Delightful Thailand – Honour and Honesty in Krabi City
Around 2 PM I check into the Krabi River Guesthouse in Krabi City. I realize my daypack is missing. The daypack contains my laptop, camera and MP3 player as well as guidebooks, maps and leisure reading. The content has an exchange value of at least 2000 USD; the practical value for me is much higher.
Money, travel documents and cell phone are not in the lost daypack though. I wear those on my body. So I can check in at reception as if nothing had changed.
There at reception, when I note the bag missing, I have two immediate thoughts:
– In the bus from Krabi airport to Krabi town, the bag had clearly been with me.
– This is Thailand. I will get back my daypack including all contents.
I walk up to my room.
Let's recap the last hours:
1. I touched down at Krabi airport.
2. I took the public bus to Krabi City. The lost daypack was definitely with me in that bus.
3. The bus dropped me at a travel agency on the outskirts of Krabi City.
4. The travel agency took me to Krabi River Guesthouse in a private car.
Did I still carry my lost daypack at the travel agency? Maybe not. In the private car? Maybe not.
I believe that the daypack must be either in the bus, in the travel agency or in the private car. I have to find back to that travel agency in a non-central side lane of Krabi City and ask for my bag. Unfortunately, when the bus dropped me at this agency, I had been rather unfriendly: Staff had showered me in faux friendly questions re my future plans – hoping to sell daytrips, reservations and onward tickets. Fending off their transparent and intrusive interrogation, I had gotten a bit untoward. And then, I had warily asked *three times* if the private car to my guesthouse was free indeed, as promised before.
If I now trace back this travel agency, asking for my lost bag, they will remember me as that cantankerous, distrustful, downright paranoid westerner.
I sit down in my tiny guesthouse room. And see, in my pocket I discover the bus ticket with a telephone number. I dial immediately and talk to a very reasonable Thai person with very good English. From the voice I believe I talk to a lady.
My contact person is not in the travel agency, but in the bus company's headquarters, wherever that may be (I have called a cell phone number). I tell her that in the bus I had been sitting on the right side in the middle, not far from the passengers' door. I tell her my flight number and the bus's destination. I describe the lost bag meticulously. She says she will immediately call the travel agency and the bus to ask for my black daypack; then she'll be right back with me.
I am in good hands here. Soon I will be reunited with laptop, camera, MP3 player, guides and reading. Nothing much to worry about losing valuables in Thailand. Unlike Cambodia, in Thailand things come back to me: Just days ago a forgotten wallet full of money had been returned to me in a downtown Bangkok fast-food restaurant ; taxi drivers followed me into hotel lobbies to give back forgotten cameras; hotels kept forgotten USB sticks for me. <A very clear pattern of you being forgetful is emerging here! – Stick> In my experience, Thailand is one honest place, except for seedy tourists and expats.
20 minutes later. My phone rings. It's the bus company. I get up from my seat. I'm sure they found my bag. Happily I receive the call. Delightful Thailand!
"We don't have your bag", she says. "I called the travel agency in Krabi City and I called the bus driver. Nobody has seen your daypack."
I sit down again. Very softly and politely I start to convince the lady to try again. I try to be as polite and as urging as is possible in one voice. I refuse to believe that the bag with my travel toys went missing. We talk it all over again: Where did I sit. How does the bag look. Which bus was it. Every detail. Slightly impatiently, she promises to try again.
But you know what? Maybe my bag didn’t disappear. Maybe she has it already. Maybe she just wants to blackmail me, extracting a fee for returning my bag full of valuables.
Because, to be honest, I have some more ambiguous stories about Thai honour and honesty as well.
This happened to me too: In 2000, in Bangkok, my passport got lost, but a Thai guy was able to return it – and he demanded a 500 baht reward. Jetlagged, overwhelmed and practically new to Southeast Asian culture and climate, right after touchdown, I had dropped my passport at a Khao Sarn Road travel agency to get a Laos visa. Somehow I lost the agency's receipt. Back then, in 2000, KSR was one string of 50 identikit travel agencies. I pestered the *wrong* agency for my passport. After days without a passport, I met the motorcycle driver who transported passports for *all* KSR agencies. He said: "I know which travel agency has your passport. For 500 baht, I help you find your passport." I paid 500 baht and had my passport back five minutes later.
