My favorite part of our time in Kanchanaburi was our room, which literally floated on two canoes on the shores of the River Kwai. The entire River Guest House was built over the river with wooden walkways connecting the rooms with the reception area and the entrance. One of these walkways led up to a little patio in front of our door with water on all other sides. Our room was pretty small, but it also had a porch out back with two comfy chairs, a hammock and an area to either dip feet into the river or to jump right in. Check out their Trip Advisor page if you’re curious.
Carrie and I spent countless hours relaxing on the porch, watching the river flow and boats come and go. It is one of my most tranquil memories of the trip. However, that tranquility was shattered on our third night there. After spending the late evening watching a movie on the laptop on the porch, we brushed our teeth and returned to our chairs to gaze out at the full moon reflecting in the water at 3am.
Earlier that evening, Carrie had done a little tidying up and put our take out boxes, along with some other trash, in a plastic bag and hung it on the front door knob. This random act of cleanliness is the only reason for what happened next.
As Carrie was closer to the screen door separating the porch from our bedroom, it was she who heard the garbage bag rustling. At first she ignored it, but after it continued for a few seconds she got up to see what was going on. To her surprise, a long haired, tall and completely naked Thai man was standing in our bedroom. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET OUT OF OUR ROOM,” she screamed from the porch side of the screen door.
As Carrie remembers it, the man stared at her for a solid second or two looking completely startled, dazed and out of it. Then, he bolted out the front door. While this was happening, all over the course of a few seconds, I had quickly jumped out of my chair and into the room. Carrie had already run into the room and out the front door where the naked Thai thief had jumped off of the patio and was escaping in the river. “He’s getting away! Go after him,” Carrie yelled.
With no idea what he had stolen and no clue what I would do if I actually caught him, pure instinct and adrenalin took control and I jumped over the banister into the waist high river chasing after him. I gave a good run, screaming on the top of my lungs the whole time. “Stop! Thief! Help!” Unfortunately, by the time I made it halfway across the river to the nearest walkway he had already jumped out and was sprinting up a hill next to a house.
I continued chasing, but realized that there was no chance of catching him as I was still in the water and he probably knew the area in the dark like the back of his hand. At one point towards the end of the chase I felt what I imagined to be a human limb halfway through Lipo brushing against my leg. I immediately began thrashing around, in case it was what I thought it was, and by the time I realized that it was nothing there was nothing else to do other than get out of the water and return to the room.
During the entire chase, both Carrie and I were screaming on the top of our lungs. Anyone who has ever been to a Mets game with me knows, I can make a whole lot of noise. However, not a single light came on and none of the staff left their room to see what happened. In retrospect, we should have banged on the door of the hotel owner until he woke up…but really, what good would it have done at that point.
The only thing the thief had managed to nab was Carrie’s little digital camera, which was almost dead anyway after eight months of traveling anyway. Right next to the camera’s last position was my laptop filled with tons of non-backed up photos as well as bags with passports, money and DSLR cameras on the floor nearby. Thank god he didn’t grab any of those!
Had we woken up the owner, all that would have happened is that we would have had to deal with the police and file pointless paperwork. They would never get the guy, the camera would never be retrieved and the deductible on my traveler’s insurance was more than the value of the camera. In the end, all that was lost was two days of photos. Super bummer, but it could have been way worse.
What we did do, however, was take every chair in the room and pile them, along with the TV, in front of the front door. While all the other doors in the room had bolts that could be locked from inside, the main entrance only had a simple push button on the knob. Did the guy pick it? Did he have a key? We had no idea, but spent the night laying in bed, not able to sleep, just waiting for him to come back with a bunch of friends.
Logically, we knew that we were in no danger and that no one was coming back, but that doesn’t stop the mind from working in overdrive. Our room was literally in the middle of nowhere and we knew that our screams would go unheard. I don’t think either of us managed to get any sleep until the sun came up that next morning.
As much as we loved that place, there was no way we could stay another night. So, after getting a couple of uneasy hours of sleep, we packed our bags and headed to reception. At least we wanted an apology and to know that the owner would put a better inside lock on the door. I had also thought it was only fair that we didn’t have to pay for the room. And so it began.
We started by asking the guest house owner, a Westerner, if he had heard our screams the night before. He replied that he was a heavy sleeper and so were all of his staff. As we then began to tell the story, he stood there listening with a big grin on his face the whole time…like he couldn’t care less. Anyone with half a brain could see that we were visibly upset and still affected by the ordeal, but he treated it as a joke. The closest to an emotion he showed was when he became defensive and said, “what do you think, that I sent him? Never! This has never happened before.” We told him that we really loved the place and wanted to stay, but that we didn’t feel safe and had to leave. He couldn’t have cared less.
Finally, after five minutes of telling our story to his grin, I made the mistake of bringing up the money. This completely enraged him and he began yelling at us, demanding to know why we didn’t wake him up immediately to call the police. I said why, what would have been the point. He then demanded to know about my insurance but when I said it didn’t cover the camera he replied that that was my fault and not his problem. He then brought in the fact that I had bargained down the room price when we checked in (a standard practice in these parts) before yelling at me more and calling me a “cheap ugly fucking bastard.”
When I tried to reason with him, explaining how much we liked the place but were just deeply disturbed by the incident and still wanted to recommend it to others, he replied with “do you want me to pay your fucking shrink bills back home too?” Finally, as the scene had escalated beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, we just gave them the amount due and began to walk out. This didn’t stop him from yelling more insults at us as we traversed the wooden walkway towards the exit. Not ever knowing when to quit and loving to get a rise out of people, I decided to yell back at him, “We just want you to be a decent human being.”
This final response must have sent him over the precipice to coo-cooville, as he now began to run down the walkway after me threatening to punch my face in. Not actually having any interest in hand to hand combat, I turned my back on him and walked up the steps and off his property to a final and long tirade of swears and insults.
To this day, I am not sure what initially set him off. Carrie and I can only imagine that he must have other backpackers trying to scam him out of paying and he just thought that we were doing the same? But from the beginning he showed no human emotion to two people telling a harrowing story. It was all very odd. Hopefully, if he thinks it was a scam, he later saw our camera charger in the trash of the room and realized what a jerk he was.
Epilogue: Our final night in Kanchanaburi was spent in a lovely garden guest house with a little patio, one door and bolts in the inside. Still, despite the obvious safety of the room, it wasn’t until we left the town that the anxiety finally began to settle. In all of our time traveling throughout all of our trips, this was the craziest thing that ever happened. The weirdest part was that just earlier that day we had been discussing how lucky we were to have made it through yet another trip without any serious incident. I think Carrie and I must have ESP. :)