How to get thrown in prison in Thailand

We’re back in Thailand after a short fun stay in Kuala Lumpur. We land in Phuket and are waiting for our minibus to take us to the pier when we meet Luciano. He’s a mid-30 year old Argentinian traveling in SE Asia for 3 weeks. As we mingle for a few seconds, we decide to cancel the shuttle van and share a cab to the pier … less expensive and faster!

On our 40 minute trip to the pier, Luciano shares with us a sad, funny, and horrific story of his friend Ivan.

Ivan and Luciano work together in Buenos Aires in finance and decide to visit Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos for 3 weeks. They fly into Bangkok (BKK) and stay two nights before heading to the next city. However, all is changed on the second night of their trip.

On this second night, after bar hoping and feeling a bit too drunk, Luciano decides to go back to their hotel. However, Ivan is at full force and stays behind to continue the party. A few hours later, Ivan is stumbling back to his hotel and a tuk tuk driver asks him:

“You want some marijuana?”

Being in a foreign country, trying new things, and having the “don’t care attitude” he decides to buy some. Gets into the tuk tuk, the transaction happens, and the tuk tuk driver tells him:

“Hurry up, put it in your pocket before someone sees”.

He leaves the tuk tuk and after taking no more than 4 steps a cop stops him and yells:

“What do you have in your right pocket? Show me.”

To make the long story short, the cop takes Ivan to the police station.

Fast forward to 7 am, when Luciano wakes up and realizes that Ivan is not there. He’s happy for his friend, maybe he got lucky. He doses back and at 8 am, Luciano is woken up by the guesthouse receptionist saying that Ivan is in jail and there is a cop to pick up his medicine.

“What?” – says Luciano.

He rushes to the police station to learn about the situation. He arrives to a devastated Ivan, laying on a disgusting floor, one that is worse than the worst streets of Bangkok. The cops give Luciano two minutes to get the medicine instruction to Ivan. In those two minutes, Luciano learns about the story, and at the same time, other imprisoned folks were saying: “Same here … same story here …”

Luciano returns to the hostel to get the medicine and takes it back to the police station. The rest of the day includes a panic search on what to do next, various visits to the station, calling the embassy of Argentina, speaking with other folks who also have friends in the cells, creating a “legal” plan, and ending with a meeting with the “boss”.

Luciano is told he must come pick up his friend at 6 pm. When he arrives, Ivan is sitting in the office of the “boss” along with a translator. Luciano joins the conversation on what is going to happen. The “boss” is requesting 25,000 baht to help ‘expedite’ the process. The “boss” explains the 25,000 baht is needed to give to the laboratory verifying that he had weed, court clerk, and get this … “to pay the electricity in this office”….  plus he must pay 20,000 baht for bail-out.

Ivan decides to pay instead of staying in jail. He gets out of jail but unfortunately is told he must wait for the court date (anywhere from 7 to 45 days) to get his passport back….

During the two days Ivan is in jail, Luciano is going back and forth between hostel, Argentinean embassy, and prison. While waiting outside of prison, Luciano meets other folks on the same boat, with a friend in prison. He starts hearing story after story on how people have been scammed.

A Persian guy living in Australia and vacationing in Bangkok walks into a minimart. He buys a few beers, snacks, mosquito repellent, and other stuff. As he’s walking out, he’s stopped by a security guard accusing him of stealing. As far as the Persian knows, he paid for the items at the cashier….

The cop gets the receipt and points out a few items that were not on the receipt… The cashier had purposefully not scanned a few items so he would get arrested.

He had to pay 100,000 baht to get out of jail!!!

An Italian guy goes to a club and is talking to a girl. After 30 minutes he finds out she’s a prostitute and is inviting him to go somewhere more “private”. They hop on a taxi and he realizes he only has 30 baht … he tells her that he can’t and she starts screaming and tells the taxi driver something in Thai, two minutes later they’re in the police station… 45,000 baht to get out of jail.

There is so much more to this story that I have not included but this is the gist of it. It infuriates me to learn this is happening and nothing can be done. Luciano called the Argentinean embassy and they simply told him: “There is nothing we can do for him.”

Ivan told me he saw an average of 5-10 foreigners withs similar stories coming into prison each day.

50,000-100,000 baht/day

350,000-700,000 baht/week

18,200,000 – 36,400,000 baht/year

The exchange rate is 30 baht/ US Dollar. This is a million dollar business….

If you come to South East Asia, specially Bangkok, please be careful and expect that people in the tourist industry (tour operators, taxi drivers, hotel receptionist) are out to get you. NOT ALL are this bad and we’ve met plenty of very nice hospitable Thai people, but some black sheep exists and they just want your money.

Having a beer on the beach telling us his story, Ivan says: “Even with this story, I still think Thailand is magical.” He’s been to Chiang Mai and Koh Phi Phi … and he’s right. Thailand is magical, you just have to learn to avoid the famous scams.


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