Today I went to Ayutthaya for the day with some friends. I have probably been there half a dozen times but for them it was their first trip. I guess they wanted a guide but also probably a chauffeur. It isn’t that difficult getting to Ayutthaya on public transport (bus/train or even boat) but once you are there you will find that many of the attractions are spread out around the city. I didn’t mind taking them as it is a fascinating place. However, even though they found the trip a cultural delight, they were a bit put out by the overpricing. This was something I was aware of from past trips but I didn’t realize how deeply it went.
Most tourists to Thailand don’t realize that they are paying three or four times more than local people. The reason they don’t know is that the foreigners price is written using the familiar Arabic numbers. However, normal price is written in Thai numerals. For obvious reasons they don’t want you to know that you are paying so much more. Most Thai businessmen presume that all foreigners are rich as they can afford the price of an airline ticket. So, if they have money then surely they can afford to help pay for the upkeep of the attraction they are visiting?
This happens in many place and not just in Thailand. I choose not to worry myself over it. However, as a tax payer in this country (don’t forget, the majority of my fellow school teachers earn less than 8000 baht per month and so don’t actually pay tax), I feel I shouldn’t have to pay extra. As I can read Thai I just politely ask the person in the ticket office if I can have the Thai price. Usually they then have a short conversation with me in Thai asking things like what I am doing in Thailand and how long have I been here. Usually they let me in with the Thai price. Sometimes they compromise and offer me the foreign children’s price. If they insist on me paying the full foreigner’s price then I will make the decision as to whether I think it is worth it.
In Ayutthaya, most of the temples charge 30 baht for foreigners and 10 baht for locals. That is not a lot of difference and so I just pay with no discussion. No big deal. It is not cheap to maintain these ruins and I am willing to help out. In fact, if they had donation boxes at the entrances then I am sure a lot of foreign tourists would be willing to help.
However, what I objected to on this particular visit was a certain small restaurant we found nearby. When choosing a food shop I either look at the ingredients on show in the glass display cabinet or look for the menu nailed to the wall. I also look to see if there are a lot of people there. If it is crowded with Thai people then it must be both delicious and safe to eat. In this particular restaurant there was a menu in Thai on the wall. They were selling quite a variety of food at 25 baht a dish. It looked ideal for my friends.
We sat down and a waitress then came up to our table with a menu in English with a Thai translation in brackets. Obviously this would make it easier for my friends to order. However, the prices were 50 baht per dish. I was puzzled at first. I hadn’t seen this kind of thing before as I always ordered from the menu on the wall. So, I asked the waitress in Thai if we could have a Thai menu. She seemed puzzled and said we had the menu already. I politely said “no”. We wanted the menu written in Thai. She said there wasn’t one. Then I asked if we could order from the menu on the wall and pay 25 baht a dish. She wasn’t so sure, so she went away to get the manager. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the manager came and in the end he decided to let us have local price for our meal. I think he decided to do that in the end as we were quite happy to get up and try a different restaurant next door. Everyone was very polite about it and it didn’t spoil our meal. However, we will choose not to go to this restaurant in the future.
Paying more for a tourist attraction I can understand (sometimes) if the money is used for its maintenance. However, paying double for the same dish of food is a bit too much. If it was a buffet meal then maybe I could understand a little. Westerners are all big eaters compared to Thai people. Really? Maybe not always. But that is what they think at the Baiyok Revolving Restaurant in Bangkok. The other week I was going to take some friends there from Singapore. We rang to make a reservation. The last time I had gone it was an expensive 450 baht for a buffet dinner in the evening. But still worth it. Now it was 900 baht! Wow! I inquired as why it had gone up 100%. It turns out that it is still 450 baht but only for Thai people. Foreigners, including my small-framed Singaporean friends, have to pay a whopping 900 baht. Well, we made a choice not to go. We took our custom elsewhere.