than one occasion, I have been in a taxi with less than adequate A/C on days that would make Satan sweat and these were usually of the older beat up taxi models with 500,000 kilometers on the odometer. One trip from Don Muang was like I was in a sauna. When I got in, the driver said that he had the air off, after I commented on how hot it was in the taxi, he said, “Not worry, air con get cold. We go now.” So he took off. Well, much to my chagrin the A/C never got cold on that particular trip and I was livid when I got to my hotel drenched in sweat. I almost smacked the guy in the back of the head when we got to my hotel.
Back to my story. Well, I finally was approached by a young Thai man who was fairly amiable and he had pictures solely of Mercedes’ on his placard and I decided to use his limo service as I just wanted to get to my hotel and relax and take a shower.
Being extremely cautious and untrusting of these scammers all over Thailand, I put the screws to him and asked him several questions about the cars. I asked if I could get a Mercedes and he said, “Maybe.”. He said that he doesn’t know because they come from somewhere else. Then I noticed the fine print where it said ‘Mercedes or similar’. Yeah right.
‘Hi, my name is Ben Dover, do I get the reach around now?’
Now, I knew that he was bullshitting right there because at some point in this transaction, where I to move forward, he would have to radio or call one of the cars to come and pick me up, so it was obvious that he was able to communicate with the storage area and then find out if they in fact had a Mercedes available.
Then I asked him about the age of the car, and he said, “Car new. Brand new. Don’t worry, you like.” Well, at this point I had already decided to take an airport limo so I said OK. I told him that I wanted to see the car first before I pay and he said that I cannot do that because I must pay first. More Thai bullshit. I was tired, so I just paid him.
Well the car arrived in not even 2 minutes which was not bad, but it was NOT a Mercedes and it was NOT new. It was a 7 or 8 year old Camry. Now the car was relatively nice inside and the A/C blew cold, but the whole scam was just another notch in the belt for Thailand pissing off the people who support their economy.
So back to my most recent trip. So, after having learned my lesson last year taking a limo, I was waiting in the taxi line outside the terminal.
Now at most Western airports they have VERY strict rules and regulations about touts breaking the law and trying to snake customers and charge them higher fees. In fact, at most airports, the city limits taxis as to how much that they can charge you to go to the main downtown area so that tourists don’t get screwed. Well, here these pieces of shit are coming up to you like vultures and quoting astronomical fees as high as 600 baht to go downtown to Sukhumvit. These guys should be ticketed and fined for trying to cut right in front of the legitimate line of taxis waiting to follow the rules and charge a metered or fair price which runs about 250 baht in a metered taxi.
Now onto the motorbike touts. These guys are, fortunately, a step up the evolutionary ladder from tuk tuk drivers and charge much more reasonable rates, although you have to know roughly how much the cost should be to your destination or you might get screwed, but the vast majority of the time my trip fares have been very reasonable and the time saved by taking a motorcycle during rush hour is invaluable!
On a trip to Bangers last year my girl and I had to get to Panthip really fast because we had something to do later that night. We decided that it was best for us to take 2 motorbikes because it was rush hour. We took the SkyTrain as close as possible to Panthip and then hopped off and looked for a motorbike. Instantly we found 2 drivers that were willing to take each of us separately to Panthip, although they would follow each other so that we would not get separated. I asked my girl to negotiate the fare which she did with amazing Thai clarity and the agreed upon price was 20 baht each. I also made it clear that it was a total of 40 baht for both of us by holding up four fingers on one hand and making a zero sign with my other hand. They understood exactly what we meant. They agreed because they said that it was close.
So my girl and I each hop onto the back of our respective motorbikes and we whiz past traffic, dodging between cars stuck in lot tit (heavy traffic) and we arrive at our destination in maybe 1 or 2 minutes, max. My girl and I hop off of the motorbikes and my girl proceeds to tell me that they now want 60 baht (30 baht each). WTF?
I clearly told them, “No, you said 20 baht each. That is 40 baht. Total!”. These pieces of shit said, “No, traffic bad, too many cars. You pay 60 baht.” I was about to grab one of those scrawny stick figures and rip his trachea out of his throat, but one thought of the Bangkok Hilton made me backburner that idea.
I asked my girl to help explain to them what was going on, but she was getting shy (as she normally is rather timid) and the guys were raising their voices and intimidating her to pay. My girl said that we should pay and she said that she knows that it is wrong, but she does not want to have trouble and that this is the Thai way. Well, FXXX the Thai way!!!
