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My blog is usually about two months behind “real time” for a myriad of reasons, most to do with scheduling and turn-around time. Occasionally, though, things are just too painful to write about straight away. The incident which is the subject of this post happened back in January when my family and friends were visiting Mark and I in Thailand, but I just couldn’t write about it until now, when another blogger’s bad landlord story brought the memories flooding back. This is a post about one of the lowlights of my year. In the aftermath I actually saw red with rage or blue with heartache any time I thought about it and couldn’t sit down at the computer to write the story without wanting to cause physical harm to another human being. I’m still angry, and I’m still a little sad, but at least now I can see straight.

Here’s the short version: We had a gangster landlord from hell. Now for the (very) long version, one laced with unlawful eviction, a hint of the mafia, and a whole lot of angst.

When we got back to Thailand from Vietnam the month before everyone arrived for the holidays, Mark and I moved into a new apartment. We were warned the landlord scammed on the bills but it was a beautiful place with many windows, gorgeous views, a separate bedroom and room for a little office area. Most importantly, it was big enough for guests and we really wanted to make everyone comfortable. And I’ll admit that something else attracted me to the place — I wanted to show off a little. It sounds silly, but it felt like a nice apartment would prove that I was making a legitimate lifestyle choice by living and working in Thailand, whereas a decrepit hut would show I was bumming around and wasting my life away.

I spent days rearranging furniture, organizing our meager belongings and buying new things, just nesting… that first week Mark came home every day from work to a new furniture arrangement or a newly organized bookcase that I would proudly show off. We had been moving around for months, never settling into an apartment for very long and I was so, so really to settle down and to have a home. As the weeks went on I worked happily all day sitting in the adorable home office I had made and felt so content at night, sitting on the deck and watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand. I felt like I had a home. When the first month’s bills arrived it was true that the landlord MAJORLY scammed us (I’m talking almost 10x what we paid in previous apartments), but while we did make a point to voice our objections, we paid and stayed. On Christmas Eve I showed the place to my family I was so proud, beaming while they took photos and oohed and ahhed.

Koh Tao Sunsetview from my deck

On New Year’s day we returned from Koh Pha Ngan with 5 guests in tow (one was only for one night, two for two nights). It was crowded but we had a bed, a pullout bed and a couch, so we had more than enough room. We were all hanging out and having a good time when the landlord came to the door with his son and demanded to speak to Mark, who was out. He didn’t want to talk to me, really, which isn’t that uncommon in Thailand, where women aren’t always equal. He did speak to me enough to tell me that we weren’t allowed to have guests, and we needed to pay them 500 baht per guest per night. I was upset but didn’t take it very seriously — that would be the equivalent of a quarter of our monthly rent per night for guests — surely Mark would talk to them and they would see that wasn’t reasonable. Also, I knew that our next-door neighbor was a passionate Couchsurfing host, thus had frequent guests and even checked with the same landlord that it was okay to have them as a pre-requisite for moving in. So I couldn’t imagine that we would really have to pay for having guests for the first time in our own apartment. In fact, for the inflated amount he charged us for utilities, I thought he’d be happy to have a few extra people using up water and electricity!

The next morning Mark went to speak to the landlord with one of our guests who speaks fluent Thai. When they returned they told me the unthinkable: we had to vacate immediately. I was knocked sideways by shock — we hadn’t done anything wrong, and that was our home. It was so unfair I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I refused to leave that day both on principle and because we had nowhere to go. Also, two of our friends were leaving the next day, and finding a new place for 4 would be easier than for 6. Still, I immediately removed the valuables from our place and put a padlock on the door.

