I rose early to try and get to the tourist information office when it opened, hauling all my things in case my missing backpack turned up. The hotel desk girl gave me poor directions and after half an hour I couldn’t find it. I decided to try a motorbike taxi, the guys at the stop didn’t have a clue what I was saying, so I just got on the back and pointed in the direction I wanted to go! We cruised up the long road where the tourist information was supposed to be but at the end we hadn’t found it so I got off and caught a songthaew going the other way. Again the driver spoke no English and didn’t know where we were going! After some discussion from his colleagues he dropped me off ten minutes later. I still couldn’t see it but the street number was correct. After trying a few official-looking buildings I eventually found an English speaker who gave me the correct directions.
Inside the Tourist Information were some trainee girls and fortunately a chap who spoke decent English. He helped me with my broken phone and discovered the SIM card had been locked which I must have done by accident. I explained the situation with my backpack and he phoned the tourist police for me. 15 minutes later they showed up, all Thai, one guy called Arron who spoke pretty good English and two other uniformed and armed policemen who didn’t speak much. I explained the situation and had to fill out a incident form. Then they drove me in a police car to the bus office which now was open.
Arron talked with the lady inside for a long time and started making lots of phone calls. He asked me details about the incident. After a while we drove off to another travel office in town, this one I recognised as people bound for Bangkok had got off the bus here. The staff at the desk answered Arron’s questions and the lady spoke English, I described what had happened and she said knew the drivers and the bus – looks like we were getting somewhere. She explained the bus had stopped at three places and they weren’t sure which one the bag might have been dropped at. The police started looking through CCTV footage from outside this office from yesterday. The woman told me they thought they’d found the bag. Great! After more waiting and many phone calls from Arron, it was back into the car to the first travel office again.
After more discussion and calls, it seemed the travel agents were sending us around in circles blaming each other. Arron took a call and explained to me that the bag may have ended up on a bus to Bangkok. Uhoh. Back to the second travel agents. Here they looked through CCTV again and called me over. Sure enough on the CCTV you could see my bag had been unloaded with a pile of others and then left alone outside the office. About 20 minutes later on the footage a woman who is obviously a tourist is pointing at the bag and discussing with someone off screen, and she picks it up and takes it away. They say she’s loaded it onto a bus bound for Bangkok. Clearly she’s well-meaning but not exactly what I needed!
The travel agents phoned Bangkok and found out my bag was there at their office. Phew. Well at least we’d found it, whether it had anything of value left inside remained to be seen (padlocks are easily broken). The buses on that route are notorious for theft.
Arron arranged for the travel agency to put my bag on the next bus back to Surat Thani, which arrived at 6am the next day. They had to drop it at the tourist police office so I could check the contents with an officer. Sounded good. Now I had to spend another night here. It was past midday so I offered to get Arron and the other policemen some lunch for helping me. On the way we stopped at a phone shop and Arron got them to unlock my phone for free. Fantastic. We drove to a local restaurant and had lunch where I met the friendly tourist police chief.
Afterwards we drove to the tourist police station on the edge of town and I took a hotel close by. Arron kindly offered to take me out in the evening after work. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on my diary in the hotel, and I met Arron at dusk. We were going to a fitness center outside of town. I still was wearing the same clothes from yesterday, thankfully I still had my walking shoes. The fitness center had a big running track and around it various sports were being played – basketball, football, boules and handball, which is pretty popular over here. There was a small stadium and an outdoor aerobics class in full swing. The place was busy with lots of people on the track. We walked for a few loops and lots of people were looking at the farang (foreigner) exercising at their place! We jogged for a bit and on the way some ladies appeared who Arron knew, and joined us for a few loops. One of the ladies works for the car tax office, Arron sells second hand cars for another source of income and works with her sometimes. He was trying to set me up with the other girl because she was single! Both ladies looked amazingly young for their age, just like Arron. Healthy people I suppose!
After the fitness center we drove to a small gym, where we used the steam room and some outdoor hot pools. It was great after a busy and stressful day! Back in town the police chief joined us for dinner. We scoffed a variety of tasty dishes including spicy shellfish, a kind of cabbage in gravy, fried fish and Tom Yam spicy seafood soup. We had a good laugh chatting and learning about each other’s lives.
There’s around 10 tourist police officers for the whole province plus superiors, who are all based in the city tourist police station. Arron’s been in the tourist police for 5 years and before that was local police. He has a degree in political science and taught English for a short while. The police chief has been in the job for 2 years and was a normal police officer before that. Arron lives alone in the city center – owning his own house, the price seemed comparable to back home for the location. I was curious about the big restaurant culture here. Arron told me generally people might eat out 3 or 4 times a week because it’s so cheap, although he doesn’t like cooking so he eats out all the time!
Arron dropped me at the hotel and I thanked him for a good night. He and the other police had really taken care of me, making me feel at home and going way above the call of duty to welcome me. I was a lucky guy!