Couchfish Week 1: 10 baht. I take you anywhere
On tuk tuks, gems, and, well, you know the rest
Friday afternoon emails are for both free and paid Couchfish subscribers. During Friday emails, I stray from day to day travel and instead write about a memorable experience—good or bad— I’ve had.
This week: The tuk tuk scam.
At the end you’ll find a summary of the week’s paid issues—just in case you missed one. This issue is free—please feel free to share it! If you’re a free subscriber, please consider upgrading to the full list—it costs just US$5 per month or $50 for the year—no tuk tuk ride required!
Have a good weekend and thank you all for your support
“10 baht. I take you anywhere.”
“10 baht. I take you anywhere. All day. No problem.” the tuk tuk driver said.
It was late November 1993 and I’d flown in from Kathmandu the previous evening. I’d swapped low-lit, dusty streets for a neon capital where everyone owned a motorbike. I was already in love with Bangkok.
Yeah right. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
“All day. We can go now,” the tuk tuk driver said, gesturing to me and my English travel companion. “10 baht. No more. You can trust me, no problem. Look.”
He reached behind the driver’s seat and pulled out a school note book, handing it to us. Rebecca leafed through it. Pages filled with traveller comments exhorting the skills and trustworthiness of the driver. “Best tuk tuk driver in the universe!!!!!” said one.
We were both jetlagged and had slept poorly. On arrival the previous night an urchin steered us to a flophouse down a lane by Shanti Books on Khao San Road. Even by 90s Nepali standards, the place was a dump.
Ready to pounce. Photo: David Luekens.
Stumbling boggle-eyed down Khao San Road that morning, our new friend saw us as the first catch of the day. We must have been easy pickings—we were beyond clueless.
“Ok, so where should we go?” Rebecca asked.
That was it, he knew he had us.
Back then, the baht was pegged to 25 baht to the US dollar. Our new friend was offering to drive us around all day for less than 50 cents.
Hell, everyone was young and green once right?
Smooth sailing. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
In we hopped and 10 minutes later we were at the Standing Buddha. It
was, well, what it said on the can, a tall standing Buddha. We took a look and hopped back in.
Sitting in traffic, our driver turned and asked, “Can you help me?”
“Ummm, what do you mean?”
“I have a friend with a shop. If I take you to the shop my friend will give me petrol for my tuk tuk. You no need to buy anything. I promise.”
Seemed pretty harmless and well, we were only paying the guy 5 baht each, so why not? We agreed and the driver seemed satisfied.
Next thing, we pulled up at a decidedly fancy jewellery shop and got hustled into the real hustle.
Oh my precious… Photo: David Luekens.
We were the only “customers” in the store. The jewellery all had price tags higher than what I’d spent in four months in India and Nepal.
We went to leave.
Staffers stalled us. They pulled out cheaper stuff, but were getting nowhere and we drifted out. Our driver was there waiting.
“They only gave me half a tank. We go to one more shop, ok?”
The next shop wasn’t as glamourous. Rather than jewellery, they sold loose rough stones. I wouldn’t know an emerald from a garden pea, so I was way out of my depth.
The staff latched onto Becky though.
I reckon the yellow one is real. Photo: David Luekens.
“Where are you from?” they asked.
“Surrey in England.”
“Wow. What a coincidence. I have a brother who lives there! Whereabouts in Surrey?”
There was some back and forward, as the attendant convinced us he did have a brother there.
Then came the bite.
“I wonder if you could help me.”
He brought out a pile of rough stones, I don’t even know what they were. He placed a fist-full in Rebecca’s hand and explained that the taxes for him to ship these to England were high. Could she take them to England for him? She’d need to pay $500 as a deposit, but the attendant’s brother in Surrey would pay her $2,000 on delivery.
Rough gems from a river near Pailin, Cambodia. Photo: Nicky Sullivan.
Rebecca, staring at her hand, asked me what I thought. I said we didn’t have $500 between us and I didn’t want to go back to England anyway.
“Maybe you’re not invited,” she replied under her breath.
More gems came out. More money talk. These other ones could go to Singapore. Or, if she wanted to go to Sri Lanka, he had a cousin there who needed gold. Could she take that instead? It was always the same deal—we’d pay a chunk up front for a supposed payoff down the track.
Handle with care—and I don’t mean the steering. Photo: David Luekens.
Even my dim-witted 23-year-old brain knew this was beyond dodgy.
We were there for over an hour, but left gemless.
Our driver got us to visit two more gem stores that morning—I have no idea where he put all the petrol.
We never made it to Wat Pho, though back on Khao San Road that afternoon, I got taken for $100 by an Indian fortune teller. I’ll tell you about that next Friday.
This week gone on Couchfish
I arrive in Bangkok and hit Chinatown—my favourite district in one of Southeast Asia’s best cities. I mention a great place to stay literally over the river, along with some good spots to snack at.
Favourite link out? Fantastic Food Search—essential reading for foodies.
I cross the River of Kings to explore a bit of lesser-explored Thonburi. First stop is one of the city’s most popular sights—Wat Arun. Then I show how, with a 20-minute wander, you’ll find a traditional Thailand from 70 years ago.
Favourite link out? A time-lapse video of Wat Arun—spectacular.
Back across the Chao Phraya to the National Library area. A both rustic and chic area jammed with family-run and affordable places to stay. I hit Phra Athit for lunch, then across to Bangkok’s original burning ghat, Wat Saket.
Favourite link out? A travel blogger piece on Wat Saket.
This was intended to be about Ayutthaya, but I got so caught up in travel by Thai trains that I deferred Ayutthaya for Monday.
Favourite link out? A fantastic video by Christopher Wise on Hualamphong station.