Banged Up in Bangkok
Trip Start Jan 29, 2003
44Trip End Feb 01, 2004
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After a smashing brekky at Sam's place, we got a taxi to the bus station for 50B. From here we got a 2nd class bus to Bangkok, which was cheaper and up to the same standard, if not better than the 1st class bus on the way?
Could not get back into Sugar guest house, and so settled with the cheap and cheerful Guest House 99, costing us 200 for a double.
This evening we went out with Steves mate who he travelled with in Australia, and who is from up North somewhere in England. We went to the Grand Football bar, and met up with Dave from Melbourne, and sank some more ales. We also bought a couple of masks from the high street, but I won't tell you what they are, you'll have to wait and find out, though you might say they're not really in good taste.
The rest of the night was spent chatting, swapping travellers tales, and the occassional drink
1st April 2003:
Pinch, Punch, first of the month! And April Fools! And Happy Birthday Delboy!
This morning, at long last I managed to get my flight times changed, which didn't cost a penny, which I was quite pleased about. I then got my gear together and got a metered taxi to the British Embassy, for what I thought would be easy, but nothing is!
It took about 40 mins to get there and when we pulled up, there was a long queue of about 100 people, but I patiently joined the back and to my relief it was fast moving, and I was in quite soon. I told the security guard what I wanted and he told me to go to the consular section, where I grabbed a ticket and waited. Looking around the room, I had to smile to myself. the majority of people in there were ageing Europeans with Thai girls either getting a marriage certificate form or trying to get their half Thai child a British passport. There was a typically British feel about the room, and many a person was losing their rag with the poor girls behind the counter. Eventually my number was called, and I told the young Thai girl what I wanted, and she told me someone would deal with me shortly. I had waited an hour, patiently reading my book, when the same girl glanced at me, then scrutinized me like she was reading a note on a faraway wall. Then she looked really guilty and ran off. I then realised that she had forgotten about me before, because within a minute my name was called to go through to the interview room.
In here was another woman, who asked me how she could help. I told her I would like to visit a preferably British prisoner from Bang Kwang prison, and this woman was fantastic. She gave me directions to the prison in English, and in Thai incase I got lost. She also gave me an inmate name, and his building number. I was most satisfied and having completed my tasks, I found a taxi and headed back.
Now, for some reason, traffic jams in Bangkok are not just common, they are inevitable, but as of yet I had not had the pleasure of being stuck in one. An hour had passed in the taxi, and we had travelled the equivalent of 5 minutes walking distance. I was fuming inside.
I don't know if you've seen the big Buddha figurines, which are different to the normal Buddha in that they are really fat, with man tits, but with a massive smile or a laugh on their face. Anyway this taxi driver had one of these on the dash board, and I'm quite convinced that this was his role model. The bloke was very much overweight, and although could speak no English virtually constantly spoke or rather muttered in Thai followed by a big laugh. We even hit a pedestrian with the bumper of the car, causing the woman to lose her balance, but managed to stop herself toppling over. I looked at the driver quite shocked, to which he mumbled in Thai, then laughed. After frequent stops for food, to keep his fine figure, I am screaming inside. I do not have the patience to deal with this traffic. I'm quite a fidgety person anyway, and so to be trapped in a line of non-moving traffic is torture to me.
We eventually got to Khaosan after being 2 hours in this mans company watching him eat, mumble, and laugh, and I had to get out. I really don't know how the Thai people manage to keep their patience on these roads. They are an absolute nightmare. I underpaid him, to which he mumbled something in Thai, and then laughed.
Tonight we met up with Laurie and Liz, Dave, and Todd and Sarah. We had a pricey meal in Chinatown, though it was good, and the first time I have tried Goat!
There are no bars in Chinatown so we headed back for Khaosan, where we spent the remainder of the night. And guess what? We ended up in Gullivers.
2nd April 2003:
Happy Birthday Sarah!
Somehow managed to drag myself up at 10am. I collected my laundry, dropped off a camera film, then completed my letter to my inmate friend.
At half 11, I took a tuk-tuk to Banglampu pier, and then got a river taxi to Nonthaburi for a quite astounding 8Baht. 12p for a 40min journey is bloody good, even for the Thai people.
Now I was expecting this small suburb to be quite isolated in this suburb, but it was a lot more commercial than I gave it credit, with 7-11's dotted all over the town!
