Farewell To Don Muang
Having read NamPla69's ode to Don Muang, and having left my mark there many a time, I felt the need to share my own humurous – well in retrospect – moment at the old lady of Don Muang, which funnily enough is quite recent.
Now I'm no stranger to the place, having visited it some 60+ times in nigh on 20 years, but this was a first to me, and it happened last Christmas on my way to my annual Phuket Christmas break.
You'd have to consider it what is loosely described as "One of those days", you know the ones where absolutely nothing seems to go right?
I'd had a call from the lads in Phuket asking me to bring some rolling tobacco for them, since they were generally unable to find decent foreign ciggies on a budget, and some of them actually liked the stuff.
Now I've never once worried about what I take to the LOS, normally carrying 600 smokes, a couple of bottles of nice port, some cigars, and occasionally the odd bottle of Brandy or whatever as a Christmas present (and this was a Christmas trip). On this occasion, I actually had 1000 cigs, two bottles of a quite tasty liquer cream, 25 very nice Cubans, 60 sachets of said Golden Virginia and two bottles of a nice Vintage Taylors.
The departure from my Middle East base was uneventful, and the shit didn't hit the fan until I landed. I'd booked my flights on Thai from BKK-HKT and paid for them in advance, so I couldn't really see any problem. So much for that.
It all started going horribly wrong when I phoned Thai Airways on the way to the airport to ask if I could get on an earlier flight, only to be told my original flight was actually cancelled because it hadn't been re-confirmed. Turns out my regular travel agent had gone on leave and left a typically useless, lazy and incompetent local slapper to fill in, and all she'd done for a week was chat to her mates on her mobile and look put out when people had actually tried to get her to do any real work. Some of her real work involved responding to re-confirmation requests, so I wasn't best pleased. And this in the run up to the Tsunami anniversary, when every single flight to Phuket was solid and overbooked, right up to 11pm.
I managed (by dint of being in Biz class) to get on that last flight, and figured I'd wing it when I got to BKK and see if I could get sneaked on an earlier one (J class wait list takes priority over the cheapskates in the back, most of who can afford J class but are too tight to use it).
Of course, on arrival at Bangkok, that was when the day really started going tits up.
As you do, I strolled through immigration with only hand luggage, having shoved most of the contraband in my cabin bag and only holding one plastic carrier bag with the tobacco in it. Downstairs, no case to pick up, so I just meandered straight through green and outside onto the road for a smoke. No problem, eh? Yeah, right.
Then it was time to meander over to domestic to try and squeeze on to a full flight (well at least you get the lounge, so even waiting wasn't going to be too much of a hardship). So I climb in the lift and hit the button.
It's just one of those moments you remember where you always think "If only", in this case, if only I'd had one more ciggie, or wanted a pee, or whatever. Just before the doors close, in come a couple of – yes, you got it, customs agents.
It was like something out of a comedy film, I'm stood behind them wishing the lift would go faster than a trip through Stargate, and they are talking to each other. I'm avoiding eye contact, and adjusting my belt, etc., desperately trying not to look nervous, but hey, only the pros can do that.
I could see this man's trained eye suddenly begin to peruse the open (yes, why didn't I cover it up? Because I was in the clear!) Carrier bag and notice slightly more than the permitted 400 Marlboro lights, and then of course his bloody eyes lit up didn't they.
"Wad dis? Wad dis?" He bellowed at me. "Nothing, just cigarettes" I countered, but that was it. "Too many, you come with us". Oh shit on a stick. "Come on guys, I've got a flight to catch, can't we sort this out here? Small fine maybe?" Well brandishing a few purples or browns has worked in the past with various little traffic violations, so why not try it? Nope, "You come with us, give me passport".
Well what am I going to do, make a run for it? Thankfully, I'm not exactly poor, but I could see this was going to be a few hours and a wad of baht wasted. So I follow them to the customs office where they sit me down and proceed to pull everything out of the case. "Wad Dis?" Cigars. "Wad Dis?" A rather nice liqueur actually, you should try it. "Wad dis?" Port, way out of your league sunshine. Well you can imagine, they then proceed to start filling out the usual gazillion forms and jabbering away. What can you do? Sit there and wait for the bad news, I think. So that's what I did.
