IF THINGS GO WRONG
No matter how much planning and preparation you do there is always the chance that things will go wrong, I’m sitting here hoping they don’t, but hoping doesn’t help much.
What does help is being prepared, and that is the idea behind this chapter.
I’m going to divide the problems into those you can deal with yourself and those you need help with, obviously I can’t cover all the problems you might meet and clearly each of you is able to deal with problems with different levels of ability depending on your own experiences and confidence. So please if this chapter doesn’t cover a problem you envisage or if you think, I could do that without anyone else helping me, bear in mind the aim is to give general advice useful to the wide range of people reading this guide.
Planning for Problems
This is by far the best thing you can do, make a plan that will help you if you have a problem, the most common plan is of course to take out an insurance policy that covers you for medical and third party public liability, if you haven’t done that then re-read what I say about medical care.
In this chapter I am going to address the minor problems and dealing with Thais to help you solve a problems, but I am also going to give you a few ideas to help you plan for the worst, these are not things you need to do in order to enjoy a safe holiday in Thailand but they are plans that will greatly reduce problems if they occur; I would go as far as to say they are plans you should include in any holiday overseas, not just Thailand.
Problems You Can Deal With
Most of the problems you are likely to encounter will be minor and the kind of thing you can deal with by yourself. Typically bookings or instructions that have been misunderstood, loosing things on the beach and the kind of things that happen on any holiday anywhere.
Most of these problems will be dealt by you, your tour operator or hotel staff and management, they will undoubtedly involve dealing with Thais and because of this I think I need to add a few words on dealing with Thais when you have a problem; It can, shall we say, ‘be a challenge’.
Dealing with Thais and Complaining
This is so important it almost deserves a chapter of its own.
There are a couple of things that you must understand in all your dealings with Thais, Avoidance of Confrontation and Loss of Face, understanding these two things, or at least taking them into account is absolutely vital in any dispute with a Thai.
Avoidance of Confrontation
For cultural and religious reasons Thais are obsessed with avoiding confrontation, they take this to almost perverse levels and if you try to go against this ‘avoidance thing’ you will achieve nothing, you might very well make things a lot worse for yourself. Read that bit again.
You must bear this in mind if you have a complaint of any kind, the absolute worst thing you can do is raise your voice or use bad language, if you do the Thai you are speaking to will completely shut you out and do nothing to help you.
However, if when faced with a problem you explain it calmly and politely ask for help, the Thai you are talking to will regard you as being possessed of that most treasured trait in Thai culture “A Cool Heart”, you’ll find that being calm, cool and collected gets results Read that bit again.
This is especially important to remember when dealing with any kind of officialdom, believe me, raise your voice with a Thai customs, immigration or police officer and you might spend the whole day waiting for someone to come and assist you.
Of course I am assuming here that the Thai person is not deliberately trying to give you a problem, swindle you or what ever. If he is, loosing your temper might help you feel better but it is still not going to help your sort the problem out. See the section on ‘Problems you need help with’.
To be honest, in over ten years of living and working in Thailand, most of the problems I have seen between foreigners and Thais have simply been misunderstandings.
Loss of Face
This one is a little more difficult to deal with, although we are all of us guilty of protecting ourselves against loss of face, Thais are particularly bad about this, we might even say childish. But remember, as with Avoiding Confrontation if you upset the Thai that you need to help you, nothing will get done. Better to play the game and get what you want.
Loss of face is most likely to occur when some arrangement or booking goes wrong, typically a room booking, food order or day trip out.
If what you ordered is not delivered it is no good going straight in and blaming the person who you believe made the mistake, if you do they will feel a loss of face. You could only really make things worse still if you loose your temper while doing so or openly criticise someone to or in front of others.
Far better to pretend that there has just been a misunderstanding and that you need the person to help you sort it out, they generally will and they will generally be happier to do so if they are not directly accused of making a mistake. They’ll do the same for you too, if you make the wrong booking they will be very reluctant to point out your error, though they may suggest an alternative.
Help is Always at Hand
The good news is, help is always at hand. If, for example, you book a private tour and the tour operator turns up with a minibus half full with other people, don’t argue with the tour operator, go speak to you rep or your hotel guest relations officer and get them to do the talking for you, This is true for all conflicts with Thais, get someone else, preferably another Thai to be your intermediary. This will work out in nearly all cases where there is a misunderstanding.
