Playing the Numbers Game

There are a number of reasons why knowing Thai language is beneficial to foreign visitors; a better understanding of Thai society and culture is the most obvious one. However, there are other little benefits as well. For instance, the only way you can be an active participant in Thailand’s “numbers game” is if you know Thai numerals well, and can read basic Thai.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? This game, which can be an endless source of fun, mild amusement, annoyance, alienation and embarrassment is more frequently referred to as the notorious two-tiered price system.

The basics
The game, in its basic form, is very simple. There are two teams: Darkey and Whitey (sorry, but political correctness is not part of the rules). The objective of the game is for team Darkey to fleece members of team Whitey as much as possible, as sneakily as possible. Darkey members have to come up with a variety of ingenious methods to disguise their intention.

That’s quite easy most of the time, since the majority of Whitey members are oblivious of, or couldn’t care less about playing the game, since they are just short-time players. The real veteran players are the ones who love Thailand and are somewhat familiar with its langauge and culture. This small group of core playas tries everyting they can, with their limited means, to trick the Darkey system, and to even the playing field as much as possible. Rules: anything goes, short of killing members of the opposite team. 🙂

Now that you know da playas and da rulez, let’s look at the game itself.
Richard and Gor covered the basics with excellent examples, explanations and a list of Thai numbers on Check that out first; I will just supplement it with experiences and some comments of my own.

Game replay
This picture is the ticket booth at the entrance to San Kamphaneg Hot Springs that I’ve visited with a friend last Sunday. (There are more pictures of this trip on the photoalbum for this site.) Even intermediate Whitey playas will immediately get suspicious when they see the prices in Arabic and Thai numbers. Then, after working out the meaning of the Thai numbers, they can figure they are being cheated.

There are few options one can take after this. One could either turn back in disgust, trying to negotiate/trick one’s way in, or just fork out the extra cash. Considering the small scale of the price, and the distance we traveled to get here, we decided to do the latter. However, later we found out that this incident was just an indication of worse things to come. If you take a look at the sign above offering foot massage, you can see the same thing (work out the Thai numbers), except now we entered the realm of three-figure numbers. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like having my feet – and my wallet! – massaged there.

At the Chiang Mai Zoo, the situation is the same, but there we were able to get in on local prices – my Thai friend asked for the ticket. Other times, when a large group of us (two Farang, four Thai) planned to charter a red songtaew for a daytrip to Doi Suthep, our Thai friends asked us to stay behind, while they are negotiating the fare. The reason: the mere presence of Whitey will awaken Darkey greed, no matter how many Thais they also have to cheat that way. At the end, the charter costed a total of 1100Bt for the six of us. A simple one-way trip up the mountain for a single Whitey is 500Bt, as I found out earlier when I tried to go up there by myself.

Temple Games
Orange robes have also joined Team Darkey lately. When we got to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the famous temple on the mountain during the above-mentioned trip, the first sign greeting us at the top of the long staircase was “FOREIGNER – THIS WAY” pointing to the right of the main entrance. There, at a small booth (‘FOREIGNER – PAY HERE), we, the two Whitey members had to buy our way into the temple. Selling popcorn and fries would have completed the illusion of going to a circus. Other visitors, including Asian foreigners, could get in for free, like the locals. I’ve yet to see the Notre Dame de Paris or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome charge extra to their dark-skinned visitors.

The Southern version
But nothing could outdo the avarice of the South Darkeys. Since it is a very popular tourist destination, 10-50times ripoffs are commonplace – again, from my own experience, when peddlers told me about the “good deal” of buying 500Bt-postcards. This was also the place where I witnessed the most ingenious way of Darkey disguise. A general store had various goods displayed, with the standard grocery price sticker saying Thank You, with the printed price below. Each item also carried a similar sticker with a series of short numbers, presumably a barcode of some sort. Nothing wrong with it, right? Well, as it turns out to be, two Thai teachers, who were friends of mine and were travelling with the school group, pointed out to me that the last number in the lower right corner on the second sticker is the actual local price. I thought they were joking. Upon closer inspection however, I noticed that the “Thank you”-price always happened to be the exact multiple of the number on the second sticker. Strange for a barcode…

The true test came when we got to the cashier. I already believed my friends, so I took their offer to put my wares in their basket (I payed them later, of course). I watched with a smirk as the cashier ringed up the “barcode” number.