Now it's 2009, I am in Krabi and I lost my bag with laptop, camera, MP3 player and books. Maybe the Krabi bus company lady has my bag already, but she wants to extract a finder's reward? Should I call her and offer a reward? But how to address this touchy topic?
10 minutes later. My phone rings. It's the bus company. I get up from my seat again. Happily I receive the call. She has my bag, sure. Delightful Thailand!
"No, we really don't have your bag", she says. "I called the travel agency again, and I called the bus driver one more time. Still nobody has seen your daypack."
No bag return for free.
I sit down again. Now I have to address *it*.
I sermon into my cell phone that I can understand that these tourist queries are a hassle for a reputable bus company and that certainly everybody in her office was very busy and that maybe they had no driver to return the bag immediately and that the bag was very important for me and that to retrieve that important bag I would and I would happily do so pay a –
"No! No! No!"
Oh my god. I have totally pushed the wrong button. The lady freezes. She shouts back with a shattered voice:
"This is *not* about the money, you know! I do this for heart! I don't need your money. We are happy to help the tourists who come to Thailand. Of course, if a driver brings the bag to your hotel, you can give him a small tip, up to you, not important. Last time, someone forgot his laptop, we returned it, everyone happy, no problem, no money. I do this for my heart, not for – "
"Sorry, sorry", I interrupt her, "maybe it is a misunderstanding. I don't think something bad. I just say – it happened to me before. I lost something (my passport in Bangkok) and then people asked for a bit of money to get it back (the passport driver) and then – "
"No! No! We are not like that! Maybe that was in Bangkok. But here in Krabi, we are happy to help, we do it just for heart, and I think now you think very wrong about us!"
I've messed it up. I've offended her honour. If she now finds my bag, she'll throw it into the Andaman Sea. I manage to get her into more conversation about where the bag might be and about her bus network and after some awkward back and forth we say goodbye.
That was it, quite likely. What can I do now? I have to personally visit the travel agency where the bus dropped me. Unfortunately they will remember me as that cantankerous, distrustful, downright paranoid westerner and they were probably told of my insinuations by telephone.
The agency is somewhere in a small lane on a hill beyond downtown. My guesthouse is on the opposite edge of downtown, but I don't remember how we reached the guesthouse by car.
So I walk down to reception. As my guidebooks and maps are in the lost daypack, I have to ask a very stupid question: "Sorry, where is downtown please?"
I walk along the river park towards the night market area and the old pier. It is 4 PM now. I had been looking forward to a sunset stroll and al fresco dining at Krabi's famed night market. But now with all my travel gadgets lost, I am not in a good mood.
My cell phone rings. It's the bus company! What do they have in store for me? Blackmail? How much am I ready to pay?
"Sir, we have your bag! We found it! So sorry, sir, before I had called *the wrong bus*! Really, really sorry! I had called the bus that went from airport to Ao Nang, not the bus that went from airport to Krabi City. Then I thought about your words again and called the right bus, and yes, they have your black bag. Again, I apologize profusely for having called the wrong bus two times and making you worried. But right now the bus with your bag is near Nopparat Thara. It will be back in Krabi City around 18 o'clock."
"That's wonderful! Thank you so much! Can they drop the bag at the travel agency?"
"Okay, we can do it like that. And so sorry again that I called the wrong bus!"
Around 17.50 I have found the travel agency that serves as a bus stop for the airport and where staff must remember me as that cantankerous, distrustful, downright paranoid westerner. Fortunately all staff have changed now. The bus has stopped by already. From behind the counter, my daypack appears. Computer, camera, MP3 player and books are all there. Happily, but maybe stupidly I show them what's inside. They smile mildly and say they didn't look inside and hadn't known about the contents before.
Around 18 o'clock I walk back over the hill towards downtown and the night market. I take out my re-found camera: There's a great sunset over Krabi river.
Around 9.30 AM, I take a shared long tail boat from Krabi City's old, central pier to isolated Raleigh Beach. The one hour trip costs 90 baht per person.