We started looking for a new apartment that afternoon while my friends entertained themselves. Immediately we realized things were bleak — it was peak season and there was nothing available, aside from a shared room in an apartment full of strung out junkies. Remember, we were on an island and resources, like apartments, were finite. I was dissolving into tears constantly, leaving Mark to do most of the talking. We searched the entire next day as well while my friends entertained themselves again and as night fell we accepted we had nowhere to go. After a panic filled hour checking hotel after hotel with no vacancy, we found a moldy room with a fan and cold water. I said goodbye to the two of my friends who were leaving, heartbroken that I missed their final days on the island. Then I went back to the home we were being kicked out of and I sobbed as I packed our things, so quickly dismantling the place that I had so carefully built up to a home. We moved our stuff into a friend’s house and stayed in the hotel for the night, two people to each twin bed. I could not believe that this was happening to me or to my friends on their preciously short vacations. Meanwhile, our Koh Tao family had mobilized to help us find a place and in a turn of merciful luck, the next day we found a tiny bungalow that was opening up. We moved in on the same day the previous renter moved out. It was nothing to be excited about but beggars can’t be choosers… and we were some seriously homeless beggars at that point.

To add insult to injury, the landlord charged us for a full month’s worth of bills (we were ten days into the month, but I think he was always making the numbers up anyway) and did not return our security deposit, claiming we owed it to him for the nights with our guests. Keep in mind our neighbors being told guests were no problem and having them on a rotating basis with no charge. But here was that same landlord, kicking us out and rendering us homeless, and flat-out stealing half a month’s rent from us on top of it.

Why not go to the police, you ask? I tried. Our landlord was a powerful man on the island and the police said full stop that they would not get involved with him, no matter what he did. Make no mistake… this is no poverty-striken man trying to make enough money to feed his family by charging privileged white people a few extra bucks. This is a wealthy, powerful Thai man who controls several businesses and a lot of property on the island, and who knows what else. For obvious reasons I never went into this aspect of life on Koh Tao much, but it is an island controlled by the Thai mafia, as I learned more and more clearly with every month I lived there. It’s a place where gangsters and hit men are in control, not the police.

I was driven mad by the unfairness of it all… that we did nothing wrong, that our landlord more or less could have rendered us homeless by evicting us with no notice in high season (we had one dark moment where we talked of leaving the island), but most of all the horrible timing. I missed my last precious days with my friends, I was in the darkest of moods when I did get to see them, and I was humiliated. Two days later we heard through the grapevine that our old apartment was already filled… the new renter was paying 50% more than we had. So I guess I had my reason, finally. All of that, so much anger and pain and sadness and heartbreak so our wealthy landlord could line his pockets a bit more.

Looking back with a few month’s worth of perspective, I am still very angry, but I’m also a little surprised by how this shook me to my core. I still can’t really explain how deeply this affected me — I can’t remember the last time I felt so angry or helpless. Part of it was the unfairness, yes. But I think more it was the feeling of being taken advantage of. I’m always the first to be outraged by powerful people taking advantage of the powerless… only this time it was me that was totally screwed.

There was another element at play as well. It was also a swift firm slap of reality to realize that we were living in a lawless society — we had no rights, no one to call for help, and no one to file a complaint with when we were wronged. All of us expats on the island greatly enjoyed the freedom that came from living in a place that was the opposite of a police state — we rode our motorcycles with little to no regard for traffic laws, we almost all worked under-the-table on tourist visas, and we occasionally took part in activities that are highly illegal in our home countries but receive a barely-blinking blind-eye in Thailand. Suddenly I found myself sitting on the other side of that equation, and the view wasn’t pretty. I was also really blindsided: I was so in love with the Thai people as a nation that I forgot there are bad people everywhere. I won’t make that mistake again.

This was the lowlight of my year of travels for so many reasons, but most of all because it left me feeling dark and cynical and distrustful. If there is one good thing that came from this, it was that we were truly touched by how many of our friends on Koh Tao really reached out and tried to help us when we were down. You really find out who your true friends are when the going gets tough and I was brought to tears to realize how many we really had. I hate to end on a low note, but I guess this is life: just as there are going to be a few bad landlords, there are going to be a few bad endings.

Note: If you are living in or moving to Koh Tao and want to avoid doing business with a thug, feel free to message me and I’ll send you the details. This man also owns a bike shop and several other businesses.

