On Saturday, June 6th, 2015 I traveled from Koh Samui to Phuket. The day prior, I had purchased a ticket at a Tour shop which sold tickets to travelers making their way to different destinations within Thailand. Thus far, I had enjoyed a fairly pleasant stay at Chaweng beach, a resort town catering to tourists but far from an authentic experience. After two days there, I was itching for some real Thai culture rather than hundreds of foreign food restaurants, and my next destination, Kamala Beach in Phuket, was sure to introduce me to a `local`adventure.
I went to breakfast at an Indian Restaurant that I had visited a couple of days earlier, when my travel buddy Beth was still around. Something really disappointing happened there. As before, the Restaurant owner for Curry Hut Indian came over and chatted to me while I waited for my food to be prepared, and he had plenty of time since I was the only client in his restaurant. I had ordered a Green Curry. He got very excited when I mentioned that I would like to post a review of his restaurant on Trip Advisor. He exclaimed that he needed good reviews to generate more business and that perhaps we could take a photo together so that I could include it in my Trip Advisor review.
I graciously obliged, so we posed in front of the restaurant while a staff member took our photo. He put his arm around my waist and and lightly let his hand drop so it sat on the upper part of my bottom. He did it so lightly and was so blase about it, it was as if nothing actually happened. I was surprised and didn’t know how to react there and then. In fact, I looked at the photo itself afterward and I was frowning in it, because of his sneaky behavior, however I actually didn’t confront him about it. I can be quite naive at times, however I can also be quite confrontational, but this completely caught me off guard. Afterward, he insisted that I post a review right there and then, and I explained that I would do so at a later date. His nice demeanor but aggressive request was something that I had encountered often in Thailand thus far, and this was markedly contrasted by the subtle requests that I had been accustomed to living in Canada and S.Korea of late. I have since thought about posting that review on Trip Adviser: “Beware of the Perv!”but, I was apprehensive because such a review could potentially have damaged his livelihood. Overall, the experience was not too traumatic and didn’t deserve such condemnation.
So, my travel day started off on a bad note. I met up at noon with my minivan at Panupong Apartments (my local hotel, surrounded by lively nightclubs and a poor choice of location). I was under the impression that I would spend my day traveling with this minivan, interrupted by an hour travel by boat from Samui to mainland Surat Thani, and that by 9:30pm, I would arrive at my destination at Kamala beach, on the west coast of the island and just north of the famous tourist destination, Patong Beach. If I had known what was in store for me, I would have booked a plane ticket instead.
I made a few mistakes when booking this bus ticket. I didn’t ask whether I would be traveling in one vehicle or several and I didn t clarify how far Phuket Bus Terminal (the drop off point) was from my hotel in Kamala.
Once collected, we picked up several other travelers and almost an hour later, drove up near the ferry port. We stopped short of the port and were asked to switch to another large bus. A short while later, we stopped to take more passengers on-board and then we were all told to disembark as we had to walk onto the ferry which would take us to Surat Thani on the mainland. On the ferry, a Spanish father and his daughter sat on my table and I listened in while he had her plot journeys that he designated on their Koh Samui tourist map. It was so hot on the open, upper deck. I was exhausted just listening to them! We were traveling between 1-2pm. When we disembarked on the Surat Thani coast, an employee directed us back to our particular bus… there were many and it was hard to actually find our one without his help.
The bus was full by now and an English lady called Summer sat next to me and we shared stories. She was headed north to Bangkok on this bus, so it seemed that I would switch buses again to head west to Phuket. She told me that a local Thai fellow had snapped on her while she was partying, I believe, on Koh Phangan. She explained that this Thai fellow had somehow been involved with her and party crew, and out of nowhere, he shouted at her, saying that white tourists treat Thais like slaves, as though Thais are lesser human beings. Summer explained that he went on to shout at another western tourist, saying the same things…. Summer and I then began a long conversation about western tourism, the Thai sex trade and general exploitation. I explained that I, on some occasions, had felt that locals resented the sight of me, particularly when I traveled through Bangkok among hoards of impoverished locals. This discussion is best left for someone who knows about Thai history and economic/political relations with Western countries. Nevertheless, my novice eyes and intuition left me with an uneasy feeling about both Thai and Western misunderstanding about each other, our history and cultural values.
