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.)
The alley opened into a huge parking lot full of parked cars, with a busy street and traffic circle running along one side. I looked back; the cop was right behind me with a second cop slightly behind him. I ran to the street but couldn’t cross the 60 mph Bangkok traffic, so I turned, juked the cops and sprinted back into the lot.
Thank god they were basically shitty runners and I’m pretty fast even in flip-flops. At one point they came within five feet but I quickly gained distance on them.
A car driving through the lot slammed its brakes and stopped right in front of me. I jumped the car’s hood Hollywood-style and kept running full speed through the parking lot cutting through rows of parked cars.
The parking lot was on the same enormous city block as Khao San Road, but on the opposite side. In the back of the lot were a series of narrow pedestrian alleys that cut through apartment buildings and guesthouses back towards the touristy area. I thought, one of these will lead all the way back to Khao San, just get back to Khao San Road, there’s thousands of foreigners there, I can blend in.
The cops must have stopped chasing me for a minute, maybe to regroup? I’ll never know, but suddenly I’m standing before a ten-foot wall, at the end of the lot and they’re not behind me. I couldn’t hear or see them.
I’d been holding a long sleeve shirt in my hand and wearing a baseball cap. I realized I had a few seconds and threw my hat as far as I could, then put on the long sleeve shirt to hide my forearm tattoos.
I started trying alleys; the first dead-ended at a ghetto security wall. The side of an apartment building was directly behind. I hoisted myself onto the wall, which had glass bottle shards cemented into the top.
There was a two-foot gap between the wall and the side of the apartment. I thought, I can throw myself in the gap and hide but I’ll be a sitting duck, fuck that.
I hopped back down and still didn’t see any cops. What the fuck, where are they?
The next alley led to the rear courtyard area of a guesthouse, enclosed by a cement wall. Police whistles were blowing and boots pitter-pattered as they searched the other alleys; it sounded like more cops had joined the chase. I followed a path to the back door of the guesthouse.
My first instinct was to find any young foreigners and say, “I gotta go in your room right now! I’ll give you a hundred dollars!”
The first floor was empty. I ran up stairs to the second floor hallway. I searched for somebody entering a room or an open door to force my way into and banged on random doors.
I came across two old white ladies. Will they help me or will they turn me in? I didn’t trust them and scrambled back downstairs. There were whistles chaotically blowing close by. I knew a fucken search was happening.
The first floor was still empty. The front of the guesthouse was an open-air lounge that faced the street. There was also an unattended front desk and an Internet Café with a bathroom next to it.
The whistles were getting closer. The cops are figuring it out, searching each alley. I entered the guesthouse’s shitty, public restroom. It was empty. There were two stalls. I entered one, latched the door and pulled my feet onto the toilet.
The whistles seemed to be getting closer and closer. I resigned myself to having about two minutes of freedom. I lit a cigarette and smoked with my feet up.
You can’t smoke in a guesthouse bathroom. I thought, who gives a fuck? I’m about to go to Thai jail. There’s no way out.
I guessed there would be ten cops by then. I could hear men shouting in Thai.
I waited for them to come get me. Any second a cop would enter the bathroom, bust open the first stall, then kick in my stall door and drag me out of the bathroom. They would take me somewhere out of the view of any foreigners and beat the fuck out of me. That’s basic protocol in Thailand. Sometimes the Thai police beat people up just for looking at them wrong and they don’t appreciate foreigners acting above the law. I figured that first motherfucker, the cop I shoved, would get five minutes alone with me.
I smoked my last cigarette.
Slowly, the whistles became fainter. I thought, you gotta be joking me, these motherfuckers didn’t come in the guesthouse and check the restroom?
After five minutes of silence I thought, this could be my lucky shit, but I might fuck myself by staying in this bathroom.
I exited the bathroom trying to act normal but wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t safe yet. I could still hear whistles and yelling in the distance. A cop car was parked in front of the guesthouse.
I figured, the best thing I can do is sit at a computer, blend in with the other white kids and hope they don’t recognize me.
Ten foreigners were in the café, all looking at Facebook. I rented a computer, logged into Facebook and stared at the screen listening intently. I tried to use the screen as a mirror to watch the street.
The cops never came. I couldn’t believe it. After ten minutes of thanking God and sweating a puddle, I paid the cashier and walked outside. The cop car was gone. Instead a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) sat where the cruiser had been parked. I crossed the street with my head down and got in the tuk tuk. It’s roof came down just enough to hide my head.
I had startled the driver who said, “Wow, wow!”
“You take me to MBK?” I said.
“Ah ok,” he said, smiling because it was a good fare and started driving.
He was all happy as fuck, a jolly guy.
“How you like Thailand? Your first time?” He said.
“Yeah it’s my first time. It’s fucking great! It’s a beautiful country!” I said.
After a couple blocks I thought, I’m free!
The air tasted good. That moment was, honestly, exhilarating. But at the same time I thought, What if they had caught me?
What did I just do?
Why was I hanging out with those people?
And, why the fuck am I hanging with wild folks when I’m broke?
WHAT WAS YOUR BAD CHOICE?
Well you attach yourself to people when you’re travelling abroad. It just happens and you group up. When you see something sketchy go down, like when I saw Chester go into the alley that should have been it, because I knew it’s too dangerous to buy drugs on Khao San Road.
I put myself in danger by thinking this white Rasta was intelligent enough to understand the corruption of Thailand drug trafficking. You’re basically prey for a lot of people.
I know it’s not the pinnacle of a bad decision, but certainly it will resonate with anybody who’s travelled abroad. When you’re travelling in other countries you link with people, and when you link with them you’re tying your fate together.
HAS THIS CHANGED WHO YOU CHOOSE TO LINK WITH IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
I’m a thousand times more careful bro. It could have been so much worse. He could have bought ya baa (Thai meth) or ecstasy, and I may have never have had that tiny window for escape, the cops wouldn’t have been relaxed, instead of asking for a bribe we would have all just been taken to Thai jail.
DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO RUN?
Nah, the decision to run was instantaneous. Up until then I was just hoping they would have a wild change of heart and not arrest us. I hadn’t decided to run because the rational side of me had scenes of Thailand’s brutal shoot first and ask questions later drug policy of the early 2003’s running through my head.
Honestly, I think being raised in Albuquerque was a huge part of it. In my hometown we all had ran from the cops and I’d never been caught.
It’s embedded in your head that you have that option, it might be the worst decision you ever make, but it might be the best decision.
WAS PUSHING THE COP A GOOD CHOICE?
It was a valid choice. If my logic was right and they didn’t let me call to have money wired for the bribe, I would have had to do time in Thai jail and it could have been up to six months, you just don’t know.
YOU THINK IT WAS A SET UP?
I know for sure it was a set up because the cop was waiting for us.
I’ve done plenty of drug deals and I’ve seen enough movies, if you understand criminal activity at all then you know about set ups and this was textbook. The dreadlocked Thai dude probably got a good chunk of the bribe money.
WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER YOU GOT AWAY?
Went back to my hotel room, called my mom and told her the story. I was freaking out. She said, “You understand I wouldn’t have been able to do a goddamn thing for you?”
WAS SHE MAD?
No, she was just thankful. She said, “Are you going learn from this?”