My first time on the island of Koh Chang was right before Christmas in 2013. I was lucky to find an available room at Koh Chang Hut Hotel but after checking in it appeared the room was still in the process of being cleaned, so I decided to go out for a bit to allow for the cleaning ladies to return to finish the job. I took my bag but left my shoes neatly by the door inside the room, a pair of Chaco Toecoops that were my favorite footwear. A few hours later I returned to discover a clean room, though my shoes were now missing. I assumed the cleaning ladies had mistaken them as being left by the previous guest, so I asked at reception. They referred me to the Thai woman who had cleaned the room, with whom I spoke in Thai and asked about the shoes. She immediately knew what I was talking about and even described how she had seen them placed by the door. She said she would ask the other women who had cleaned the room with her and let me know. She came to my room a few minutes later with the news that one of the other cleaners had taken them home with her, for some reason, and that I would have to wait until the next day for her to return. Recognizing that this woman had technically stolen my shoes, I wasn’t excited about waiting until the next day, so I asked her to see about getting them back that evening. She went to check on that option, but returned shortly to explain that the woman with my shoes didn’t have a phone, so they couldn’t relay the message, and that I’d just have to wait. Seeing that I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, the woman suggested I speak with the owner of the hotel.
I walked down to the lobby and asked to speak with the owner but was completely ignored by the entire staff for some strange reason. I explained that I wanted to talk to the owner about my missing shoes but all attempts to get their attention were unsuccessful. So, I started picking up things from the reception counter that I thought would be considered valuable – hoping that would get their attention enough to talk with the owner. Still, minimal response. I then saw a few vehicle keys hanging behind the counter and realized they would be much easier collateral than the other more bulky items, so I put everything back and just held the 2 keys. One staff finally started dialing the owner, at which point I took the phone and asked her to meet at the hotel lobby to discuss the situation.
A few minutes later, a Thai couple walked into the lobby – apparently the owners. Just as I prepared to explain the situation to them, the man suddenly grabbed me and attempted to put me in a headlock. Having zero interest in a fistfight with a local Thai dude, I quickly freed myself and sprinted out to the street – then walked barefoot down the road toward the police station. A few hundred meters later, I saw an expat friend and quickly explained the situation to him – just as the Thai man caught up to me. We spent a few moments attempting to explain things to my friend, then agreed on all returning to the hotel to discuss the situation.
By the time we returned, a police officer had arrived and was talking with the owner woman. He asked about the vehicle keys, which I immediately handed over to him with the explanation of my sole intention in taking them being to get in touch with the owners. The owners attempted to put more focus on that “theft” and make it the priority of the conversation at that point, but I finally managed to explain the root cause of the missing shoes, to which the officer listened patiently. The cleaning woman with whom I initially interacted was sitting and listening nearby until the owner woman asked her simply “did you see his shoes?” To my surprise, the cleaning woman’s answer was actually “no.” From this point, I realized things were truly complicated and that what I was experiencing was uniquely Thai. The owner explained the hotel policy of placing anything found in a room during cleaning to be left at reception – which sounded great, except that I had already been initially told that my situation was not handled in that manner. “If a staff member didn’t follow that policy,” I was then told, “they would be fired.” Realizing that this could now mean a stomeone would lose their job, I’m not sure why the initial cleaning woman ever suggested I involve the owners.
The female owner asked to see a photo of the shoes – which I provided from an internet photo on my phone. Her response: “Those are ugly shoes. No Thai person would want those shoes.” I agreed that no Thai person would likely pay the $70 USD for them that I had – but the fact that they are no longer being made means they can’t easily be replaced. I truly wanted to get my shoes back. The female owner continued to concoct a story for the police officer that I had fabricated the whole event and that I was the sole criminal for stealing the keys – while I focused on explaining the facts directly to the seemingly impartial cop. He decided to go look for the shoes himself, disappearing for 20-30 minutes before returning without any further information. I took photos of everyone involved, initiating my own little investigation as I realize from previous experience that Thai police officers are not inclined to do so on their own without considerable financial motivation.
Upon further questioning I discovered that the woman initially said to be the one with the shoes was only working part-time and not officially part of the staff. When I asked to go talk with her, they again said she didn’t have a phone and that they didn’t even know where she lived. They said she would return the next morning to work at 9am – so I decided to wait and speak with her myself. I removed everything from my room and stashed it at a friend’s hotel – unsure of what further drama might transpire at Koh Chang Hut Hotel during the night.
Upon returning the next morning, I was told the woman in question was now going to be arriving later in the day – at 1pm for the afternoon shift, conveniently after both checkout and the time I had explained I would be taking the ferry off the island. I decided to stay another night – mostly for other reasons but also to satisfy my curiosity about this woman and my footwear. I got a new room on a different beach, but returned at 1pm to Koh Chang Hut Hotel hoping to finally meet the mystery woman. This time, they said she was not coming to work at all that day. When I continued with the questions they said she was ill and was at the hospital and that I could go look for her there if I liked. Having no idea what she looked like, I can’t imagine that would have been a good use of time.
Seeing that I was quite serious about following up, the female owner offered at some point to refund my room – 1200 Baht, which was about half the cost of the shoes. Realizing that a pair of “ugly” used shoes couldn’t be worth that much to anyone on that island, I was amazed at the lengths they were willing to go to save face and not admit the fact that a cleaning woman had simply taken my shoes home. I learned that “saving face” in Thailand can be more valuable than money – but to me it seems at times to be more like elaborate lying.
The next day on my way to the ferry I stopped by the hotel just to see if there were any updates or if the mysterious lady had eventually showed up for work. As I parked my motorbike, I noticed the owner woman walking toward the front door. Upon seeing me, she turned around and bolted to the back of the lobby and up a flight of stairs. I continued inside to discover the staff acting as if absolutely nothing had happened. The scene was just another bizarre experience to an already absurd event. I realized quite definitely at that point that this mysterious cleaner woman was never going to materialize as long as I was looking for her – and that my shoes were never going to be returned. So I ditched Koh Chang, took my room refund and bought a half dozen more pairs of the shoes on eBay :]