Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Caveat Emptor

Tuk Tuk
BANGKOK, THAILAND “You want to go to Grand Palace? Only 50 Baht.” “No, I was there yesterday.” “I take you to a place to buy a nice suit?” “No, I don’t need a suit.” “You want pretty lady?” “No, but could you tell me where there might be a travel agency in the area.” “Yes, yes, I know a good place. You nice guy, I take you there free, no charge.” “Really? Free?” “Yes. Yes. Get in!” I jump in the back of the tuk tuk and off on a high-speed race through the side streets and alleys of Bangkok. We arrive at a small, but official looking travel agency, with a lot of travel posters, flight and tour price listings. “I wait here for you.” My tuk tuk driver says. “Sawadee Ka,” the lady at the first desk says. “Sawadee Krab,” I reply. “I’m wondering if you could help me with accommodations in Phuket or Phi Phi Island?” “Yes. Yes. My name is Micky. I can help you.” She pulls out a notepad and scribbles Phuket at the top of the page. “How much do you want to spend?” “My wife and I would like a 5-star hotel, if possible.” “No problem!” She pulls out a glitzy brochure with pictures of Phi Phi Island straight from Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach.” “Wow, is that available?” “Yes, very busy season, but I know the owner and can get you a beach front bungalow for a very good price.” She pulls out her calculator. “50,000 Baht.” I figure about $555 per night. That’s a lot for Thailand, but it’s actually less than two other quotes I got at the airport tour agencies in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. “What do you have for Phuket?” She quickly produces another glitzy brochure of a 5-star hotel with a beach-front ocean view on Patong Beach. “30,000 Baht.” We negotiate. For 39,000 Baht, I end up with one night on Phi Phi Island and two nights on Patong Beach, airport transfers and ferries included. Micky swipes my credit card and the deal is closed. With that done, I need a place, maybe in Pattaya, where I can wait until Debra (my wife) arrives. “Pattaya, yes, of course, I have a nice 4-star, beach front hotel, in Pattaya.” “How much?” “You nice man, I give you a special rate, only 15,000 Baht.” The place looks perfect. I say, “10,000 Baht.” She says, “I can do 10,500 including transfer to and from Pattaya.” I take it and pay in cash. The next day the crammed non-air-conditioned bus ride to Pattaya gives me the first indications that I’ve been scammed. The hotel confirms my suspicions, a 3-star hotel at best, twenty minutes from the beach, and a room that has no windows. I call Micky. “You told me you wanted a cheap hotel room,” She says. “That’s what I got you. There are no refunds.” I protest, “No, that’s not true. You told me that the hotel was a 4-star hotel on the beach. What about the hotels in Phi Phi and Phuket are they also not 5-star hotels and on the beach as you represented?” She suddenly becomes incoherent and pretends she doesn’t understand anything I’m saying. She keeps saying, “I got you what you wanted. There are no refunds.” She hangs up. I decide to go online and research the hotel in Phi Phi and Phuket. The hotel in Phi Phi doesn’t exist and although the hotel in Phuket does exist, it’s only a 3-star hotel with some terrible reviews. Nevertheless, I call the hotel in Phuket to see if they have reservations for us. They do not. I send Micky email and text messages detailing my concerns and asking for her help in remedying the situation. She doesn’t respond. Debra arrives in Bangkok a few days later and the next day we fly to Phuket. As we suspect, there’s no one at the airport to greet us. We ask a taxi driver to call Micky for us on his cell phone. Micky answers the phone, “You cancelled your reservations!” “What are you talking about? I did not cancel the reservations and if you cancelled our reservations, where is our refund?” “You cancelled the reservations!” What about our refund then? She pretends not to understand and keeps saying, “You cancelled the reservations.” I am unable to budge her and she hangs up on me.