The Bangkok Scenic Route
It was about 4pm this afternoon, and I was trying to get back to Khao San Road, after my shopping spree in Pantip Plaza and nearby Pratunam Market. I managed to get a metered cab in the morning — and this was good, since as far as taxis in Bangkok go, meter is cheaper. For getting back, however, it seemed that competition was a bit more fierce: the majority of taxis around Pantip were full; and of those that were empty and that I did manage to hail, they all refused to use their meter, and instead quoted me their outrageous farang special flat fees, which I rejected. In the end, I was forced (reluctantly) to take a tuk-tuk. And when the driver said: "velly cheap, but make some stops on the way", I knew that what I'd managed to heretofore avoid in Bangkok was now inevitable — I was going to take the famous "Bangkok Scenic Route".
My BSR experience wasn't too bad, really. All you need remember is that you just have to play the game: get out at each stop, and say "no" to everything; and eventually you'll get back for a very cheap price, and you won't have been scammed. As long as you don't start actually listening to anyone that you encounter on the route, or (heaven forbid!) actually believing their claims or their prices, there's very little risk to yourself or to your wallet.
After a long and smoggy ride along Bangkok's clogged-as-all-hell main arteries, our first stop was the infamous "gem shop". The tuk-tuk pulled in to a dodgy side alley, navigated around a small maze of streets, and stopped outside an impressive small office tower. A whole army of immaculately-dressed personnel were there in suits and ties, ready to greet me in my shorts and flip-flops. "Come right inside, sir", they said coolly. "Would you like to see some of our fine gems, or would you prefer to browse the souvenir shop?"
"I think I'll just check out the souvenirs, thanks", I replied — and they escorted me inside (where I had the pleasure of encountering some powerful air-conditioning). I knew better than to make even the slightest indication that I was interested in their offerings: the gem scam in Thailand is well-documented, as is the dodginess of absolutely anywhere that a tuk-tuk driver offers to take you. So I just aimlessly browsed the souvenir shop for about 10 minutes, and then returned outside where the tuk-tuk was waiting for me.
"No more stops, please," I asked the driver. "Just take me straight to Khao San Road."
"Solly," he replied, "no get commission yet. I take you one more place, OK? You no have to buy anything, I get commission. Then no more stop, straight to Khao San."
"OK, one more," I relented. "But this is it, you understand?"
And so it was that we stopped at one more place: yet another classic Bangkok scam vanue, the equally-infamous "tailor shop". We pulled up and I went inside, where I was immediately greeted by a well-dressed Indian fellow, who wasted no time in priming me up for a purchase. The tailor staff were much more pushy than the gem shop people: clearly I'd have to play the game properly here for a few minutes, before buggering off. "What colours would you prefer, sir? We can provide you with a fitting right now, sir. What guesthouse are you staying at, sir? We can have the clothes delivered to you within 24 hours. How many shirts do you want, sir? And can I interest you in a suit as well, sir? Would you prefer to pay by cash or credit, sir? We take Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. [Yeah, I bet you do!] You're not really interested in anything... ah, well then please f$#% off, sir — the door's that way."
Finally, after that the tuk-tuk driver was good to his word, and he did indeed deliver me straight back to Khao San Road, with no more "stops". I assume that he managed to get his free petrol (his "commission"), despite my not purchasing anything: so it was a good deal for me (very cheap ride), and a good deal for him. Rather a long way to get from one side of Bangkok to another, but at least it's scenic. And hey, I couldn't really say I've been to Bangkok if I'd missed out on such a quintessential adventure, as jumping in a tuk-tuk and getting carted off to a dodgy gem shop. If you didn't do that in Bangkok, then what did you do?