18 Jan 2008
Pattaya, Thailand
12°57'49.02"N 100°54'20.46"E
32°

 

Talk about a nightmare. We've had a couple of days that are best forgotten, but can't be as we need to be reminded just how lucky we've been and how bad things could have been.

We had intended to get a bus to Bangkok from Phuket. We figured if we got the VIP 24 seat bus (the seats are like business class on planes and recline enough to give you a good night's sleep) we could justify the extra cost of the luxury bus if we travelled overnight as we would have no hotel bill. As it was, there were only 5 of us on the bus, which meant plenty of room for everyone. Pretty good for a 12 hour ride.

Usually, we have the laptop, passports, credit cards, iPods and camera in the same bag. Nobody will ever take that bag from me. They can point a gun at me, but I wouldn't hand it over. On the day we checked out of Laguna, we arrived in Phuket town at 1pm and weren't due to board the bus until 7pm. Rather than one of us (Peter) having to lug everything for 6 hours as we wandered around town, I split our indispensable's. The laptop was in one bag and everything else in another small bag. When we got onto the bus, the small bag went inside a bigger hand luggage bag which we'd left well secured with the bags at the bus station, the way we've done it so many times.

The hostie on the bus is supposed to wake everyone up about 30 minutes out and give out cups of coffee and let everyone pull themselves around and get organised. She had been asleep herself and woke everyone up and handed out the coffee about 90 seconds before we pulled up in the bus station in Bangkok, meaning everyone was a bit disoriented. We had to disembark as soon as we got to the terminal, and it was all so rushed that Peters mobile phone was left behind in the seat pocket. Of course, we didn't know this at the time. It would have saved us an awful lot of trouble if we had.

At the terminal in Phuket we met Fred. He is German, but has lived in Thailand for 24 years, 20 of those in Pattaya. Fred has interests in book shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya and regularly takes the overnight bus to and from Phuket to pick up new books and drop some off in Bangkok and take the rest to Pattaya. He was really friendly - told us that the VIP bus now goes to a new bus terminal in Bangkok, from where you can get a bus directly to Pattaya. As we are eventually heading to Vietnam via Cambodia without flying we needed to pass through Pattaya to get to the border. It used to be a real pain getting there - having to transfer from the Southern to the Eastern bus stations which are miles apart and meant crossing straight through the middle of the city; traffic in Bangkok is horrendous. After talking to Fred we decided to give Bangkok a miss and get on the bus straight to Pattaya.

Being a local, he even recommended 3 hotels in different price brackets. He had to wait until the Bangkok book shop opened so couldn't get the same bus as us, but we arranged to meet up later in the day. We had a coffee with him as we waited and were really impressed - he speaks fluent Thai. We later found out that he speaks fluently in no less than 12 languages, but dismisses it as not good enough as he can't read/write some of them.

As we were boarding the bus to Pattaya, we realised that Peter's phone was missing. The staff didn't speak any English, but we managed to convey that we had left a phone on the bus from Phuket. We had no idea of the bus number or even the name of the company. We didn't worry about it too much - we were meeting Fred later and being a regular traveller on that particular route, he would know the bus company name and maybe even their phone number and we could contact them.

When we met up with Fred later, he told us that security had found him as he waited for his bookshop (in the bus terminal) to open, told him that his friends had lost a phone and got the number of the bus we'd travelled on from Phuket from him. He said he heard the radio conversation between security and the bus driver and hostie, and believed a "ransom" fee was being asked, but not knowing if it was a cheap or expensive phone he ignored it, knowing we could probably get it back later if we needed it badly enough. This was the start of the nightmare.

On the bus to Pattaya, we emptied the hand luggage bag to see if the phone had slipped into a niche somewhere. In the process of doing this, we took the small bag with the passports etc out so we could inspect every corner of the bag. The small bag was put at the side of the seat whilst we searched. Eventually, we decided the phone was definitely left on the bus and resigned ourselves to probably not getting it back. Not so bad - Peter's phone was about 4 years old and falling to pieces. We had been looking around for a replacement in Malaysia, but decided to wait until it actually fell apart before buying a new one. Canceling the SIM would be a bit inconvenient, but we could handle it, and learn a lesson from the experience.