I said, “Trouble? How are we going to have trouble? Exactly where do they have proof that the fare was supposed to be 60 baht? And besides, the fare is NOT supposed to be 60 baht, it is supposed to be 40 baht.” My girl looked sheepishly to the ground because she knew that these Thai guys were making all Thais look like shit to her rather educated farang.
So, I reached into my pocket and grabbed four 10 baht coins (40 baht total) and instead of nicely handing the coins over, I just threw them on the ground right in front of the guys on the motorbikes, turned around, grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and marched up the stairs and disappeared into the throngs of people at Panthip. My girlfriend smiled and knew instinctively that I had done the right thing even though she could never fathom doing something like that herself. Another notch for the good guys. <A seriously stupid thing to do. Throwing money on to the ground has cost many people one hell of a beating. HM The King's image is on coins, you see. You would not do that again. – Stick>
Well, I was kind of bored with the Bangkok scene, so I decided to head down to Phuket. I figured that they could really use the tourist dollars after the devastating tsunami and I wanted some nice R&R and fun in the sun.
I found a travel agent and booked a ticket for my teeruk and myself for Phuket. Now my teeruk had never been on a plane before and was very excited. She wanted to know what to wear, what to expect and things like that. Now, seeing as this was my girl’s 1st time on a plane and I never fly economy class in the cattle car section, I explained to my girl the difference between economy, business, and 1st class. Now my girl Porn is very smart and she told me that she knew that they are different from the movies. I guess Western movies are educational after all.
I explained to her some of the finer points of distinction between the classes of flight. She was under the impression that business class and 1st class were ‘nicer’, but she could not explain what that meant.
So, I told Porn that the food was much better (even though we would not get served a meal on this short 1 hour flight), but mostly that I liked to travel in business class because the seats are much bigger and more comfortable than economy class seats and that they can recline further than the economy seats as well which is much better because I am a big farang, much larger than the average Thai person. She just looked at me like I was from Mars and didn’t understand why that would be better. So our flight left a couple of days later and we went to Don Muang, got the tickets, and waited in the VIP lounge.
My girlfriend really liked the free snacks, complimentary drinks, fruit and TV in the VIP lounge area. She said that it will be fun to fly if everything is like the lounge. Then, I nicely explained to her that the vast majority of people CANNOT afford to always fly business or 1st class and that they do not get all of these nice amenities that we get in the VIP lounge and they most certainly NEVER get free food while waiting for their plane to depart. Then she said hesitatingly, “Oh…I see. So business class is much better than economy class?” to which I replied, “Yes, of course, that is why it costs more.”
I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was not really grasping the concept of good versus bad in an airport because she had never experienced anything in an airport and to her it all looked very clean and nice.
Now this is one thing that also really bugs me about Asian airlines that does not happen when I fly business class or 1st class in America. The problem that I am referring to is when you first enter the plane from the jetway, the idiot Asian flight attendants always assume that you are flying coach and point you to the rear of the aircraft. On one flight last year to Bangkok, I was flying 1st class and I even showed my ticket to the dumb ass Thai flight attendant. She glanced at the boarding pass and then motioned me to the rear of the plane. Now, I was on a different type of aircraft and I was not sure if 1st class on this flight was in the front of the plane on the first deck, or if it was on the second deck, or if we had entered further towards the front before 1st class begins. Like a schlep, I followed her directions and turned right where I was instantly in a traffic jam and clearly in the economy class section. I had to wait several minutes while the people in economy were trying to ram their bags into the overhead compartments before taking their seats. Finally, I was able to squeeze over to the other aisle and route myself back to the front of the plane into 1st class where I belonged. I saw that same dumb shit flight attendant on the other aisle and she just smiled like nothing had happened. More mai pen rai shit I guess.
So after a short wait, my lovely teeruk and I board our flight to Phuket. Well as we enter the plane from the jetway, guess what happens as my girlfriend is leading the way (ladies first)? Yep…the dumb shit Thai flight attendant automatically motions my girl to turn right. I had seen the position of the jetway and where it connected to the plane and I knew where along the plane that we would be entering, so I immediately said very loudly, “Honey, do not listen to her. She doesn’t know what she is talking about. Turn left. We are in business class.” My girl does just that and then the flight attendant asks to see her boarding pass and my girl produces it and shows it to her. Then the Thai flight attendant nods and points my girlfriend to our left instead. I think that maybe the flight attendant automatically assumed that a Thai girl could certainly never afford to ride anywhere but in economy class. More of the lovely Thai ‘caste’ system. But then again, this has happened to me on my last 6 or 8 flights on various Asian airlines and I must say that it is getting old really fast. Also, I do NOT dress like some backpacker either, I dress in cleaned and pressed kaki pants, dress shoes, and a polo shirt along with my leather computer bag, so I most certainly look like a business professional.
