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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!