A night in a Thai Jail?

I woke with a sense of foreboding.

“I feel really agitated today and I don’t know why,” I said to Con that morning.

The day was actually full of the unexpected as we encountered bridge washouts and road closures from the recent extreme flooding in East Malaysia, a 1 in 50 year event. Having no real timeline, being diverted from our intended loop brought no real inconvenience, just new vistas and chance meetings.

Washed out bridge meant a detour
Washed out bridge meant a detour

The bridge wash out sent us on a large detour away from our intended route, but closer to the Thai border.

We were both looking forward to Thailand and expected it to be the highlight of the trip, so when our planned loop in Malaysia through the Cameron Highlands ran into road closures the temptation to head to the nearest border proved alluring.

Now, the decision to leave a country behind for a new one is not easy, especially when visas are involved as usually there is no going back. Once we had said goodbye to Malaysia that would be it, no looking back.

We had been told by the locals that the southern Thai borders weren’t so easy to navigate. Blogs of other travellers talked of military presence, but our hurried research suggested  things seemed fairly stable.

On this occasion, the nearest border crossing seemed to just present itself to us. However, being a small border crossing and with no white cards or insurances to be got on the Malay side, we decided to travel another 30kms to a bigger crossing where we hoped the officials would be across the requirements of foreign “motors” aka motorcycles! Malaysians cross the borders all the time with their own transport, but the paperwork required for our bikes is quite different and many officials are sent a flurrying at the sight of us.

Fortunately we had benefitted from the mistakes of others before us, or so we thought. Crossing without insurance or the infamous ‘white card’ was not recommended by others who have lived to tell the story.

Those who have crossed land borders will know, there are two parts to the process. The first involves exiting one country and being stamped out. For us this is extremely important as it is not only us who have to be exited, but also our bikes. If our carnets are not stamped out correctly, we can be charged with importing and hence left with hefty tax bill.

Once you exit a country then technically you are in no man’s land until you enter the next country. There always comes a sense of elation when the first part of the process is completed without a hitch. So it was that we rode into no man’s land, but with mixed feelings. There was some trepidation as we still did not have a white paper nor insurance, which were reportedly compulsory.

On the Thai side of the border, we asked for the white paper and fortunately it seemed to be part of the normal process. ( We do know of a couple who entered Thailand unknowingly without this card and couldn’t leave the country because they did not have one.) The insurance, however, we were told was available in the first “village”.

a white card/paper
a white card/paper
Stage one complete!
Stage one complete!

By this time, the sun was setting and we were worn out by the formalities. We had completed the paperwork with smiles all round even though we had been granted 60 days in the country, but our bikes only 30 days. Some battles can’t be won.

Exiting Malaysia, excitement, sadness & trepidation
Exiting Malaysia, excitement, sadness & trepidation

Off we rode into the sunset to complete the next necessity of sorting out sim cards so we could not only find and book accommodation, but also so we can contact each other if we become unwittingly separated. A long four hours later, with the help of another stranger who had come to our assistance, we had one functioning phone, but for some unknown reason my Samsung wouldn’t accept any of the local sims.  That problem along with the one of insurance we decided to leave for the following day, So, at nine o’clock that evening, in  near deserted streets which were lined with armed military personnel, we finally managed to roll into a hotel. The manager assured us our bikes would be safe because a navy ship was parked on the river right outside!

Against all advice we ventured out to the deserted street to the closest corner for a late night dinner.

The day had finished and although our business wasn’t complete there seemed to be no foundation for the foreboding feelings I had harboured all day. However, my sleep was plagued with nightmares of being under siege! This is true!

Still savouring the freedom of the fantastic highways, as opposed to those of Indonesia, the next day we decided to put in a long day and head for the sun and sand of Phuket. No shops were open so we had a quick breakfast, set the GPS for the beach and headed west. Having no insurance was not resting easy on our minds, but we decided to be careful, stay together and look for a place where insurance might be purchased as soon as possible.

After nearly 200kms, we pulled over for a drink and a quick rest. Not intending to stay long, I pulled under cover next to some cars. Something we have learnt is that in SE Asia there is usually a designated bike parking area, but the shade offered was inviting and the stop was to be only quick. (later it was pointed out to us that we had parked in a shopping trolley bay)

Con spied a stall outside the shopping complex which sold WD40 so he took off for that, only 50 metres away. I said I would be in KFC, directly in front of me, getting a cold drink.

The KFC door in front of me was not open, so I dashed into the main complex. Con not being able to see me in KFC, also went into the complex. We decided to sit down for a quick drink, but realising we had left the likes of the GPS, the Iphone and other items of value in our tank bags, Con left hurriedly to sight the bikes again.

I followed him shortly after, only  to find a crowd of people around him photographing the bikes; nothing unusual as people often photograph themselves with us and ask us about our journey. This scene was different though. I knew from Con’s face that all was not well.