So we get comfortably seated and the flight attendant comes over and asks us what we want to drink (while the plane is still being boarded by everyone else). I comment to my girl on how much I love business class because of the big seats. She looks at me a little puzzled as to why I had chosen business class because she was shuffling around in her seat and sliding her butt side to side from armrest to armrest as she settled into her saet and then it dawned on me that my girl is only about 5’1” tall, weighs about 88 pounds (40 kilos) and has 33” hips (84cm)!
Damn, she would have been comfortable in a pet carrier for a small poodle!!! But she looked over at me and saw the contentment in my eyes as I was relaxing with my head resting comfortably against the headrest with the pillow behind my neck, then leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek and put her arm underneath mine and cuddled up close to me. Her hair smelled so good and her skin was so soft, I just melted into the seat.
Well, we take off a few minutes later and my girl is a bit nervous as we start accelerating down the runway. After we lift off and the landing gear is retracted we climb rapidly to our cruising altitude. After a few minutes in the air my girl looks over to me and says, “I don’t know I was so excited about flying on a plane. It’s almost same as the bus.” I almost busted a gut laughing. I said, “Yes, honey, but this bus goes 600 miles per hour!” and she said, “Yes, this is a very fast bus.” I was laughing inside for about 15 minutes when she said that one. She’s so cute.
Then the in-flight service continues and the flight attendants bring us a nice little French pastry snack for the flight. The flight is too short for a meal, so all you get is this nice snack and some more refreshments. Now, for those of you Stick readers who have never had the luxury of flying 1st class or business class, the tray tables and monitors are not in the usual locations as they are in the cattle care section (the seat back in front of you for the tray table and the above the aisle for the monitor).
In 1st and business class (on most airlines) the tray table folds neatly into the armrest and you have to pull it out and unfurl it into an open position in front of you (kind of like those cool, articulating Transformer toys with all of the hinges and swivels).
Now, the flight attendant had just appeared with the food and we were in the front of the business class section. I had purposely NOT opened my tray table to see what would happen with my cute little teeruk. The flight attendant was standing over my girlfriend holding the pastry in her tongs. My teeruk looked at the flight attendant as if to say (with her eyes) just put the snack onto my lap. I was smiling as I looked over at her because she was so cute and naïve. So, I could not hold out any longer because I did not want my girl to lose face (or myself to bust out laughing), so I told her that her tray was in the armrest and pointed to the location. She smiled and opened up the armrest. She had trouble raising the tray table out of the slot because she did not know to pull on the leather loop. My girl was starting to get a little bit embarrassed, so I reached over to help her. She finally opened her tray table and spread out the cloth tray table cover and waited like a little lid looking up shyly her beautiful doe eyes at the flight attendant who was patiently waiting for my girl to figure out the engineering protocols required to eat on a plane.
So my girl took a bite out of the snack and then took a drink of her Coke and turned her head to me and gave me a big a smile of approval. I said, “So, just like the bus, huh?” And then I started laughing.
My girl looked down coyly, smiled, and said, “You so smart, this is much better than bus. No napkin on bus.” My girl is too funny sometimes!!!
Looking back at that flight I realized why my girl felt the way that she did. A few months ago, my girl was going back to see her family up North. I asked her how she was going to go there and she said, “I take bus.” I said, “How long is the bus ride to your hometown?” and she replied very matter of factly, “Bus only take…maybe 6 or 8 hours.”
I said, “WHAT??? 6 or 8 hours??? Are you serious?”, she said, “Yes, sometimes 6 hours, sometimes we go slow and it take 8 hours.”
I said, “Jesus Christ, how can you stand riding that long?” She said, “Bus OK because we stop sometimes to go pee.” And I thought to myself, ‘Oh, well why didn’t you say so before? That must be like going on a luxury vacation…stopping intermittently at filthy gas stations along the way so that you can pee or shit in a fly infested squat toilet hole in the ground.’, but I bit my tongue so as to not offend my poor teeruk as I know that she is very poor.
Then I asked her if the bus was air-conditioned and she said, “No. I not go on air-conditioned bus. Too expensive. Air-conditioned bus cost extra 300 baht. Oh, I love my little, frugal teeruk. She might be a real keeper.
Then I thought about the flight to Phuket and realized a little more about why my teeruk really did not care about business class too much. She was used to sleeping on a thick mat on the floor both at her apartment and where she grew up in her home, so she did not need more than that for comfort. Now, I really appreciated her Thai humility when I thought back to that first flight for her.