3-devide-lines
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49 Comments...
  • paul | walkflypinoy
    May 30 2012

    what a horrible experience! but i gotta say, great insight on the freedom expats enjoy here in thailand. there’s freedom because laws are rarely enforced. but when the time comes that you actually need a law enforced, well… 🙁
    paul | walkflypinoy recently posted..Seven Super Shots (I Got Tagged!)

    • Alex
      May 30 2012

      Thanks Paul… as a fellow expat in Thailand I’m sure you know the pros and cons of living in a lawless society! I appreciate your comment!

  • Kathryn
    May 30 2012

    Hey Alex…I totally get that this was infuriating. I have the same rage over people who have more $$ than they know what to do with, yet they can’t keep themselves from gouging people who are just scraping by. Hmmmm, Wall Street Cheats and the American working class come to mind. (My gratitude to the many honest people who work in financial services!)
    What I really like about this story is that you reflect on the pros and cons of a society in which laws are lax. It’s true: there just is no such thing as a free banana pancake.

    • Alex
      May 30 2012

      I have that same rage… and while I would never say that we were just scraping by or anything, we were put in a HORRIBLE position considering the time of year and the limited accommodation available. We needed that place more than he needed that extra thousands of baht he got out of the whole scam.

    • Karen a Opalka
      June 8 2012

      I was reading your mom’s post without knowing it was her, and of course, I agree. I also agree that the Thai people are absolutely wonderful, or so they seem. I must admit,we only got to meet people who privledged tourists meet, but when we did walk around, everyone smiled. You probably have heard the expression, ” the Cambodian smile” which can mean many things besides happy. It’s a nervous expression and a “I don’t understand you but I’m smiling and nodding anyway” or ” I don’t give a crap about you, but I’m smiling anyway” I think the Thai guy probably had one for you when you first moved in.
      ANYWAY…… I also rage at the people who have way too much money and Chet and I use the expression ” I’ve got mine, I don’t care about you, and I’ll take yours too” and never help anyone else, big shrug… I’m thinking this is the way this country is headed. What you experienced is totally outrageous and of course the timing couldn’t have been worse. It’s alway heartening to know that you DO have friends wherever you are. Glad you wrote about your experience. We’ve told people about your blog, we just LOVE it, all parts of it.

      • Alex
        June 9 2012

        Thai people truly are lovely, this was one of my only negative experiences after almost a year in Thailand. Thank you so much for reading and for all your support!

  • I think it’s completely reasonable that this experience would affect you deeply, since one our most important needs in life is shelter and a place where we feel safe. This man took that from you! And of course knowing you are being scammed but powerless to do anything about it would have made it all the worse!

    Thanks for sharing; I think it’s an important wake up call for many people who think that a lawless society only means perks for them and fail to consider the flipside! In the end, I’m sure you’re just glad you got out of that situation and that guy is no longer in your life!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Scanning the Skies for New Japan Exit Plans

    • Alex
      May 30 2012

      Steph you bring up a really good point, about the emotional importance of having shelter and a mental “home.” You are also right that in the end we were better to be away from that man… I really mourned the loss of this physical place that I had loved so much but Mark was constantly reminding me that it wasn’t a happy home with a crazy man for a landlord and we were better off.

  • WOW what a mother f*cker!!!!!! I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. I think every serious traveler encounters one or two of these types of people along the way. Don’t ever let these scums make you bitter or angry okay? Just brush it off as a learning experience. Can’t believe the police either. Shame on them!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 2 (Part 4)

    • Alex
      May 30 2012

      Andi you should look on my FB where I linked to this post… sadly this is a reality of living in Thailand, look at the stories my friends here have chimed in with! It’s truly unbelievable. Definitely a learning experience!

