As everyone should already know, traveling isn’t always laying under palm trees sipping cocktails and having amazing life affirming moments worthy of writing whimsical blog posts about. In fact, a majority of the time it’s the exact opposite. I have a pretty significant amount of travel memories that I’d rather forget.
Travel Moments I’d Rather Forget will be a new series here on SeegsTravels. I haven’t figured out the frequency yet, but I’m going to share some of my own anecdotal stories that are of this very nature. Maybe they’ll make you laugh. Maybe they’ll shed some insight for your own travels. Either way, I think it’s important to share the not-so-fun memories sometimes instead of only just the fun ones. I’ve already got 5 posts written up (I basically attract bad luck) that I’m so excited to share with you!
Starting the series off is the following experience I had last summer in Bangkok, briefly mentioned in a previous post.
On my first day in Bangkok, I found myself pretty overwhelmed. From what I’ve heard, Bangkok takes a little while to get used to, so I wasn’t reading too much into my feelings of overwhelm. However, I was getting kind of a weird vibe from the locals, although I don”t blame them. Bangkok eats, sleeps and breathes tourism. It’s long been established as THE hub for all backpackers in Southeast Asia, and is now emerging as a destination for luxury travelers as well. Since the Thai people don’t typically have the resources to travel as much, their main interactions with Westerners are in their own country. Speaking from my experience working in Times Square, if all I had to judge a country’s people off of were their tourists, I’d be pretty jaded myself.
Being in Bangkok for the first time, I was taken somewhat aback at how many times people tried to swindle me. I get it…I’m a woman traveling by myself. I have freckles. My voice is pretty high pitched. I smile a lot when I’m nervous. Perhaps I didn’t seem like I knew any better. But actually the exact opposite is true. I am a tried and true haggling extraordinaire, and possess a certain knack for always knowing when I’m getting ripped off. Which seemed to happen time after time in Bangkok.
I hailed a taxi near the flower market after a failed attempt to walk to find an MRT station. I was extremely hot and sweaty, I may or may not have been questioning if I’d made the right choice to even travel to Thailand alone in the first place, and I just wanted to get back to my hotel in the easiest and most efficient way possible. Taxi it was.
After getting in, I showed the driver my hotel address written down in Thai (ladies, please always do this!) and he nodded and started driving. The air conditioning felt good on my boiling skin. Things were starting to improve. A smile almost found it’s way to my face. But then I noticed after driving for several minutes, the driver hadn’t turned the meter on. In Thailand, this spells disaster. If the meter isn’t turned on, this usually means the driver will just make up some insanely inflated price once you arrive at your destination and then demand you pay for services already rendered. Sometimes the police will get involved, and in certain places, the police will most likely side with the locals and also demand you pay an incredibly inflated price – several times what the normal cost would have been.
So I promptly pointed to the meter and asked the driver to turn it on. He kept shaking his head and saying that he didn’t understand. Understanding that I shouldn’t assume everyone understands English, I continued pointing to the meter while I quickly tried to look up how to say it in Thai. Before I found it, though, the driver slammed on the brakes, pulled over onto the side of the desolate street and turned around to start yelling at me.
“Are you not going to pay me?”
“Yes, I’m going to pay you! Can you just turn the meter on?”
“Meter no work. You pay me now or get out!”
“But how do I know you’ll bring me to the right address? And how much do you want?”
The driver handed me a paper with 1000B written on it – roughly $30. Considering taxis in Bangkok shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars at most, even during rush hour, he was utterly and completely trying to rip me off. I tried to tell him this, but he just kept yelling at me to get out of the taxi.
Now that we’d established he spoke English quite well, I next tried to negotiate a lower price. The only response I kept getting from him was to get out of the taxi if I wasn’t going to pay. I actually thought about doing just that for a minute, but again whether this was on purpose or not, he’d pulled over to a side street with no other people or taxis in sight, which made me feel as if my options were limited.
Having just arrived in Bangkok not more than 24 hours prior, I wasn’t in a state of mind to stand my ground, feeling a little on edge about being stranded alone in a strange city. Moreso than I would’ve been just a day or two later when I’d figured out my way around a little better.
I reluctantly handed over the 1000 Baht.
Much to my chagrin, shortly after I gave the driver the money he’d asked for (or demanded), all of a sudden he was the most friendly person I’d ever met, cracking jokes and asking about where I was from. Talk about a Jekyll & Hyde situation. It made me wonder if most people would have gotten out, and if even HE was surprised that I gave him the money he’d asked for.
He delivered me to my hotel just fine. Looking back at the experience, I always wonder if I did the right thing. Obviously, I should’ve confirmed what the price was going to be before we drove anywhere. That part was my fault. But to be honest, $30 isn’t much more than you’d pay for a standard taxi ride in New York and I have to keep that in perspective. Taking into account my emotional state sitting in the back of that taxi, it wasn’t the $30 that was the issue. It was the feeling of being taken advantage of because I was alone.
Solo travel will not always be easy nor comfortable, especially emotionally. But having said that, it has so many more amazing benefits that significantly outweigh the cons. This incident did not make my solo journey any less worthwhile. On the contrary, it’s actually situations like this that solidified my decision to travel alone. I’m proud of myself for getting through harder times like this, and I believe it’s the best way possible to help build my confidence, character and sense of self. Is there any better souvenir?
Have you ever been caught in a haggling situation gone wrong? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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