If the title of this post seems a bit um…for lack of a better word, schizophrenic, understand that internet has been a bit shaky for us for awhile, so we must catch up in one fell swoop. After visiting the magnificent Ko Phi Phi (which you, as our loyal reader, BETTER have read about in our last post..ha ha…), we headed north. Not too far north, just to Phuket. Phuket was another city, not unlike all of the other ones we have seen since entering Thailand. Then we made a possibly life altering decision: Jen would have to visit an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor while here. You see, her ears have been bothering her a lot lately and she is worried that she has ruptured one or both. She has had trouble with them since childhood and it’s time to give them their timely tune-up. So off we go to the local hospital. It is called Bangkok International Hospital on our map, so we hope that the “international-ness” of it will also allow some sort of a “real” doctor. Not the type that the American news has encouraged us to believe we will find in this 3rd-world land. We arrive at the hospital after what turned into quite a long walk. The nerves start to jump inside of us in the opposite direction from the hospital, trying futively to pull us away from our impending doom at the hands of the dreaded Thai doctors…We press onward, though part of us wants to allow our nerves to win this battle. We enter into the dreaded underworld that is the Thai…Wait a minute! Stop right there! This hospital has a reception area with nice, leather sofas. It has FREE hot chocolate, coffee, lattes, and water. The nice ladies who greet us speak perfect English and look like they stepped directly from the pages of a magazine selling only the neatest, nicest business attire available in the United States. Where are we? Have we taken a wrong turn and landed in some sort of convention for royalty (as only Thai royalty can have these nice things, we hear)? Nope! We are in the Bangkok International Hospital (BIH) it seems. The next minutes whizzed by as we hurriedly got ourselves a cup of hot chocolate, filled out a short form, received Jen’s new hospital identification card (with her picture on it, thanks to the cameras set up at every registration desk), and were immediately escorted away to the Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic. Minutes, I said. Not hours. No waiting in a jam-packed waiting area with every sort of coughing, bleeding, gagging human imaginable. Once in the clinic, Jen and I sat for seconds before a nurse took Jen to get her vitals. What!? They take VITALS in Thai hospitals? Would Jen get the dreaded “other end” thermometer, I wondered? Surely they have not acquired an oral thermometer way out here in Thailand. Upon her return, I notice a twinkle has replaced the doubt and fear in her eyes and ask what happened. It turns out that not only does BIH not have an “other end” thermometer, but they have an infrared thermometer that they shoot between your eyes to check temperature! Never seen one of those? Head over to Phuket. They’ve got them! Soon we are both led into a spic-and-span exam room where we find a young Doctor awaiting our arrival (notice I didn’t say that we waited 45 minutes for the doctor to arrive). Ah, this is the catch, I thought! The doctors are fresh out of high school! Well, it turns out that she is not fresh out of high school. Nor is she untrained. She is pleasant, speaks perfect English, explains the parts and functions of the ear to us to perfection, and is able to explain ear issues specific to scuba diving with us beacause she is a diver as well. Then comes the exam. First, Jen’s ears are systematically cleaned. Then the Doctor looks at Jen’s ears and reports no holes or infection in the ear drums. Perhaps sensing our nervousness, she pulls out a small camera attached to a computer screen and shows us the inside of Jen’s ears while explaining everything we are seeing. Amazing! Jen has never had the option of this equipment in all of her 26 years of ENT appointments until now. The Doctor (Physician may be more appropriate since it sounds more regal) then explains that there may be some inflammation in Jen’s ear canal and spreads a topical antibiotic inside her ear. We never even knew there was an antibiotic that could be placed there! Jen has only gotten oral antibiotics or drops in her previous appointments in the US. We are then told that Jen can definitely scuba dive again (which is music to our ears, no pun intended) and that she only needs to rinse her ears with fresh water after diving because the pressure over the extended time causes the ear canal to thin and the Swimmer’s Eardrops that we had been instructed to use could cause damage. We’ve never gotten that little bit of information before! After saying goodbye, we are ushered to the payment counter where we dread the bill since out travel insurance only covers emergency visits. It turns out that the appointment costs $1127. Before you have a coronary, remember that we are in Thailand. That means that the $1127 is in Thai baht. That means our total is really only around $35 USD. On our way out, we discussed how this was the most amazing and cheapest doctor appointment we had ever had…And we grabbed another cup of hot chocolate!
