It’s true. I fell for the old man/tuk-tuk/tailor shop scam on my third day in Bangkok. And it was so enjoyable I was reluctant to draw it to a close.
I was taking street photos when an old gentleman, who claimed to own a business a few streets away, started asking me questions. Where are you from? How long are you in Bangkok? Where are you going?
He recommended a Buddhist temple that he said was better than the one I was headed for and insisted I buy a neckless of flowers from a vender there and place it in front of the Buddha as a gift.
“It will bring you good luck”, he said.
The grandfather-like figure continued. “Today last day of sale. One week a year Thailand company allows you buy suit with no labels. Last day today. Tailor for James Bond. You know James Bond? But no labels (designer labels). So pay less. Thousand dollar suit, 300 US.”
He shouted at a hungry looking young man with sad hound-dog eyes sitting in a blue tuk-tuk.
“Blue tuk-tuks are controlled by government”, the man insisted. “They cannot charge more that 60 Baht no matter where go. Green tuk-tuk no good.”
So off I went putt-putting down a congested street in a gaudy blue tuk-tuk headed for the best temple in Bangkok and James Bond’s tailor. In ten minutes we were at the temple. It anchored one corner of a mad intersection and looked as legit as any other Buddhist temple. However it wasn’t the most beautiful, popular or largest temple in the city. It was not clear why it was “the best”. As directed I bought a heavy, thick neckless of orange flowers resembling mums from the vender mentioned and laid them before the Buddha. With the guidance of my driver I banged the black and gold gong the specified three times.
It became obvious that the tuk-tuk driver was to be my personal chauffeur for the day. He told me to take my time exploring the temple grounds and promised to wait for me but first he needed to excuse himself to use the toilet. During his unusually long head call another tuk-tuk driver struck up a conversation with me. When I mentioned our next stop was the tailor he commended me on my wise choice. Like the older gentleman he emphasized this was the last day of the sensational sale. And he promised once they had my measurements I could order suits at bargain prices for the rest of my life. As if my body would never change.
Since the tuk-tuk price and route were determined by the gentleman and my driver in their native tongue I figured it was time I clarify that I was being charged 60 Baht for a round trip. Not 60 baht per segment or 60 Baht one way. When my driver finally returned he assured me it would be 60 Baht for the entire ride. That’s about $1.98 US. So off to 007’s tailor we flew.
For those who are not familiar tuk-tuks they are three wheeled underpowered and over decorated motorcycles with a backseat and a canopy. And the drivers dart in and out of chaotic Bangkok traffic with the faith of true believers. Tuk-tuk drivers have said their prays and are ready for the afterlife. Riding in the back is like being in a roller coaster that has jumped the rails. The stagnant midday heat I felt walking disappeared once I started cruising in the tuk-tuk. All I felt was a strong breeze on my face and my body being jerked back and forth as we bounced from one lane to another then back to the first. U-turns were abrupt middle of the road decisions made with trucks bearing down hard. Wether it was a temple or a tailor my driver would risk his life, and mine, to get us there.
I did retain a bit of hope that the tailor shop would be something special. Not so much that Q would be standing there flipping through bulletproof swatches but more like it would be an exceptionally large shop with interesting displays or a posh boutique that served free champagne. It wasn’t. The tailor was a squat surly man working in a small shop with no signage. Not even a handwritten one announcing the critical news, ‘Sales Ends Today’. When I said I didn’t wear suits and wasn’t interested in being fitted he said, “You have a shirt on. You wear shirts. We make shirts.”
I’m pretty sure Jame Bond does not buy his suits from that guy. Labels or no labels I was part of the scam I had read about in the guidebooks. I was loosing interest in the escapade but my driver was as enthusiastic and devoted as ever. It didn’t seem right to have this poor guy drive me all over town for less than 2 bucks. He had a wife and child to support, or so he said. He deserved the chance to pick up another sucker. You can’t feed a family on 60 Baht a day.
“Where do you want to go?”, he asked.
“Just let me off at the Golden Buddha.” His hound-dog eyes grew sadder. I’m told the drivers get a kickback from the merchants for each customer they deliver to their shop. My driver countered with a number of suggestions including a long-tail boat tour down the Chao Phyraya River – tempting.
“I will wait for you at pier. No trouble.”
But I was refreshed now and ready to start walking again.
We never made it to the Golden Buddha. I saw another temple in route and ended our journey there. The tuk-tuk ride was a good introduction to Bangkok and a pleasant way to break up a long walk on a blistering hot day. You could say I stumbled into a bargain. Ducking into Starbucks to cool off would have cost me twice as much. Perhaps the old gentleman was telling the truth. I gave Buddha a flower neckless and in return he granted me good fortune.