The return trip in the afternoon is difficult. I look for boatmen along Raleigh East Beach, to get a shared long tail boat ride back to Krabi City. But while many boats shuttle north to Ao Nang, nobody travels south to Krabi City. Several boatmen want to put me on a waiting list and then hope for more passengers towards Krabi City. A boat for me alone would be 900 baht, they say.
The third team of boatmen without a customer urges me to take the boat to Krabi as a sole passenger. I say that I won't pay 900 baht for that solo trip. I think to myself that 500 would be ok, though. Very suddenly, their price drops to 150 baht!
"What", I say? "You take just me to Krabi City for 150 baht? Me alone?"
"Yes, sure, let's go!"
"And you go right now, and you don't stop somewhere in between?"
"Yes, sure, 150 baht for you only, let's go!"
This sounds too good to be true. Even if they have to return to Krabi City for personal reasons right now, I never heard a tourist getting an exclusive ride for only 150 baht. I sense they have dubious plans with me. Maybe they heard somewhere that the black daypack around my shoulder contained a laptop, camera and MP3 player? I will not take this boat team as long as I am the only passenger.
And there's something else. One of the two boatmen looks like a drugged up drug dealer: Black, but very dirty and torn clothes; unhealthy skin; a mean, averted look on his face. I've seen a lot of rugged, but friendly boatmen on Thai coastlines. This one here is in a different class. I wouldn't trust him as a driver.
"Who is the boatman", I ask? "Who is the driver?"
They say the drugged drug dealer would be the driver.
"No, thank you." I walk off and sit down in an open air restaurant not far away.
Twenty minutes later the boatmen wave at me from the water line. They signal that they have more passengers now and I should come immediately. They believe I spit out spring rolls and orange juice for them.
Not so. I gesture back they can leave without me.
Ten minutes later I pay for my snack in the restaurant and get up. Suddenly there is commotion on the waterline: The boatmen wave at me again, they are still waiting for me.
I stroll towards the boat and they want to rush me inside. I realize that the drugged drug dealer will *not* be the driver. He stays on the beach. Instead, the other guy I talked to will be the driver.
As I clamber into the long tail boat, I get ill looks from five German passengers in there: They believe they had to wait ten minutes only for me – until I finish my meal and stroll along casually. But I never asked the boatmen to wait for me.
I get more ill looks: From the boatman who now steers the long tail vessel towards Krabi City. Several times during the trip he gives me disapproving, sour looks. Maybe I have offended his honour by initially rejecting the boat trip?
We land at the old, central pier in Krabi City. As I pay the regular 90 baht for a shared ride, the boatman gives me one last look as if he just could not understand my behaviour:
"WHY", he complains with pleading eyes, "Why didn't you take the boat earlier? Why don't you trust me? There is NO problem! You know, I am FROM KRABI CITY! NOT from Raleigh Beach! And so, you can REALLY trust me!"
I have taken the boat from Krabi's new pier to Phi Phi island and now I have reached the P.P. View Point resort on Phi Phi’s Lo Dalam beach. Here I have booked a bungalow for four days. I put my black daypack on a chair and talk to reception.
Reserving this bungalow had not been easy. In the afternoon of day 2, back in Krabi City, I went to the P.P. Family travel agency. It’s supposedly the biggest and best connected travel agency around. I asked to find and book a bungalow on Phi Phi's Lo Dalam beach. I made it clear that I don't want a normal room, but a bungalow; and it should be close to the water and not in the thick of the tourist mayhem.
The young, unshaved agency guy had first dragged me into a conversation about German soccer. Then he decided to show me many pictures on laminated sheets. The bungalows at P.P. View Point resort seemed to meet my criteria, so the guy made several phone calls.
At one point my agent mentioned that *bungalows* were sold out, but I could have a nice *room* for 1900 baht at P.P. View Point resort. But I insisted on a *bungalow* and finally he managed to secure a bungalow for 2100 baht per night at P.P. View Point. The agent said, "please pay all 8400 right now. Then you'll have no more trouble on Phi Phi island." And I did pay the 8400 baht right away. I never had problems with those vouchers in Thailand and in the case of Phi Phi island I am determined to book ahead. This tiny, spectacular island is always solidly booked.
