Our tuk-tuk scam in Vientiane, Laos – visiting Buddha Park

I like Vientiane. It’s like a modern village, but it’s also a proper capital. I’ve only been there on visa-related trips, but a day and a half is more than enough there. At the end of October the weather is just perfect – sunny yet not too hot, with scattered clouds. We thought we’ll have a relaxing time there to explore their vegetarian cuisine. while waiting for a non-B visa (yaay!).

We avoid tuktuks like the plague, but in Vientiane you don’t have many options; not just to get around cheaply, but in general. Our destination was the Buddha park, situated right next to the Lao-Thai border crossing. In the city centre one tuktuk offered us a 500 baht trip to Buddha park, which we found extortionate, given that there were hardly any tourists. Yet another did the same for 100 baht (20,000 kip), which seemed an adequate fare for a rusty old construction.

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The second tuk tuk

Here’s where it all starts:

He took us to a tuk-tuk area and we were shuffled to a bigger one with a new driver. My first thought was “this ain’t gonna go well..” Having read many tuktuk scam stories, in my head I was like, “if he starts acting up, the most Imma offer is gon be 200 baht”. After a 30-min freezing journey through some villages (it’s chilly in the morning, and really windy once you’re out of the city), we reached the Buddha park. We get off, I hand a 100 baht bill, and sure enough, the guy gives me a surprised look as if I was giving him an apple or something instead of cash.

He started his rant in Laotian, and I thought maybe he didn’t take baht (100 baht is 25,000 kip, and the fare was 20,000). Then I hand him 20k, and he’s still not taking the money and keeps swearing in Laotian in an angry manner. Then Auste and I didn’t even question why it had to be us or anything, we just gave each other a look like “I hate this scam sh*t, I don’t need this stress”. He didn’t speak English, but we’re used to that, so using a lot of gestures and facial expressions, we explained that his friend showed us 20,000 on his phone, and so on – he knew all this, he was just trying to pull this scam! Then we were like, if you don’t want the money, we’ll just go to the park. So we bought 3 tickets: one for me, one for Auste, and one for our camera. Yep, a ticket for a camera. 1 person 5,000 kip, 1 camera 3,000.

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One of the weird Buddha Park statues

The driver still stood next to us ranting in angry Laotian the whole time, showing us to get back to the tuktuk. Why did he want us to get back in? We do not know. We tried giving him the 20k a few times, but he refused to take it, so we turned towards the park entrance. Then he tried to grab Auste’s arm, and we both flipped – she started shouting at him, and I seriously thought, “you…creature, just dare do that again!”.

The lady who worked at the park entrance came out and she listened to us for a second, then used the calculator to show numbers to the driver and stuff. But he stayed with his opinion as firm as tofu, and kept pointing to the engine, I can only guess suggesting it costs 20k to fill the tank. We may look like tourists sir, but we ain’t retarded. He wanted to explain that he wanted 200,000k for a smelly 30-min ride!

Wowza. 1000 baht.

That’s the cost of our flights to Bangkok! He still refused taking the money and kept his acting face on. “Where is this going..”, we thought. Then the lady took our 20k and gave him two crisp 100,000 bills, which he took. SO dodgy! We just asked the lady why she did it, (who was surprisingly calm) she said don’t worry, don’t worry, and we walked into the park.

OF COURSE we couldn’t enjoy the park, because this angry driver caused us so much stress, so we were talking about this the whole time we were there. Knowing Thailand, we knew that no person would give away 200,000 kip just to avoid confrontation between two tourists and a tuktuk driver! Money is super important in Asia, even in their culture, so if the ridiculous fare he was trying to charge was correct, the driver would have fought for the money! We’ve read and heard stories about scams, and it was time to experience one I guess – it’s been a year in Asia after all.

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Those feels after a tuk-tuk scam.

We didn’t think it was a scam when we flagged down the tuktuk, because the price wasn’t ridiculously low to think it was a scam. It seemed just right, because the day before together with another couple we paid 300 baht for a smooth ride in a clean new private car for the same journey – that’s 75baht per person. So there was no way we could give in to pay 1,000 baht for a tuk tuk ride.

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Size of the park.

The park itself is tiny but peaceful. And by saying tiny I really do mean it. The area is only a few hundred square metres and it’s not really a park as you would imagine. It’s pretty much a patch of grass where the sculptures have been dragged to and arranged in no particular order. The sculptures themselves are quite bizarre, too. If you haven’t been to any ancient temple sites in Asia, then I guess it’s quite interesting, but definitely not worth a 1,000 baht trip, haha!

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Inside the big pumpkin in the park.

The worst and weirdest part was that as we walked out of the park an hour later, the same generous dispute-resolving ‘Ombudsman’ lady showed us to the same tuktuk (he was waiting for us!) and said ‘no kip’. Wow, I’ll leave this one to your own interpretation. That was pure teamwork right there.