On arrival at the Pattaya bus station, for some reason Peter wanted to go to a travel agent to check out prices of hotels, even though we know the ones that those hotels which only deal walk-in customers cutting out the agents, are always much cheaper. Fred had told us how much the various hotels would charge, but maybe because we'd just met him, Peter wanted to check things out. We spent a good 30 minutes in the travel agent going through a real sales pitch of various expensive hotels before deciding to check out the ones Fred recommended. We chartered a songthaeo to take us to the nearest one. Half way there, Peter said to me "You have got the little bag, haven't you?". I rolled my eyes. Of course I had it - we wouldn't be that stupid. Would we? I checked my hand luggage bag. Not there. I knew straight away where it was - we'd put it down by the side of the seat on the bus as we looked for the phone. D'oh!

Peter screamed at the songthaeo driver "back to bus station - quick" and back we went. I was pretending to be calm, Peter was pretending to be calm, but I wasn't really all that concerned - I've no idea why, but I wasn't. I jumped out of the songthaeo as it slowed down and went to information. It wasn't easy finding out which bus we'd arrived on - we had originated at a new bus terminal in Bangkok and we didn't know the name of it. We stopped briefly at another bus terminal - it could have been Ekamai, the Eastern bus station, but it's so long since we go a bus from there I really couldn't say. About 15 minutes later, with the help of an awful lot of staff we identified the bus we'd arrived on about 45 minutes earlier out of the hundred or so in the holding yard. Thankfully, it hadn't been one of the buses that turn around and go straight back to Bangkok. I got onto the bus - nothing, but the cleaners had been in because I knew I'd left an empty water bottle in the seat pocket and it was gone. We trailed over to the cleaners corner, but none of them had seen the bag. This was the first stage that I started to really worry - I had been really confident that I would get the bag straight back. The Big Fella Upstairs was obviously looking after us though. As we walked to the cleaners corner, I had seen our bus driver - the only way I recognised him was because we'd used a lot of sign language in Bangkok to explain about leaving the phone on the bus from Phuket. A minute or so later, the bus driver turned up with the bag. I'm sure he'd given me a sideways look, when we passed him, but I didn't take so much notice. Maybe if he hadn't seen me, he'd have kept the thing without saying anything - he obviously had gone through the bus, picked it up before the cleaners got on board and hadn't handed it in to anyone. Would he have eventually handed it in? Who knows? I really don't care. I gave him a massive tip - probably a weeks wage, but for us it was worth it. Two English and two Australian passports, two English and two Australian drivers licenses, 12 credit/ATM cards. And about US$500 in cash ready for us going into Cambodia and Vietnam. I also gave him a big kiss, which is probably a no-no in Thailand, but I didn't care. I was so relieved. Peter had managed to get the taxi driver parked up and together they had found the number of the bus and were approaching me just as had got the bag back.

Very big lesson learned.

When we met up with Fred (that's him in the photo with me) later in the day and told him the tale, he couldn't stress enough just how lucky we were to have gotten the bag back. We took him out for dinner, and after a couple of glasses of wine and a leisurely walk back to our hotel, Peter decided he wanted to go out and have a drink and watch the football as we didn't have the right sports channel on our hotel TV. He decided he'd take my mobile just in case of any emergency. He turned up at 5am, opening the door and saying "It wasn't my fault". Anyone who knows Peter well enough will know that when his conversation starts with "It wasn't my fault" knows it probably was. Although he was adamant that he had been pick-pocketed (yeah, right), he'd lost my mobile. Two mobiles lost in the space of 24 hours. Can you believe it? I thought he was joking at first. How many people do you know who could lose 2 mobiles in one day?

Fred wasn't at all surprised. He thought it was quite funny, even though he'd been trying to send me SMS to my cancelled mobile to find out how we were going. The people at Optus think I'm crazy. I phoned them and they said but you've already phoned and cancelled the lost phone. Took a bit of explaining that we'd lost a second.

After the drama's, we had a pretty quiet and uneventful week. We bought a really, really cheap mobile and a SIM card and set up a Skype In number in England, so anyone can get hold of us in an emergency for the cost of a call to Durham area code. It isn't a real number, just a virtual one which is diverted to the mobile - you pay for the call to Durham and we pay for the diversion which are at Skype rates so it's really cheap. It worked so well, I set up another Skype In number in Australia, for people there to get hold of us. Don't know why I hadn't thought about it before. Of course, the SIM card is only good in Thailand, but when we get to Cambodia in a couple of weeks we'll just buy the cheapest SIM card we can get and change the number our calls are being diverted to. I imagine that eventually we'll have quite a collection of SIM cards.

