Lesson 1: “The Sugar Cane Game
This essay is for my fellow expats in Thailand. I hope it will encourage further discussion. I’ve been in Thailand 10 years. Understanding the culture here is taking far longer than I’d expected. I will submit several essays to Mr. Stickman, about some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. I invite comment and critique, either in a reader’s submission here, or in private email.
Lesson 1: อ้อยเข้าปากช้าง
The sugar cane has entered elephant’s mouth. (You won’t get it back. )
Change “sugar cane” to “money” and change “elephant’s mouth” to “their pocket”. Once the money has entered their pocket, you won’t get it back.
– Security deposit on an apartment.
– Reservation deposit at a resort.
– Payment for work that turns out to be faulty.
– Pay in advance for a “promotion”.
– Down payment to order a product.
– Some tour vans, such as Khao San Road to Chiang Mai.
Change your mind, or change of circumstances? What if they don’t deliver the service or product they promised, and you paid for? Too late! The sugar cane has entered the elephant’s mouth.
A massage spa in my neighborhood offers: buy 10 coupons in advance for 15% discount. I’m a frequent customer. Staff at the front counter can’t understand why I don’t buy coupons to get the discount. I’ve been caught in that trap before, at a different spa.
At the previous spa, I did buy coupons. Suddenly, as soon as I gave them money in advance, my status as a valued customer evaporated. I was assigned the worst massage lady, or the ugliest, every time. Assigned to the smallest, oldest room. Told to wait while one-time customers (tourists paying full-price) went ahead. As soon as the shop had my money, I had no more value as a customer.
Worse, I was a liability to them. Since they had my money, no reason to work to earn it. Their attitude changed from polite and gracious, to obviously annoyed that I appeared at the door. The sugar cane had entered the elephant’s mouth.
Have you recently looked at rental apartments or condos? Many are starting to require two months security deposit. Formerly just one month was enough. Why? Are tenants these days doing twice the damage as in previous years? I doubt it. More sugar cane into the elephant’s mouth.
Have you recently checked in to a hotel in Thailand? Many hotels have started requiring a deposit for their key cards. Usually 500 baht deposit to cover loss of the card. Or damage to the card.
Damage? At check out time you might be told, “Sorry! This key card not work now! Your fault. We not give back deposit.” Under the counter, a deft switch of your key card with a known-bad card, kept there for the purpose.
The hotel pays about 25 baht each for key cards. More sugar cane into the elephant’s mouth.
Experiences of many others on the web site, Trip Advisor. In reviews of hotels here, many comments along these lines:
“They took more than half of my deposit (worth one month rent). I never damaged anything in my room and paid for the rent on arrival. I simply wasn’t expecting more than half of my deposit to be acquired by the owner.”
“Upon check out, we were charged for “room damage” which upon double checking was a slight scratch to the desk near the television (which could have honestly occurred before us) – 500 baht please and secondly, a broken light bulb which broken in a couple of days of our arrival – 120 baht please.”
“The staff confirmed I would receive a 1000 baht discount and parking was included. I paid my deposit. When I arrived, staff told me that if I wanted the 1000 baht discount I would not be able to use the parking.
“They informed me that there would be a 500 baht cleaning fee upon check out. I explained that, a cleaning fee doesn’t really make sense when you stay at a serviced apartment. The nice lady working told me there was nothing they could do about that and would not be able to refund my deposit. I was already there, already checked out of the other place and had my bags with me.
They told me that the room I was renting had very good WiFi. They purposely lied. When I complained, they said I could move out, but that they would charge me for 3x the amount of time that I stayed.”
Do the owners of those properties care? I doubt it. As long as the sugar cane keeps arriving.
And it’s worse than just that. They scheme to get you in their control. You’ve just arrived with all your luggage, and the taxi has already departed. Or you’ve already checked in, paid their deposit(s), and un-packed. Chances are you will pay 120 baht here and 500 baht there. If you complain, they simply look annoyed and ignore you. After all, they don’t care about the customer, they only care about the sugar cane.
Observing these trends, I’m wondering what they will think of next. If you have any ideas about that, please send an email to me and we’ll compare thoughts.
Lessons I’ve learned:
Pay “as you go”, in order to avoid any advance deposit, even if it costs more in the final tally. When asked for an advance deposit, refuse, if possible. And when I do find myself the target of the “sugar cane game”, cut my loses as fast as possible and walk away.
I’m hoping my fellow expats will write about their own observations and lessons learned on this topic.
My next lesson in this series: “The Land of Smiles Excuses”.
Following that: “The Cobra and the Chinaman”.
For sure, you don’t have the same guarantees in Thailand that you do in Western countries. Let me also say that in my experience things are not as bad as you say. Yes, some people don’t get their security deposit back on their rental but I would say that most people do. In other areas, I’d say that deposits in Thailand should generally be seen as being non-refundable and you don’t have the same guarantees and consumer protection as the West. I was lucky and managed to avoid any real issues but I know some people have had all sorts of problems – and I can quite understand how aggravating that could be!
Larry Kenton is a retired, American, business owner. He’s fond of saying, “I grew up up in the Middle West, in the middle-fifties, in the middle class ― and I still hold those values.” Contact Larry by email: [email protected]