(The following blog was published 13 Jan at ‘The Nation’. Here below, however, is the originally submitted un-edited version)
Once again, the ever wise authorities-in-charge have loudly proclaimed some kind of crackdown on double-pricing – and this time their target is restaurants knocking off Thai munchies at 500 baht a dish instead of the more politically correct – 80. So, how come that this kind of over-charging is deemed illegal, but over-charging for hotel rooms, jewelry, Thai boxing matches, zoos and especially national parks – is not?
It could be argued, that the prime epitome of double-pricing standards lies with the actual governing authorities themselves. The biggest complaint heard from foreigners about the two-tier price system, is without a doubt directed towards the land’s awesome national parks – who have incidentally, just bumped their entrance fees up yet again for both Thais and foreigners to 40 and 400 baht respectively.
Now, with such blatant legal double-pricing installed and practiced on a daily basis by the authorities – how can they morally proclaim a clampdown on some local restaurants which are just following in their footsteps? The authorities have been arguing their defense for donkeys’ years that foreign tourists are so filthy rich in comparison to the locals, that having to charge them ten times the price as locals – to swim in a waterfall, is completely justifiable. Compare that however, to the average scruffy banana-shake backpacker, who on having to fork out 400 baht, is bewildered by the sight of a successful Thai businessman, who – arriving in his latest top of the range Mercedes Benz is charged just 40.
And how about this for a Catch-22 situation: I read of a vacationing European, who took along to a national park; his wife and two teenage Eurasian sons – the latter of which could hardly speak a word of Thai. They were warmly welcomed by a couple of officials who were totally puzzled to how much to charge the family and especially the handsome half-castes. After much deep deliberation, the officers decided that the most plausible fee would be 400 baht for the Farang, 200 each for his sons and 40 for wifey. Even though the woman had been in Europe for 20 odd years, she was still categorized as a poor Thai.
Now, one splendidly clever notion seen throughout the land is the policy that two-tier entrance fees be boldly written up in English with Roman numerals for foreigners and, for the attention of the locals – in Thai with Thai numerals. Very innovative indeed, as every soul knows that most foreigners can’t spot the difference between written Thai and Double-dutch. Does a crafty policy like this, perhaps show that the brains behind it all are actually rather embarrassed about such double-pricing? I would advise such individuals, that should they care to charge foreigners ten times the price – they have the decency to allow them ‘to have the right to know’.
Let us have a look too at the Villages of the Long-necked Karen hill-tribe. Tourists have been informed for years that all proceeds from the expensive admission fee go to the villagers. Shiver-me-timbers, but if this were true, the Long-necked Karen would be holding their heads up high, living a life of luxury in spanking new mansions with attached swimming pools, while sipping imported wines and smoking big cigars.
Next however, let me explain to all the foreign readers who have fumed at the ears from being over-charged for Tom Yum Kung and Tour Guides -that Thai tourists also get over-charged and ripped-off. Any town’s person can tell you that when he’s on vacation in the chilly north or the sunny south, he too has to be wary of any costly inconsistencies. The local vendors in tourist areas which are also frequented by Thais, are even smarter than the park commissioners as they fully realize than many Thai-Chinese Bangkokians are as wealthy, if not wealthier than their foreign counterparts. In fact, most tourists or even long-term ex-pats don’t realize that there are times when tourists, and especially backpackers, end up paying less than the Thais.
Take the situation at a clothes’ market, your average Thai doesn’t have the face to barter the vendor down to the very last 5 baht possible. In contrast however, loadsa foreigners, after having studied their reputable guidebooks which explain the art of aggressive bargaining, are up in arms arguing the price for an astonishing half an hour. It is not Thai-style either, for the locals to try on a road-side vendor’s shirt before buying it first. Many foreigners on the other-hand however show no remorse, while the vendor’s back is turned, they whip off their tops and try the fresh garment out. The foreign tourist fails to gather however that his sweaty chest and armpits leave a lingering aroma. The vendor is therefore, forced to smell off the stinky shirt at a rock-bottom price as no local customer would touch it with a barge-pole.
It has to admitted, that a lot of foreigners are completely paranoid about being over-charged or ripped-off. During my years in the capital I don’t know just how many pitiful taxi-drivers I encountered who related some story of a foreigner who went roaring berserk after the driver had failed to know the quickest, shortest route back to his apartment. Jumping to the conclusion that he was literally being ‘taken for a ride’ bellows to the poor guy “Hey Scammer, open the door and let me out!” As for the driver, it’s a year or so later before he dares pick up another foreigner.
Then, I remember the scenario I witnessed a few years back, of a young European backpacker on Khao Sarn Road who threw a pathetic tantrum after the waitress had charged her 2 baht for a glass of ice. Absolutely livid when she was again informed that it was ‘restaurant policy’ smashed a glass on the floor before being almost arrested by the local boys-in-brown.
(Wanna see Nemo in Pattaya? Just thought i’d let ya know – the foreign company is gonna charge ya more than a local)
Going back to double-pricing – a lot of foreigners may be furious at how Thais can so blatantly and cunningly implement their two-tier price system but what they fail to realize is that many of their own kind also indulge in such practice. And an excellent place to witness this, is in Pattaya. Now, there is one world famous family entertainment venue there, founded by a man who calls himself something like…. Mr Ripley. And with a name like that, I can promise you he aint no Thai. Believe-it-or-not, this Farang owned center also has a two-tier price policy. And keeping up with the park’s commission, they also very smartly, draw up the prices for Thai nationals in Thai numerals. Then, there is another fancy foreign-managed place just down the road too, where you can see a few sharks, clownfish and also expect the very same double-pricing scenario going on.
And it’s not just some foreign-owned companies who love a bit of the Thai-style over-charging, there are plenty of foreign run guesthouses and restaurants scattered around the country who indulge in exactly the same business style. When a friend of mine confronted one a while back, he was politely informed that they had special prices just for the ‘local regulars’. I can only guess however, that most of the ‘not local regulars’ were in fact foreign or even Thai tourists. Some folk may also argue that this kind of ‘special locals price’ as is popular in Western countries, is just another variation of the two-tier price system
A couple of months ago, while vacationing up north, I too noticed quite obviously that some Farang-run Internet shops were also operating a two-tier price system. At one time, in desperate need of Internet connection, I was forced to give in and just cough up. Fortunately however, the ever-friendly Farang boss did offer me a free cup of coffee.