The first thing I like to do in a new city is go on a little recon mission and see what I can see of the place on foot. Somewhere like Phuket is a real bastard to do this since it’s vast and hilly and filled with crazy touts looking to bamboozle you at every turn. Sometimes interacting with them can be good for a laugh, but it is refreshing to go somewhere where you aren’t constantly harassed every step of the way.
Not that there aren’t touts in Chiang Mai. None of them seem to be able to grasp the idea of somebody voluntarily walking somewhere, but I have all my old tricks from Phuket. My favourite way to ward off unwanted offers of tuk tuk rides is to hold aloft a motorbike key. Like a crucifix to a vampire, this has proved to be the most efficient way to convey the “leave me the fuck alone” message to drivers. Even if I didn’t have a motorbike, I’d consider carrying a key for that specific purpose. If you’re ever in Thailand and sick of being harassed to get in a tuk tuk, I suggest you try it.
I respect that these drivers have to make a living, but there really is a limit to how much a person of reasonable good conscience should have to put up with. Since I’ve been in Thailand, that limit has been pushed and surpassed time and time again. Before I lost it to a maid’s rubbish bag in Trang, I remember reading in my Lonely Planet guidebook that the best way to respond to the eighty-gadzillionth Thai tout asking you “Hey! Where you go? You want taxi – tuk tuk?” is to reply in Thai – and completely ignore them. That works pretty well too, but it goes against Western etiquette to flatly avoid reacting to somebody engaging you in conversation.
Word to the wise – any time a Burmese guy outside a tailor shop asks you where you’re from, he doesn’t particularly give a shit. It’s just an extremely rudimentary attempt at building the rapore necessary to get you to let your guard down long enough to consider purchasing his wares.
Cranky’s Final Thought: Please disregard the above four paragraphs if you actually do want a tuk tuk ride or a suit.