Bangkok Stories and Tips

Getting Ripped Off – California Wow Fitness Center on Silom

If you’re looking for industrial-scale fitness, there are two major franchises operating in Bangkok that you can choose from: California Wow Experience (formerly California Fitness) and Fitness First. If you choose California (as I unwittingly did) be prepared to be subjected to a barrage of BS sales lines and, in some instances, outright lies, all to fill a monthly quota that these clubs seemed to have imposed upon themselves. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, as "this IS Thailand."

First of all, let’s talk about the prices. You can’t just walk to the reception desk and ask, "How much?" They insist on an interview, grand tour of the facilities, and a presentation about all their services, etc., before sitting you down to talk about fees. The price? A whopping 5,000 Baht/month! I do the math in my head – 60,000 Baht/year. I wince conspicuously. "But hold on – just for you, you sign today, we give you for half that." I wince again. "And we no charge you initiation which is 7,500 Baht. And you get Premier Card – can go all clubs." BS. I tell them I don’t want to go to other clubs, and my friend, a Belgian, is only paying 1,050 Baht/month. She tells me that can’t be – unless he signed up last year when the prices were lower. BS – he signed up two weeks ago. I give her my friend’s name and she leaves me for a moment. When she returns, she puts on her best fake smile and says, "Oh, no – I checked and he pay 1,500 Baht/month and he pay for 18 months advance." Okay – I’ll bite on this one. But I don’t want to drop 27,000 Baht right now. "That’s okay. I go talk to manager." Yeah, sure. She returns once again with a "final offer". She writes on a slip of paper (I suppose to prevent other potential customers from eavesdropping). "1,999 Baht/month?" It’s not the 1,050/mo I was hoping for, nor was it the 1,500/mo that my friend was allegedly paying. But… "Fine. I’ll take it." She looks at me impishly. "But you have to pay for… " She hesitates. "… the first and last two months of a one-year contract." "Fine." By this time, I’ve already consigned myself to being ripped off. So, in the end, I’m paying 2,000 Baht/mo—and I got the Premier Card that I had explicitly said I didn’t want. And, to rub salt on the wound, my Belgian friend confirmed that he does, in fact, pay just 1,050/mo, and no he did not have to pay for 18-months in advance. Man, I am such a chump.Anyway, what does this get me? The CWE on Silom is a rather large club with machines, free weights, and the works, crammed into 4 floors – floors 2, 3, 14, and 19 – of the Liberty Tower. There are two men’s changing rooms, one with a dry sauna and the other with a steam room. No Jacuzzi. No pool. There are numerous scheduled classes, including aerobics, various dance classes, spinning, yoga, body balance, stretching, and pilates. There are no extra fees for most of these classes – pilates and yoga cost an exorbitant 1,000 Baht/session.My membership did come with "free" personal training sessions. Three, to be exact. All of which turned out to be three, drawn out sales presentations leading up to the revelation that I need more sessions for at least three months. No big deal… if they were free. No such luck. The cost? 1,800 Baht per session! One session per week! But, hey – if I want to trim down to 10% body fat by June (when I go back to Hawaii to visit my friends and family), it’s a sacrifice that I should be willing to make. NOT!By the way, I did manage to exercise my "Premier Card" privileges to visit CWE’s newest club at the upscale Paragon Shopping Complex. I wasn’t impressed. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Silom property, with no steam room. Oh yeah, it has LARGE glass windows so shoppers walking by can stare at you while you work out.Moral of the story: If you think haggling is something you find only along the streets and open-air markets, think again. It’s everywhere in Thailand. And if you don’t get used to it, you won’t survive here for very long.

One good did come out of all of this. After working out one day, I managed to find a restaurant across the street, The Beirut Restaurant in the J-City Shopping Complex that serves Lebanese chicken shwarmas – possibly the world’s most perfect, healthy, fast-food meal!

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