One Europan-sounding tourist offered us two seats in the van (earlier while we were in the park we asked them if they had any space), but since the Thai embassy was out of their way, their driver told us to get the bus and that it only takes 30 minutes. So just across the road from the park we caught bus #14, which took us straight into town. From the Buddha Park it took 15 minutes to go to the Friendship Bridge, then there was a 15 minute wait, and then 40 minutes to Talat Sao / central bus station. Voila!

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Lurking around the bus station for tourist fare

I am very grateful for people sharing their experiences online, both good and bad. Otherwise we probably would have fell for this scam, as the driver was angry; but now we weren’t scared because we had read similar stories before. Another thing to note is that some people have little patience with foreign tourists, and can actually be dangerous, especially in remote places. So I hope this article helps!

Broccoli and pesto farfalle with pangritata

If you’ve ever had one of these (pictured below), you know you want to make some Italian food to go with it.

There was a good offer on Wine Demon for first-time online customers, and 5 out of 6 wines were a good mix, with lots of aromas and flavours.
There was a good offer on Wine Demon for first-time online customers, and 5 out of 6 wines were a good mix, with lots of aromas and flavours.

I made this a while ago now, and I found out that Italians have a very interesting ingredient – Pangritata, also called ‘poor man’s parmesan’. It is basically fried breadcrumbs. Oddly enough, it’s nothing like parmesan, but it does taste good.

This simple dish goes well with a glass of medium-bodied red wine, perhaps even table wine! Although I do like Malbec or Torrontes – you have a little bit with a meal, and then a little bit more after the meal. You could go with white, but this dish may overtake the flavour of the wine. The recipe below should be enough for two people.

First, make the pangritata:

3 tbsp oil,

1 garlic clove, sliced

2 tbsp chopped rosemary or thyme

50g breadcrumbs

1 or less chopped chilli

1) Mix the above ingredients and fry in oil for 2 minutes until crisp golden;

2) Season with salt and pepper and dry on kitchen paper.

For the pasta:

200g Farfalle pasta (or something boring like Penne)

150g broccoli,

2 tbsp basil pesto,

Zest of 1/2 lemon,

2 tbsp parmesan, grated (optional)

1) Cook the pasta, leaving tiny bit of the cooking water;

2) Mix in the rest of ingredients and sprinkle over the pangritata. Done.

I do enjoy some dishes with a smoky flavour. This one wasn't as smoky, but I think I fried the breadcrumbs too long, which worked to my favour.
I do enjoy some dishes with a smoky flavour. This one wasn’t as smoky, but I think I fried the breadcrumbs too long, which worked to my favour.

Getting braces in Bangkok (dental)

So I got mine done in Suan Luang (south-east) area of Bangkok, Srinakarin road, very close to Seacon Square and Rama IX park.

Even though I get all my dental issues fixed at a good clinic in Bangkok, my former colleague recommended getting them done for half-price at a local clinic in Srinakarin. So I did. It’s half-price, right? I was advised the doctor speaks English, but I still didn’t know what to expect. I went there and was greeted by a lovely doctor’s assistant (the receptionist didn’t speak much English), and then sat down to have a chat about braces with the doctor. She was so informative and passionate about her work. They both spoke almost fluently, and the doctor knows her stuff. A year later, I am still their client, and each visit is a breeze.

During my first appointment she explained everything, including the technical details, possible complications, timescales and so on. Then we discussed the payment options – there were 3: either paying the lump sum up front (35,000 baht for mine), paying every quarter (for a year), or paying like 30% and then 1,500 every month. I chose the third one, which is very convenient, because you only pay a small part on the first day, like 20 or 30 %, then 3,000 for 3 months, and then 1,500 each visit. This worked out 50% cheaper than in Bangkok, and the quality of work is brilliant.

Every time I make an appointment, they don’t write a specific time, as I come late quite often. They’re open till like 8 PM, so if you’re working – that’s a good option. One of the tiny rubber gums came off one time and they accepted me with like zero notice. It’s like the best clinic I’ve been to, in terms of service and value for money. And fun staff (see picture!)

Dentists just being cool.. :)
Dentists just being cool.. 🙂

The braces themselves I have to wear for one year, and then I’ll have to wear a retainer for about 2 years. The doctor said after the braces are removed, I can use other doctors’ services if I move abroad. I got used to wearing them in like a couple of weeks and haven’t had any problems. I change the tiny rubber rings each month and they let me choose different colours. I feel just like my 7th graders, and they always point at my mouth at school when they see my new colours – “teacherrrr!” Haha. I used the opportunity to get braces here in Thailand, because in Europe adults don’t really wear them and it looks inappropriate, but here it’s a fashion thing. People actually get them just to look cool, or to change the appearance of their jawline, which makes their face look slimmer… Crazy stuff!

The clinic is called ‘ple dental clinic’ (Apple Dent) and this is their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pledentalclinic and a Google-friendly address in Thai ไปคลินิคทำฟันหมอเปิ้ล สวนหลวง ถนนเฉลิมพระเกียรติ์ซอย14.

