As much as we loved our final day in Chiang Mai earlier this week, we also experienced something unpleasant which I feel compelled to write about. For those of you who get upset easily, you might want to find another blog to read…
After a great afternoon in Chiang Mai relaxing and taking in all the things we’d loved about the city first time around, we thought what better way to mark our last night there than to sip on an ice-cold Chang (Thai beer) in a nice bar followed by some yummy street food.
We wandered back towards our digs and stumbled across a quirky looking Thai bar/restaurant which on the face of it, seemed to hit the spot. It was quite cramped with just a couple of tables at the front which were already taken and we had to squeeze past other guests to find an available table inside. Once inside Joe and I had to take it in turns to angle the table to enable us to make room to sit down. From the outside it looked quite cosy but on closer inspection, the set up was quite peculiar with random antiques and decorative ornaments stashed in every nook and cranny, not to mention the dust! Anyhow we embraced the weirdness, and the owner who was clearly transgender came to take our order.
At first she seemed quite friendly and being the good judge of character that she was, offered Joe a beer. Unable to make up my mind, I asked for a drinks menu and was quickly dismissed when she said, “I have beer or mango juice – what do you want?” She promptly delivered Joe’s beer in a glass which was about a fifth full of beer with heaps of froth but without the bottle which he found a little strange. She slammed both drinks on the table and looking at Joe said, “You have more beer…later.”
Over the course of the next 20-30 minutes, we observed lots of strange and unsavoury behaviour. I had my back to most of what was going on but sensed an odd atmosphere in the restaurant when there was a commotion between the owner and a lady seated outside who had ordered food. The owner was obviously quite volatile, aggressive and the two young waiting staff, a boy and a girl, who couldn’t have been older than 15, who we presume must have been some relation, were treated appallingly throughout. They were dusting the floors on their hands and knees while being monitored by the owner and at all times looked fearful and downtrodden. At one point, the young waitress was threatened physically with a raised hand and soon after we’re certain we heard the young boy (who already had a fat lip) receive a number of slaps out of view for a mistaken order. It seemed almost like a pantomime scene – the wicked witch and two Cinderellas – it was just surreal.
On leaving the restaurant, we were presented with a bill which seemed over the odds compared to what we’d usually pay for a couple of drinks but we didn’t want to cause a fuss so Joe paid and we left. We discussed what had happened at length and having experienced the kindness of Thai people throughout our stay here, we were both in complete disbelief of what had happened. We tried to enjoy the rest of our evening but couldn’t help thinking about the poor children – we felt sick to our stomachs that someone could treat anyone like that and wanted to run back and rescue them – we didn’t of course for fear of the consequences.
That evening I emailed my mum to tell her about it all, she replied the next morning, offering sound advice as always, “They say that travel broadens the mind and I’m sure that is true, we hear a lot about slavery and child exploitation but most of us don’t encounter it first hand, even though in some parts it is the norm. It’s just part of the travel experience so just carry on looking after each other.” To an extent I agreed with her, travelling does open your eyes to things you wouldn’t otherwise see but why should that evil woman get away with it? Cruelty to children shouldn’t be ‘normal practice’.
On our way to get our bus to Lampang, Joe spotted the owner on a motorbike as we left our hotel. Once again the sick feeling towards the owner returned when we thought about what we’d witnessed the previous evening.
We were intrigued as to whether other guests had received a similar experience so we walked past the restaurant to find out the name. Over coffee, Joe looked up the reviews on TripAdvisor, passing me the phone so I could read them aloud:
“While I was waiting he kept yelling at the waiter and hitting him in the face all the time to the point where he looked like he was going to cry.”
“I noticed he hit the female waitress with a heavy pot and pulled her in the kitchen. The male waiter then went into the kitchen to retrieve our food only to be punched and have his hair pulled.”
“After taking our order, all three of them went back inside where the owner proceeded to scream at them at the top of his lungs, then struck the girl with her hand. While we were waiting, the boy ran across the street and picked food out of the garbage to eat.”
The reviews went on but that was it, I couldn’t read any more and began sobbing into my macchiato.
After reading the reviews, we knew we had to do something, we couldn’t just ‘walk on by’. At the same time we were torn as we didn’t want our actions to jeopardise the children’s welfare.
After researching how to report child abuse in Thailand, I stumbled across an organisation and frantically started emailing them. Within a matter of minutes, I’d received a reply asking for more details and a contact number which of course I provided along with the numerous TripAdvisor reviews backing up our claims. After a few emails back and forth, the organisation confirmed they would follow things up.
We don’t expect to hear back from the organisation but we really hope our actions have gone a little way to giving those children a better life. Back to my mum’s point about this being part of the travel experience – it is and has made me appreciate how lucky I am and even more determined to volunteer and help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.