We are on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, Thailand. There are five of us, and there is one taxi driver. He is leaning through the driver’s side window of his pick-up, arms resting and wrists flailing in animated nonchalance. We are in the midst of a haggle.
It is warm, sticky and the smell of rain on dry concrete hangs thick in the air. As I look beyond our would-be ride, I see the pond-sized puddles that await our permanently flip-flopped feet on the muddy track back to our hostel.
But we have been in Thailand for over two weeks now. He knows not with whom he deals, for in that time we have become master hagglers.
We have grown into our status as ‘travellers’, we have become pros at this financial game of cat and mouse. We can sense a rip-off a mile away – we are Backpackers.
We’ve been ‘had’ before of course. For example, I now realise the 2000 Baht paid to get from Bangkok airport to our accommodation in the city did not represent the value for money we had hoped. To this day I remain unconvinced it was a limousine as advertised by the baseball-capped gentleman who escorted us to the vehicle.
But that was way back on day one. Does he not see the translucently thin shirt sticking to my moist, beaded back? My unfeasibly decorated wrists? And where else could I have rendered my face such an ailing shade of red, punctuated only by a nose of such delicate skin flakes? Surely, these are the benchmarks of seasoned backpackers?
This is the face of experience. People like me know what the Khao San Road is, and anyway, I’m already aware of what follows in these situations:
After a lengthy stand-off, we will finally agree a fee, get in and it won’t be long before I feel guilt for not sharing my comparative western wealth as a tourist in his lovely country. I will mull over it for the rest of the evening, unable to shake the uneasy feeling I should have paid a fair price. At least, that’s how it goes if I feel I won the haggling match.
If I believe I lost it and paid over the odds, I will have nothing but contempt for the driver. Because now he will be the anecdote I share with fellow backpackers in late night bars, around worn out pool tables, and lying on dorm room bunk beds.
When tales of cockroach confrontation and full moon parties make way for stories of monetary misdemeanour, you will be my fable of swindle.
Except I won’t let that happen. Come on, I urge my friends, let’s be strong. The monsoon has passed and I’m sure the hour long walk back will be just as pleasant in the pitch black. We don’t need him or his pick-up so…
What, he only wants 50 Baht? Between the five us? Yeah, go on then.
Surely this experience is not unique to just me?