And if you think that was funny, wait, there is more: I told my experiences to the Thai sitting next to me on the tour bus, who displayed the same disbelief I had just a few minutes ago. He payed the “Thank you” sticker price for his stuff! I directed him to the two friends who helped me. He finally believed it, but he was flabbergasted. Ironic, isn’t it? Darkey greed goes so far in disguise, they trick Thais as well.

Disguising the double standard in Thai numerals, writing prices out in Thai letters, having a double set of menus at restaurants – and now this. I wonder what gave rise to such dishonest practices in the land where honesty and meritmaking are so essential?

Whenever this happens and I’m with Thai friends, they are embarrassed beyond description, for the lowly behavior of their fellow nationals. I know I would feel the same way if my own country treated my foreign friends this way. Money is not the main issue here, though for expats living on Thai terms, it can also mean a significant burden on the long run.

Treating us this way simply creates a feeling of alienation and exploitation. No matter how long I’ll live here, how well I will know Thai culture and language, how much I will help the country – to these people I will remain no more than a walking ATM, due to the color of my skin.

(pro- and contra arguments about this issue are listed in a Gors World story. If you have one that’s not listed there, please let us know by leaving a comment to this blog.)

10 responses to “Playing the Numbers Game

  1. Good blog seeker. I was dazzled once on seeing that ‘Ripley’s Believe it or not’ in Pattaya also has a two teir-pricing system!1 Pretty amazing as its an american co. too!

    Youll probably know that the two-tier system is mostly for farang tourists. So if you live here and speak thai youll pay the thai price.

    I have never had to pay the Farang price.

    The topic of your blog is one of the most arguable u can get!

  2. In general, it is not nice to have different prices for the same services and goods in Thailand. Something like this can be seen in Australia, too. Local and international students living in other states will get a discount for their public transportation fees (around 50% or more off depending on each state). This applies for Australian students in every city which is good for them. But only international students in Sydney and New South Wales have to pay full transportation fees. Some may think that it is okay and is a small thing. Why bother? It may be true, if you have to travel once or twice a week. My friends from France said that bus and train fees in Sydney are too far expensive than similar services and distance offered in Paris. For example, a full fee for people who want to travel on a Bus in Sydney taking around 18-20 kms is almost $AUD 5 per trip (approx. 150 Thai baht). On average, international students in Sydney will pay around $ 25-40 per week (or 750-1200 baht) because some students have to travel by bus and train to the universities for 4-6 days a week.

  3. Usually I am able to pay the Thai price. I think it is important to always be polite (the ticketseller doesn’t set the rules) and to speak Thai.

    If you want to know what words to say in Thai to get the cheaper price then visit our sister site here:

    One of the arguments that foreigners should have to pay more is that they don’t pay taxes. In some ways, you could say that the locals receive a discount because they pay taxes. But that isn’t really 100% true. The tax threshold has just been raised to 15,800 baht. Which means that there is a lot of people out there not paying taxes! Certainly, I am only one of a very few at the school that actually pay taxes. Most of the teachers don’t.

    Sripan, in the case of Australia, I think that is the same argument for local transport. The price of the ticket for Australian students is subsidised with the tax money that their parents have paid.

    I do agree that it is nice for tourist attractions here in Thailand to earn extra money by charging more to foreign tourists. However, I disagree strongly when they don’t use this money to develop the attraction (Crocodile Farm in Samut Prakan earns a lot of tourist dollars but the animals live in bare concrete cages). Also, what does it tell you that the owners of these attractions have to hide the two price system by using Thai numbers. Normally, prices are shown in Arabic numbers. Are they uncomfortable with their policy?