I have never been to a working prison, either as an inmate or a visitor. the closest I have come is spending a few hours in a cell after an underage drinking binge. But anyway, I didn't really know what to expect, but I turned the corner and it was just as you imagine prison's to be, but bigger. I found out afterwards this prison - Bang Kwang houses upwards of 6,000 prisoners, and you could see it was massive. On each corner, was a huge guard tower, with armed guards patrolling it. The walls were more than 20ft tall and with barbed wire all over the top. This prison was just like one straight out of the movies.
I went to the visitors entrance, and just followed everyone else, trying my hardest not to show my fear, though I have to admit I was quite apprehensive. I had to put my bag and wallet in separate lockers, then I got frisked, and I was given the nod. The big metal yellow door was opened and I was ushered in. BANG. the door was shut again. I swallowed hard, then walked up to what looked like an office, trying my utmost not to look at the prisoners behind these cages like animals in a zoo. I approached an official looking fellow, and said I wanted to meet Ken. I won't reveal his identity, but if anyone wants to visit him, send me an e-mail, and I'll let you know his real name, and building number.
Anyway, this fellow asks me where my visit application is? 'I don't know', I gulped, 'I don't have one'. This fellow got a bit narky, and anywhere else I would have just walked off but unfortunately I was locked inside Asia's most notorious penetentiary. I eventually found out I had to walk back out, and register on the other side of the road. I did just this, then went back through the same procedure, and this time was told to go and sit down.
The prisoners are segregated from the visitors by some iron bars, a mesh gauze, and also a small gully which runs between the two, about 4ft across.
I took my seat, quite nervous, and half wanting to just get the hell out of there. All of the inmates seem to wear the same uniform of white trousers, and a blue poncho, so you can imagine my surprise when this bloke walks along in a Hawaiian shirt, and trousers. Its 'Ken'. He introduces himself, as do I, and immediately find out he's from Southampton, so I give him the lowdown on the Saints latest achievements, but he tells me after quite bluntly, 'I'm more of a drug dealer than a football fan'. I respect this, and laugh. Its actually about 10 minutes before we get talking about prison life. He openly admits what he done. Whilst working for a group of people in Ko Samui, he was doing a few deals, but never anything more than weed. When one day he was asked to a 'smack' run. He thinks that the blokes he was working for tipped off the authorities, as he was nabbed straight away and has now served 9 years of a 50 year sentence. He was a fascinating bloke to speak to, as I had hoped, and told me stories including 1 I liked about an attempted prison break, where his Chinese friends were going to hire a helicopter, and pretend to be surveying the land, for a prospective golf course. The roof on the visiting quarters is only made of asbestos, so the people in the chopper would shoot down the guards, then lower a rope down to the roof, where Ken would have broken through. It never went any further than on paper, but it sounded like the kind of thing Van Damme would pull off. He was also quite fascinated about the war, and had many opinions on this. The 30 minutes flew by, and I felt like I could have spoken to him for hours. When he was dragged away, he was still talking to me, like you see in the films, which I thought was good, shouting out a place in Cambodia I have to visit, though I'm not sure if international drug dealers connections are as reliable as the Lonely Planet, but we'll wait and see?
Just after he went away, the prison alarm went off: 'Shit', I thought, theres a prison break and I'm not gonna be allowed out, but quite the opposite, it was new inmates coming in, and with armed guards either side of them, these new prisoners walked past me both wrists and ankles in shackles within spitting distance of me, though I thought that probably wouldn't be a great idea.
I gave Ken a book, a letter I wrote, and some coffee from the shop, which he said was the best thing to trade with inside.
Amazingly, whilst still in the prison courtyard, a big fellow comes up to me and asks me to read this when I get a chance. It was a Jehovas Witness leaflet, but thats not important. I noted a twang in his accent, so I asked him where he was from, and I only find out that he used to live in Oakhill, which is the next village on from me. And his Mum used to teach me at Secondary school. Mrs Young, remember her school boys and girls from Whitstone?
Isn't it strange how the first person I've met from Somerset lived only a village away, and I meet him in Thailands most infamous and dangerous prison?
Anyway, it was a brilliant day but not for the faint-hearted. Gritty realism, I love it!
I was glad to see that some of you must have read my last entry, because I got quite a few replies, which I was very pleased to see, so thank you Pete, Parf, Dan, Mike & Mandy, and Sarah & Del, but keep 'em coming, and I want some new faces as well! Oh, and I've put up a load more pictures now from Bangkok!