Our Room Broken Into: Caught in the Act!

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Khammouan,
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The day started like any other in Laos. Take a songthaow to the bus station, wait for the bus to leave while the aisles of the bus are piled with boxes, make some stops along the way during our 5 hour bus ride. Then we arrived at a small town where we waited an hour to take a one hour songthaow to our final destination, Kong Lor village. In typical Laos fashion, once in the songthaow, it left the taxi station and returned twice to the starting point for some reason or another before we finally left for good. The ride was a scenic one passing through villages and seeing beautiful landscape, greenery, and mountains.

When we arrived in the village, we first went to a guesthouse and tried to check in. Something happened there which would be uncommon elsewhere, but in Laos, isn't unusual. They had a sign on the door saying "full - no rooms", yet when someone else arrived who had a reservation, the guest said the rooms weren't full and the majority of them were still vacant. When this was mentioned to the staff/owner she basically said they didn't want to change the sheets and therefore wasn't taking any more customers. Only in Laos. So, we were dropped off at the next guesthouse we saw.

That's when things got really interesting.

A nice couple (husband and wife) took us in and got us set up. Garyn and I went for a walk in the area and as we left, the male owner/manager was doing some renovations and told us where a nice place to swim was down the road. We didn't make it that far, returned, and slept for a bit. At about 7, we left to try to meet some new friends we had met earlier in the day for dinner. About 5 minutes down the road, I realized for the first time all trip I accidentally left my money belt on the shelf in the room. I told Garyn I wanted to come back to the room, so we turned around. Gare waited downstairs while I went up to the room to get my belt. When I got to the room, there was a key in the door, which was very strange. I turned the knob and the door was unlocked. I quickly pushed the door open to see the husband in our room and I caught a quick glimpse of him holding my money belt in his right hand! Startled, he ran into the bathroom. I quickly followed him. At that point we was standing over the toilet as if he was going to the washroom, but clearly he wasn't. What he was doing though was shielding his right hand and my belt with his body. I invaded his space and looked around his body until he couldn't hide the money belt anymore. I don't remember if I took it from him or he handed it to me, but the zipper was wide open and lots of cash was visible.

To be honest, this all happened so quickly I don't remember what was said by either one of us, but there was definitely some commotion. I was immediately worried there was some cash missing of course. He was quite defensive for a moment, but then suddenly changed his tune. He went back to being "nice" and explained to me he was only in the room to fix the sink. When I questioned him about the belt, he told me the belt was on the floor in the bathroom and he picked it up. Then, he continued this act by "realizing" it may look as if I thought he was trying to steal. He chuckled and told me to count the money. It was all there and nothing was missing. His wife then came in the room and the two spoke in Lao. From his expression and hand motions I'm pretty sure he was explaining he was in the room fixing the sink, found the belt on the bathroom floor, I walked in, and now he was telling me all the money was there.

I was having none of it. When he again told me he was fixing the sink and even turned the tap on to show it worked, I told him it worked fine before.

He left the room and I began counting the money. When Gare came up, I told her the story. There was the equivalent of about $500 Canadian in the belt and it didn't appear that anything was missing. I got him just in time. He left my room so quickly that he forgot the "backup key" to the room which he used to unlock the door. Needless to say we grabbed it and hung on to both keys until we checked out the next morning. We ended up staying the night, but I never saw this man again.

More than anything else I was disappointed. Disappointed because now we had to have the conversation that one bad experience shouldn't taint the genuine people and great experiences we've had in Laos and everywhere else we traveled. It was also disappointing because my mind started wandering about other guest houses and people we met and thought were very nice. Was that just an act and did they snoop around our rooms when we were out? I certainly don't want to believe that, but unfortunately we don't know for sure. If this was the first time, it's ironic that the one time I left my money belt was a rare or only occurrence our privacy was violated. We both believe that this was the exception rather than a the rule. We told some other experienced travellers that night about what happened and they had never heard anything like it and were stunned. We do believe that most people we thought to be good and genuine are and we have had a good judge of character.

The story doesn't end there.

Later than evening, Garyn told other guests of the guesthouse what had happened to us and suggested they check their valuables. One couple came back and while they didn't know for sure, they suspected they may have some money missing. They thought they had possibly spent that money and were trying to remember their expenses to see if everything worked out as it should. We could tell they were trying hard. Unlike me, who locked the door, they left their valuables in their room and didn't even lock their door, which obviously isn't smart.

The next morning, we saw the couple and they told us what had transpired since we went to bed. They said the more they thought about it, the more they thought they were missing 500,000-750,000 kip ($65-$95 Canadian) of the few million kip they had. They had made friends with another guest, someone from Laos, and that morning that man spoke in Lao to the wife of the guesthouse. He said that this couple was missing money and they suspected it was the husband especially since I had caught him trying to take money from my room. I don't know exactly what else was said, but the woman ended up returning 500,000 kip to this French couple, virtually admitting their guilt!

After hearing this, I was shocked that they returned anything and it also gave me a better understanding of what likely would have happened to me had I not walked in on the man. I believe he would have taken a decent amount of cash, but not enough for us to really notice the money was missing. Had he succeeded we never would have known and who knows, maybe days later we would have wondered why we had less than we thought we should have?  We never would have been able to pinpoint it was money that was stolen from our hotel room in Kong Lor Village. Had this French couple not known to make sure nothing was stolen, they would have never known either.

The next morning we left the guesthouse with our luggage and we dropped it off at the original guesthouse we tried to stay at. We obviously didn't feel comfortable leaving it for a few hours where we stayed while we explored the caves in the area. There's no doubt we will be writing a review or posting something on Trip Advisor as we'd hate for this to happen again. We were just lucky that my timing was impeccable. 30 seconds later and he would have been long out of our room with some (or a lot) of our cash.
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