Quiet and uneventful until now. We went to say goodbye to Fred yesterday afternoon and had a couple of drinks on the way back. Peter went to the Blind Association for a herbal steam bath and massage, then we went out for a walk and to get a bottle of beer from the 7-11. We got back way after midnight, even though we were supposed to be having an early night as we were moving on to Rayong the following morning. It's only about two hours on the bus, but it being Saturday the buses will be busy as a lot of people who live in Bangkok spend the weekend at Koh Samet, a lovely island just off the coast at Rayong, and the only buses from Pattaya to Rayong are the ones coming through from Bangkok. Then Peter decided he wanted another beer.

It was just on 1am, and the night he'd lost my phone he'd spent two hours wandering around lost (and drunk) trying to find his way back to the hotel. Pattaya isn't really the kind of place I like him wandering around on his own at night. Most places, I don't care - he's a big boy and can look after himself (in theory) and if he gets drunk, falls down and breaks his leg it'll be his own fault and he won't get any sympathy, but I never worry about him being out. I'm quite used to waking up at 4 or 5am and him not being back, and it really doesn't bother me. I know he'll be sitting talking to someone somewhere. Pattaya is different though. It really is seedy - more lady boys than bar girls and there are thousands of both - not a problem for us, but it means lots of dirty old men and other undesirables hanging around. Also, I've seen a documentary and Fred told us that there are a lot of problems with Ya Ba - the Thai name for Ice or crystal meth. Just one drink, he says. Downstairs in the bar. My tactic in this situation when he's quite determined to go out when he really should be going to bed is to give him enough money for 2 drinks, which I did - it means he can't get really drunk and will drink water until whatever time he gets back, as he won't accept a drink from someone if he doesn't have the money to buy the next round..

I woke up at about 4.30 and knowing I wasn't going to be getting any more sleep went to work on updating the web page. He rolled in at 6am, just a little bit the worse for wear and with a problem with his eye. Turns out that he went downstairs and nobody was in the bar so he went to another one just down the road. He was standing at the bar when a young bloke from Bolton started making a nuisance of himself. Off his face on something more chemical than alcohol, he had a bottle of tequila and was going around trying to make everyone have a drink out of his bottle. Most people were just pushing him away, but a German near Peter got annoyed and told him to eff off which made him a bit agro. Next thing, he lunged at Peter. Didn't make contact thankfully - Peter ducked and hit his head on a bar table. Everyone was jumping in to hold the young bloke back but it wasn't necessary.

As soon as he saw the blood, he started. Sorry, sorry, sorry, I can't believe I did that. It's just that you're big and stocky and bald and I thought you were going to give me a good belting so I thought I'd get in first. Sorry - hit me, go on. I deserve it. Go on. When Peter wouldn't, he started a new one. I'm going to throw myself under a car. Come out and see - I'm serious. He started pulling Peter outside, but his mates got hold of him - obviously they thought he was serious about doing it

 

Then he smashed a glass and gave it to Peter. Go on - glass me, I deserve it. It took a long time to get him settled down, including him going through a phase of headbutting the bar as self punishment, causing damage to both his head and the bar, but by this time everyone was making a fuss over Peter. He'd gotten a nasty cut on his eyebrow, on the bone of the eye socket. He said he didn't really hurt and he didn't realise it was bleeding until the bar girls and other staff started fussing over him with wet wipes, even going to the 7-11 to get more when they ran out. He was also on free beer for the rest of the night, hence the 6am return. I let him have a couple of hours sleep before getting him up to catch the bus to Rayong and have a good look at the cut. It wasn't so wide, but very deep. The table must have had a small nail or tack in it, because right in the middle of the gash, there was a perfect circle which went all the way down to the bone.

He needed a stitch or two, but wouldn't be persuaded to go to a doctor. I cleaned it up as best I could and used paper tape to hold it together so we could get on our way.

The odd thing is, this time it really wasn't his fault. Just as well, considering the amount of trouble we had coming our way. You'll have to wait for the next installment for that story.