Backpacking Nightmares in Thailand

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April 14th 2009
Published: April 14th 2009
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Chaing Mai trek

The Nightmare continues!

Having a wonderful time in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city; the people are friendlier, the city is more chilled out and the food is totally different. However, that’s all irrelevant; Hit me in the face with a hard brush - I've lost my wallet and my passport! It’s pretty difficult for me to write this all up for public ridicule but I thought it might provide a bit of catharsis. Maybe recounting it will make me see the funny side of it all. Yeh, the funny side, already I can see how utterly unlucky and stupid I’ve been since I landed in Thailand.

So, I took the Second class sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and it was bloody impressive. I was given a menu to order dinner and breakfast which was then brought to my seat. The bunk beds were put up by a carriage compartment attendant and I got the top bunk in a carriage, with a fan. It was pretty much all I wanted, to travel and to sleep, saving time and money on a hotel and I even got time to write up my blog using my brand spanking new “notepad” which I bought in Bangkok.

I arrived in Chiang Mai, all refreshed, and at the station the KC House hotel people were waiting for me to shuttle me back. Got to the hotel and it had a swimming pool, result. So, I proceeded to chill out that afternoon and plan my next day’s activities. So where did it all go wrong?

Well, that evening I was feeling pretty good, stuff were sorting themselves out. I only had to sort out the money transfer problems with Danielle (it was taking days for it to go through even though it had left my account - waster of bloody time) plus Danielle was arriving in a few days time so I decided to try and resolve my Microsoft Zune problems by Skyping them.

I was on the phone for about 3 hours in total, being asked to download an updated version of the software, that wasn’t available via the main Zune site (yes, scratched my head over that one too), then that still did not synchronize my device with the software. Then I was told I had to send it back, but they would wipe out all of my music I'd put on it for my trip and they wouldn’t be able to send it back outside North America.

Anyway, this isn’t a tech blog but I basically spent a whole lot of time being indignant at their rubbish product, it’s unreliability, their service inflexibility yada yada yada. Paid the internet café my fee and then walked across the street to my hotel. More confrontation at the front desk. I’d booked and paid for 3 nights accommodation, as I was going on a trek the next day for 2 nights they had let me use the two nights I had after I’d come back. However, they changed their mind by the time I told them I wasn’t going on a trek with them. So, I stood there in frustration insisting that I was promised something and now they were changing their minds. I was stressed out, and it doesn’t help that Thai service is just a lot of scratching heads, forgetting about you, you staring into space and trying to get across to each other in Pidgin English. Nightmare. By the time the guy at reception had made a phone call and then sullenly told me I could stay I just escaped to my room. Within five minutes I had realized my wallet wasn’t in my pocket and it wasn’t in my room. I frantically searched and then ran back out to the road and to reception and the internet café. Nothing. That’s the last I saw of it. 5,000 Bhat, two brand new bank cards, a phone card and my British passport, all gone within five minutes.

I was so close to tears back in my room, angry at my bad luck, castigation at my foolishness at losing such important things after having my wallet taken twice. I’m still in shock to be honest as I look back at all my previous travels over the years, not once have I come close to losing wallets, getting them stolen or mislaying my passport. What the hell was going on? Was the heat affecting me that much? Did I do something wrong before I left? Was it bad karma. I just don’t know, I’m mystified at how badly wrong it can go whilst travelling and angry that it’s all literally happening to me.

To make matters worse was the added stress that I was to go on a three day trek in the morning! I had to get to it. I called up the British Embassy in Bangkok and got through to the emergency team who cancelled my passport and told me that I had to get a police report. An added complication was my visa for Thailand which I’d just renewed and my Aussie work visa, the loss of my passport would make things even more complicated now. Anyway, I then went onto the net at the same internet place across the road and cancelled my cards. I wanted to transfer my money to a Natwest bank account to which I had a bank card of theirs but for some reason I failed login one too many times and they booted me off. To get back onto online banking I had to provide sort code, debit card number and account number. Of course, did I know the last one? No, because I never use Natwest. So, I tried to call Natwest to find this out but whilst on the phone going through “security” I couldn’t remember my online PIN, but it didn’t matter anyway as they wouldn’t give it out over the phone anyway. I had to contact my branch instead. To add to everything else it’s a public holiday in Thailand - Songkran - Thai New Year so the British Embassy in Bangkok is closed for 5 days. Result. Worse is the fact that it takes 10 days to get a new passport, at 6400 Bhat, about 120 quid. Ouch. So basically waiting around, for the embassy to open and then to wait even more in grotty, heaving, humid Bangkok for up to 10 days. I was marooned, all my plans had been scuppered, I’d be spending time and money that I just wanted to escape from.

