Readers' Submissions

Only The Paranoid Survive

  • Written by JC
  • January 2nd, 2014
  • 10 min read




This isn't my usual whereby I come across looking clever or the voice of reason. I recently did a visa run to Cambodia and lost my Iphone 4s in the taxi. While looking up taxi companies online I found numerous forums where other losers had lost all manner of important objects and were pleading for advice on how to get them back. I instantly recognized this as a complete waste of time because taxi drivers and dispatchers are unlikely to read English forums and the chance of getting their stuff back runs about zero-to-single digit percentages.

It was about 3:30 AM when I flagged the taxi down and drove me to Suhkumvit to start my 12 hour visa run, so I wasn't in the most observant of states and didn't notice the driver's name, number, or even the color of the taxi. So finding my phone wasn't going to be easy.

My strategy was to get my girlfriend to phone all the major taxi companies in Bangkok and offer a 1,000 baht reward to the dispatcher and 3,000 to the driver if I had my phone returned in tact. I stressed the 1,000 baht reward to the dispatcher over and over again. And had her explain that my type of iPhone was very difficult to crack and would cost a driver 3,000 baht and at least 3 days wait for its return.

My girlfriend phoned one place and then dragged her feet and I was starting to get angry because every minute she didn't call, my phone was more unlikely to be returned.

The first place she called was the radio station FM 91 that apparently all the taxi drivers listen to for traffic and weather reports. I considered this more a waste of time than anything else because the driver would have to be listening at the exact time they made an announcement or nothing would come of it.

Then she called all the colored taxi companies and I got an education in the color coding system. Short answer is that the yellow / green are private taxis and less likely to pick up flags and the pink colored taxis are the most numerous by far at 37%. This surprised me. I would have bet that the orange or yellow or green would be up there as the most numerous, but actually they are near the bottom of the list, orange for example is slightly less than 5% of the estimated 90,000 cabs roaming the capital.

As a limousine driver in my own country I was really starting to sympathize with the drivers the more I read. And also starting to doubt my chances at getting my phone returned. My girlfriend asked me what I thought my percentages were and I said 20% to motivate her to keep calling and hammering home the reward to anyone that answered. However, I was just going through the motions and I didn't expect to see it again, but maybe I can learn something for the future.

What I learned was that the drivers start their 12 hour shifts at either 4 AM or 4 PM so I was right on the cusp of either the driver just starting his shift or just about going home. I guessed it was the latter. The drivers only need a regular driver's licence and no recent criminal activity to become a taxi driver. Besides that, they rent out the taxi for 12-hour shifts and pay for their own gas and their cost can run up to 1,000 baht a shift before they break even. So these guys are not taking days off and barely getting by, and forget about saving anything for a rainy day. They are almost always 1 accident away from being destitute.

At this point I was kicking myself because I don't even use my iPhone to make calls in Thailand. I use a cheap 600 baht model that I bought at Tesco and the iPhone is only for taking pictures and playing games. It was a little cool that morning so I had changed my pattern and was wearing a hoody and running shoes and long pants and not my usual shorts with zipper pockets and flip flops. I remembered what you said about wearing footwear you could outrun thugs in or go to war and I heeded your advice – it just makes sense going into Cambodia. Another thing, this was the very first time I brought my phone with me without the rubber case on it. Without this extra weight and grip it seems that iPhones are designed like a bar of soap and meant to slip out of hands and pockets and break. I'd wager some genius was paid millions to make it so.

The trouble is, I like to travel light and have had the same checklist that I've used for over 20 years that has saved me countless amounts of time.

Spectacles, testicles, watch, wallet, keys, communication needs. And I rarely forget anything.

I should have taken a backpack, but that is just more suspicious and something else for immigration or police to wonder about so I carry everything in my jeans pockets which can get crowded fast if I'm carting everything on my trusty list.

Here is my essential pieces of advice while travelling to Thailand.

Carry wallet in front pocket, preferably a zip up.

Notify bank of your travel plans.

Try to use the same ATM machine for consistency. And remember that the ATMs are different than western countries in that they dish out the money first and the bank card last and if you don't retrieve it after 1 minute, the machine eats it. I already lost one card and it will never happen again after the hassle and worry of having to call my bank and have a new one issued over the phone, I learned my lesson.

