Nate is a 26yrold Anthropology student at the University of Hawaii who originally hails from Albuquerque, NM. He’s lived in Thailand and Cambodia, and has rambled through India and most of Southeast Asia. He was 23 when this happened.
(The following is derived from a recorded interview and the names have been changed to protect Nate’s Thai visa status in the future.)
This story starts in a small village called Pai, high in the mountains of Northern Thailand, at a shisha bar my friend owned.
My friend, the bar owner, introduced me to an English chick named Kate. We started shooting the shit. She was cool. We drank a bunch of beers and got drunk, telling our life stories and all that.
We were both going to be in Thailand for a while and exchanged numbers. I never called or thought I’d see her again.
Months later, after travelling through Southern Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, I ended up in Bangkok alone, trying to land a teaching job.
I was staying at a shitty hotel across the street from MBK, an enormous mall. The room cost around 400 baht per night [$10]. The hotel was shady and pretty much in a go-go bar area.
One night I headed over to a touristy part of the city called Khao San Road. I wanted to get out of the room, meet some foreigners and have a few beers. Khao San Road is like the Vegas Strip for underage drinkers on crack. It’s a tourist party zone, full of dumb t-shirts, pubs playing European football games, dance clubs, trinket shops, McDonalds, overpriced western restaurants, sarongs, flip-flops, crap.
Walking down the street, I ran into Kate, the girl from Pai. She was with three friends. They had just come from some islands in southern Thailand.
I couldn’t remember her name at first; we’d only met that one night. I sat down and we started drinking beers.
Her friends were English dudes in their late twenties. Two of them were wannabe Rastas rocking scruffy, dirty jeans almost yellow from age. They were new-age hippie types with hemp bracelets who missed the Southeast Asia hippy trail by 40 years. One of them had dreadlocks and was named Chester.
We were drinking and cracking jokes at a makeshift outdoor bar, basically a little table set up outside a real bar, in a narrow ally off of Khao San Road.
This Thai dude who worked at the bar started chilling with us. He couldn’t have been any cooler. He was tatted down, dreadlocked out, friendly, a super cool guy.
The conversation turned to drugs fairly quick. Stories began to abound about weed and drugs in Thailand. The Thai guy said he liked good weed and the Brits told a story about taking shrooms in Southern Thailand.
The drinks had been going for a while, when Chester slipped away with the Thai guy further down the alley. I took note but wasn’t concerned.
Shortly after they returned, we decided to walk to a main street and grab a tuk-tuk (a small, three-wheeled Thai taxi, basically a motorbike with a bench-seat mounted where the rear tire would be). We wanted to find a dance club.
We headed down the alley, which lead away from Khao San Road to a busy main street.
Immediately after we started walking down the alley a cop stepped out of the darkness and said, “Why are you talking to Thai men? Why are you talking to Thai men in the alley?”
Everyone was like, “What?”
Then, two more officers appeared behind him.
The cops were intense, clean-cut fuckers in brown uniforms. Most Thai police look sharp; they are considered royal servants. The first cop did all the talking, except for one-word exclamations from the rest.
I thought, I didn’t do shit. What are these cops tripping on? Then I remembered, oh fuck, homeboy did go in the alley. But I hadn’t done anything so I figured, fuck it, I’m straight.
It quickly became apparent that the cops were not going to just let us go. Soon two older, more senior looking cops arrived.
They walked us farther down the alley, hidden from the view of other foreigners. At this point I still thought, it’s all good, this won’t be an issue, we’re on Khao San Road where tourists are always doing crazier shit than this.
One by one, the cops told us to empty our pockets. I emptied mine right away to prove my innocence. So far everyone was clean, then they got to Chester, who I’d been watching the whole time.
Chester emptied his front pockets and palmed something in his hand. The cop patted his front down without finding shit. Then turned him around to check his back pockets. That’s when Chester tried to slip what was hidden in his hand back into his front pocket. Not a horrible maneuver, but all the cops were watching him. The cop yells, “Ah! Ah! Ah!”
Chester tried to turn and throw it, but he had no chance, the cop caught his arm. After a split-second hand wrestle, the cop pried something from his fingers.
I thought, well, shit, homeboy is fucked.
The cops inspected the contents of one of those mini zip-lock drug bags. It was weed, almost nothing, just a dime bag probably worth $10 in America. But that didn’t matter, we were in Thailand. Catching a foreigner with any type of drug is instant gold for Thai police.
I did a series of wai’s (Thai bows) and said “kawtor kraup (I apologize)” several times in some vain attempt to show respect. The main cop gave me a funny smile and said, “Oh, you speak Thai?”
“Nit noy kraup (a little bit),” I said, which made my attempt to speak any Thai at all look ridiculous.
Kind of a stupid move, but shit, you never know what showing a little respect will get you in Thailand. This time it just weirded them out.
They motioned for none of us to move, stepped back and began talking amongst themselves. One of the officers radioed the station, while the others listened intently. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, it could be bad or maybe he’s just getting approval to release us, I thought.
After a minute the cops came back and insinuated that we needed to bribe them.
The main cop said, “You know this is Thailand? This is illegal in Thailand and there’s a big fine.”
I was still thinking, they may not fine me, maybe just tax homeboy who had the weed. We were all sitting down in the alley. I planned to assert myself and explain that I just met these guys. But before I had the chance, the most senior officer motioned for Chester to stand up, turned him around and slapped handcuffs on him. We all realized that the situation was fucken serious.
Chester looked at the floor but didn’t freak out. Judging from the Brits’ calm reaction, they had money for the bribe or didn’t realize they might go to jail. They seemed more worried that their big night out was fucked up.
When they started cuffing everyone I knew we all would have to pay a bribe. I wasn’t sure how much; they weren’t exactly throwing out numbers. I had heard that a bribe in Thailand was usually upwards of $1,000. In Laos, a much poorer country, I had talked to foreigners that paid police bribes of $600. I knew it was going to be more expensive in Thailand.
My head started buzzing. I thought, I only have about $200 in my bank account, fuck, I’m the only one who’s not going to be able to pay.
I started running through my options: Best case scenario, I get arrested, don’t have enough cash for the bribe, spend some time in a Thai holding cell, have a chance to call my mom before getting processed, she wires me money, I pay the bribe and I’m released.
But what if it doesn’t happen? What if they don’t let me call for the money? Instead, they demand it and process me when I can’t pay the bribe. Then I’m stuck in the Thai judicial system, usually you don’t get a court date for months and can spend a lot of time in Thai jail. If that happens I am fucked. I contact the embassy and my name goes on a list. Who knows when I get out?
I couldn’t let that happen.
The policeman motioned for Kate to stand up. They bound her hands with a zip-tie. She began a whining plea with a pouty expression on her face.
I was next in line to get zip-tied. One of the larger officers motioned for me to rise. I was shaking. He held both my wrists behind my back in one of his hands. He didn’t have a good grip. I felt a moment of time, a single moment of possibility for action.
I pushed him, thrusting myself backwards, hitting his chest with my back and shoulder as hard as I could.
I couldn’t see if he fell but I knew he went flying. He hadn’t expected it. I took off running down the dark alley. I didn’t look back but could hear their footsteps echoing off the walls as they chased me.