Couchfish Week 21: Travellers behaving badly

Couchfish Week 21: Travellers behaving badly


We’ve all been there. A spectacular feat of traveller idiocy on Facebook or Twitter watched through half–closed fingers. Thinking no no no ... nooooooo what are you thinking?!

Watch out for yellow phone boxes. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

All I can say is I’m glad there was no such thing as social media when I was travelling in my twenties. Here are ten of my favourites.

Laos: The University connection

I dreamed about studying at a certain university, but missed out—sorry UTS! The closest I got to my dream uni though, was meeting a staffer from there during a trip to Luang Prabang in the mid 1990s. He was there on holiday, as was I. His particular area of interest was Buddhist icons.

Grabbing a small one is apparently the Asia studies way to go … for some people. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

After a few too many Beerlao one evening, he told me he’d been grabbing statues from Pak Ou Cave. He’d go up at a quiet time of the day (easy at the time), climb the long stairs, and, when nobody was looking, grab a small one. I didn’t believe him till the next day, when he showed me a small bag full of them.

Indonesia: The tooth ripper of Tana Toraja

If you’ve ever been to Tana Toraja you’ll know the traditions matter to locals big time, but are also a tourism drawcard. When you visit the tombs there are bones everywhere. Everywhere. When I visited one of the sites, by a cliffside entrance there were a row of human skulls. Close enough to touch, but why would you want to? Maybe I’m squeamish.

Perhaps the rest of the teeth were pulled out by other idiots. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

One had a very prominent tooth. Another in the group asked the guide if they could pluck it. I imagine the guides put up with a lot, but he answered with an emphatic “No!” They shrugged. Later I found out they swiped a femur.

Laos: You didn’t tell me I couldn’t eat it

Long ago, on the (no longer running) slow boat from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The river did us no favours and we had to break the trip for a second night between Pak Lai and Vientiane. We slept on the river sand the second night and woke cold, dishevelled and ill–tempered. There was nothing to eat so all were a bit hungry and grumpy.

We saw nothing like a sunset like this, from the sandbank half way to this sunset. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

A British traveller who was on the boat with us, not able to keep their appetite at bay, tried to eat the rice in the offering on the prow of the boat.

It was not delicious.

Laos: I ate it but I think the price is too high

This is my entry in this little ditty on traveller idiocy. Udomxai, under the influence of a couple of bottles of Hercules Wine, I had a huge meal. When the bill came, I babbled the food was too expensive and wanted a discount.

This dish was in Udomxai, though not at the place I made an abject fool of myself. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The restaurant staff were like, but you’ve already eaten it—pay the bill—are you ok? In the end I did. I should have paid double I was such an ass. My companions were suitably horrified at my behaviour.

Thailand: You didn’t tell me I couldn’t wear it

Ko Jum is a low key island on Thailand’s Andaman coast. While sun–worshippers often don’t get off the sand, the back side of the island has a traditional Muslim village. I was in the village, having a coffee with a friend, when all eyes diverted to the street.

Also “Please consider local sensibilities when you step outside. Photo: David Luekens.

A foreign tourist was walking down the road wearing nothing but a sarong around her waist. Locals said nothing to her at the time but considered it, well, very inappropriate dress. She was staying at the same place as us, so later we suggested more clothing would be appropriate.

Her response:

“I’ll wear what I want. I don’t tell them what to wear.”

Ok then.

Vietnam: They steal, I steal

A Canadian, a German and an Australian ride bikes from Hoi An to My Son. No, this isn’t a joke. At the time, the road didn’t go all the way to the site, rather you had to park, cross a river and walk the rest of the way. The parking area was notorious for theft. When an “attendant” came and asked for a parking fee, the Canadian and I paid, but the German refused.

Tomb Raider never had a bike nicked! What’s up with that! Photo: Cindy Fan.

When we returned a few hours later, his mirrors were gone. He shrugged and took the mirrors off another tourist’s bike. The “attendant” didn’t bat an eyelid.

It seemed like an idiotic way to save 2,000 dong.

Thailand: Always pay for the boat part I

Ko Pha Ngan Full Moon Party mid nineties, about 1 am. A plain–clothed dead sober Western guy, with an entourage of sober Thais, walks up to our beach cushions. “Hey do you know where I can get some acid?,” he asks. Before I can reply, Shakar, an Israeli I was with, points to an obnoxious American we’d had a run in with earlier. “I bought it from him,” he says.

Just another evening at the Full Moon Party. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The westerner and the Thais immediately make a beeline for him, restrain him, and drag him away.

I turn to Shakar and ask what the hell is he talking about, and he says “He refused to pay his share for the longtail from Sanctuary. Screw him.”

Thailand: Always pay for the boat part II

At the time there were no direct boats from the mainland to Ko Lipe. Instead your boat would layover at Ko Tarutao for thirty minutes or so. Agents in Pakbara (the port town) would sell you a through ticket, but you had to keep the chit. I’d been on Tarutao for a few days and boarded the boat to continue to Lipe. I’d lost my chit, so paid for the onwards ticket.

Ko Tarutao. Not a swimming Italian in sight. Photo: David Luekens.

An Italian traveller likewise had lost his chit, but he wasn’t willing to pay again. He got in an argument with the ticket collector as the boat was pulling out. We’re all on the top deck and he’s telling the ticket guy to get the captain to call the agent on the radio (no smartphones then). The ticket guy was patient but had limited English (and the Italian had no Thai), and he kept saying the same thing over and over.

“You pay, no ticket, no problem, pay for a new ticket.”

The Italian lost his bundle, threw his bag off and jumped off the deck into the ocean. We were only about 100 metres from shore, but the boat didn’t stop—we just kept going.

At the time the ticket to Lipe was perhaps 200 baht. It struck me as a slight over-reaction. I guess he survived.

Malaysia: If you’re going to rob me, run fast (and not from me!)

One evening at Antarabangsa Enterprise in Georgetown, Penang, the staff kept warning me about a guy I was with. He was a Brit, my age, and well sketchy, but chatty and good company. We’d met earlier in the day walking around, and I had suggested we meet for a drink later on.

This pic has nothing to do with Antarabangsa—it just makes me miss Georgetown. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Other clientele watched the guy like a hawk. Every time I went to the bar or loo the staff would ask if he was with me and if he was bothering me. I’d say yes and no each time.

Later in the night, we were chatting about India, then, like a bullet out of heaven, he jumped up, grabbed my bag and bolted. If it was down to me I’d have never seen my bag again. Thankfully (for me) it wasn’t left to me. Another guest jumped up, grabbed an aluminium fold out chair and smashed the guy in the head, decking him. Another sat on him while staff called the police.

He’s a bad man, they said.

I’m a travel writer—comp me

I’ve met so many travellers working this gaff. Travellers who subsidise their trip by saying they work for a publisher. I work for X, give me a free room and I’ll write something nice. Inside baseball perhaps, but there are legendary cases of ex–authors doing this. You know who you are!

Siem Reap & surrounds seems a good image on this topic. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

These people are parasites, and I hope your scooter mirrors are missing when you leave.

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