As I drew closer, I realised that Con’s bike had fallen over into the side of a utility. It had dented and scratched the side door quite badly. “They have called the police,” he said, looking at me with a very pale face. By this time there were at least six people milling around, most of them taking photos. It was difficult to tell who they all were!

OOPS
OOPS

Except for one man who spoke just a few words of English, no-one was  communicating with us. A lot of talk in Thai was going on and we could not understand any of it.

We knew the police were coming. Now who hasn’t heard horror stories of accidents like this, where people land in jail until they can pay exorbitant and inflated costs. Many people see tourists as a walking bank. But we aren’t!

Con was mentally preparing himself for the inevitable. He would probably end up in jail until we could access enough money to pay damages and what would happen when the police found we had no insurance? Many things were going through my mind- jail, accessing money and surely  the trip would come to an end.

The police had not arrived, so in the background I contacted the friends we had made in Penang. We had the number of an Army official!  I began dialling him for help.

An insurance agent soon arrived and began inspecting the damage. Figures began to be discussed.

It was in the thousands! Thai baht in thousands! We did quick calculations and heard thousands in Australian dollars. I felt sick. By now, Con looked very, very pale.

“We have Army friend coming,” I declared, hoping they might begin to see some sense and stop asking for an outrageous amount of money. But the Army friend wasn’t answering his phone!

“Download the What’s app app”, our Malaysian friend said via FB messenger, “And send me your co-ordinates”. Many messages later, I managed to complete that and it seemed help was on its way.

In the meantime, one policeman arrived. He surveyed the damage, photographed it and asked for Con’s passport and the bike paperwork, yes the ‘’white card”!

“We have a white card!”

“Thank God we have a white card,” I thought.

“Thank you to anyone who told us about the white card!” (You know who you are!)

Then the policeman just left and with no mention of insurance! In fact no-one had asked for our insurance.

By this time lots of figures were being bandied around. 3000 became 5000 which then became 4000.

Once the owner, and the now growing crowd, realised we were happy to pay something for damages, the mood began to calm. if only the Army man would call to help translate for us.

In the flurry, it took a while for Con to realise that now the policeman had driven off, he probably wouldn’t be going to jail. it was now just a matter of how much we would have to pay. How many thousands?

Whilst I kept saying,”We have Army friend coming,” Con went off to withdraw as much as he could out of the ATM. I would then have to do the same to try to gather enough funds to offer the owner of the car. When Con returned, he said,” Ahh Liz let’s just check the exchange rate again shall we? I think we have been making a mistake.”

“What do you mean,” I asked.

Now I must mention here that Thailand is our fourth country and so our fourth currency and our fourth exchange rate. Travellers will know it takes some adjustment time to different currencies. ”Now do we divide by 2.5 or 25?”

“Do we multiply or divide?”

They are the usual mental calculations you make when dealing with foreign currencies. Now this is really just taking place in day one of our time inThailand. Con hadn’t even been to withdraw any Thai Baht until now. The withdrawal he had just made sparked the realisation that 3000 Baht wasn’t thousands of Australian dollars after all it was in hundreds!! We weren’t going to have to limp home broke after all!

Now we had clear minds.

The insurance agent was asking for 3500 Baht for damages and the owner was asking for ‘inconvenience’ money. After a phone call to his boss and by now 2 hours of negotiating and waiting for our Army “friend” and stalling on our behalf, the Insurance man accepted a payment of 3000 Baht ( $115.90 Australian not $1150!)

IMG_1010Next was the ‘inconvenience” money to be agreed upon. By this time we were hugely relieved at the figures being discussed on various calculators. Bear in mind the “discussion” was all taking place via Google Translate which most times comes up with weird translations like,”He is a 3500 graduate.” What does that mean? The inconvenience money went from 2000 Baht to 500 Baht, $19.32. We were more than happy to pay the owner for the inconvenience.

How did this happen?
How did this happen?

In total we paid very little for the damage. We were extremely sorry for the damage to his car and tried to express these sentiments to the owner. It was an almost new car and the damage was significant.

IMG_1011In Australia we do not have “inconvenience money” and at first we could not understand why we were paying two amounts and why the figures seemed to be so fluid. When thinking of jail time, possible dishonesty and thousands of dollars, we could not see our way through this predicament.

Finally, once money had changed hands and handshakes were given there were smiles all-round.

Upon reflection, there were many people, who stayed throughout the whole process trying to help us out. The man with a few words of English in his repertoire stayed for the long haul. The Insurance Agent remained calm and patient and was extremely  conciliatory. Our Malaysian friend managed to organise our Army friend to call us, albeit after it was all over.

Everybody walked away with a sense of relief, most of all us.

We are still not sure how the bike fell over when parked on level concrete, but suspect someone may have sat on it as we have discovered on numerous occasions. Our Dr 650s bikes are not commonly found in SE Asia and people love having their photo taken on our bikes  especially Con’s as it is so tall.

We hope someone, somewhere got a good photo of themselves astride the tall blue DR650 from Australia, although I suspect it has probably been deleted by now.

Now where can we  buy 3rd Party insurance?

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