The thought of travelling and going on a trip to Thailand for the first time, with three others, cousins and a friend, would sound like so much fun. Memorable as one would imagine it to have turned out, this trip made the unforgettable mark but in a different way. Before we get to the details, let’s run through some numbers about Malaysians and travel.
In 2015, a total of 235.2 million trips were made by Malaysians around the country (recorded with the Department of Statistics Malaysia Domestic Tourism Survey 2016). According to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president, Datuk Tan Kok Liang, that number peaked to 253.9 million trips in 2017 (reported by Bernama last year).
In a separate summary by Mastercard, an estimated 11.9 million international outbound travel trips were recorded from Malaysia; with projections of an increase to 14.2 million trips by 2021.
Wrap your head around these numbers because the total Malaysian population as of 2019, is only a little over 30 million. Regardless the state of our national economy, travel being in vogue as it is, has hardy Malaysians finding ways and means to travel “somewhere” for respite.
Much has been written on the different facets of travelling but little on the one fundamental detail that requires the most basic of common sense - selecting the right travel partners! This article will take you through the unfavourable circumstances and the reason this writer shares his travel woes.
After much contemplation and planning, I decided to say yes to a trip to Thailand with two cousins and a friend. It was to be a first experience to the “Land of Smiles” for all of us, to which none wore this happy expression along our journey. Don’t get me wrong, as the country is indeed beautiful (as research revealed); unfortunately WE hardly got to see much of the that which keeps many returning for - its cuisine, resorts, entertainment, shopping, flora and fauna, relaxing remedies and therapies, temples and Buddhist culture, its tuk-tuk rides, tom yam, street food, night life, beaches, etc.
Unable to contain my angst further, here is the rundown and one detrimental “detail” about the trip, something I urge everyone take heed of - “travel ‘buddies’... of the ‘wrong’ kind”. Do note that I use the word “wrong” because “what ensued in Bangkok was really quite unforgettable.
For a start, it involved the purchase of two aninis sandwiches) at a whopping price tag of 1,101 Baht (roughly around RM140); followed by a wasted three-hour drive out and back into Bangkok for nothing, all because the wrong address was keyed in onto the Grab app; and the ‘person’ got further scammed of another 1,000 Baht by a taxi driver.
Assertion and dominance
While you could say the latter is “nothing new”, particularly when it comes to traveling around Asia where people try to scalp tourists with overpriced goods and services, I put the blame for the former two untoward occurrences on the three travelers for not doing something or taking control of the situation.
On the panini drama, it all began when, let’s call him Arthur, began seeking recommendations on where to have breakfast (despite being in Bangkok where street food is dirt cheap and available at almost every turn of the corner).
Upon recommendation of a cafe several main roads away from our hostel, with pictures depicting an upscale area, the rest of us, Megan, Micah and I, admit not taking control of the situation - our bad. However, from experience, I’ll tell you it’s always good to keep in mind when travelling with someone with money to burn ... and a history of bad decision-making skills; they’ll never stray from that path. Dominance is key here, especially if you end up in a cafe where paninis are priced at 600 Baht a pop.
One would imagine a seasoned traveller who has visited places such as Africa would be “cleverer” in deciding on the simplest of options, such as whether to take a tuk-tuk, a taxi or get a Grab, yet again, I learned that logic can sometimes fly out the window, even with the most ardent, frequent travellers.
The struggle was real, which was the case yet again, when I was the only person who bought a local Thai SIM card, and Arthur’s inability to haggle and decide on the best price and mode of transport to get us from A to B caused Grab to block my account due to repeated bookings and cancellations.
Later in the day, on our return journey to the hostel, Arthur used his own phone to book a Grab and as luck would have it, he keyed in the wrong address at booking, which found the four of us far afield, way off our intended destination. As you’d imagine, this cost us several hundred more Baht and many wasted hours seated in a hot and cramped vehicle with not much of a scenery. As if it could not get any worse, because we arrived our hostel in the wee hours, we overslept and missed out on our exciting plans to Ayutthaya for an early morning excursion!
Horror or near-horror experiences while travelling can be a common occurrence or it may be smooth sailing from the get-go. Let me side-track a little and relate an account of a friend who was travelling with others, couch-surfing almost the entire way. They were left with no other option but to stay at a “particular house”. Mind you, it is worth noting, that the arrangements for this were dealt through a couch-surfing online platform, and this particular house owner’s facility had bad reviews. Obviously, they did not heed the red flags and naturally found themselves in a situation where my friend woke up in the middle of the night to the sight of the landlord seated ‘a lot too near for comfort’, watching her closely.
But of course travelling will always broaden horizons, impart new perspectives and deliver fresh experiences; and some may even travel for the sole purpose of having something preposterous happen, just to have a “story” to take back home, as memories last longer than trinkets and souvenirs ... they say. Still, it is best to bear in mind that dominance needs to be asserted if you know things might go even more sour than what already has, especially when travelling in a group.
[Names have been changed for confidentiality, except for Mark; but the stories are true.]