Monday, February 9, 2009

Farang in a rot dang

Rot dangs pass more frequently in Chiang Mai than yellow cabs in New York City. Literally every other vehicle is a bright red pickup truck with a sheltered , open air seating area in back. Some are blinged out with decals and bright pink lights, others old and belching clouds of black exhaust. Unlike yellow cabs, rot dangs do not have the standard fare posted on the side in English and riders are instead to assume that they will pay a flat fare of 15 Baht (~50 cents). I learned this the hard way.

On my second day in CM, I was determined to find a way to walk to the ISDSI office, despite that the address was on “Superhighway.” When, after walking 30 minutes out of Old Town, I found that the road was indeed a superhighway, I thought it more prudent to catch a taxi. I knew I was not far from the office, but I had no idea what a reasonable fare might be.

The first rot dang driver I awkwardly flagged down (certain hand movements are considered offensive) took the card I offered with the Thai address and called the number for directions to ISDSI, nodding at me with a smile. “Kaap,” he said to the person on the other end. “Kaap, kaap.” When he hung up I asked, “the fare?” “100 Baht!” he replied. Quickly working it out in my head, I realized that was nearly $3. Playing dumb, I showed him the 20 Baht in my hand, at which he shook his head and drove off. I wondered what another rot dang driver would charge, so I stopped a second.

Again: phone call, “Kaap, kaap,” nod, smile. The fare? “50 Baht!” Feeling relieved I hadn’t taken the first offer but still somewhat suspicious, I showed the driver 20 Baht. When he turned away to drive off I said, “Ok, 50 Baht” and climbed in back. As the rot dang lurched forward I nearly fell out the back and quickly learned to get a tight grip on the bars overhead.

Once at the office, I got the scoop on the real fare. “Never negotiate,” one of the instructors said, “and always pay after you get out. That way, if they complain you will already be where you want to be.” Oh, what a farang I am!

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