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Thailand, January 11, 2000

Khao San? More Like Con San Road

Watch your wallet in Khao San cuz the locals sure are!

So many farangs you'd think your in Europe!
Yankee, Go Home!
I will now make you believe you are a chicken!
Now... give me all your money
Ready to sell you cassettes, cuz apparently, there are no CD's in Thailand
The best in tourist pricing
Like I would ever touch this stuff when I could have a Singa!
Just for the Americans
There really isn't any other place I've been that's like Khao San road in Bangkok. Filled with backpackers from end to end, the whole street is designed to cater to every need of your average traveler, with a good dose of overcharging and package touring just under the surface for those who are not too travel-smart.

My first introduction to the street came bright one morning after I flew in from Hong Kong. Being one of the handful of Westerners in a city of six million Chinese, I was not at all used to the massive numbers of foreigners that literally over-run this street during the day.

Like arriving in Amsterdam, the best, and the worst of traveling was instantly apparent. A guy was bent over a grate, relieving himself of breakfast after a long night of drinking, while four girls with too-new backpacks tried to figure out which door led to a second-floor hostel. Across the street, a vendor was chopping up pineapple for a thirsty couple, and a waitress was opening a beer for a sexy girl giving me the eye from a sidewalk cafe.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I walked right past her, heading for the guesthouse a group climbing into an airport bus just left. Space is tight in high season, and finding a decent place on Khao San requires a bit of persistence and luck. I found a place quickly that day, but then there have been other times I've spent an hour fighting for an overpriced dump just to escape the heat and sweat of the street.

I could have used one of the 'travel agents' on Khao San, but they don't qualify as worthy in my book. Charging 100 bhat ($2.50) per day for any reservation you make (rather than getting commission from the hotel), and 2-4 bhat per minute (1 bhat is the price elsewhere in Bangkok) for Internet, I view them all as con artists more than travel agents.

The best scam I see played is the telephone call cost. Not allowing dial-direct (local call to AT&T which bills the international section to my credit card), charging 40 bhat ($1) for collect calls, and up to 100 bhat a minute for normal international calls, they make blood-sucking mosquitoes seem like friends. Ooo, and get this. If you wanna fax, which costs them the same as a phone call, they charge 150 bhat, instead of the 50 bhat average, even though the phone company treats (and bills) the calls the same. I especially enjoy the 'No Free Calls' sign hanging in one agent's window. Fuckers! (sorry emotion gets the best of me sometimes).

Another, more insidious scam, involves the bus services they offer to points in Thailand. First, the state buses in Thailand are cheaper and better than any tourist-filled bus I've ever seen here. Running every half or full hour to anywhere in Thailand, I've never had to wait more than 45 minutes for departure when I've randomly shown up at a state bus station, and at $5-10 the buses are usually one third the price quoted on Khao San.

Then there are the bus 'services' to Cambodia. They don't tell you that the 500 bhat you pay on this street only gets you a mini bus to the border and then the back of a pickup for the road to Siem Reap. I paid less for a state bus and a front seat, which was still ass busting hard. Those sad fools riding in the back spent their first days in Siem Reap learning how to walk again.

Finally, after waves of English, who can't travel far without demanding their bland, flavorless food, the restaurants on Khao San no longer serve Thai food, no matter what the menu says. I've resorted to ducking down back alleys to find real fired rice where the shrimp are served with their heads and the rice has spice.

All in all, I'm for changing the name of this street, from Khao San to Con San road. It sure would be more appropriate and I can't wait to leave for the beach again.

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