But, there is more business to attend to. The next morning I took a tuk tuk to the police station, I wanted to go to the tourist police as they spoke English but the hotel people said to go to the proper police first. Got there and of course immediately turfed out by the grumpy copper at the desk. (See, it’s stuff like this in Thailand that just stresses me out!) About 30 minutes at the Tourist police, filling out my “stupidity form”, and then the cop transcribing it back into Thai. Then back to the hotel and more stress.

The hotel (and it’s called KS House I by the way in case any of you lot out there are ever in Chiang Mai) will let me keep my bag in storage but only for 200 Baht, sod that, I’m meant to be staying there! Luckily the trekking guy arrives to see where I am, and he tells me to get my stuff and we go back to Nice Hotel. See the irony there? So there I am with a massive backpack, holding a computer note pad in one hand and a shopping bag in the other sat as a pillion passenger on the back of a scooter in Chang Mai. Next stop three days in the tribal hills to escape my bad luck.

Now, this whole account may be of some humour to some people, it may actually be pretty tedious as you’ve already made up your mind that I’ve just a stupid, feckless, waste of backpaker space. Regardless, I don’t think I’ve really had a free evening to do nothing whilst here in Thailand. I’ve either had to phone a bank, go online to transfer money, find out why it’s not transferred, contact banks, contact Zune, look for combi locks, email camera places, reply yet again to 02.

Lessons learned and some advice for others

However, here’s what I’ve learnt from my recent travail’s. I’m a pretty confident traveler, I am pretty well organized, I like to read-up on where I’m going and to go to the best places and to also be adventurous and do independent stuff as well. I photocopied my passport and all of my bankcards as well as writing down all of my telephone emergency numbers. But where has all of my good common sense gone to? Well here are the mistakes I’ve made whilst traveling. See? I knew this would be cathartic.

Well, firstly, I have a money belt which I tied onto my trouser belts and then down inside my pants, the problem is when I am in swimming shorts, because I have no belt to attach it to. I was in my swimming shorts when my wallet dropped out, the pockets were too shallow. Easy, but in this case and bearing in mind that shorts and swim shorts are a regular item of clothing whilst travelling just get some swimming shorts that have deep pockets, or closeable pockets. Sounds simple doesn't it?

Never keep your passport with your wallet. Unlike money it’s not necessary to be readily accessed at all times so keep it in your luggage or with a hotel safe. I’ve lost my most important document because I kept too much stuff together with my wallet, which I only needed whilst checking in at a hotel every coupld of days.

Third lesson for me from me, is treat your valuables like valuables, hidden; close to you; secure and in one place so you know where it is at all times and do not have to search for it. Don’t chop and change locations, choose something that you can find instantly. This seems really simple, but I think I just took my eye off the ball and didn’t really think enough about the what-ifs and making sure I had alternatives and secure provisions.

Another piece of advice is to mix up your credit and bank cards, don’t have them all together, use only ones you need and keep others in reserve in one place, secreted and secured away. Mix up your money into travelers cheques, local money and your own money or US dollars, and keep them separate. It makes good sense if you need it in an emergency and also they are more secure. I’m getting truly boring now with this simplistic advice, but I didn’t really heed a lot of this and just went with the flow. Suffice to say I’m busy correcting all of my travel idiosyncrasies and once I get my passport back, I’ll be like a new traveler!

I promise the next update will be less lame and include the three day trek as well as fantastic Songkran and I will update soon, but as you can understand I’ve been under the khosh of late and simply needed to get all of this nasty business off my chest. In the meantime, good karma, blog messages, comments, prayers and a decent turn of the wheel of fortune all gratefully received!


14th April 2009

Well my fellow traveller, (of course it has been ages for me but i am a true wing and a prayer traveller at heart), it sounds like you have had a truly marvelous trip so far.. haha its awful but you have to admit, life is not that full of problems usually so there has got to be a reason.. I do not really believe in 'bad' karma.. except for bad people. Just look at it like a real opportunity for change. I mean come on, life must care about you to challenge your capacities so intesely. Anyway, thank you for the very entertaining story there. I am impressed. I have really had similar domino effect horrid luck myself at times too and trust me, I can relate to the feeling of utter helplessness. Hope you do or did get a chance to relax... deeply. I actually am reading this page because I was digging for current political and public states in thailand and since there a sort of media block out on the unrest of the country, I was looking to see if any travellers had blogged interesting info. Perhaps you can shed some light... my email is attached and feel free to write. Bye Summer- in Canada
17th April 2009

Haha, nice to see some empathy there, it's been a complete pain in the arse my travels in Thailand. I've not really enjoyed it, I just await the philosophizing to come that makes me accpet things, but to be honest I'm so stressed out with things hitting me I've given up hope. Bangkok I left before any troubles, I did see some Red supporters flocking into the city, but to be honest from what I know about Thailand, it's very divided along wealth lines. Mind you, the Thais I've met seem to be very chilled out, there's no madness around I don't think so I'm hopeful.

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