When my friends and I arrived on the Thai island of Ko Pha Ngan, we were expecting a nice relaxing trip. We were not expecting to have a gun pointed at us.
It all started on one of those boat trips that are as common as Singha beer. A group of tourists share a long-tail boat for a day to visit different spots around the small islands. The ad promised your money back if the weather turned bad and rained, or if someone wasn’t happy with the guide, or if the places that were supposed to be beautiful were not that beautiful (because of the 2006 Asian Tsunami).
After a few days in Thailand, one knows more or less what to expect. You expect the unexpected. It’s all a bit “same same but different” as the Thai expression goes. You book a bungalow “with fan” – only to discover that, sure there is a fan, but the switch on the wall has been pulled out and the only thing you see is a small hole. Same same.
You order what you think is a dish with beef, but while chewing it, you cannot help wondering about the odd texture of the meat. Same same.
When we bought the tickets to the boat adventure we knew it would not include beautiful rainforests and glittery waterfalls like the pictures on the brochures suggested. But we didn’t complain when the “unlimited water” ran out, or when we were attacked by giant mosquitoes and ants, or about the non-existent food that was supposed to be our “free lunch”. And we did not protest when we found out that the “paradise beaches” were not to be visited because of the approaching clouds. We took it for what it was, smiled and clicked away.
But then it started raining and we started to feel too uncomfortable to stay quiet. Sitting on the long-tail boat with rain whipping our faces, a big black cloud thundering above
us and a choppy sea… I had to ask – is this what we paid for?
So when we finally got back to the island where we were staying, we went straight to the place we’d bought the tickets and asked for our money back.
“No!” said the Thai woman working at the agency. “I will not give you the money back because I have already paid the fisherman who drove the boat.”
“But the brochure says ‘money back’ if the weather is bad,” I said.
“No!” she said again.
“Yes!” I said.
But the woman was adamant.Then my friend Marie stepped in. “That’s it,” she said. “I’m not paying for the flight we booked back to Bangkok.”
The Thai woman became very angry. “Yes you must, you owe us money,” she said.
“No, I do not,” said Marie.
“I know my rights. I only have to pay for the booking fee.”
“I will hit you if you do not pay!” The Thai woman raised her hand above Marie’s face.
I told Marie to just pay the money for the flight, but there was a power game going on and neither of them would give up. The woman made a phone call.
“Hit me then! I will still not pay you the money,” said Marie.
The door opened and a man stepped in. He said he was a policeman, but when I asked to see his badge he said he’d left it at the office. “But I have this,” he said as he pulled out a gun. He pointed it at my friend’s face.
“If you do not pay I will take you to prison. This is Thailand, I can do this,” he said.
Marie protested but her voice was no longer as dynamic and strong as it was. I didn’t let her finish her sentence; instead I opened my purse and pulled out some notes. The ‘policeman’ took the money and we left.
This incident is not something to be proud of but it’s important to report the type of corrupt activity that can take place on the small islands of Thailand.