September 13, 2014

Koh Samet and the taxi mafia

the ride to the ferry port should have been about 3 hours but it ended up being closer to 4.  i remembered the tourist buses being pretty nice last time i was in Thailand so i didn't think twice about taking the bus.  this bus was however just a notch or two above a chicken bus.  sure there was ac but they only turn it on for the first 30 minutes.  i don't know why it doesn't make sense.  also since i arrived for a 6AM bus and the first bus left at 7AM i had an extra hour to sit around the bus station.  i hate bus and train stations because i always feel like i need to be hyper alert for thieves and touts.  fortunately for me they are still asleep at this early hour and after i find the bus for Ban Phe [port city for Samet] i take a seat and wait.  as it gets closer to the time i see a man wearing a towel... yep, just a towel, walk up to the bus and emerge a few minutes later dressed as a bus driver.  so i guess there's a live aboard situation going on here.

 with time to kill and not knowing if there's a break in this trip i get a bag of chips.  it says sweet basil right there in english and being that i am adventurous i give it a go.  see the red chiles in the picture?  yeah, i burnt my mouth up.  and speaking of heat, the red chili flakes here are served on the side with everything [like having salt and pepper on the table in the US] and they are about 100X hotter so i've learned to use those quite sparingly.   otherwise, the food has been just amazing.  a plate of pad thai is about $3US.

having not been taken by any thieves or touts at the bus station i arrive intact at the ferry pier.  which is a stinky, hot, trash ridden area with a few wood planks nailed together.  in a flash as i walked out to the boat someone tried to sell me a ticket.  since i already had one they insisted i needed to purchase from them the national park fee [that's a real thing but most people avoid paying this] from them.  when i hesitated they included a 'free' taxi ride to the beach i was staying.  the park fee is 200B $6US and the taxi fee 30B - 200B so i pay the 200B thinking it will be fine.

then, instead of a receipt i get this sticker and i know i've probably just paid for something i  shouldn't have and by wearing this sticker i will be advertising to all the other touts that i'm an easy mark.  i'm going to put together a list of ways you know you have been ripped off and getting a sticker like this is one of them.  needless to say, upon arrival on the island, there was no 'free' taxi and i stood with several other people who had stickers while a taxi driver tried to get an additional 200B out of each of us.

i spoke to him quietly on the side protecting his ability to rip off the other tourists but when he insisted the other passengers wanted to know what the problem was.  at that point i told them the fare should be 25 Baht per person and not the 200 he was asking.  when i asked his name and said i would report him he said his name was 'i don't know'.  previous to that his english had been excellent so i asked again and when he said 'i don't know' the second time the gig was up, the others refused to pay as well and in the end we did get a free taxi.  i'm sure this won't be the last time i have a taxi issue and it's not like it was a lot of money but it reflected badly on the island and put me in a bad mood for about 15 minutes which is how long it took me to get from the ferry to a beach with a cold drink in my hand.

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