Delightful Chiang Mai – Delightful Police
Ning, my SE Asian de-facto girl friend, and I zoom along busy Huay Kaew road on a rented motosai. This road leads to the zoo and to famous Doi Suthep mountain, two major tourist attractions in Chiang Mai.
A policeman stops us. I am not cool enough to simply drive on. We screech to a halt, and Mr. Brown has soon investigated a whole basket of crimes we committed:
– I do not wear a helmet (it is in the motosai basket)
– She does not wear a helmet (she has none)
– I do not carry my passport (it is at the motosai shop, and he doesn't want the photocopy)
– She does not carry her passport (it is in the hotel)
– I have no driving licence (is it really needed for a 125 ccm motosai?)
He says, he will keep the vehicle and we have to go three kilometers to the police station to pay 400 baht. I sigh with depression, as dozens of helmetless Thais roar past us. Ning is not Thai, but she seems to know the game, hissing from behind: "Ask him if we can pay here!" – "Pay thini, dai mai na khrap?" – Suddenly he is friendly and cooperative. An amount of 200 baht cash would speed up the process indeed, he suggests. Then he holds his writing block over his hand. And there, in this shadowy covered area, his greedy fingers receive 200 baht from my wallet. I put on the helmet, just pro forma, and on we go.
500 meters further west, the next policeman suddenly jumps out of a driveway and commands us to halt. I have to use the brakes heavily to avoid rolling beyond the driveway into a no-parking zone; the driveway is wet and slippery, we almost crash down in order to stop for the policeman. Who has soon investigated a whole basket of crimes on our side:
– She does not wear a helmet
– I do not carry my passport
– She does not carry her passport
– I have no driving licence
Policeman 2 says, he will keep the vehicle and we have to go three and a half kilometers to the police station to pay 400 baht. I sigh again, as dozens more helmetless Thais roar past. I ask him again: "Pay thini, dai mai na khrap?" – Suddenly policeman 2 is friendly and cooperative. 200 baht would speed up the process indeed, he suggests. He holds his writing block over his hand. But I have not enough small notes now; I ask if he has change for 500 baht – but he looks embarrassed, as if I suggested bribing loyal Royal Thai authorities. I show him my limited funds, and with a shrug he lowers his price to 100 baht. On we go.
Now Ning expects another policeman behind every bush. "Better next time pay 400 and ask for a receipt", she suggests: "I think we can use it for one full day, no need to pay policeman number two, three and ten."
At 10 p.m., we mount motosai for a short trip across the river to the "Cottage" music pub. We have no helmets and no passports, because we do not expect any coppers. We drive north along the one-way road called Charoen Prathet, then we want to turn right into Nawarat bridge. But there is a police post on the bridge! They have already rounded up half a dozen motosais. I want to flee to the left, but there is another police post!
"We must go back", insists Ning from behind. Going back on a one-way road is just the norm in her country, but I wouldn't do it easily in Thailand. As we stand still on Charoen Prathet, ten other motosais have stopped beside us, realized the police situation and then turned around, entering the one-way road in the false direction.
So we turn around too, going back the wrong way into black narrow Charoen Prathet. A helmetless Thai girl speeds along on her Honda Wave and almost crashes into us; she did not expect traffic from the wrong side. "This is a one-way road!", she lectures me in very clear English. – "Yes, but there is police up there!", I lecture her back. – "Oh!", she says and does a quick U-turn herself.
On this chilly night in Central Chiang Mai, police forces all and innocent sundry to drive down Charoen Prathet in the wrong direction.
I am alone, when I park motosai at the western end of Ratchadamnoern road in the old town. The location should be ok for parking: the curbstone is not painted red-white, and ten other motorcycles stand there – a good sign that parking here is fine with local police. I walk into a small soi to visit HQ Paper, a factory outlet for handmade mulberry "Saa" paper.
I spend about an hour with all the miraculously beautiful papers, with flowers and grasses worked in, plus a very charming sales lady, then I walk back to motosai. All machines are gone now, except for two – my motorcycle and one more. Interestingly, they are locked together with a chain. An officially looking paper in Thai only is fixed to my motorcycle seat.
I must say that I was stupid enough to rent a motorcycle with a big sticker "Mr. Beer" – one of Chiang Mai's largest motorcycle renters. "Mr. Beer" sounds dull enough, and duller even, everybody knows this is a tourist's bike. But why did I get a ticket?
For a moment I ponder visiting a hardware store to buy the equipment that would easily break the police chain. I didn't plan to spend the afternoon at the station. Then I remember that the police shack is only a few hundred meters down the same road. I waddle down there. In the entrance hall there is desk that reads "Information". A policeman in brown gives me a disapproving look, checks my ticket and says: "That traffic police. You go Warorot market." Next to him sits a lady in plain clothes, maybe an interpreter, and she explains: "That traffic police. You go Warorot market."
Oh my god. That market is huge, and three kilometers away on Ping river. As I walk out I ask myself if the station is somewhere inside the market building, and how I could find it? I walk back to my disapproving policeman in brown who barks: "Traffic police around Warorot market. Wichayanon street." The interpreting lady next to him clarifies: "Traffic police around Warorot market. Wichayanon street."
Well, now that I have the ticket and my bike locked, I can as well take my time. I walk a bit further down the road to "Technophobia", featuring "Coffee – Internet – Attitude", but also great muesli, cappuccino and complimentary W-Lan and newspapers. After a one-hour-splurge I feel strong enough to face local authorities. A waiting tuktuk driver knows the police station. When we arrive there he says: "You need ten minutes only. Maximum 800 baht fine. I wait here for you." There are several doors and stairs, and after some asking around the helpful tuktuk man says I have to climb up to first floor.
The rooms holds about five policemen behind two big desks, plus five delinquents, from a shy female university student to a rich old lady who is yakking at the cops, but to no avail. My ticket comes on a stack, and I have to wait until the others are processed. At one point a policeman brings another ticket with 100 baht attached to the front desk guy; this man shoves ticket plus money quickly into a drawer, then brings back ticket only.
Now I have sit down in front of brown clad Mr. Front Desk. He studies my ticket with a concerned face, shakes his head and barks: "PARKING!!!" – "Yes, parking", I admit ruefully, still with no idea what is wrong with my behaviour. – "400 baht!!!", he barks. – I lower my head in shame.
Several more papers are written, signed by me, 400 baht change hands. I am told I can go back to my bike now, a policeman will unlock it. So I return to my waiting tuktuk driver. When we approach the area of my bike, he tells me that on this day I cannot park on this side of the street – only on the other side. Tomorrow I could park there, though. I had no idea about that regulation, no renter ever told me about it, and of course there had been 10 motosais parked when I arrived first. < signs for this sort of thing are in Thai only…one good reason to learn Thai! – Stick>
An ebullient policeman stands next to my rental motosai. His face screams shame on me. I lower my head and hand out the police receipt with averted eyes. He studies it fiercely and finally concludes that I in fact already paid 400 baht. He unlocks my bike, mounts his own motorcycle and disappears with a last accusing roar. I am free now, but my tuktuk driver looks very unhappy. This customer might bring bad luck, his eyes say.
I'm surprised that they are so tough on tourists up there…given that it is tourism which runs so much of the local economy.