Getting there is very easy: Songthaew for 8 baht (or a taxi). For songthaew take the BTS to Udom Suk, get off and walk down Udom Suk road for less than 5 minutes (there is a white/green UDOM SUK ONE community mall sign on the corner of that road). Stay on the left hand-side of the road until you walk past some street vendors, and you’ll see anything from 1 to 4 red songthaews – some of them are old, some new, some go to Seacon Square, and some go to Suan Luang – that is want you need to ask the driver (unless you can read Thai). Just say “Suan Luang Suan Luang” and they’ll tell you straight away or show you to another red truck. Once the driver feels he’s got enough people, he starts driving. Once you pass the Udom Suk-Srinakarin intersection (after about 60 Sois on Udom Suk road), stay on the truck and get off at Soi 14. Then just look it up on Google – it’s very easy to find in one of the hidden alleys (it is actually easy to find).

Quality Dental Clinic in Bangkok

There are two very different opinions about the Thai (dental) healthcare:

  1. It’s underdeveloped, unreliable but cheap.
  2. It’s very western, with well-educated, experienced doctors and quality service.

As with all things in Thailand, both statements are correct.

In terms of statement 1:

It is kind of true, but only to some extent. There are many mom-and-pop private dental clinics pretty much on every Soi in Bangkok. It’s just a business like a barbershop or a pharmacy, run by locals for the locals, so don’t expect exceptional service. They’re usually basic, relatively cheap, and depending on the clinic some staff speak English. You can have your fillings and other basics done no problem. And don’t forget Thailand is a country of contrasts, so they may range a lot in terms of cost, service and quality.

I had basic cleaning done at one clinic in Srinakarin (close to Seacon Square) and the service seemed perfectly fine. My girlfriend said that it was ok, but not as properly done as in Lithuania. Bear in mind though that we paid 600 baht each, and it would have cost us twice that in Lithuania, and even more in the UK. If you read on various online forums, many expats who have lived in Thailand for years recommend choosing a simple Thai clinic instead of a fancy one.

For basic needs I think the best bet is the local or mid-range clinics such as MOS Dental, situated mostly around BTS stations. The quality of work will be similar to more expensive clinics’, just for a lower cost.

Auste was like
Auste was like “stop messing about, let’s go!” and I was like “Asavanant… Dental clinic…pam pa-ra-ram..” – that song creeps up on you even when you’re not there!

In terms of statement 2:

The upper-range clinics such as Bangkok Smile, Bangkok Dental, etc, target the expat community, and high-income Thai customers. They also usually specialise in certain areas such as cosmetics, implants, surgeries, etc, and have state-of-the-art equipment. Many clinics do niche services with the names I can’t even pronounce! AND, they’re not that expensive compared to US or European prices.

So here’s my experience at one of the high end clinics – Asavanant Dental Clinic (right next to Thong Lo BTS).

I am very cautious of my oral hygiene, so if I ever have an issue, I tend to go for quality over price. Before my first dental appointment in Thailand I spent many hours reading up online. Nearly 90% of the comments stated that ‘Asavanant’ was expensive, but the quality of work was exceptional.

Stepping into the clinic feels like entering an art museum, as the hallways are full of statues, paintings and other accessories, and there’s a piano on the 3rd floor. Every appointment was a breeze – timely, with friendly service and quality work. There was only one time when I had to wait 30 mins for my appointment for whatever reason. The interior kind of shows that the paintings and decorations are one of the reasons the prices are higher. However, when compared to other upper-level clinics (or prices back in Europe) – certain things work out even cheaper.

I have paid:

2,000 baht for an instant x-ray for my braces (other clinics charged slighty less, but asked for a 2-day notice)

1,600 baht for a check-up and cleaning (quality work, done in under 30 minutes)

2,000 – 3,000 baht for some fillings (both surface and in between teeth) – I can’t remember how many fillings cost how much though, as I had a lot of them done.

6,500 baht for a wisdom tooth extraction with medicines (local anaesthetic included) – the operation was quick, painless, and I got to keep the big-ass tooth they extracted. Though it’s not fun to know that it is somewhere in my apartment.

An art exhibition in the main lobby of Asavanant.
An art exhibition in the main lobby of Asavanant.

Pros:

Ease of booking via telephone

Ease of rescheduling

Good opening hours, including weekends (open till 8PM or so)

Received a follow-up call for a check-up after 6 months

All staff speak English (reception – ok, doctors – very well)

Experienced doctors, with degrees from USA, etc

Modern equipment

Exceptional service, high-class interior

Good location (right on the corner of BTS Thong Lo)

Many different services

Relaxing music in the background

Cons:

No price list on their website, only list of services

More expensive than mid-range clinics

A cheesy ‘Asavanant dental clinic’ tune that gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day!

A bronze horse in the main lobby of Asavanant
A bronze horse in the main lobby of Asavanant
Waiting area on the 3rd floor at Asavanant.
Waiting area on the 3rd floor at Asavanant.