Captain Hindsight – yesterday’s hero, tomorrow…
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Date: November 2011
Backpacking was fun, you reassured yourself as the weight of your backpack threatened to drag you to the floor. Bambi legs wobbled through the airport as you question why on earth you had taken so much to Thailand where clothes where reputably so cheap.
The queues at arrivals done their utmost to crush the last morsels of motivation from your soul and as you looked at your brother you knew his mind was on the same wired wavelength; a bed was much needed.
The journey was arduous, the plane uncomfortable, the food mediocre. The party would wait. Seven weeks of backpacking lay ahead as South East Asia welcomed you through the insanely crowded gates of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.
“What was that you were watching on the plane? Was it about Bangkok?”
Turning to the brother, you shrugged, conserving your energy to speak to the officials whose questions may need some real answers. The brother looked displeased and so, unwilling to invite discord into the fray, you mumbled some information to pacify the cranky vibes.
“Ahh, something about the airport taxis”
The brother nodded something between disinterest and satisfaction as he plodded forward, finally battling through to the oppressive air and twilight sky. The road outside the airport was alive with energy and it only took a moment for a vulture to swoop on the two white rabbits staggering in the headlights.
A happy camper indeed shook both hands twice before you knew what was happening and continued to mesmerize you both with his command of the English language as he guided you to the queue of taxis on the roadside. Several competitors tried to intercept but Mr. Happy chased them as the two lost souls hovered between options.
Catching the brother’s cautious glance, you nodded and then moved on, climbing inside the pink taxi at their chauffeur’s request.
Closing his door in the front seat, you turned to look in the back as the brother was joined by Mr.Happy. First red flag.
Confused, you decided to move on regardless and so after a quick deliverance of the hostel address, the taxi set off.
The first few miles went without incident and you bobbed your head in mild acknowledgement as Mr.Happy chattered in the background, wasting little time in forging a fast friendship with the two Irishmen.
His silence was welcome but tellingly came as the taxi pulled off the highway and turned into a used car lot, circling round the back, out of sight from the main road. Second red flag.
The brother shuffled in the back and as you sat in the passenger seat in front, you could feel the tension as the questions simmered in your mind.
The taxi rolled to a stop behind a wall of cars stacked high on a transporter truck. To the left was another taxi, parked with no driver. To the right, a wooden table, behind it two chairs. One man sat, four men stood. All of them Thai, none of them smiled. That scene alone was worth another three red flags.
The sun had vanished now and was dragging the dark curtain of night over the sky as Mr. Happy did a similar disappearing act out the back of the car. The brother’s panicked tone did nothing to elicit answers from the mute wheel-man.
After a moment, the star of the show reappeared at the passenger window.
“What’s going on?” growled the brother.
You already knew what was going on. You had read about these things and the possibility of tricks in Vietnam or Thailand especially.
Yet there you were, caught in a taxi scam less than an hour after getting off the plane.
Holding up a hand for calm from the brother, you lowered the window. A clipboard was passed in and after a little back and forth, it seems a signature was required. The pink taxi could go no further and needed paid and the waiting taxi could finish the job. It would also need paid.
Frustration bubbled inside and Mr. Happy’s smiles and jokes proved little more than a catalyst to the exasperation. The sky grew dark as the men circled around the pink taxi. The trepidation brewing in your mind was mirrored by the brothers worried face. You had read about the perils of travel, but you didn’t expect a hard lesson like this so soon.
“Why can’t this taxi just take us? Why do we need that one? Just take us in this taxi now!”
You were struggling to keep a lid on things but had no desire to invite an ambush. The laughter around the car grew loud as Mr.Happy repeated his default line.
“Not possible, you must take this taxi”
This game had went on long enough and your throat was hoarse from frustration and burning with the will to scream. Mr. Happy leaned in the window again, shaking the clipboard under your nose. This taxi scam was a game to them, one they had no doubt played a thousand times.
The impasse had been reached and the mute driver was apparently deaf too, at least to all attempts of a private negotiation. Mr. Happy stood at the door and you looked out at him, casting your eyes beyond to the transporter truck and further through the gaps to where the traffic flowed down the main highway. Time to call bluff.
You turned to the brother.
“Grab your bag Paddy”
Sliding your fingers to the handle, you pulled it and motioned to get out.
Your efforts were resisted. The door slammed shut.
You looked up to meet Mr. Happy’s face grinning back.
“Okay, okay, this car will take you now!” he chimed.
“Oh, so it does work? I thought it wasn’t possible?” you queried.
“No, it’s okay, it will take you”
The mute received some orders and started the engine and with a collective sigh of relief, you and the brother cast a wary eye at the mute as the taxi reversed out of the yard, leaving Mr.Happy with his gang.
Two hours of traffic and one motorbike crash followed but as midnight came and passed, the taxi found the hostel in the narrow, shady back streets of a quiet neighborhood in Silom without further drama. The taxi pulled to a stop and the bags were pulled out.
“700 baht” wheezed the driver. Mute no more, he found his voice, in English too as he announced a fare at twice the standard rate.
“Ah, so you do speak”, you marveled.
With your hunger making you weak, you were in no mood for further trouble. You threw cash on the seat and walked from the taxi to join the brother, sitting on the steps of the hostel, enjoying a much-craved cigarette.
“I remembered what I was watching on the airplane now”, you pondered aloud.
The brother looked at you, “About the taxis?”
You met his look with a grin.
“Yeah, it said don’t get the pink ones!”