Do not be shy about asking someone else to help, this is exactly what Thais do all the time, they get someone else to act as an intermediary. It is the Thai way of solving problems and you will get a lot better response simply because you followed the rules.
The advantage of not understanding
I still play thing game despite being fluent in Thai; whenever a misunderstanding arises I blame my poor Thai, it really does allow resolutions to be reached if I start by apologising that I have misunderstood and asking can they help me out.
Play the game
Now if you are thinking, ‘this isn’t for me, I’m not about to start fussing around these people’s childish sensitivities’ believe me trying to do the things anyway but the Thai way will get you nowhere, it really is better and easier in the long run to play the game and let Thais sort things out in their very special way of doing things. I myself must read this again from time to time.
Problems You Need Help With
The first difficulty here is knowing when you need help, that to an extent depends on you, your abilities and confidence but there are some events that we all need help with and I suggest that you seek assistance immediately if any of the following occur:
If anyone in your group needs to stay overnight in hospital. Immediately contact your travel agent’s representative and your insurance company. I strongly advise you read the chapter on Medical in this guide and you consider second opinions from a second hospital if necessary for all medical procedures.
If the person is seriously ill, contact your embassy of consulate.
If anyone in your party is detained by the police, this can happen after a road accident or any kind of serious troubles with a Thai national. Immediately contact your travel agents representative and your embassy. You should also contact the Thai Tourist police who have jurisdiction over most matters concerning foreign tourists.
Tip: Do not rely on hotel managers or even your tour representative to contact the police or your embassy; they may not do so. A hotel manager might not want the police visiting his hotel and ruining his carefully nurtured image.
Caution: If for any reason you have to visit a Thai police station do not take your children with you. Police stations are a concentration of all the problems in a town or city and there will be a waiting room full of people you really do not want your children to be around. If you do have to visit a Thai police station with your children then try to go in the early afternoon, avoid the morning because that is when the problems of the previous night clutter the waiting room.
Contact with Thai Authorities
If you have any reason to contact the Thai Authorities, most likely Police but also Immigration, do so with the help of a Thai interpreter, usually a representative from your tour operator or your hotel. Its also a good idea to dress smart casual when dealing with any Thai Authorities.
Typical occurrences are reporting a theft, or an accident.
The Royal Thai Tourist Police
Thailand has a police force who’s only job is to look after you, from personal experience I can tell you they do their job professionally and efficiently.
Check out their website http://www.police.go.th and if you have any problems, including problems with the regular police go straight to your nearest Royal Thai Tourist Police, they do a great job of sorting out nearly all the problems they are made aware of.
Help From Home
What comes next is an extra, it is not absolutely necessary but it could save you a lot of problems if you do get into difficulties during your holiday, it is something single parents travelling with children should certainly consider - Setting up a Home Coordinator!
Thinking about this, I believe all parents who are travelling independently as opposed to an organised package tour would be well advised to consider this, where ever they go, not just Thailand.
“Home Coordinator” is simply having someone at home who has access to all your documents and is willing to be your single point of contact while you are away.
This might seem a little over the top, and that is why I only suggest it for couples travelling with children, but I do recommend it for single parents travelling alone.
Let me explain why it is necessary.
It is all about Time, Distance and Money
The first reason is the distance and the time difference, assuming of course that you are travelling from Europe, America or Australia/New Zealand.
From my own experience of working in Asia and liaising with offices in Europe and North America I can assure you the time difference can be extremely frustrating, things never happen in one day and, because of the time difference, a lot of time can be spent waiting for people to be up and about or start work at the other end of the world.
This to me sitting in my office is a minor irritation, if you desperately need to talk to a doctor or a bank manager eight or more time zones away you will be driven to despair.
It can be worse still if you have just lost all your money, you might not be able to afford the long distance telephone calls you need to make in order to get help.
Far better then to have someone at your Home Coordinator who can do all the leg work for you.
Who do I choose as my Home Coordinator?
This is purely a personal choice, but it needs to be someone who you can always get in touch with and who is going to be able to handle the kind of problems you might put to them, speaking to doctors, bank managers, insurance companies, travel agents etc.
It obviously needs to be someone you can trust and rely upon. It would also be a great help if they have access to email at home.
I would suggest it should be someone who supports you in your plan to travel to Thailand. The last thing you need to hear when you call for help is “I told you so”.
