Attention! This is a warning. Travel is dangerous. Exclamation mark. Exclamation mark. Exclamation mark. Threat lurks in every city and on every of its corners. Tourists, the defenseless victims of organized crime, get caught in its traps like flies. Safety is a utopia!
Believe me, every single friendly man on the street is a criminal who actually doesn’t want to invite you over for tea as he pretends but instead baits you with his toothless smile and plans to rob you once you are all alone in his flat or in some dark, lonely backyard. The local tuk-tuk driver in general is one of those streetwise scallawags that demand five times as much as the usual fare from foreign visitors – or else kick them out of their vehicle halfway. Surely, all those back-stabbing hags at the market are only selling madly overpriced rubbish and don’t want to bargain at all. Beware of their evil eyes! Oh, and don’t forget about the ruthless men who run through the streets with their eyes open to spot dirty shoes and helpless victims and don’t even bother to ask whether you want your shoes cleaned or not. Because you will have to pay anyway. Lesson learned: There are varmints, everywhere. They zero out on our money. And once they have bereft us of that, they take what they can get: Our shoes, our hair, and the very last thing we carry with us. Yes, travel is dangerous.
Attention! You probably haven’t noticed but what I wrote above was a bit sarcastic.
Or maybe you have. Well now, sarcasm off. Isn’t it just like this: We tend to feel safe whenever we are not aware of possible dangers – which is mostly the case when we roam at home. Far away from home, we are insecure, and, sadly, we tend to trust the guidebook more than the people we meet on the street. Instead of asking them for help or information, we stick to what’s written by some self-proclaimed expert and rush off to see some so called insiders’ tips like everybody else.
On my last backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, I experienced what exactly happens if you lose trust in locals because you think travel is dangerous and everybody wants to scam you. I felt perfectly prepared for crossing the infamous border between Cambodia and Thailand. I had read about people smugglers and extortionate robbery. I was warned that at Poipet it very is likely to pay fantastic prices and fictive service charges for visas. On my way to the crossing, I eyed people suspiciously and tightly clasped my hand around my passport and my belongings.
The destination of my journey was Ko Chang, a small island in eastern Thailand. I had booked a journey including ferry transport with a couple of other backpackers. After we had passed the border crossing without any problems and been traveling Thai motorways for a couple of hours, our minivan stopped in the very city where the ferry would leave – only it didn’t stop at the port. It was dark and the street where we had stopped was deserted. Our driver did not make any move to go ahead and drive us to the seaside. Our alarm bells rang: SCAM!
We all had so intensely engaged with this topic that there seemed to be no other explanation for our extraordinary stop. Our driver and co-driver told us they would drive us directly to our hotels on the island if we paid an additional fee. To us, this sounded exactly like the kind of scamming we had been warned of. We were afraid of being thrown out of the bus in the next moment – way from the pier and without the ferry tickets we had already paid for. In the end, we talked the guys into driving us to the landing and handing over our ferry passes – a furious crown of seven tourists shouting down two locals.
Much later it dawned on us that maybe we had done them wrong.
There were a couple of taxis on the island, all of which wanted more money for the onward drive than the two we had ranted at with such aggression. They had tried to explain that to us. Why had we gotten them wrong? Didn’t we want to understand them? Was I really unsettled so much by the warnings I had heard before my trip?
It is good to be aware of tourist fraud, fair enough. Sometimes, travel is dangerous and you can get into really bad situations so you should always keep an eye open – just as you would at home. If you have a bad feeling, don’t do it! Yet, for sure, we should not presume that any friendly man on the street has maleficent motives for being nice.
There is a lot of scam involved in the tourist industry of certain countries. And of course, it’s a kind of scam we have to be aware of. Of course we should always haggle for a cheaper tuk-tuk fare, even if the tourist price is still much cheaper than what we would have paid for a taxi drive back at home. We should avoid buying madly overpriced snacks or souvenirs. Even if those overcharged cents mean nothing to us. But we also have to learn to be less mistrusting and regain our confidence in foreigners.
Do you remember a situation in which you felt ripped-off? Did you experience situations in which travel was dangerous? I’d love to read about your story! You can either contact me via email or just leave a comment underneath this article.
Photo by 401(K) 2012.