The Right to Choose

Over the years there has been many debates about the pros and cons of the two priced system that is used at many tourist attractions around Thailand. Some people defend it by saying that everything is so cheap here in Thailand and that we “rich” Westerners should do our part to support the country. Others say that they chose Thailand as it is billed as a “cheap” holiday and that they are unwilling to pay the same prices as back home for tourist attractions.  For myself, it hasn’t really bothered me that much. Usually if I smile and explain politely that I am a teacher and have been in the country for a long time they then usually let me in with “Thai price”. Sometimes they need a bit more convincing and I then show them my Thai driver’s license or my income tax card. These show that I am living here and paying tax.  Mini Siam in Pattaya didn’t really care I was a tax payer. Many places like this insist on you showing a work permit if you want to pay Thai price. But, that document is not always that easy to carry around. And if you lose it then there is a lot of paperwork to be done. I didn’t argue my point with the people at Mini Siam. I don’t like getting angry  because they are only the ticket seller and not policy maker. However, before I could walk away they offered a compromise of “foreign child price”.

Some places I don’t even try to get Thai prices. Like temples which usually cost only 20 baht. I am happy to help wherever I can. In theory I can get in for free at the Grand Palace if I bring along a letter from the school. But, I never do. However, I do object to places that charge more for foreigners and then just pocket the difference. The Crocodile Farm in Samut Prakan is a good example. If I remember right, the Thai price is 80 baht and foreigners 300 baht. What do you get for your extra entrance fee? Nothing. The shows are still in Thai with the odd words in English. What do the animals get out of it? Nothing. They are cruelly treated and locked up in small concrete cages. As far as I can see, the owners do nothing with the entrance fee to make the environment better for the animals.

For many years, the nearby Ancient City maintained the same entrance fee for Thai people and foreigners. This was a very cheap 50 baht until it was put up to 100 baht about a year or so ago. Still, the price was good value for money and I always recommended it to all our visitors. However, late last year they started a two-priced system where foreigners have to pay 300 baht. This will probably be a shock to readers of the Lonely Planet because their last edition said only 50 baht and the new edition that came out last month says 100 baht! I am sure many people coming from Bangkok are shocked to see this price jump. I am sure many of them argue with the ticket seller as even before I had finished parking the car someone came up to me shouting “300 baht. You pay 300 baht”. Luckily I have been there many times and I know the ticket seller. So, she let me in at 100 baht. To be fair to the Ancient City they have actually done something with this extra revenue. They paved all of the roads inside the park and have started a massive renovation of all of the buildings. Also, the admission fee for foreigners includes rental of a bicycle.

The reason I am bringing this subject up now is that the other week I went to watch a Thai Boxing matching at Lumphini in Bangkok. I have been there several times before and I was vaguely aware that there was a two price system. However, I didn’t pay for my ticket the last time because my Thai hosts paid for me. So, I was unaware of how much it would cost. When I arrived at the boxing stadium I was steered by the ticket touts to a box office window that had the price 2,000 baht above it. I was shocked. Then looking to the left I noticed some more windows, though this time the numbers were written in Thai numerals. I had wanted to buy a 2nd class seat which is basically concrete slabs high above the action. The Thai numerals said 460 baht. Expensive for Thai people (and for me a Thai tax payer) but I was willing to pay that for a night out. Just so that you know, 120 baht will give you a luxury seat at a movie theatre. I approached the window and asked the guy in my best Thai for two tickets. He just folded his hands and refused to listen. Obviously he had heard this before. I got out my income tax card but again he was not interested. Then one of the ticket touts came to his rescue and dragged me away. “You pay foreigner price over there. Only 1,500 baht.” Yeah, right.

That day I chose not to pay foreigner’s price and not to watch the boxing match. I just decided that the inflated price was more than what the event was worth. I didn’t shout. I didn’t get angry. I just chose not to go. And that is basically the point of this blog. Fair enough, they can have inflated admission prices for foreigners if they like. It is their entertainment venue after all and it is up to them if they want to change the price according to the colour of my skin. However, I am going to object to the sly way they go about this. All prices marked in shops and tourist attractions are almost always written with the familiar Arabic numbers which all tourists can read. However, whenever they choose to have a two priced system they always write the cheaper price in Thai numbers. Why is this? Are they ashamed of having two prices? Don’t they want their foreign guests to know that they sometimes have to pay 10 times more than Thai people for the same thing? Don’t they  realize that if the foreigner finds out afterwards that he is more likely to harbour strong feelings of resentment against his Thai host for ripping him off?

I don’t think we should start a campaign outlawing the two price system in Thailand. It would be like hitting your head against a brick wall despite the fact that China has already outlawed duel pricing. However, I think we should start campaigning for a “right to choose”. The prices should be clearly marked in the widely used Arabic script. Foreign tourists should be allowed to see how much everyone is paying. Then it would be up to them whether they choose to pay the inflated price or not. All I am asking is for a “right to choose”.  The right for them to say that they don’t want to pay 200 baht to see a waterfall when a Thai person driving a Benz is paying only 20 baht. The right to choose to pay 300 baht for a crocodile show that is all in Thai even though they fully know that other people pay only 80 baht. Please give us a right to choose.

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