Thailand is a tropical country blessed with much natural beauty, but there are more than a few long-term foreign residents and regular visitors who refuse to go to any of the national parks.
It’s because they feel discriminated against when they’re charged 4 to 5 times more than a Thai person for entry. Many attractions in Thailand operate under a dual pricing policy, where Thai people will be charged a modest entrance fee and anyone who doesn’t look Thai will be charged at a much higher rate. For example, in the case of Koh Lanta National Park, the entrance is 40 baht for Thais and 200 baht for foreigners. Call me a cheap charlie if you will, but the fee was enough to dissuade me from going inside the park. Instead, I turned around and spent the morning at the very nice and mostly deserted public beach at Bamboo Bay—free of charge. Had the park been charging 40 baht to everyone without discrimination they would have had my money.
Would lowering the entrance fee for foreigners attract enough extra visitors to make it more profitable for the park than the current pricing? I’m guessing not. And the reason is because there are still enough foreigners visiting the park who either don’t care or don’t even know about the higher fee they pay. This is because they only ever see one price—or more precisely, they only notice one price—the one written in English with Arabic numerals. The price for Thais anywhere with dual pricing is almost always written in Thai script with Thai numerals as well, which just looks like a bunch of random squiggly lines to most foreigners. They purposely use the Thai numerals to try to hide the fact that they have dual pricing to foreigners. In most other facets of life in Thailand, Arabic numerals have become the norm. Even in the picture of the ticket booth above, they use “120” for the child height limit, but “๑๒๐” for the child price in the part written in Thai. Why use the special set of Thai numerals for one part of the sign if for no other reason than to hide the price Thais are paying behind a veil of language.
In the past, simply being able to read the writing on the sign has been enough to get me the Thai entrance price at some places. This was the case at Chiang Dao Cave. There the guy collecting the entrance fees must have figured I was Thai enough since I could read their secret code.
Others have said that producing a Thai driving license at the ticket booth has been sufficient proof that they are thoroughly Thai enough to get into some attraction at the Thai price. I’ll have to try it out the next time I want to visit a national park, but there are other places with a dual pricing policy that I’d rather not visit simply on principle.
With national parks and other publicly owned attractions such as Sukhothai Historical Park, you can make the argument that Thai citizens pay taxes that support the facility, so it’s fair to charge them less to allow everyone a chance to visit, while charging foreigners more to subsidize the park’s operating costs. Thailand is not the only country that does this. In India, for example, foreigners pay 750 rupies (about $12) to see the Taj Mahal while Indian citizens pay a mere 20 rupies. But at least the price for Indians is clearly displayed in English—there is no attempt to dupe foreigners by writing something only in Hindi.
The much bigger problem, however, is when a double pricing policy is implemented at privately owned attractions. For example, at the Art in Paradise interactive museum in Chiang Mai, Thais are charged 180 baht and non-Thais 300 baht. The sign doesn’t actually say that Thais pay one price and foreigners pay another—it simply gives one price in Thai and a conflicting price in English. I asked the lady behind the ticket window if I could pay the lower price since I was able to read it. And she said that if I had a Thai driver’s license then I could get in for the price written in Thai. But I was just asking to see what she would say—I’m not going to go inside the museum because, as a private enterprise, their only justification for charging non-Thais more money is to rip us off.
An interesting thing happened not too long ago at the opening of “Asiatique The Riverfront,” an upscale outdoor mall in Bangkok. This new commercial property located on the riverside is supposed to evoke a European trading port, and it’s very much a place for upper class Thais to dine and shop. Foreigners who come are much more likely to be residents of Bangkok—it’s not really geared towards foreign tourists so much. But that didn’t stop the owners of Asiatique from charging foreigners more to ride on their Ferris wheel. On opening day, the price for a ride on the Ferris wheel was 200 baht for Thais and 250 baht for non-Thais.
Maybe Asiatique’s owners thought non-Thais would not know or not care, but many people knew about it largely in part to local blogger Richard Barrow and his legion of Twitter followers. Many called for a boycott after Asiatique banned Mr. Barrow from their Facebook page. Asiatique soon relented…sort of. They decided they would be fair and charge all people the same price—so naturally they bumped up the price for Thai people to 250 baht to match the non-Thai price. I’m not sure who was the winner in this case.
Another disturbing new trend is Buddhist temples charging entry fees for foreigners. As a Buddhist, I always want to give a donation to any temple I visit as a way to make merit. But I don’t appreciate being singled out at the entrance to the temple based on my race. Why should a Thai Christian or Thai Muslim be able to enter a temple for free while an American or Indian Buddhist has to pay a fee? It’s as if they forget that Buddhism came to Thailand from another country. There were caucasian Buddhists in Central Asia a thousand years before Thai people even established their first kingdom. Actually, temples should never charge an entrance fee to anybody—it goes against the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching. Although, Thailand is not alone here either—many Buddhist temples in Kyoto also charge an entrance fee, but at least they rip off the local Japanese tourists equally.
If you want to avoid dual pricing in Thailand, you first have to be aware of it. And the best way to do that is by learning how to read Thai. Of course there will always be some sellers in the markets and taxi drivers who will try to rip you off by charging more than a fair price, but when that happens you almost always have another option. You can buy from a different seller or take another taxi. But it’s the institutional dual pricing of entry fees that makes foreign residents feel unwelcome at times.