Now at P.P. View Point resort, the receptionist accepts my voucher for four nights and says, "here is the key for your room, sir. It's up that stairway."
"But it's not a *room*, right", I say? "I have booked a *bungalow*, not a *room*. A bungalow for 2100 baht per night. See the voucher."
"That's impossible, sir. All our bungalows are full, and they cost 3500 baht per night. The P.P. Family agency booked just a *room* for you, the regular price is 1900 baht." He shows me a laminated sheet with the price list.
"That's impossible", I declare in return: "In Krabi City, I have booked a *bungalow* for 2100 baht per night. I will call P.P. Family in Krabi City right now."
The receptionist gives me his cell phone before I can even grab my own mobile.
I get my agent on the phone. He offers to cancel the reservation and to refund me; he suggests that I could find something else on my own. That's absurd: Here I stand, in the heat of the day, with heavy luggage, at a far corner of Lo Dalam beach, and he tells me to walk around for another room. The first 20 boatloads of travelers from Krabi City, Phuket, Ao Nang and Ko Lanta have already arrived and taken every single room that had been free before lunchtime.
"You knew clearly that I wanted a *bungalow*", I shout into the phone, "not a *room*."
I feel sorry for the two receptionists who observe me in silence. They get my bad vibrations; it's clearly not their fault, but still I am unable to remain soft and cynical. I reject their room without even checking it; I probably offended their honour.
"No", I bellow into the phone, "I don’t take your refund. I am tired of walking around. I will take that *room* now. But you knew clearly that the room is *1900* baht per night. But you charged me *2100* baht per night. So you overcharged me 800 baht for four nights! You must refund me 800 baht!"
I know that's ridiculous. He will never refund those 800 baht. But I like to make him feel uneasy.
While I yak away angrily, I don't go over the edge and scream. Even during my bellowing, I believe I don't sound like a raging bull. I sound more like a concerned father who is very seriously worried because the 'son' (the young agent) offended the family honour with dishonesty. I pepper my English with Thai phrases like "mai dee" (not good) and "mai sabai" (not happy); I don't say "chai dam" (black heart, mean). I don't mention police or tourist police (P.P. Family is a government registered agency).
I won't shout serious threats for some reasons: I have seen more than one westerner furiously screaming at Thai service people – they never ever reached what they wanted, Thai people just freeze. Also, here at P.P. View Point resort, I can’t embarrass reception staff too much, because I will stay there four nights anyway. And I don't want to fully enrage the P.P. Family agent in Krabi City; who knows what he can, and will, do in return.
I hand the cell phone back to the receptionist and he talks some more to the P.P. Family agent. Probably this agent in Krabi City now also lost face with this sizable bungalow operation on Phi Phi island. The receptionist ends the call and says to me: "Ok, you will take that room, right? P.P. Family will send you 800 baht refund tomorrow with the first boat. You can pick up the money at reception."
Haha, I don't think they'll ever refund me. They know that four days later I'll depart. Anyway, I walk to my room-not-bungalow. The room is good. I would take it again next time.
When I return to reception two hours later, they look very shy: "Is the room ok for you, sir?"
"It's nice", I say, "I like it! No problem." I assure them that I am not angry about P.P. View Point resort and that I had no prejudices against *rooms* versus bungalows at this resort. I am just angry because the agent in Krabi City promised a bungalow. "You now, I just come from Khon Kaen, from Bangkok, always only normal hotel rooms. So now on beautiful Phi Phi island, for once I wanted to stay in a *bungalow*, not another room again."
The receptionists ease up. They finally come to understand that this difficult, sweating westerner is not angry about them or their business.
One day later: No money from Krabi City.
Yet one day later: No money from Krabi City. Of course not.
Yet one day later: I drop my key at reception and ask, "did you get an envelope from P.P.Family for me?"
"Oh, sir, they just called, the money will come tomorrow morning."
Two hours later: I pick up the key at reception.
"Sir, here are 800 baht for you. This is the refund from the agency."
Very nicely put together tales indeed. Isn't it interesting comparing stories 1 and 3. While stealing items is frowned upon, tricking and deceiving people is rather common.