While we’ve been enjoying Thailand and its beaches, you can’t help but get frustrated at the locals charging you for everything, and the prices aren’t particularly cheap for a westerner.
We’re staying in Ko Phangan at the moment, an island I imagined to be full of drunken party goers similar to one of these European ‘expat’ retreats. It’s not. Instead it’s quiet (one of the quietest islands we’ve been to) and actually pretty relaxing. If we had more time here I’m sure we’d happily stay for another week.
But that doesn’t stop the locals trying to wring every baht out of you. Petrol is charged at £1.05, usually for a litre (a lot of smaller places offering gasoline will decant it into smaller 500ml bottles and sell it for the same price, watch out for that), every single public toilet has a charge attached to it and in the centre of Had Rin where the Full Moon party takes place, toilets are a business. They are locked during the day and open after you’ve finished your bucket of gin and coke. At first glance I thought it was a night club, nope, just a toilet.
Taxi, or Songthaew rides are fixed at 100 baht on Ko Phangan, there’s no haggling, everyone pays the same expensive price. The Thais have caught on to the fact that every westerner will have to pay these rates. It’s a shame really, there’s a lot of fun to be had when haggling. And if you do manage to get a decent price, make sure that’s what you pay at the end of your ride. I’ve lost count of the many times that we’ve agreed a price only for it to change at the end of the ride. Stand your ground and they will eventually give in.
Some beaches cost 50b to walk on and some view points cost 40b to enter even if they are just down the road and take no maintenance costs. And of course 1000b fines should you enter without permission or not having paid.
Rental companies only worry about scratches on the bikes. It’s the only thing they check, so ride it like you stole it! Just don’t crash it. A couple of South Africans we met had come off their moped and scratched the front. The rental company wanted 12,400 baht. The bike worked perfectly. In the end they had to leave the island without their passports and get emergency passports from Bangkok. Always take pictures of the bike before you sign anything.
One particular incident I remember on Ko Muk was when we accidently paid 16 baht instead of 26 baht for a couple of drinks (soft drinks, you won’t get alcohol any cheaper over here than you can in the UK). We took them to the beach and stayed there until sunset, a good 2-3 hours. Riding back in the dark a figure stands in the road so we almost knock her over and waves us down. “you pay 16 baht, it’s 26 baht!” – Wow we thought, you waited all that time there in the dark for 10 baht? I know they don’t earn much (during low season) so they’re desperate for money, but the way they act towards you is very off-putting and doesn’t show Thailand in a good light. My sister always says, “it’s the Thais that ruin Thailand”, I think I’m beginning to agree!
Not wanting to sound completely negative about our mostly positive time here, it’s not always so bad. We stayed with a Muslim lady in Ko Muk who offered us free fruit from her garden and gave us discounted prices on her food (best Thai Green Curry we’ve ever had!) – “if you want fruit, you take from my garden, free, free!” she told us. We had free reign on coconuts, pineapples, mangos, bananas, durians, jack fruits and pomelo. Every meal she’d cut us up fresh fruit. “free!” she said excitedly, as though it’s something that never happens in Thailand. As we got to know her she explained that during the high season (and she laughed, alot) she could charge the ‘Farangs’ – westerners/tourists – 150baht per coconut.
Generally Thailand is cheaper, but you have to shop around a bit. We managed to stumble across this place for £8 a night…
So is it the Thais giving Thailand a bad name, or the tourists that are willing to pay the stupid prices?