  • Yikes! Wow… definitely a heartbreaking story, I would have done the same in your shoes. You make a good point about there being two sides to lawlessness, which I already found out the hard way in Roatan. Too easy to forget the other side sometimes when you’re drinking in the street or zooming around on a boat you’re not licensed to drive. Glad you guys got something sorted out, but an unpleasant experience nonetheless. Bummer that your friends were there too 🙁 I will definitely get more details from you if I make my way to Koh Tao… my friend is planning to do her DMT there in October so I will warn her as well!
    EM @ Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Decompressing.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Hey Em, yes most people living abroad will experience something along these lines at some point or another, I think in this case my tale was just extra dramatic due to timing and circumstance. If your friend heads to Koh Tao tell her to message me, I have some recommendations for great places to live 🙂

  • Edna
    May 30 2012

    I’ve heard similar stories of less-than-ethical landlords in Shanghai; and there’s little the police can do there as well (either because they can’t, or they just don’t care about helping the foreigner). Sorry to hear that you had to go through this; I can’t imagine the panic of being suddenly evicted and having nowhere to go. At least it’s an experience and good life lesson (in landlord judging, if nothing else), and now you really know who your friends are!
    Edna recently posted..Paris is for lovers.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      It’s true Edna, we were really touched by how our friends on the island reached out to help us and really got us through a tough time.

  • Holy crap. I can not begin to imagine how scary that must have been and the feeling of helplessness at not being able to do anything about it. Although, I’m with Edna on looking at the bright side. Consider it a life lesson learned and done with.
    Katie of KatieinPrague recently posted..Walking through the jungle canopy…just minutes from KL

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Thanks Katie, this post has been cathartic… I’m starting to see this in a better light 🙂

  • Krista C.
    May 30 2012

    OMG, I feel for you, what a horrible experience. Feeling powerless and abused by the system sucks and I’m sorry you had to go through that. What an a**hat! He definitely deserves a punch in the throat. People like that make me feel very violent, which is unlike me.

    I’m just glad you were able to get through it with help from your friends and were able to stay on the island.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Krista, I’m the same! I am not a violent person but I had RAGE FILLED fantasies about burning this guy’s bike shop to the ground as I left the island! Ha. Unfortunately if I did that I could never come back and I love that place too much to say goodbye for good 🙂

  • Dad
    May 30 2012

    You touched a lot of nerves with this post.But I agree with Mom you have allowed time to give you perspective and have learned from the experience.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Writing about things usually forces the perspective on me 🙂

  • Nadia
    May 30 2012

    I have been waiting for this post. I too have very strong feelings about this situation and my guilt is not the least of them. I loved that top floor apartment and then was so confused when they were so weird about extending. I chocked it up to language barrier but secretly doubted myself and feared that my questioning them on those crazy utilities caused some of that weirdness that I didnt understand. I thought maybe my gender played a part because I knew another neighbor had also pressed the issue and feared I had left you in a compromised position because I acted as an independent woman in a country that does not appreciate such things (remember, I received a marriage proposal from the landlord’s son). I am so sick that they wasted your precious days with friends and family. As a traveler, I know how we live for those times with our loved ones that are separated from us by miles. After being back in the states for 5 months, I have often missed the lawlessness. I find freedom in knowing that some money will fix most problems and, here in the US, bureaucratic inefficiencies dominate any process regardless of a crisp note. Are the risks worth it? Not in this case because family and friends are most important. In general? I think yes. It seems clear to me now that money, greed, and corruption are central to all of my unanswered questions. While it will not replace the lost minutes with loved ones, just know that karma is a b*#@!.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Hey Nadia, you will note that I left out the entire part of the story that had to do with you and the top floor apartment… partly out of respect for your privacy but partly because I truly believe you hold NO responsibility in this situation, so any guilt you have please let go of it! I know not once did I (or Mark) ever blame you for any of it. It’s true, they did not like people pushing back on the utilities (they flat out told us to leave if we didn’t like it!) but we did it the same as you did. I think there was something about me that really rubbed them the wrong way, (they were always peeking in my windows and looking disgruntled that I was uh, in my apartment!) and if they knew there was someone around that was willing to pay 50% more than their asking prices, then we were probably first on their “to-go” list. I don’t know, I think sometimes I am searching for answers in a situation with no rhyme or reason.