    Most Thai people I have spoken to think this system is wrong. It gives foreign visitors the wrong impression that Thai people are greedy and only want their money. The majority of Thai people are incredibly generous to visitors. We have had foreigners come to visit our school. A few times we had some families and the school administrators asked me to take them to the Crocodile Farm. Guess who paid for all the tickets. Yes, the school administrators even though they had to pay 300 baht for the adults instead of 80 baht. I have seen that happen many times when Thai people have entertained foreign visitors.

  4. Hi Richard,

    Yes, I agree with an idea about local tax.
    By mean of “other states” and citites, I mean in Australia e.g. Melbourne in Vitoria state. Though I accept that each state has their own policy reg. public transporation, Sydney is the biggest city and int’l students pay tax (too) through their tuition fees which is already 2-3 times higher than local students who are supported by the government. Whereas int’l students in other states in Australia get the same due as local students.

  5. Good blog seeker. I was dazzled once on seeing that ‘Ripley’s Believe it or not’ in Pattaya also has a two teir-pricing system!1 Pretty amazing as its an american co. too!

    Thanks Steve. It’s a bit surprising that Farang establishments also follow suit, but Pattaya is a strange place to begin with…

    It’s great that you always paid the local price; unfortunatelly, I cannot say the same of myself, although I live here nearly a year already. For me it was always a hit-or-miss. If I was lucky, my Thai persuaded the locals to let me in on local prices – in other cases, I could have recited the entire Ramakien in Thai and they’d still had me pay the Farang price. ^_^

    The topic of your blog is one of the most arguable u can get!

    Lol, you think so? I was pondering about another one for a good while; if I’ll succeed, that will top this one by far!

    Richard, that’s interesting info about the taxes. I didn’t know before that so many Thais didn’t have to pay any at all. I guess that’s another argument blasted out.
    It also happened with me before, that when my Thai friends found out that I was charged more, they felt obliged and insisted that they will pay the entire price. Like you said. they are too generous, and perhaps a bit ashamed too. So, in this case, the purpose of fleecing the rich Farang backfires on Thai generosity.

  6. Hi Richard :
    It also happened with me before ,there are two price for pataya’s hotel ,Thai people should
    pay more , I don’t know why ?
    So when we booked the hotel we used our chinese name .But we still don’t like this kind of price system . We hope our government
    correct this system ASAP .

  7. When i did mention this system to a coupleof Thai friends they kind of agreed with it and argued that “Well Thai students in Europe pay up to 3 times as much for their coureses than other Europeans”

  8. That argument is so wrong, it’s not even funny. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

    Steve, tell them that the uni tuition for internationals in Thailand is also a heckuva lot more than what locals pay. Same in the US.

    As a “nonresident alien”, internationals have to pay double or triple the local tuition (or more), simply because most locals are subsidized by government funds, to which their parents contributed to by paying taxes for decades.

  9. Green Mangosteen


    Your comments re the subsidised ticket price for Australian students are not entirely correct. NSW full time students may obtain discounts at the rate of 50% in NSW. However, part-time NSW students are unable to claim this discount as the CityRail sticker is only given to full-time students, free of charge. In Victoria, full time students are eligible for a concession card at a price, and can use this concession in NSW. NSW full-time students cannot, however, use their concession on Victorian public transport for some odd reason, probably because it’s free. Hope this is clear.

  10. I just learned this from (a popular website for expats living in Thailand): Thai Airlines even has a two-tiered (albeit well-hidden) price system. The published price is the farang price. If a Thai shows up at the ticket purchase counter, they are immediately afforded a significant discount.

    Incidentally, this practice is Asia-wide. Tourists to China, for example, commonly pay 10-15 times the price of locals for rail and air travel.

    On the other hand, I started showing my Thai work permit at national park entrances, airline counters, etc., about a year ago, and haven’t had to pay a “farang” price since. This was at the suggestion of a “Whitey” friend who has taught in Thailand for many years.