My night in a Thai jail, and other sordid tales of despair

When I wrote about losing my mind in Cambodia, I wasn’t kidding. I really did start to feel as though I was losing my grip on sanity. I’d love to tell you I’ve beat it and everything is hunky-dory, but that hasn’t been the case. Some days over the last month, I’ve felt great. Most days, though, I’ve been breaking down into panic attacks at least once a day. I’ve been working essentially from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep. I know it isn’t healthy, but I’ve been stressed about money—especially with my upcoming jaunt to Europe coinciding with that delightful time at which the taxman cometh—which means I’ve been taking on everything I can and trying as much as possible to get work out the door.

Working that obsessively for such a long period has only increased my stress levels. I wasn’t sleeping much either, so I went to a doctor in Thailand. He watched me as I wrung my wrists and rambled manically about all sorts of things, then prescribed me a whole slew of sedatives. I was hoping that would help me relax.

It did not.

The first night I was on these sedatives, I met a friend for drinks. Now, I’ve made some fairly wretched decisions in my life, and I’m certain I’ll make more. This was, undoubtedly, one of the absolute worst.

I remember a good portion of the evening. Then it starts getting hazy. Then it turns completely black until I’m somewhere, alone, shoeless, being picked up by the Thai police. I remember getting into their car only because I was convinced they had my purse, and they said they’d return it to me if I came with them.

Whether it was the Thai police or someone else who stole my purse, I’ll never know. My stint in the police station mostly consisted of me alternately breaking down into panicked tears or yelling at the police about my purse. Not surprisingly, neither of these tactics helped matters. At one point, I started rifling through the station, opening drawers and cabinets in the desperate hope of finding my bag. I didn’t, of course, but I did find a machete, which I carried around pretty purposefully for a bit before realizing I’d be in far, far more trouble if I threatened a cop with a machete.

Eventually, after my head started to clear, I started asking the police, quite aggressively, if they were planning on charging me with anything. They started being nicer to me. Somewhere along the line, I signed something written only in Thai. I’m so terrified of what it was, and honestly, I think this was the stupidest of my many stupid mistakes that night. With a clear head, I would never have signed something I couldn’t read. I’ve seen Brokedown Palace. I know how these things work.

But in a terrified, drugged haze, I signed.

And then I left, shoeless and lost. I was missing my Canadian passport, my money, my phone, and my cigarette-case. I wasn’t sure I’d make it home. According to the computer I snuck on in the police station, I was three hours’ walk from home. I debated the morality of the issue, then found the nearest subway station and jumped the stiles. I was so destroyed, I actually passed out on the floor of the train on my way home.

It was a nightmare.

Dragon temple in Kanchanaburi
Not the dragon that bit me, but he seemed about the size of it. He was part of a temple complex half in ruins outside Kanchanaburi, and he was at least thirty feet tall.

But landing myself in a Thai jail wasn’t even the worst thing I’d endured those last few weeks. I seem to be attracting trouble. First, there was the friendly gentleman who accosted me outside my house, grabbing his crotch and shoving it in my face until I shut the door on his. Then there was a man I met at a pub, who seemed perfectly pleasant until he attempted to forcibly have sex with me in an elevator. A muscled boy I danced with in a Khao San Road club pushed things too far. And I’m fairly certain I was attacked the night I ended up in the police station.

Overall, I’m not impressed with the men of Southeast Asia.

And then I had to deal with the Stolen Passport Problem. Of course it was a bigger problem than it needed to be, primarily because I’d last entered Thailand on my Canadian, rather than my British, passport, and thus I lacked the entry stamp required to exit the country. Fixing the Problem involved three separate trips to the Canadian embassy, a visit to a different Thai police station that nearly gave me PSTD flashbacks, and a trip to the Thai immigration bureau—a place that makes the DMV seem timely and organized. All this while balancing a complex array of impending travel plans, and soon-to-expire visas. Oh, and of course, I still had that giant pile of work that originally got me so stressed out to begin with.

The last few weeks have been such chaos, I can’t actually piece together in which order various events occurred. My sense of time is completely mangled. I can actually physically feel my stress levels spike.

So I did what any sane person would: I ran away from Bangkok. I didn’t even take my laptop with me. For twenty-six hours, I was actually incapable of working. In effect, I forced myself into holiday mode. For me, this meant swimming, sleeping like a human, then renting a motorbike and riding it around Kanchanaburi province.

Elephant crossing!
Hopefully I would have noticed if an elephant had been crossing. Otherwise, between me, the bike, and the elephant, I’m quite certain the elephant would have won.

I’m now in Malaysia for my last government-mandated visa run before I leave Thailand. My hosts here keep telling me to stop being such a workaholic, so clearly I haven’t entirely mended my ways. But I’ve been getting better, slowly, and I’ve stopped working quite so much. My stress levels feel as though they’re dropping, although I won’t be able to tell for certain until I’m back “home.” I’ve at least learned I can’t sustain working like a maniac every waking hour. For at least an hour every day, I’m stepping away from The Machine. It’s progress.

Something about that motorbike ride flicked a switch in my brain. When I started out, I was so terrified that I was visibly shaking. Mostly, I was worried that I’d make a mistake and break something—or myself—and have no way to cover the costs. Thailand happens to have one of the world’s highest motorbike-mortality rates: probably because they all drive like coked-out hyenas. And of course, I never have travel or health insurance. I consider them to be a form of gambling, which is the one vice I’ve never taken to. I was worried that I’d make another bad decision and end up in the hospital with no way to pay my bills and no way home.

But an hour or so into the ride, I realized something: I was doing alright! I started to relax for the first time in weeks, if not months. I started to enjoy myself. I smiled. I started to pay attention to the wind in my hair and the leaves on the trees, rather than focusing on where I was going. And when I pulled the bike back into the rental lot, the adrenaline surged, all my endorphins went crazy, and I was on the most massive high I’ve felt in some time.

I’d done it. One of the things that initially brought me to Thailand was the allure of renting a cheap bike and driving it about. Then my plans changed and I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen. But I did it! I drove a motorbike around Thailand, and I didn’t screw up once. I came out alive and unscathed, and totally thrilled by the whole experience.

Fiona, a Honda Click.
Fiona, my second motorcycle-love. Or maybe my third. I’ve got a lot of love to give, and I’m not stingy. I’ll always remember her fondly for my initial inability to get her started, and how ferocious she made me feel once I got a feel for her.

Thailand may have tried to take a bite out of me, and it sure as hell has given me some battle scars.

But ultimately, I came out the winner.