Friday, February 26, 2010


There are times in my life where being a sneaky bastard has really paid off. During our expedition through South East Asia, Prue and I were plagued by one sad misfortune; the impracticality of purchasing anything. Unfortunately due to the fact we had to carry everything in our backpacks which were becoming progressively fuller and fuller. We could not buy anything, in countries that the regular tourists come to just to shop.

But Christmas was approaching. We had agreed to curb our usual gift spending and imposed a limit on our gift budget. The idea was to come up with a great present which cost very little. The first of the presents I bought for Prue while we were in Luang Prabang. Prue had fallen for a little silver necklace charm that was locally made. After first seeing it she regretted not buying it and set out to find it our last day in Luang Prabang.

However, due to circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to get any money from the ATM machines in town, we had managed to pay our Accommodation and buy tickets for the Boat trip north, but we were left with only enough money to buy dinner. That is until I walked 500 miles to find the only ATM in town that was still working, on the way back to meet Prue I spied the silver charm and purchased it for the same price Prue had negotiated. Then I asked the merchant to do me a favour and not sell anything to my wife if she came back… Sneaky.

Returning to Prue with a small fist full of Laos Kip, she decided we needed to take one more look at the markets. When we reached the stall with the silver charm, Prue immediately tried bartering the price of the silver charm down. Meanwhile I was standing behind Prue, making faces at the merchant and waving my hands around. The merchant obviously had no intention of honouring our agreement. Fortunately Prue’s bartering skills were becoming shrewd and not getting the price she wanted, she walked away.

Prue almost returned to the store a few minutes later, but as she had just purchased something else, I decided to take an accountant’s stance and told Prue not to spend anymore money in case we couldn’t get any more cash out. Turned out that we couldn’t get any more cash and spent the next two days fretting about money. Prue was still disappointed she had missed out on the silver charm, so the surprise was enormous when I drew first blood and gave her the hand made silver necklace from Laos.

The second gift was a leather belt from Thailand, a designer clothes item with vibrantly coloured Mini Coopers around it and a cost increasing signature of a designer. Prue first spotted the belt in MBK Shopping centre in Bangkok. The shop keeper wanted 1500Baht as first price ($50) and Prue could only barter them down to 800Baht. Prue gave up on the buying the belt, but saw it several times and entered into negotiations in different shops only to fail to achieve a reasonable price.

After making a quick exit from the hostile nightclub in Pat Pong, Prue passed the belt on sale in the Pat Pong market, where she managed to barter the price down to 300Baht ($10). She giggled with consumerist excitement as we jumped in a Tuk-Tuk driven by a lead footed 17 year old and were whisked back to Kao San Rd. The excitement was short lived as two minutes later Prue realised that we had left her belt on the back seat of the Tuk-Tuk.

It was our second last day in Bangkok, and returning to Pat-Pong was not an option I was fond of, although Prue suggested it more than once. We spent hours grazing through the markets looking for the belt again, only to find that it wasn’t to be found. There weren’t even any stalls or shops selling belts in the vicinity of Khao San Rd. A placed rumoured to sell everything.

So a sneaky plan was hatched in my brain, Prue had excused herself for an hour to pamper herself with her last cheap Thai massage. I worked both sides of the street of Khao San in a last ditched effort to find the belt as I made my way to the end of the street where there would be a Tuk-Tuk to take me to Pat Pong and back before Prue realised I was gone. The trick would be getting a Tuk-Tuk to Pat-Pong without getting dragged into a sex show or a den of hurt.

But you wouldn’t believe it if you read about it on this very blog. We had searched the street several times for the belt and never saw any belts anywhere. But as if by magic, at the eleventh hour a small stall appeared out of the humidity and there was the Designer branded Mini Cooper belt. I enquired its price and the reply was “1500 Baht”. Shit… I managed to only get him down to 800 before trying the elite bartering technique of walking away. I didn’t work.

My only other option was to make a twenty minute trip to Pat Pong, find the belt, barter the price then get out of Pat Pong and back to Khao San Rd without being accosted by Mr Bang or any other seedy Ping Pong Peddling type. All this in a ever decreasing 45min window.

I ran up the street again, hoping that another magical belt store had appeared, one with more reasonable prices. It hadn’t, I bit the bullet and went back to the only magical belt shop in Khao San, I managed to get it down to 600 Baht, but the price didn’t matter when I saw Prue’s reaction on Christmas morning as she opened her presents on the bed in our little private room at the top of the evil stairs of death in the funky hostel down the steet from Hyde Park somewhere in the centre of ice-cold London, on the other side of the world. Prue was happy, and being a sneaky bastard had really paid off.