Does it Run, Run, Run? The Rusty Car Dilemma

“Sorry. Sorry.”

The Cambodian pleaded with his eyes, his palms pressed together in prayer position, subserviently bowing his head. He reminded me of an abused dog who had just pooped in his master’s bed. As if he couldn’t be responsible for his actions. But I couldn’t forgive him. I wanted to slap him. Just like the police had slapped him. But I didn’t. Instead I swore under my breath and walked away, $120 poorer.

It was all Eduardo’s fault. Really. Just after picking up the Suzuki jeep, he had muttered: “Cheap things always turn out to be expensive.” He jinxed it. Sure, at $20 a day, it really was a cheap car. And perhaps it did look pretty beat up. But to drive around Koh Samui island, would you really need anything better?

Perhaps a car that didn’t leak gas?


We returned the white jeep within an hour of renting it. The rental guy was furious.

“You are not supposed to fill the tank, you know.”


“I don’t think you know how to drive,” he continued. “What kind of moron fills a tank completely?”

“That’s not true,” we tried. “Gasoline tanks are not supposed to leak, even if they are full. It’s dangerous.”

The rental guy’s face turned red with anger. He started screaming and waving his hands, swearing and calling us names. At one point he even threatened to kill us.

“Look, we just want another car.”

Finally, he said: “OK.”

“And we want you to transfer the gas we just bought to the new car.”

“That’s impossible! You take the new car, I keep the gas.”

Impossible? This is Thailand. It’s not even impossible in the US.

After another two hours of arguing, and threatening to call the police, he finally conceded.


Car number two was like an octogenarian on an oxygen machine. The first little hill proved too much for the rusty red monster. Huffing and puffing, it inched up the small incline for a few minutes. Then it stopped.

“It’s rolling backwards!” groaned Eduardo.

Yes, it was. The breaks didn’t work.


Back to the rental guy.

This time, he sent a colleague. After agreeing to pay $10 more for a newer car, the half tank of gas was transferred without questions. And a smile. Finally, we drove away happily in a normal car, looking forward to an easy day’s drive.

The newish Chevy flew up hills, roared down mountains, and cooled us with luxurious AC. With this 21st century car, we visited waterfalls and beaches, lunched in faraway villages, and even found a french baker that captured my mother-in-law’s heart. Life was good again.


BANG. Screech. Rattle. Eek.

Looking behind us, a guy was lying on the street, his moped smashed. Had we run him over?

But no one had crossed in front of the car. We had neither swerved, turned or stopped. Where had he come from? How could we have hit him?

The Cambodian brushed off his pants and got up. Thankfully, he was fine. But he pointed to the smashed basket on his bike and smiled sadly. Would we give him some money to fix it? Sure. Why not. But could he tell us what had happened? Where had he come from? How could we have ran into him if we were just going straight?


He spoke no English, but the smell of his breath told us what we needed to know. Alcohol.

So we hadn’t crashed into him; he had run into us. With a closer look at the car, we noticed that one tail light was smashed and the fender was scratched. How were we supposed to return this car to that lunatic renter? He would kill us.

“Sorry, sorry,“ said our Cambodian friend and got up on his bike to leave.

“Oh no. No, no. You have to wait until the police gets here.”

We needed a police report.


But the police was no big help.

“This guy is poor. He has no money. You will have to pay for the damages.”

But we hadn’t done anything. It was not our damage to pay.

“Don’t you have insurance?”

Yes. We have travel insurance. But to get reimbursed we still needed a police report.

“Sorry, sorry,” said the Cambodian, and tried to walk away. Every time no one was looking, he eased towards the door. Clasping his hands and bowing to us, he staggered out of the police station. But every time he tried to escape, we turned him around. “No, no. You can’t leave just yet.”


Hours later, with the police report in our hands, the police let him go – curiously together with us, and the furious rental guy.

“Where do you work?” he screamed in falsetto at the poor Cambodian as we drove back to accident site. He needed to find the guy’s boss, to deduct the damages from his salary.

The Cambodian muttered this and muttered that, trying one lie after another. Suddenly, the rental guy stepped out of the car, opened the back door and started punching the Cambodian’s face.

“No! Don’t hit him,” we pleaded. It helped for a few minutes, until the Cambodian tried to escape again. Then he was beaten again.


Even the police slapped him. Here was a man, living illegally in Thailand. He had no work, no money, no citizenship. His only escape from misery was evidently a bottle of cheap liquor.

“Sorry, Sorry,” he kept pleading with his puppy-dog eyes.


In the end, we ended up splitting the damage with the rental guy. The Cambodian really was dirt poor. And he was pitiful. Under normal circumstances I would have felt sorry for him. But spending an entire evening in a police station with the crazy rental guy and this excuse for a man who was going to walk away scot-free, that made me mad.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said as he walked out the door, his face slightly bruised.

I could have slapped him.

Cambodian guy in Koh Samui Police Station

Cambodian guy in Koh Samui Police Station