Monks duped in Japan holiday offer

A planned holiday to see cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan turned out to be a hoax for 32 people, half of them Buddhist monks, when they were denied boarding on their flight because a tour operation "forgot to send their names" to the airline.

The tour manger now has claimed the group’s payment of almost 1.3 million baht was confiscated by the airline after he handed it over. 

The possible holiday scam was revealed Tuesday by Phra Kru Suthati Woraniwet, abbot of Wat Takian in Mae Sot district of Tak. He is one of the 32 holiday makers who lost their payment and were unable to fly to Japan.

Phra Kru Suthati said a group of 16 school directors in Phayao province invited him and 15 other senior monks - abbots, ecclesiastical district and provincial governors from seven northern provinces - to join them in a trip to Japan. The Phayao-based Napit Tour Co was charged with arranging the trip, to last from March 30 to April 3. 

Each customer transferred 39,900 baht for the trip to the bank account given for the company by owner Kittitat Rungmongkonkiat, 37. Some gave the company extra amount as he claimed he could provide them with an excellent baht-yen exchange rate.

All 32 group members showed up at Chiang Mai airport on Sunday afternoon, where they were told they could not board what they thought was their scheduled flight. The group gathered at Wat Phra Singha in Muang district of Chiang Mai, where Mr Kittrat appeared, with an excuse, Phra Kru Suthati said. 

The tour operator said he forgot to send a list of the 32 passengers to the airline, but claimed he had transferred the ticket money. He could not refund the tour fees because the airline had "confiscated" the payment, he allegedly told his customers. 

Mr Kittrat said he would repay the money to four teachers by April 4 and the monks by April 15. He also asked all clients to sign a paper acknowledging they agreed with his proposed refund schedule.

Phra Kru Suthati said group members felt they were deceived by the tour operator and will file complaints with police.

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