Arranging Your Home Coordinator
The first rule is, two co-ordinators are better than one, so if you can talk two people from different households into talking this task, then do so.
You need to first make sure that the person back home agrees to the task, I hope most good friends would be glad to help out, but do bear in mind that if things go wrong for you while you are on your holiday your Home Coordinator is going to be very busy sorting things out. This might be a full time task for two or three days.
You need to discuss this with your chosen Home Coordinator and too your plans so that they not only know exactly where you are going, where you are staying and how to get in touch with you, but also exactly what might be expected of them.
Read through this chapter with your Home Coordinator and discuss how you would make it work between you.
Once you have agreed who is going to be your Home Coordinator and they have agreed to take the task on, make a copy of all your essential documents and put them in a file, with a few sheets of blank paper and a pen.
You should include copies of:
Insurance Certificates with agents contact details
Bank account details Bank, Branch, Sort Code, Account Number and Name.
Contact details for the bank including telephone number and fax. (A ‘paying-in’ slip for your current account).
Credit Card details Issuing bank, Card Number, Name on Card, contact details. (A ‘paying-in’ slip for your credit card).
Doctor’s name and contact details.
Your mobile phone number
Your email address
Your planned itinerary in Thailand
The names of all people in the group
The Telephone and Fax numbers for your embassy in Thailand
A copy of this chapter as a reminder
Your Home Coordinator should keep this file by their phone.
I think you can see the sense in this, if you have a problem and you need help you can call your Home Coordinator and let them do the running around for you.
This works, it is a very effective and simple way of greatly reducing a problem, it is also a way of getting a sceptical parent onboard with the idea of your trip.
I’ll go through some of the mechanics of how to make this idea work in the next section.
Dealing With a problem.
The first thing to remember when dealing with a problem is to do just that, don’t be side tracked by other issues, this is not the time to discuss the rights and wrongs of taking this holiday to Thailand.
Be aware that the response of the person at home can greatly reduce fear and worries if a calm and considered approach is taken.
The good news is, you have a plan and you have recorded all the necessary details to be able to make contact and get assistance, now you need to put it into use.
Before you contact your Home Coordinator make a list of the assistance you need, write it down and use it to make sure that you get the message across.
If you have agreed to use email with your Home Coordinator, send an email with your requirements and then follow the email up with a phone call. Do Not send any confidential information in an email.
Tip: If you use email or fax to pass your requirements use simple instructions, state right up front, “I am asking you to help with ‘x’ number of things; number each instruction and put each instruction in its own paragraph.
Tip: Email and Faxes have one great advantage, it can be printed out and can then be used as a check list, telephone conversations can get forgotten or muddled.
Whichever way you choose to communicate, pass your request for help to your Home Coordinator and let them do the legwork for you. Make sure they know where you are, who you are with and your up to date contact details.
If you need money sending do not underestimate how much you need.
Make a note of the time, local and at home, and agree the next contact time.
Tip: Communicating across time zones can be very frustrating, things that you expect to happen in one day can take two or three days to sort out, keep this in mind when you are estimating how much money you need or how long things are going to take.
I am sure I do not need to point out that you have taken on a two fold task, helping out and giving support, it is very important that you do not criticise the traveller, rather reassure them that you are going to help them out. Compliment some part of their action, you might say ‘I’ll be able to do this for you, the file you prepared is excellent’.
My advice is:
First and foremost, write down the contact details of the traveller and the details of anyone giving them assistance in Thailand Phone Numbers Address
Ask the traveller if they want you to call them back, they might not be telling you they are short of money
Write down what the problems is, including the assistance that is being requested
Write down the time of the call, both the time at home and the time in Thailand
Tell the traveller what your next action is going to be and agree the next contact time
If there are two coordinators, contact the other and let them know if you need help
Remember panic is not going to help, things will typically take two or three days to arrange
There are people who will take advantage of any situation.
Local travel representatives, hotel and hospital staff are, all, capable of recognising the traveller’s predicament as an opportunity to make a fast buck.
You should not send money to any third party or to the traveller’s accounts at the request of a third party. If the traveller is in need of third party help (and if this cannot be provided by the travel agency or insurers) then you may need to consider contacting your government’s office that deals with citizens in trouble overseas.
If you feel you need to travel out to give assistance then you should immediately contact the tour organizers, the insurers and your embassy in the host country.
Do not give any of the personal information you have to a third party who is claiming to help your traveller, especially bank account details.