Fast-forward to arriving in Phuket. We arrive and it is getting dark and it starting to rain. Taxi drivers (touts) are walking around and preying upon hapless customers who do not know any better. Now, I did not want to get ripped off taking a taxi to Patong and I wanted to rent a car anyway, so I walk over the Avis care rental counter. I make some inquiries and find out that their cars are stick and about twice as expensive as another company. The lady at the Avis counter actually told me about the price differential and took the time and walked me over to a competing car company that had the same car, but in automatic and for half the price. Now I do not know if she gets a kickback or not, but it was certainly a nice gesture. This is a good example of some of the nice people in Thailand…but read on, dear Stick reader and you will learn more about the more and more prevalent ‘not so nice Thai people’.
So, I am taken over (via car) to the other rental car company and I walk in. They pull out the paperwork and she writes up the contract. The girl wants me to sign the contract authorizing that I will pay for the car rental for the 4 days that I would be there. Then she asks for my credit card and I hand it to her. She swipes it on one of the old hand slide mechanical machines that makes an imprint on carbon copies. Everything looks OK, except for one small problem. She asked me to sign it and I told her that she forgot to write the amount onto the charge slip. I told her to write in the cost for the car for the 4 days that we will be there in Phuket. She looks perplexed. I told her that I cannot sign something agreeing to pay the full amount if there is no amount filled in there. I told her that her company could decide to charge me 200,000 baht if they wanted to when I returned the car. She said, “This is how we do. We always do contract this way.” I said, “Just because you always do it your way does NOT make it correct.” Once again, the stupid ‘Thai way’ rears its ugly head.
After about 2 minutes of my trying to explain why I did not want to sign a blank credit card slip giving my authorization for them to charge me anything that they wanted, she could not understand why this would be a big deal to me. She said, “Everyone always sign like this.” I said that I will NOT do that. I told my teeruk to explain to her the situation. I was very concerned about this blank charge slip because the credit card that I was using had almost a ZERO balance, but had a $22,000 USD credit limit. Now, if I had some small limit on the card like $1,000 or $2,000 I might not have cared, but these idiots could charge my credit card for the entire car if something were to happen or they could even say that the car cost them $20,000 when it actually only cost them $9,000 new.
Then I realized why they did it like that. I asked the girl what happens there is an accident with the car. She said, “Not worry, car have insurance up to $5,000. You pay if more than $5,000.” Now we are getting somewhere. So, I asked her, “So you want me to leave the amount line empty so that you can charge me as much as you want to when I return the car?” She said, “Yes” and looked at me as if this was a perfectly reasonable way to do business where her company has all of the protection and I can get it in the ass if anything happens. I said, “Well, you have my passport number and you know who I am. So, if something happens you can find me at my hotel and my hotel in Bangkok where I told you that I was staying.” She said, “No. Almost everybody sign contract like this with no price.”
Well, just because most people (farangs) are dumb shits (which they are) and sign a blank credit card charge slip agreeing to pay any amount written in there at a later date, I would NEVER do that as that is utter stupidity. They could also say that I damaged the car (even if I hadn’t) and charge my credit card for the damage.
So I ask her to talk to her manager. She said, “Manager go home already.” And then sat there looking at me to sign the contract like I was going to fold like a neophyte at his first high stakes poker game who has a full house and chickens out.
I said, “Can you call your manager?” and she said yes. She talked with him for several minutes and I was asking my teeruk to translate. I quickly realized that I was not the first person who did not want to sign a blank credit card charge slip, although I realized that MOST farangs did do just that because the female employee actually showed me a drawer full of signed blank charge slips for current car rentals.
After a couple of minutes with her trying to explain to her manager, I was getting tired and I wanted to get to the hotel as it was now dark, raining hard, and I did not even know where I was going to be staying that night and I was getting hungry as well. So I asked the idiot girl if I could pay cash for the car rental for the entire 4 days all at once. She asked the manager and he said OK. So, I took back the blank charge slip from her hand and I tore it up right in front of her and put it into my pocket. Then I pulled out the cash and paid for the car rental for all 4 days.
Now, this company was too stupid to realize that now they had NO protection in case something happened to the car because they no longer had my credit card number and this was perfectly OK with them. They were too stupid to figure out that they could have written in the amount on the charge slip and made me pay for the rental and that the contract as it was written allowed them to charge my card for any damage above and beyond the $5,000 insurance policy that comes with the car. Now I had all of the power and they had none because I had paid cash. Another victory for the good guys.
Chalk another one up for the ‘Thai way’. The stupidity never ends in the LOS.
This credit card issue is a worry.