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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 correct local price. Fruit and vegetables for example often have a 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 confrontational, though in a Sukhumvit street market, they’ll try their luck if you look green enough. Thailand, it seems to me, is the perfect market and there’s always cut-throat competition for your business.

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 it wasn’t too big a mark up and was good value at the price. Native English speakers also get the benefit of some good laughs from the warning signs.

On the tiger’s enclosure it says, ‘Animals could be harmful. Please keep out of the fence.’ My mother tongue and its conditionals are just so very difficult and if you can sit on the fence, why can’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 so much if they spent the money maintaining the island 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.

On Koh Chang there are two modest waterfalls within the National Park that are nice enough but since they doubled the entry fee not so long ago, I’m sure their takings must have fallen with significant damage to local tourism. The most glaring case though is at Khao Phra Viharn temple in Si Saket province in the North East.

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 on the Thai side of 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 to see on their side and no facilities.

All of this has become a bit irrelevant though because the temple has recently become a political football because of its listing as a World Heritage Site and it’s now closed to visitors from Thailand. There’s a border dispute on and with troops massed at both sides of the border, almost a border war.

What causes particular resentment among foreign residents though is that official double pricing is based 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’re resident in Thailand, spending the cash they insist you bring in, paying 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 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 extracting foreign money seems to do everything possible to scare away both tourists and foreign residents.

They do sometimes try to attract tourists though.

A few years back the government was completing a prestigious zoo project called the Chiang Mai Night Safari Park. Apart from being a short of animals so that the then prime minister flew to Kenya to get some more, they were also worried that just looking at animals can be rather boring. So 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 ‘Amazing Thailand’ is amazing indeed.

Stickman's thoughts:

Comments to follow when I return to Bangkok.