The Data Economy of Khao San Road.

I recently went on a trip through Thailand and Cambodia. I learned a lot of things and had a lot of fun but one thing really stuck with me throughout and just would not let go of my mind:

Khao San Road had a data economy.

It started with my wife and I heading toward the area. She had visited it several years ago and thought I might enjoy it. I also needed to pick up some clothes I had forgotten to bring, so it was a bit of a win-win.

For those who don’t know: Khao San Road is a street in Bangkok, Thailand that is well known among backpackers. It has a lot of cool vendors. From what I’ve been told it used to be more “natural” and have a lot of very unique shops but these days it has a lot of the same generic t-shirt and clothing shops, a few tattoo parlours and a bunch of custom suit makers.

We started our walk a good distance away from the street and, like almost every street we walked by during the trip, we were accosted by tuk-tuks and street peddlers the entire way there. For the most part they were just yelling the word “tuk tuk” and making motorcycle movements with their hands.

With the shear amount of people doing this, visitors quickly learn to ignore them — making any sort of noise toward them can encourage them to pester you an insane amount.

That’s when one of them asked what country we were from. He didn’t really ask casually — he yelled it at us as we walked by.

Taken aback we yelled out Canada!

He smiled and said “Toronto” but we had gotten too far and didn’t respond.

This happened about a block away from the main drag of Khao San Road. What happened when we finally got onto the street blew me away:

Sales people, who knew maybe 10 words of English at most, all started yelling: “Mr. Canada!” at me.

I was not wearing a Canadian flag on my bag or any other obvious indicators of where I was from. Throughout most of the trip people had assumed I was American.

I’m not talking about a few people either: every vendor somehow knew I was Canadian and even started throwing in city names (“Montreal? Vancouver!”) to try and get my attention.

Even after we had gone to a bar and had a few drinks, once we got out they continued calling me that.

My assumption is that the tuk tuk driver who accosted me (I’m starting to think the tuk tuk was just a prop) had some kind of What’s App list and any data he got on people walking by would be shared to people on that list.

My assumption went a bit further in that he probably charged for that piece of data. Kind of like how we charge for any kind of data we have on people.

By having a piece of data on me the sales person has a way of getting my attention when other sales people couldn’t. It was a leg up. As I said before: travelers automatically ignore sales people after a while, having that data about where they are from can get a sales person past that initial block and into a possible sale.

The value of that data would be decided by the “tuk tuk” driver and the sales people, a natural economy.

Or maybe they all just guessed correctly on the first go. Canada is a pretty big country!

I do wonder how he described me. Did he share a photo or just call me the fat bearded white guy.

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