      And yes, by far the most painful thing was the timing. I think my reaction would have been totally different if this happened at a different time, although I admit I had a really great emotional attachment to that apartment. I have to just hold onto the belief that, like you said, karma is a bitch! I’ve also tried to just remind myself that life is a mixed bag and I have had above and beyond my fair share of good luck in this life.

      • Nadia
        June 2 2012

        I think I just wanted to publicly acknowledge the situation myself. And to let your readers know that this was not an isolated incident. I appreciation your discretion but I support your blog primarily because it doesnt sugar coat the nitty gritty of this lifestyle. I know that, had I stayed longer, this would have been my story so any guilt comes from the fact that I dodged the already flying bullet that nailed you at the holidays. There was weirdness and suspicion but, with the cultural differences, it was too hard to figure it all. There were warning signs that I just didnt have the ability to connect at the time…

  • Daniel
    May 31 2012

    Great post! For me, it is a reminder that money is power in Asia and power is often used unjustly there. Something very similar happened to my cousin who was trying to start a life in Vietnam. The landlord was a powerful man that influenced the whole community. My cousin was often harassed and forced to pay more just because he was a foreigner. He was evicted without any notice for complaining that he was forced to pay much more compared to other tenants. Needless to say, my cousin has decided not to return to Vietnam because of so many issues of being scammed and cheated there.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Hi Daniel, what an interesting (and heartbreaking!) story about your cousin. I’m sorry to hear that happened to him. Unfortunately I had a very similar situation in Vietnam. Perhaps part of the reason this situation was so hard for me to swallow was because I convinced myself this kind of this just didn’t happen in Thailand, land of smiles! Well, that was a little naive.

  • Thallia
    May 31 2012

    This is a horrible experience and if this happened to me, I really don’t know how to react and what to do. Anyway, thanks for the share.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      You’re welcome, Thallia, and thanks for reading!

  • Andrea
    June 1 2012

    Wow, what a shitty experience. Glad you got out of there before something worse could happen though, or before he could invent more reasons you owed him money.

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Andrea you make a good point, and one that Mark kept trying to remind me of at the time…. we were lucky to be rid of him, no point in mourning an apartment that would have kept us intertwined with such a bad man.

  • Sarahsomewhere
    June 1 2012

    Hey Alex, thank you for sharing what would have been an awful, infuriating experience for you. I think you will help a lot of people escape a similar fate, thanks to your honest, balanced account of events. Talk about bad timing!!!
    Sarahsomewhere recently posted..Realising A Dream At The Elephant Nature Park

    • Alex
      June 1 2012

      Seriously bad timing. Well if I can help one person moving to Koh Tao to avoid working with this guy than this post will officially be worth it. But already it really helped me- very cathartic to write about painful things, I find.

  • Sam
    June 4 2012

    You wrote about this so well. It is true, we really did take for granted being able to run wild and do what we like, I had a similar experience with the police when my house got robbed and my Macbook stolen (still a tender, tender subject despite me typing this from my new one). It’s so frustrating and I wouldn’t be completely honest if I said that it didn’t make me resent Thai people just a little bit. I know that that is a huuge and politically incorrect (and actually incorrect) generalisation but it just made me quite bitter and thay were honestly my sentiments towards the end of that trip. I feel your pain. x
    Sam recently posted..// V A M O O S E

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Hey Sam, I definitely struggled with that as well. I’m sure admitting this will come back to bite me but I shocked myself when I went from “Thai people are all smiling angels!” to “Thai people are all conniving snakes!” Obviously neither of those is true AT ALL but its scary how quickly a bad interaction can turn to prejudice. Luckily I gave myself a big old reality slap but yeah I went to a dark place there for a hot minute.

      Virtual hugs over the laptop once again, girl.

  • Heather
    June 6 2012

    A little late on this response, but wow–that is so crazy, and I’m glad you’re feeling better after writing it down and sharing it. What a jerk.

    My girlfriend and I are talking about heading to Koh Tao sometime in early 2013, so I’ll definitely be in touch before then. I don’t want to support this guy at all!

