This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Scam Bus to Bangkok

Poipet to Bangkok at night


We made it across the border to Thailand with a variety of troubles. Firstly the through tourist bus we booked turned out to be an overloaded Cambodian public bus to Poipet the border town. It nearly took of without us and I had to shout at the tout to properly lock the luggage compartment because it had only one latch working.
The bus raced to Sisaphon and then hit the horrendously rough road to Poipet, ostensibly in disrepair because of hush money paid by a Cambodian airline to the highway authority to force people to travel by air.

The scam bus stranded by us

Then we were dropped off at the border and ushered through to a waiting bus on the Thai side. This seemed to be too good to be true - a double decker for 14 people with (crappy) videos - until we arrived in Bangkok to find our luggage rifled through and a variety of items stolen. Fortunately we were warned in advance about this by a guy in the cafe before the bus pulled in so it must be a regular operation. The technique is that the bus driver and the tout work in tandem. They get you to put your luggage on the lower bus and tell you to seta in the upper compartment. This leaves your luggage easily available for the tout to go through everyone's bag in sequence and take something from everyone.

We lost a video camera mike and some greenstone jewelry but one guy had his credit card and ID stolen. En route to Bangkok, the bus stops to refuel and the tout goes off the bus with the booty so its not on the bus when you reach Bangkok. Then they throw all your luggage in the main highway in the dark so you have to scatter to avoid the oncoming traffic hoping to make a getaway in the confusion. Fortunately we didn't let this happen and the Italian who had his credit stolen grabbed the keys and gave them to me so the bus couldn't go anywhere.

After waiting a couple of hours to get the police to come to file a report, we slept in a noisy guest house just off the east end of Khaosan Road. It looked like it was basically a doss house for whores to bring in their clients.

Khaosan at Halloween

The next day we moved to Donna's, which was nicely run but the fan-only room was horrendously hot and got a ticket next morning on the sprinter day train to Chiang Mai. That night was Halloween on Khaosan - a noisy tumult of party goers in a variety of costumes from traditional Asian to the proverbial death mask of the grim reaper.

The flyer rail car next day traveled through more flooded countryside, Thailand having had rain and floods a week or two before.

Morning in the station there is a military tattoo and everyone has to stand.
Slum dwellings on the way out of Bangkok.

Flooding on the way North

The countryside nearing Chiang Mai

Here's the police report ... for the benefit of others who might suffer the same fate ... see the next Bangkok blog for the even more frustrating episode when we went to make a Police statement on the way back through from Northern Thailand.

Police Report concerning systematic theft on the tourist bus to Bangkok 30th October 2006
This entry is partly a police report concerning a multiple theft on the final bus to Bangkok to try to make sure other travelers are not subject to what looks like a systematic scam by the bus driver and his tout that is an epidemic feature of bus travel in Thailand which urgently needs correcting. We left Battembang at 11.30 yesterday with another of these apocryphal through tickets from country to Country brought through the hotel on behalf of Neak Krorhorn - this time direct to Bangkok from Cambodia. We were put on the hotel minibus which promptly dropped us without any real explanation at a bus office on the edge of town.

At 12 a fully laden local bus arrived which did have just enough seats to get us and two other tourists in the back and we were told to get on. The bus tried to leave again before we had got all our luggage on and put our packs in a side locker with only one of the two latches working. Because of this I pulled the Vietnamese bass and the tregia stove out, which was very fortunate in the light of what eventually happened in Thailand. In response to my protests the bus tout locked this locker and only opened it once, all in our view, during the journey. The bus proceeded to rocket through to Sisaphon along a good paved road and then shook and rattled its way over the atrocious road to Poipet at the border, which is reputedly not maintained because an airline is paying bribes to keep it in a poor state.
At the border the bus turned around and we had to make our way through with a few travel guides keeping a diverse group together enough to board a bus on the Thai side. These people came from both Siem Reap and Battembang so its impossible for them to have been ripped off together on the Cambodian side. We got through the border okay and then waited at the tourist office for the Thai bus to Khaosan Road.

When it arrived the tour guide warned us not to leave any valuables in our luggage because they might get ripped off. This warning was pointed and accurate to the extent that he must have known rip offs were happening regularly on this service. The luggage was stowed in a compartment under the seats of a partially double deck bus so they were not accessible to the passengers but could be accessed by the drivers assistant.
The bus traveled direct to Bangkok with only one mysterious stop where the drivers assistant left the bus at a gas station but the bus did not stop long enough for fuel. When we arrived in Bangkok by the Democracy monument adjacent to Khaosan road at around 8.30 pm, the drivers assistant threw all our luggage into the middle of the three lane carriageway 'before shouting at us to leave the bus and the driver and tout tried to order everyone off the bus and to then make off in great haste.

To even get our belongings we had taken up stairs off the bus we had to protest and face an aggressive action from the driver requiring us to hold on to the steering wheel to avoid him driving the bus off before we could depart.
In the process one of the passengers (an Italian) opened his bag and found his credit cards and all his cash had been stolen. Immediately all the remaining seven passengers discovered their bags had been systematically rifled through and at least one item stolen form each, sometimes replaced by other valueless items of old clothing or bus cushions. I had my digital meter stolen and Christine our gift trinkets and sleeping bag.

The Italian managed to get the keys from the driver which stranded the bus and a wait of some 90 minutes ensued while we tried many times to phone the police and the tourist police and get them to come and properly report the thefts.
Finally the police arrived, searched the bus and took some notes. However we believe they should have taken a proper set of case notes.

0) This collective theft could not have happened in Cambodia because the tourists came from several independent sources on different trucks and buses.

1) this type of theft could not take place without the knowledge and support for he driver and his assistant as they secured the luggage and were the only ones able to access it without the knowledge of the passengers.
2) the warning before hand was in the light of prior knowledge of systematic petty theft

3) the mysterious stop at the gas station was to spirit the stolen items off the bus so they were out of the way of any search

4) the number of bags searched was so great that it would take a person riding with the bus for a considerable time who could not do so without the knowledge of the driver and tout.

5) the pattern of stealing a small amount from each bag is calculated to make it too difficult for travelers to be bothered doing anything about but constitutes systematic theft by the bus company employees.

6) the evasive attempts (i) to dump our luggage in the road and (ii) make off before we could discover what had happened, combined with (iii) an aggressive approach which was threatening and would intimidate many tourists, clearly implicates both the driver and the tout in a collective scam. It was only because the Italian removed the keys at my suggestion that they were even interviewed by the Police, or we would have all been left with nothing to verify or take action about.

This is an extreme action tourists should not have to resort to in Thailand. The Police need to take firmer action and approach the bus company concerned because they are very likely financially implicated in the whole scam.
We want to see effective action to stop this. We have heard of much worse cases, including drugging incidents on night busses. If his sort of thing is allowed to go on without arrests and the staff concerned being fired from positions of trust, wholesale rip off of tourists on tour buses will continue to be a lblight onb Thailand's reputation internationally. The company is Thupanpua (in Thai script) Phone numbers: 035-521733 01-8581392 the registration number of the bus 30-0082. The Police have interviewed both the driver and the assistant and I have photos of both sitting in the front of the bus. A female tourist police officer called Sutasinee arrived with several police and took details (Christine didn't know her sleeping bag had gone at this time and subsequently found a bag containing jewelery and a coin and note collection had been stolen as well) and asked us to phone 023080940 for reporting and 022432210 for her patrol number which we will do on completing this internet report.

No comments:

Post a Comment