Now on to the “Dishonesty” part of the title. The people of Thailand are of another sort. Well, let me say the people that the average backpacker runs into, anyway. They are amazingly dishonest. We arrive at any bus station, ferry dock, or train station and are immediately bombarded by people wanting to take us here or there or sell us tickets to anywhere. They tell us that tickets cost a certain amount and that the only way to travel from point A to point B is by First Class. We shuffle past, ignoring them as if they are not human because if we do not, we are followed and harrased further. Eventually we find our way to the 2nd class counter where we are charged a “premium” in addition to the standard cost. We cannot talk them into alleviating this “white” tax, but at least the tickets are still cheaper than 1st class. Then we get on our bus, train, etc. and find that the 1st class and 2nd class bus is the exact same bus! We were on an overnight bus recently and noticed that the 1st class passengers had blankets and we lowly 2nd classers had none. The bus started moving and before 30 minutes had passed, a man brought blankets to every passenger aboard. We are still unsure of the difference between 1st and 2nd class in Thailand.
Then there is the dishonesty found in places such as restaurants, guesthouses, and trekking (hiking for all you Americans) companies. We ate at a restaurant a few days ago where we ordered an omelet with cheese, 2 fried eggs, and a slice of bacon. We got our food and ate before asking for our ticket. The ticket came to 20 baht (not much money, but still) more than we had figured. When we asked about the discrepancy, we were told the following: “Oh. I gave you 2 pieces of bacon and 2 pieces of cheese on your omelete.” But we did not order 2 slices of bacon or 2 pieces of cheese. We pointed at the menu and said “one of these and one of these”. Just a bit crooked of her.
We went to a gueshouse (which will remain unnamed) on our first day in Chiang Mai where we found a really nice, big room with a hot shower and a refrigerator. Scared to ask the price, we asked the lady how much it was per night and were happy to hear $250 baht (less than $8 USD) to which we said “YES!!!”. We unloaded all of our things, made ourselves at home, then went to pay for the room. We almost passed out when the lady told us our bill was $350 baht. “What?”, we said. A minute before it was $250! She denied saying $250 and asked us to pay the $350. We got our things and moved on. Crooked I tell you. Crooked.
We recently took a guided trek in the jungle in Chiang Mai. It was advertised as $1400 baht per person for a 3 day, 2 night trek with one night spent in a village and visits to 5 hill-tribe villages, a 1.5 hour elephant ride, and a 1 hour bamboo rafting trip. Sweet! We thought. Once we started trekking, we found that the couple trekking with us paid $1400 per person, we paid $1300 per person, and the couple taking the 2 day, 1 night version that started out with us paid $1500 per person. At least we got the good end of this rip-off. The trek was definitely worth it, but here are a few of the discrepancies from the advertised trek: We visited only 1 village, which had only 2-3 people in it and rented fancy bungalows to tourists. Not exactly our idea of a hill-tribe village. Our elephant ride was amazing, but was only 45 minutes long. Our rafting adventure was a bit scary and a bit fun, but only lasted 15-20 minutes. You getting the idea here? Not exactly what we signed up for. Oh, and as an added bonus, I got bitten by a leech! Yes. A slimy, black, fat, blood-sucking leech! The trek was quite an adventure. Just a little bit dishonest, but good fun anyway.
Well, as you can see, our time here in Thailand has been interesting. Most of it has been amazing, beautiful, and absolutely the most interesting place we’ve ever been because of the differences between here and home. Next, we head off to Laos where we hope to find the beautiful Mekong, friendly people, some amazing tubing through caves, and a bit of French colonial charm with any luck…Until then!