I said goodbye to Summer, as myself, two Saudi fellas and an older Pakistani man were told to disembark in order to connect with a minivan that was waiting to pick us up at a stop station in Surat Thani. We drove for about ten minutes before we were set down at a rest station. Other travelers were waiting there and it appeared to function as a restaurant which was currently not serviced and simply acted as a connection site for people traveling to differing destinations. One Thai guy appeared to be in charge and asked everyone where their destination was. I sat by the Saudi guys and one of them was soon ordered by the Thai travel coordinator to chat to someone on the phone. It appeared that the person on the other end of the phone line was trying to sell the Saudi guys additional tickets to get from Phuket bus station to their general hotel destination in downtown Patong. I explained to the second Saudi fella (who was not engaged on the phone) that I intended to grab a taxi to my hotel and didn’t intend to commit to anything via a phone service. They emerged from the phone call without agreeing to this phone offer, and I was soon also ordered to speak to someone on the other end. I ended the call quickly by simply explaining that my hotel would pick me up at the station.
Thirty minutes later, myself and the Saudi guys left the Pakistani guy at the rest stop and mounted a songthaew, a red pick-up truck, at our next stop. By now, I was frustrated that we had endured numerous vehicle changes, and each time, we had to unload and reload our backpacks. A young Chinese fella had now joined us.
Yet again, we switched vehicles, this time, to a minivan. The minivan dropped us off at a clearing in the jungle. There were several travelers there waiting to board the next minivan leaving, also around ten local Thai men that were involved in various ways with the operation, including a Thai fella that appeared to be a boss, the minivan we just arrived in and another parked minivan.
As earlier, the organizer or boss asked us directly whether we were going to accept his offer to take us to Patong beach for an extra fee. He said that the bus station in Phuket was not near Patong, and that we should accept his offer of 150 baht (around $6.00) per person to take us there directly. Now sitting with the Saudi and Chinese travelers, I reiterated my intention to get a taxi to my hotel located in Kamala, not Patong, which is where most of the other travelers were headed. There is a large mountain between Patong and Kamala beaches and it takes about fifteen minutes to drive between the two locations on the western coast of Phuket island. The Thai boss listened in on our conversation carefully, learning about our apprehension, even though he stood a fair distance from where we were sitting. A German traveler interrupted us to explain that we were better off sharing a taxi to Patong than accepting the deal by this boss, but the boss, overhearing our discussion, got increasingly angry. He was frustrated that we were considering other options and not jumping at his proposal, so he stepped up his game and began walking past us frequently, now obviously listening to our conversation and, singling me out, began to stare at me in the face in an effort to intimidate me.
He later interrupted us, and addressed the Saudis, saying: “You should not listen to that girl!” and pointed at me. By now, I was beginning to get annoyed, and I retorted: “I’m a woman, not a girl.” He then sat down. The boss then said that since we would be arriving late into Phuket, there would be few taxis at the bus station and that his rate was far better. Then, in an attempt to devalue my worth as a client, he exclaimed loudly: “I have no intention of taking you to Kamala. You can find your own way from Patong. And, I don’t need your business anyway.” Later on, another passenger later described the boss as “emotional”. I would call his behavior, a strong sales pitch with intimidation tactics when a client does not do what he expects.
Singling me out again, he walked past me once again and said: “You should shut your mouth!” I was quite surprised because he was actually providing a service which I had prepaid, and so he was actively disrespecting his client, so I replied, “You should shut your mouth! You’re a rude man.” I could not believe the lengths to which this man was going to put pressure on us to buy his additional service,
The Saudis and Chinese guy reluctantly accepted his offer, and although I was now quite angry with the boss on a personal level, I agreed to purchase his service. The Saudis insisted that I should not stay behind in the jungle clearing with this group of Thai men, and additionally, we were under the impression that whoever would not accept his ‘upgraded’ offer would have to go in another, more run-down vehicle and would arrive much later than the 9:30pm arrival we had initially been told by our booking agents.
We got into our minivan, the last one of the day for me, and left that jungle clearing forever. Myself and the other travelers experienced an awful journey as the driver repeatedly sped up and slowed down in succession. By the time we arrived into Patong, it was 11pm, instead of 9:30pm and the driver completely bypassed Phuket Bus Station, where one passenger was scheduled to disembark. The passenger had to find a hotel in Patong as a result, while I grabbed a tuk tuk from downtown Patong to the Swissotel in Kamala. I was never so happy to see a hotel as I was that night.