THIS IS a horror story. Your wallet may even be shaken.
A farang tourist from Bangkok came to Phuket not long ago and took two female friends to lunch.
They chose a place in Patong that looked midrange and ordered three dishes and soft drinks.
After a tasty meal the bill came for 1700 baht.
The Bangkok visitor was aghast. Usually he would skip lunch or at the most spend 40 or 50 baht on something simple.
He raged and ranted. The women cowered, having failed to take adequate precautions against a "Patong sting." They slipped almost under the table in embarrassment.
Phuket is not likely to be on that tourist's list of places to revisit.
So how did it happen? In a word, seafood.
The restaurant may overcharge, like so many in Patong where prices tend to be inflated anyway.
But the real sting was in the menu.
The three dishes they ordered were all seafood options with no prices listed, simply the advice on the menu that the cost would vary, depending on the size of the order.
None of the diners thought to ask what the daily price was for 100g. of the crab, the fish or the shrimp.
Had they done so, they may have prevented a dining disaster.
Variations in prices cause pain at both ends of the chain, but seldom in the middle.
The diner benefits from gluts but suffers in shortages. The fisherfolk or the shrimp farmer, on the other hand, suffer in feast and famine.
Efforts are now being made to solve the chronic problem of fluctuating prices in the shrimp farming industry.
The Head of the Phuket Shrimp Farmers' Community Enterprise, Theerayuth Thanomkiet, had just returned from an important meeting at the Department of Fisheries in Bangkok when he spoke to Phuketwan.
"To avoid big fluctuations in prices, farmers in future will divide their goong (shrimp) crops into three parts," he said.
"They will sell 30 percent themselves, they will send 30 percent to be frozen and exported, and the remaining 40 percent will go to the big Mah-chai fresh market in Samutsakorn province," he added.
While it sounds radical, Khun Theerayuth believes the new plan will solve the problems that have dogged shrimp farmers for generations.
Farmers are just emerging from a crisis over prices, the third in 20 years. Prices dropped so low that many farmers faced ruin.
It was the same back in 1987 when the price of giant tiger prawns dropped to 80-90 baht a kilo and again in 2002.
Farmers tended to avoid the larger prawns, growing smaller shrimp instead.
Many farmers in the past have also sold almost all shrimp for export.
Cheap prices in overseas countries have brought a reaction from the US and other countries, usually in the form of a ban on imports.
The latest suggestion from the Department of Fisheries is expected to prevent that happening, Khun Theerayuth said.
The Community Enterprise has been established for 20 years with more than 60 farmers on Phuket as members now.
"We sell more than 500,000 tons each year to the market," he said, "coming from about 2700 rai on the island."
More than 50 percent of exported shrimp go to the US with Japan and Australia also taking that shrimp in quantities.
Occasionally, there are health scares or local problems that interrupt sales, as with a temporary ban on Thai shrimp going to Australia now.
"The Australian market is just two percent," he said. "So the main thing is that we now have a system that should solve the problem of prices going up or down too far."
As for the crabs and fish . . . . well, the lesson is to always ask the daily price.