Cutting corners in Thailand: Is everything ‘cheap-cheap’ and ‘same-same’?

When I think of ‘scams’, I remember my sour experience on my first day in Bali… when a uniformed man took my rucksack from the baggage claim at the airport… carrying it for ten meters to a currency exchange booth… and then demanding 50,000 rupiah ($5) for the ‘service’… or, I think of when I exchanged money at a moneychanger in Kuta… when, after counting my money 3 times… I still somehow managed to get short-changed by 500,000 rupiah ($50)… or, I remember my two French travelling companions I met during my first visit to the Gili Islands… where they had paid 650,000 rupiah ($65) for a quick, 1 ½ hour journey to Lombok by speedboat… only to be pushed onto the 5 ½ hour slow boat that cost 150,000 rupiah ($15).

What also comes to mind are the 15 or so tourists I encountered at the port in Gili Air… who went to catch their return long-tail boat to Bengsal harbour in Lombok, only to be told by port officials that their tickets weren’t actually valid… and that they needed to repurchase new tickets.

I also remember the lie I’ve been told 4 times…(luckily, I have never fallen for it)… that our point of arrival in Bengsal is 2 kilometres away from our next point of departure… therefore requiring a horse-drawn carriage to transport us the 200m walk to where we needed to go… not for a small fee, of course.

Should I also mention the time I went to buy mosquito repellent… where I asked, ‘how much?’, to be told it cost an extortionate 350,000 rupiah ($35).

Yes, these are what I’ve typically referred to as ‘scams’… and now, I’m both used to it and vigilant…particularly when buying transport or various products in markets…

Admittedly, since leaving Indonesia, I’ve taken my foot off the pedal a bit… as processes in Singapore and Malaysia went more ‘by the books’… products and transport seemed to have reasonable and consistent fixed prices… and I generally didn’t feel as though I needed to be on guard all of the time as I did in Bali and Lombok.

Travelling in Thailand – thus far – also seems relatively smooth. Prices for transport vary by no more than 50 baht (£1 / $1.40)… prices for products… well, this seems to vary more dramatically…(again, I purchased mosquito repellent in Tonsai for 240 baht – or £4.80 / $7.00 – and then found the same product elsewhere for 120 baht – or £2ish / $3ish)…

However… whilst Thai salespeople (just like their Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian neighbours) will proclaim all of their products are ‘cheap-cheap’ or ‘same-same’ when trying to convince you to buy their products… I’ve noticed a slightly disheartening pattern: you’re not always buying what you think you’re buying… or rather, there seems to be a trend of cutting corners…Yes, everything’s ‘cheap-cheap,’ but is the cutting corners pattern ‘same-same’ as well?

My observation is currently limited to cocktails, food and laundry… but I’m curious to see which other categories this trend applies to.

Cocktails. On three separate occasions (the first in Koh Lanta, the second in Tonsai, and the third in Koh Phi Phi), we purchased cocktails that were in fact mock-tails. Our experience in Koh Lanta was purely speculative… as Lili, Mandy, Dave and I felt unbelievably sober after 5 Mai Tai’s.

In Tonsai, after a co-traveller mentioned the prospect of cocktails being non-alcoholic, I decided to secretly observe the barman whilst he prepared my Mai Tai. To my own amusement and shock, I witnessed him prepare the Mai Tai almost ritualistically… full of exaggerated gestures of pouring and measuring only for me to notice that he was ‘pouring’ from empty bottles. I just couldn’t sit and watch… I walked up to the bar, caught his attention, and exclaimed with almost a maternal smile (the type of smile you have when you catch a child do something mischievous and naughty but find it funny anyway): The bottle is empty! You’ve just poured from an empty bottle! The barman quickly tilted his head down, looking up at me with a small smile on his face as if to communicate guilt… I laughed… finding him both cute and frustrating…and then decided never to return to that bar again.

Finally, in Koh Phi Phi – armed with more suspicion and vigilance – we order a Zombie cocktail that tasted very much like a mixed fruit juice. Nico – being slightly more controlled, diplomatic, and less ‘Greek-drama’ than me – volunteered to bring this to the barman’s attention. Moments later, Nico returned to the table with a smile. He says to me: They ran out of Bacardi. Are you happy with a Mai Tai instead?

Food. We treated ourselves (everything is so deceptively cheap, it seems we ‘treat’ ourselves a lot lately) to a Som Tam Spicy Fresh Prawn and Mixed Fruit salad in a beautiful restaurant in Chang Mai. I chose this salad in particular because it had fresh prawns rather than dried prawns… as we had previously tried the latter and concluded we didn’t like it. To our own dismay, we were served exactly two small fresh prawns surrounded by mixed fruit and many dried prawns. Not exactly what we were aiming for… it was a nice salad, nonetheless.

Similarly, I ordered a Yellow noodle chicken curry from a food court in the Night Bazaar in Chang Mai. My dinner was composed of one small piece of chicken that swam in a large portion of yellow noodles and curry. Again, it was tasty… but, in my view, conformed to the trend of cutting corners.

And finally, Laundry. I suppose it’s this category that surprises me the most, as surely, when one’s core livelihood – or business – is to do laundry… surely the expense of detergent forms part of one’s business plan? On about three… maybe more… occasions… Nico and I have worn ‘freshly’ (may I add, professionally) cleaned clothes only for them to either stink… or smell of nothing at all. As we clearly aren’t travelling with a washing machine in our luggage, we’ve been brainstorming ways in which to tackle this…

Nico’s latest suggestion was for us to buy detergent… secretly embed it within the pockets of our trousers…or in the under-arm areas of our t-shirts… in the hope that our clothes will have a higher probability of being returned clean…

I suppose – in the grand scheme of things – none of this matters… we don’t really need alcohol in our cocktails or proportionate amounts of fresh prawns or chicken in our meals…. Arguably, if we stink – we stink… and only the people around us will suffer.

My motivation to write a post about these observations has less to do with me being ‘frustrated’… and more to do with the fact I simply find it amusing…I have yet to encounter trends such as these outside of Thailand… who knows what Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will bring.

For all of those who are currently leading their ‘normal,’ day-to-day lives at home, I know. It’s a hard life.

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2 thoughts on “Cutting corners in Thailand: Is everything ‘cheap-cheap’ and ‘same-same’?

  1. “…For all of those who are currently leading their ‘normal,’ day-to-day lives at home, I know. It’s a hard life.”… Sure is. Making your travel blog all the more enjoyable.

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