***So, don’t take this post the wrong way, it’s ling and full of complaining. However, I am, in fact, enamored by SE Asia and I know that I will be back sooner or later. Though the scamming is out of control and can be a pain in the ass, it’s part of the experience….But by god, NEVER rent a bike on Koh Pangnang unless you stomp out all possibilities of a scam before hand.***
Renting a motorbike, as you already know is essential in South East Asia. To even begin to get to know the place, you have to commit to a zippy little moto and brave the chaos that defines the roads in Asia. The experience is rewarding though and you will discover the best beaches and the best hangouts all the while having the best fun!
In Thailand, the traffic is a bit better than in Vietnam, but boy are they sticklers about their equipment, which they could care less about in Vietnam. In fact, the bike rental shops run a scam on Koh Pangnang that, in most cases costs the patron quadruple what he spent to rent the bike even if he polished it every night and cared for it like it was his own child. What I mean to say is that if you damage the bike in any way, maybe a pebble was kicked up from the road and nicked the side plate as you drove to the beach, then you can expect to pay an absurd amount of USD to fix, not only the nick, but to replace the entire plate, the stickers and the Yamaha crest because they have to, you know, have a perfectly clean bike for the next customer, so they can scam the shit out of him too. I have even heard cases of pre-scratched bikes for hire where the renter ends up paying no less than USD$200 for the “damages”. To say the least, the moto-rentals and clinics in Koh Pangnang make bank between outrageous prices, scams and a freaking cold heart…okay and there are plenty of idiot tourists that ride around messed up, out of their minds like lunatics and crash…who wouldn’t see good business in such asinine antics?
Either way, these principals shouldn’t apply to the kind hearted and honest tourists like me and Ylva. To make a long story that pleads my innocence in the matter, short, I will just admit that we had a minor accident and fell over on the bike (yeah, it was really stupid) while navigating a quite steep dirt road en-route to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Really it was nothing more than flesh wounds and a bit of a sore arm the next day (and because I have to say cause I am still pissed about it…the tires were bald on this bike, something I should have thought about beforehand and something that I am sure was all a part of the grand scam). The bike wasn’t damaged too much and being sweet honest girls, we knew we had to repair at the very least, the broken turn signal. We weren’t too worried about the scratched sticker and we hadn’t heard about the scams. When we returned to our guesthouse however, we were informed that we were looking at a rough cost of about $15,000 BAT ($500) and that we had chosen to rent from the worst guys in town. Still unbelieving, we went to face the music, smiling sweetly and apologizing profusely. We were sure that our responsible appearance and the fact that we weren’t stupid enough to drink and drive was on our side. Unfortunately we didn’t anticipate exactly how ruthless the assholes that ran the place were going to be. Did I mention that I had to leave my passport for collateral when we first rented the bike or that my visa ran out in three days and my flight to London wasn’t going to wait for me?
In short, and to spare all of you from my rage, I will just say that we got off with paying $200 between the two of us. But not after a few hours of resilient argument on my side and even a short contemplation of leaving my passport behind in favor of a cheaper ($200) Emergency Passport Replacement plan and a few calls to the US Embassy. Basically we were screwed. Sure I don’t have an international driver’s license but none of the tourists do and the Police turn a blind eye on the fact in favor of a few bribes from the rental shops. They had my most valuable document (which is normal and to be expected when you are renting a heavy piece of machinery) and we didn’t speak Thai (which might have helped). All we could do was plead our case or flee. In light of the pain in the ass it would prove to be to get a replacement passport (besides the fact that I would be abandoning my identity in the hands of two of the worst people I have met on my travels and the silly sentimental attachment I have to my passport and visas that reside within it) we decided on $200 and if they wouldn’t budge, then we would book it. Luckily they caved and I was reunited with my lovely passport. However, part of me, on principal wishes we just left them SOL. Not only was the manager and ass with no patience but he was a misogynistic wife-beater that threatened to hit me more than once if I didn’t give him money, anyone’s money. Then he made me apologize for being outspoken with/to him, the bastard.
Bangkok writing far below...
Now I love almost EVERYTHING about South East Asia and Thailand, but the one thing that I really can’t stomach is the tourist track and the less than welcoming tourists agencies that believe that foreigners are made of gold and try their very best to get every last penny from them. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the pompous idiot foreigners that invade these beautiful lands, throw around money and think more than less of the locals and treat them with disrespect. In fact those travelers enrage me and I curse them along with the best of the local shop keepers. I am in favor of paying an exact and fair price and I always give the benefit of the doubt. I don’t like to haggle because I figure that $.50 – $2.00 will help the vendor more than I will miss it. I would have gladly paid for all the damages on the bike, so long as it was evaluated and priced fairly. Something that may never sweep Koh Pangnang for, with much money comes much corruption…duh. For me, it is disheartening to see the greed; it’s exhausting and deterred me, at times, from really fulfilling my limited time in the region. To get to the point and to finish this post, I will just say that this incident was the cherry on top to the cream for me in SE Asia. I could barely wait to board my plane a few nights later and took a deep breath of relief when we took off, Thailand writhing far below.