The King’s Birthday

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We arrived in Thailand by air from Bali on Monday. A different world it is. Big highways and overpasses snake throughout the city. Huge billboards dot the roadside. Weronika and I were meeting three friends from Poland on the famous Khaosan Road, so we hopped into a taxi and took in this new cosmopolitan landscape which we have not experienced in some time.

We met our friends and explored the city for a few days. Bangkok is a beast. It is large and bustling and there is a huge number of things to do as a visitor. Meanwhile, phenomenal food and cheap drinks work to slow you down as you explore the city.

Bangkok is also full of scams. We were aware of these, but nevertheless were very close to falling victim. It was the king’s birthday in Thailand on Sunday. The king is a big thing here, so we were not surprised when people told us about different things being open, closed, delayed, sold out, or full. The king’s palace is the best example. We were walking towards it and along the way strangers with seemingly nothing to offer kept saying the same thing: “The palace is now closed to visitors due to the king’s birthday. Come back at 2:30.” Sometimes it was a passing statement. Sometimes it was a helpful explanation of all the alternative things one can do. Often it ended with a suggestion to take a cheap tuk-tuk to some Buddha statue, for a “local price” which you can only get if you speak Thai. The story was always consistent and extremely persuasive. Even 50 meters from the entrance a seemingly authoritative man next to a palace guard repeated it. We were almost sold. Weronika was the only one who kept steady and would not be lured away. The palace ended up being open and an awesome sight.

The scam is called a commission scam. Someone gets you to get into a tuk-tuk (a type of motor taxi), often for an unbelievably low price. Now instead of going to your destination, the tuk-tuk driver takes you for a quick shopping stop where amazing deals are to be had. And then another, and another, and so on. The driver gets commission for bringing you to the door. The shop owner works hard to sell you something because he already paid for you. In the best case, you don’t get to where you want to go for a long time. In the worst, you also spend a bunch of money on overpriced junk. The only thing we cannot figure out is what all these seemingly random people have to gain who have the same coordinated story. I guess they get a few baht from the tuk-tuk driver. The worst part is that we were aware of all this, but the way it unfolded was so convincing that we almost took the bait.

We saw some temples, toured the king’s palace and compounds, and generally explored all around. The girls took their time with some shopping, and we all ate the great food. At night, we admired the break dancers in the street and gazed in dumbfounded awe as we experienced the improbably things that can be done with a ping pong ball. Also we have spent a lot of time just talking and catching up, as we have not seen the girls since the start of the trip and everyone was giddy with anticipation of what the rest of Thailand has to offer.

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