The Worst Travel Experiences Of My Life, Part 3: Thailand 2006

Random acts of kindness, breathtaking scenery, Thai whiskey and a full moon party that ended in tears...
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Thailand is one of my favourite countries. I love it's natural beauty, from the mountains in the north to the beautiful islands, coral reefs and limestone cliffs in the south. I love it's food, it's chaotic transport systems, it's alien culture of Face. My best ever travel experience happened there, a perfect act of selflessness that stays with me to this day. My moped had broken down on a remote dirt track on the island of Koh Lanta back in 2002. I was alone and more than a little worried about how I was going to get out of the situation without abandoning the bike and walking a very long way indeed. A Thai guy rode past, stopped, turned back and examined my bike, we couldn't speak to one another as I know only holiday Thai and he knew no English. He looked at me for a while and rode off, motioning for me to wait, around 30 minutes later he returned with two friends and many tools, I don't know what they did (I have literally no mechanical skills) but after about twenty minutes of tinkering around they had the bike working perfectly again. They smiled at me, gave a wai - the respectful greeting Thais give by placing the palms of the hands together and bowing - and rode off.

I must have taken up over an hour of the guy's day, no money changed hands, and that simple act of help toward a fellow man touched me immensely. I didn't get the chance to thank him properly, I do so now.

For the record I've experienced many other similar acts like the one described whilst in Thailand, the Thais really can be the most lovely people on Earth.

And the most horrible.

Thailand is truly a land of great contrasts, it is very poor in many places, and a third world mentality persists. There is a huge drug problem with many people abusing and getting into serious trouble with "yaa baa", a strong amphetamine. For this, and doubtless many other socio-economic reasons, you have to watch your back. No more so than at the full moon party, an event I have attended four times and would go back to.

Thailand is truly a land of great contrasts, it is very poor in many places, and a third world mentality persists.

However on this occasion it got a bit nasty. As usual, a great night dancing on the beach was had, I'd consumed way too many buckets of Thai whiskey mixed with the local Red Bull, which is rumoured to contain amphetamine. Either way, I was wasted, and foolishly headed home alone, bidding my companions a fond and slurred farewell and heading off up the beach. My accommodation was only around 30-50 meters from the beach itself, and for those of you familiar with Haad Rin, it was very close to the famous "Chicken Corner", a local meeting point and landmark (it contains two fried chicken places, in case you were wondering).

The accommodation was up a lane just off the main drag that runs parallel to Haad Rin beach, the lane however was unlit and in darkness. In my addled state I walked towards the small apartment I was renting with friends, key in hand ready to slide into the door and safely into bed. As I was very near the entrance a Woman called out to me in English - "hey you, come here!" I ignored the Woman believing her to be a prostitute touting for business, the cat calls happen so frequently in Thailand they become part of the background noise, I'd learned to just ignore them. However she was walking briskly towards me, muttering in Thai, I didn't like the look of it one bit and made for my door. From either side of my apartment came two men, one from the left, one from the right, moving toward my door and cutting off the entrance. I was stuck. The Woman was behind, the Men in front.

I presumed they weren't about to offer me the turn-down service.

All of a sudden I was very, very sober. The adrenaline was pumping through me. I was alert, poised for action, the fight or flight instinct immediately coming into play.

I was shitting myself.

I considered my options:

1. Stay where I was and see how the situation panned out.

2. Immediately swing for the closest man, hope to knock him down or out, then start on the second and take my chances.

3. Turn, push the Woman to the side and make a run for it. She seemed petite and light and the easy physical option to deal with, if I could make it to the main drag without being got at by the men, I'd be safe.

All of a sudden I was very, very sober. The adrenaline was pumping through me. I was alert, poised for action, the fight or flight instinct immediately coming into play.

Option 1 looked decidedly dodgy. I immediately discounted it. This was a time for action, I could feel it.

Option 2 meant taking on two Thai guys at close quarters, they were both smaller than me, but everyone knows that counts for nothing in a fight and if these head cases were high on something then even if I landed a perfect punch on one of them first time, he may not go down. Thai people are also phenomenally tough bastards. Were you to canvas my friends and ask them to describe me, I'm pretty sure the word "bastard" would be used, the downside being that it wouldn't be preceded by the word "tough".

Option 3 also had it's drawbacks, presuming I got easily past the Woman and made a run for it, the lane was unlit and unpaved, rocks, potholes and debris littered the floor. Even walking up the lane required careful negotiation, if I fell and they caught me, I was fucked. On the plus side I was slim, fit and agile at the time, was regularly running half marathons, and had a turn of pace to boot, I reckoned I could easily take this lot in a race, if not a fight.

As I was about to favour option 3, one of the Thai men produced a knife and shone it against the light of the full moon in a theatrical, elaborate manner.

I froze.

In perfect English, he spoke, "empty your pockets", I did so unhesitatingly, giving him my wallet, my newly purchased digital camera and my phone. He pocketed the camera and the phone before flicking through my wallet and removing the cash. He handed me back the wallet, put away the knife, and the three of them departed. They didn't take my credit or debit cards.

I returned to the beach and eventually found my friends. I'd managed to withdraw money from the cash point and claimed on my insurance for the stolen cash, phone and camera, as I'd kept all receipts and filed a report with the Thai police my insurance claim was successful and I didn't actually lose out financially from the robbery.

I did however for a long time feel as if those people had stolen some of my dignity, my manhood, my soul. I felt humiliated by the experience and blamed myself. I shouldn't have gone home alone, shouldn't have got so drunk, shouldn't have gone to Thailand on holiday. I felt I should have fought, should have run, shouldn't have frozen the way I did. I asked myself many questions as I replayed the incident over in my mind, again and again and again, would those men have really used the knife? What would some of my stronger, harder mates have done if they had been in that situation? Could I have made it down the lane if I'd run for it?

The truth is that there is no way of knowing what would have happened had I done something differently. It took me a long time to realise that I wasn't to blame for that robbery, I didn't commit that crime, it wasn't my fault. It was however a worthwhile learning experience to always try and watch my back and to understand that blame lies with the perpetrators of crimes like robbery, not with their victims.

The Worst Travel Experiences Of My Life, Part One: Oslo 2005

The Worst Travel Experiences Of My Life, Part Two: Riga 2003

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