We had so enjoyed the gorgeous clear waters of Koh Rawi in the Adana-Rawi archipelago on our last trip from Phuket, Thailand to Langkawi in Malaysia, that we decided to take our boat guests there for a couple of days.
Thailand has so many beautiful spots but boy, we have begun to really dislike the bureaucracy and the blatant grab for money from tourists – and sometimes it seems, particularly yachties! This trip was no exception.
We had already been a little put out at having to pay National Park fees the equivalent of $16 each for anchoring one night (and not going ashore) at Koh Rok Nok en route to Langkawi. Surely there could be a different fee for yachts just passing through?
Then on this occasion, when we arrived at Koh Lipe, we of course, had to check in at passport and customs and it was such a nightmare that I really don’t think we would ever attempt it again.
First of all, after a trek in the heat along Pattaya Beach, and queueing up with the ferry passengers at the passport /Customs office we were told that we had to go to the office down the other end of the beach. So back we trekked, arriving around 4 pm.
We went to stand in the queue but got shooed away and then after milling around for a few minutes trying to work out where we needed to be, a quite pleasant woman took us into a blissfully cool (empty) cafe and told us that she was an agent and could fill out all the forms/make the process go smoothly. She said the charge was normally 1000 baht (roughly Aus$40 or $10 each as there were four of us) but as she had to leave work very soon she would organise our entry for a cut price of 800 baht ($32).
It was so hot and we just wanted to be off with our boat guests swimming in clear waters so we agreed and Capt’n Birdseye produced a 1,000 baht note out of his wallet with a flourish. The agent went off with our passports, money and forms which she was going to fill in on our behalf.
A few minutes later she came back and said “nearly finished and now you have to pay.”
“Um no, you need to give us 200 baht change, we already paid you”.
She said that we hadn’t and shuffled through the papers “see no money”. We only had a small amount of cash and we had counted it out earlier. We had definitely paid her.
She went back to the office and came back a few minutes later and demanded another 800 baht. After a bit of a discussion she left again, this time leaving to go wherever she needed to leave work to be.
So back the good Capt’n went and told the people in the office (who had our passports!) that we weren’t going to pay another 1,000 baht. The guy in the office became quite belligerent and refused to stamp our passports unless we paid another 1,000 baht. The Capt’n also lost his cool and said unless our passports were stamped he was going to the police!
There was an impasse and the guy literally threw the passports at the Capt’n and told him to get out.
So we walked back down the beach and we did go to the police. We explained what had happened and the policeman (new to the island!) talked to the boss at the first passport office. After that the attitude changed – we were ushered into the air conditioned office – we filled in the forms ourselves ( they were just the normal forms, nothing complicated) and after a charge of around 100 baht each ($4) our passports were stamped and we were free to go.
The whole thing left a decidedly unpleasant taste and we felt rather ridiculous for getting persuaded to use the “agent” in the first place, and for handing over a lot of money unnecessarily.
I have to admit, in the midst of this situation, ever the peacemaker, I was trying to calm the Capt’n down but I am willing to admit now that actually, we were being exploited and scammed and were quite within our rights to be angry and show it too. We have been told that Thai people do not understand overt anger but actually, we have found they do and were extremely keen to help once it was obvious we were genuinely upset.
We hightailed it out of Koh Lipe after a very pleasant meal at Elephant – a great bar and eating place which restored our spirits.
Fortunately the anxiety and angst of our encounter with Thai officialdom melted away once we had anchored in the calm and crystal clear waters of Koh Butang. However, we will never try and check-in at Koh Lipe again.