    • Alex
      June 9 2012

      So excited for you, Heather! Definitely get in touch when you start thinking about Koh Tao seriously!

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    January 19 2014

    just doing some sunday evening stalking & I am so mad that happened to you! Seriously so unfair. I’ve had the same feelings here in india- goa is the land of no law, it’s drugs mafia partying, and only a month ago a nigerian was killed in my village during a mafia fight by local thugs— at times I would be so mad that the police don’t interfere, but then I think of all the “illegal” things I’m doing and getting away with here, so it’s a line that everyone is crossing. Only last week I was legit crying over this exact issue (there were “no nigerian” signs up at bike shops, and my bf is like, rachel, this is Goa you have to chill out and ignore it… such a touchy weird subject!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..What I Love About Santorini Greece: Scuba and the Gods

    • Alex
      January 19 2014

      Wow, that does sound hard to swallow. I think living as an expat, especially outside the western world, is largely about learning to live with this dichotomy. What I love the most about living in Thailand — it being a largely self-governed, fairly lawless lifestyle — is always what has come back to hurt me most.

  • Jason
    June 23 2014

    What a terrible note on which to start a new year! This made me feel thankful that I was taken seriously by authorities when complaining about my unlawful landlord and felt like I had a good avenue for complaining and warning others without having to worry about any sort of mafia-related revenge.

    • Alex
      June 23 2014

      Was that on Koh Tao that you had an experience with an bad landlord, Jason? If so I’m surprised, but pleased for you, that the police took it seriously.

      • Jason
        June 23 2014

        No, it wasn’t on Koh Tao! It was in Buenos Aires. I’ve only had one Thai landlord (in Chiang Mai) and thankfully that experience was not bad at all.

  • Sarah
    August 11 2014

    Does he own any diving businesses? Just to make sure I avoid.

    I can’t imagine how horrible that was for you. Mark sounds like he was fantastic as well. Lucky girl!

    • Alex
      August 12 2014

      No, luckily he’s not involved in the diving industry. From what I know, just apartments and motorbikes. Still makes me mad thinking about it, years later!

    • Alex
      August 12 2014

      No

  • Krystle
    November 24 2014

    Miss Alex,
    I’m SO sorry this happened to you. I’ve been looking forward to my visit to Koh Tao next summer but now I’m doubting my decision and am a little worried about this. 🙁 What advice do you have for me? We won’t be living on the island, only visiting for two weeks or so, however I would hate for our anniversary trip to be ruined by such terrible circumstances. This guy is a complete jerk!
    -Krystle
    Krystle recently posted..A Bucket List Anniversary

    • Alex
      November 25 2014

      Hey Krystle! I promise there is no reason this incident should dissuade any short term visitors to Koh Tao! With only two weeks you’ll be staying in either a hotel or a villa, not long term accommodation like this, so it wouldn’t be an issue for you. Koh Tao is the perfect place for a romantic anniversary getaway x

  • henry
    July 8 2017

    My advice is stay well away from Koh Tao. Thailand is a lovely counrty run by thugs and corruption.

    • Alex
      July 9 2017

      Henry, I’ve been on Koh Tao on and off for eight years now. Despite rare incidents like this, I love my time there and cherish the island.

  • Smc1
    July 13 2017

    Hi Alex,
    I know this post is pretty old but still an unfortunate incident and quite scary to read about. I intend to go in a few months to do an OW course but now thinking of backing out due to all the dangers that have suddenly surfaced in the media.
    What’s your opinion on this?

    • Alex
      July 17 2017

      Hey there! I actually wrote a post on this — yes, I think Koh Tao is totally safe for travelers. Living abroad brings a totally different set of issues than traveling there does, and even despite this extremely upsetting experience, I still to this day spend my winters living in Koh Tao (with a different landlord, of course!). Please don’t let the ridiculous media hype stop you from enjoying your Open Water Course on Koh Tao — mine changed my life! Enjoy and feel free to email me any time!

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