And the latest gem. Always say my checklist before leaving a taxi. And for further reference, take a picture of the driver's ID or a video on your phone.

Also in your wallet have a photocopy of your passport, or a small laminate of it and your address written on a piece of paper that you can give to your driver so there is no need to point and grunt out directions.

Back to my story.

On the 27th I received an email from a friend of mine who recently moved to Bangkok earlier this year. I only had his email addy and not his phone number in my iPhone. He was asking me about some taxi company that had emailed him with a screen shot of me and my girlfriend and did he know how to contact me. Now my friend is famous for not answering his phone, he is from the new generation that seems terrified to use their voices and instead enjoy long volleys of texts to explain what could be answered in about 13 seconds using the old-fashioned voice box. So I was lucky he happened to be the first person listed on my phone under A, and he also had an email address because it's unlikely that people in Thailand will go to the trouble of calling long distance numbers when there isn't anything in it for them. Call me cynical. Because I am.

So I'm really overjoyed at this point and I'm finally starting to calm down. What happened was that the driver's next passenger was a farang and the last fare of the day. The farang gave the phone to the driver who instantly dropped it off at the same radio station that my girlfriend had called on his way home.

I had been badmouthing the taxi drivers and accusing him of trying to crack my phone because he could sell an iPhone to almost anyone for 8,000 baht and considering that they haven't had a fare increase in 10 years or more <Actually, they haveStick>, it would be quite a bonus to find and really no motivation to return it.

My girlfriend was defending the driver as she always gives Thai people the benefit of the doubt, and I could tell by her voice she was starting to get upset with my cynicism.

When we went to the radio station to pick up the phone I had to fill out a form to prove I was the rightful owner and show my passport. I guess it wasn't enough that my face and my girlfriend's face and numerous other body parts of mine and hers of an embarrassing nature were contained within the phone. Okay, I'm not going to push it and show the redundancy of these actions, I'll jump through some hoops. I want my life back.

I guess there are cases where people phone the station and claim they lost a bag of money or a popular camera and then go and pick up a freebee. I offered the lady at the radio station a reward, but she insisted it was all part of a day's work. They have a room full of stuff that if not claimed is given back to drivers or I suspect picked through by radio personnel.

The driver had left his phone number with the station and they recorded where he had picked me up and dropped me off as a reference. He had dropped the phone off at about 5AM so he had no chance to get it cracked and appeared to just be a decent person. Rare for a taxi driver I also thought.

My girlfriend phoned him all day on the 28th with no answer and then got a hold of him today, the 29th. She insisted that he come by our place to pick up his reward and to my astonishment he said he didn't want a reward. He just wanted to continue working. Now, my girlfriend made me stick to my word and give him the 3,000 baht, but at the time of this writing he still hasn't phoned back. He has our phone number and address, so I really can't understand why he wouldn't come and get his good Samaritan reward. I can no longer paint the taxi drivers of Bangkok with the same brush. I have had to eat my words and give my girlfriend all the credit. She was correct on all her assumptions and I the bad guy for suggesting anything different.

Also don't assume that you are guaranteed to have an easy time paying your overstay charges if you get caught before you reach the airport or that you can volunteer to surrender yourself after even 1 day and expect to all be forgiven if you pay up. My visa expired on the 25th and this was the early morning of the 26th, so technically if police stopped me before reaching the border of Cambodia I could go to jail (hell). The reason why I left it so late was that I didn't know until the morning of the 23rd if I was going to get a new return flight home and be able to stay a further 3 weeks in Thailand. I was planning on laying low for those 3 weeks and then paying the 10,000 baht (20-day) overstay at the airport, but then thought about how my girlfriend would feel if I happened to get stopped and put in jail. The chances are low, but not that low. If it was only me to worry about I wouldn't have thought twice, but having someone else that I care about made the choice to go to Cambodia easy.

I suggest you use Bangkok Buddy visa run services. It is the second time I used them to go to Cambodia, and at 2,200 baht everything included, it's a bargain.

Only the paranoid survive.



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Stickman's thoughts:

Wow, amazing to hear you got the phone back – great story!