At first it was civilised. Everybody was assigned a number and pointed to their place on the upper or lower deck. The berths were narrow but clearly marked, with clean sheets and pillows and a life west in the rafters above (almost) every one. I got there early and swapped my ticket with that of a Dutch girl who wanted to sit with her friends.
Then the boat began to fill up and the first un-numbered tickets started to appear. Soon the flip-flop attitude took hold as everybody flung themselves down wherever was free.
The commotion began.
Apparently the boat—licenced to carry 125 passengers according to the writing on its side—is routinely overbooked, but unlike with flights you don’t get bumped up. You’ll get to wait for another day.
In order to secure a berth you will need to go to the ticket office at the pier early in the morning to get a booking number. Passengers who turn up early for departure are assigned the remaining numbers. Omit either of these steps and you’ll be left high and dry.
A Thai businessman carrying a laptop bag found that out when he saw a farang sprawled in his place.
“That’s my place. I got number this morning!”
“So? I got my ticket yesterday evening. There’s someone in our place, and they claim there’s someone else in theirs. Just find somewhere free.”
“You don’t understand. I got number this morning. Where your number? Show me your ticket.”
“Chill man. Just find somewhere to sit.”
“Your ticket! Show me your ticket!”
For a moment, violence hung in the air. The Thai man threatened to fetch his bodyguard and then the captain. Himself not small, he drew visibly closer.
The farang sat up straight and it was clear that he was no pushover in the gymn either, or maybe the dojo. Finally we persuaded him to give in. I was relieved about that. I believe the Thai man was in the right, yet he had to put up with this kind of hippie nonsense every time he took this trip. What do you make of an environment where farang out-number Thai ten-to-one? Sooner or later the situation will come to blows. Its either that or they’ll have to run Thai-only services.
Everyone settled down. I was even more relieved when I noticed that the man was joined by his wife and toddler.
Whose fault was it? It wasn’t entirely the farang’s as he had a numbered ticket and some dickass up ahead had started a chain of unofficial swaps which now forced several dozen of them to shift. Yet he should have acknoweged that the man had the right reservation and moved on.
It was partly the fault of the guy who directed everyone onboard. He’d started to scrawl asterices on the remaining tickets and continued to wave people on.
But it was mainly the fault of the inept agents who sell tickets all over the island without booking. Very few tell their customers that they’ll have to book the places themselves at the only official ticket office by the pier. At least my agent had arranged for me to arrive early.
So I lucked out. Right?
(To be continued)