The Thai government announced last week that it will be cracking down on drug use and targeting backpacker areas such as Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis can be found in abundance at the infamous Full Moon Parties but the Thai police have warned there will be harsh punishments for anyone caught with drugs. We spoke to one backpacker who has seen these punishments first hand.
It’s every traveller’s nightmare: getting arrested abroad. But for Daniel Thompson*, the nightmare became reality when caught with pills in his pocket en route to a full moon party. Here’s his story…
“Using a payphone, I took a deep breath and called my mum. I want to do a scuba diving course, I said, it’s pretty expensive but I have to do it – can you send me some money, please mum, I really need this…
“Of course, she knew something was up, but too scared to ask what I’d done she thankfully transferred me a grand, without which I really don’t know what I would have done.”
Aged 18, Daniel decided to go travelling for a year with four mates before starting university. Beginning in Thailand, they planned to snake their way through south east Asia andIndonesia before ending up in Australia and New Zealand.
Two weeks into their trip they decided to go to one of the infamous full moon parties.
“We were staying in some beach huts on Bang Kai beach (Koh Phangan) and the owner offered to give us a lift in his pick-up truck to Haad Rin where the full moon party was held,” said Daniel.
“We piled in the back and we were all pretty mullered – I’d taken a pill and had a few buckets by this point.”
They were driving along the coast when suddenly a police road block loomed up ahead.
“Everyone chucked any drugs they had into the bushes but I was too wasted,” the now 27-year-old said. “By the time I realised what was happening the police had approached the truck.”
The boys were made to line up while they were searched and Daniel tried to subtlety drop his three pills on the floor.
“Unfortunately I was so wrecked that I dropped everything on the floor – lighter, cigarettes, wallet – they had me.”
The Liverpudlian was taken to one side where he had to sign a form written in Thai while another traveller, an Austrian called Gunther, was forced to strip.
“All I remember was the police laughing at him because he was fat,” added Daniel.
Both Daniel and Gunther were handcuffed and put in the back of a police car and were told they had to go to the station.
Daniel said: “My mates came over and they were told I’d be back joining them in 30 minutes. At this point I wasn’t worried at all. I was still pretty high and thought it was just a formality.”
At the police station, there were more forms to sign, belongings were taken and then Daniel was thrown in a cell with around 20 other Thai guys.
“When I heard the door lock it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be joining my mates and I might actually be in serious trouble,” he said.
At the time Thailand was cracking down big time on drug dealers and users. Backed by the US, the government was waging war on anyone involved in the trade and thousands had died as a result.
“I lay down on the wooden floor, used my flip flops as a pillow and tried to get some sleep but I couldn’t as was absolutely bricking it. I thought they’d use me as an example. It kept going round and round my head.”
He added: “Luckily the other guys were really sound and gave me some fags – I must have smoked around 80 that night. I looked so young, guess they must have felt sorry for me.”
The next morning Daniel and Gunther were driven to their beach bungalows where they found their passports and were put on a boat to Koh Samui.
Daniel said: “We were handcuffed together and everyone was staring at us. When we arrived some guys started to ask if we needed a taxi. As soon as they clocked the handcuffs they roared with laughter.”
The boys were taken to the court house but it was closed until Monday. This was three more nights in jail at least.
“A policeman took us into a cell but couldn’t unlock the handcuffs which were cutting into my wrist,” said Daniel. “Then something really strange happened – this guy, who I later discovered was in the Thai mafia and was in for stabbing a copper, came over pulled a pin out from behind his ear and unlocked them. It was surreal.”
The next three days passed in a haze of cigarette smoke, sleep and watching the guards read gun magazines from behind their desks.
He added: “Everyone in the cell was really nice; they totally look out for you even thought I couldn’t speak to them.
“Luckily a couple of mates came to visit and bought me food. What I didn’t realise is that if no-one on the outside brings you food, you starve. Prisoners don’t get anything.”
On the Monday morning Daniel was taken to court but learned his case had been postponed for a month.
“I wanted to cry – I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Luckily, the teenager was given bail, on condition he stumped up around £1,000 (cue call to parents) and stayed within the three islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Behind schedule, two of Daniel’s mates decided to continue with the trip while the others stayed with him. They ended up staying with a family, helping run their guest house in return for food and accommodation and even took the kids to school.
A month later he went back to the court, along with a ‘lawyer’ (who also ran a restaurant) only to discover it had been postponed yet again for a month. This continued to happen for the next six months.
“Each time I would go back and would hear the same thing, I was gutted, it never crossed my mind to go to the British Embassy for help – I thought they wouldn’t be interested in a stupid teenager.
“The worse thing was the stress – I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, I wanted to phone my family but I knew they’d be straight on a flight out there and I didn’t want that at all.”
Finally, he discovered how things worked and by “paying off” the court officials, got his case to be heard.
“I was slapped with another £1,000 which I had to borrow off my mates but I as soon as I had my passport back in my hands I didn’t care about anything,” said Daniel.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the end of the ordeal as on leaving the country to fly to New Zealand he was stopped at the border.
“As they scanned my passport the computer started buzzing and they led me away, my heart sank,” he said.
His passport was confiscated and was told to remain in the country. He went straight to the British Embassy but after 11 days he got it back and was finally able to leave.
“Looking back it was an absolute nightmare but we all agreed it was the best thing that could have happened.”
*name has been changed to protect identity