Another memorable moment. Up comes one of the officers, geneal old gent he was, and asks me if I'm English. "Yes". He waves a paper at me and says "You can answer this?". It's only his English exam, I assume something used to earn civil service promotion or something.
The question was "A silver shiny animal that lives in the sea is a……" and multiple choice answers of (a) A bat, (b) a goat, (c) a fish, (d) an aeroplane. "Oh yes, that's (d) I said.
"Shoowah?". "Oh shoowah", I replied, grinning.
Oh you can imagine, can't you. "You can answer others?" "Mai Pen Rai, you give me" I say.
It didn't occur to me until days later that he might have been waiting for me on the return trip with rubber gloves, a hosepipe, bike pump and a bucket of cooking oil. (Thankfully he wasn't). However, with the less than charitable answers I gave (do you think I was going to help the witless nork!?), needless to say, I doubt he got that promotion 😉
Anyway, there we are an hour later and they say "OK now you go customs". "Which floor" I reply: "No you go Bangkok". "Why can't I pay here?….."
– aaah you just know before you've even finished asking a completely redundant question to a Thai, don't you?
At least they had the courtesy to take me there, luggage, contraband and all, in a police car. Nice little trip actually, only 20 minutes, and there I am in the "Ministry of Shoving Sharp Objects up your Ar*se while extracting your Kidneys".
So I'm sat in an office with two very very depressed looking Farang who have been caught trying to do the opposite to me: Smuggle the stuff out to sell in Farangland at a profit. And of course they are at the end of their holiday and have maxed out the credit cards and used all their fun tickets.
Quite why I don't know, but I'm invited into the first office by another (unsurprisingly) smiling gent, who says "25,000 baht please". F**k me stiff, I can afford it, but that still hurt. Whatever, I start counting out the wonga. "Sign here" he says, so I give him my monicker. "And here". Again. "And here". Again.
About 40 (I kid you not) of these later, he says "OK now you go". So I walk out with him and there's my stuff on the desk, minus Tobacco and Cigs. The rest is all there. He winks at me and says "We let you keep rest, for Klitma". Oh happy Klitma to you too. "What happens to the cigs then", I ask him, smile on face. "We destloy". "Shoowah" I reply with a huge grin, and he grins back even more and winks. "Kop Khun Kab" I say, well he's only doing what I let him do, so might as well make light of it.
The two farang ask me, "How much", "oh, 25,000 baht" I said. I swear they went white. I quickly grabbed my bits and pieces (The cigars cost more than the cigarettes and tobacco, so I was out of there while I was still on a winner).
"Don't let it spoil your holiday", I consoled, but I think the damage was already done.
A swift taxi back to Don Muang (for that amount of cash, you'd have thought they could have waited, wouldn't you?), and I go and try and check in. Well forget that one. Wait list? They had wait lists for the wait lists for the wait lists. Even the "walk on" airlines were "walk away".
Well of course by this time, the enthusiasm for the whole trip is waning a bit, and the hangover's starting to kick in, so I go and check in the Amari and crash out until my real 11pm flight.
That all went fairly well, strolled over at 10pm, cup of coffee in the lounge, then straight on the plane to Phuket. OK, I'm starting to feel relaxed now, still got a ton of stuff through, holiday's about to start, be on the lash with the lads in a couple of hours. You reckon?
Why I always forget what a lazy parasitic bunch Thai taxi drivers are, especially the airport ones.
Picture if you will, they've had probably 10 full flights come in that day (with more to come the closer it got to 26/4/05), so they'd absolutely coined it. Forget the fact there's more money to be made by the very full last flight, they only look as far as their noses. Obviously content with a day's winnings, they decided to sod off and hit the Sang Thip, leaving a couple of hundred very p*ssed off people hanging around at the airport.
To this day, if I EVER hear a Thai taxi driver pleading poverty, low season, tsunami, they can shove it up their Gary Glitter, because I know they turned down money when it was on offer, so they can (excuse my French) F*** right off if they think I'm subsidising them.
Well, it was one of those days, wasn't it?
Karma is such a wonderful thing though. One of our long absent friends had arrived in town, and rented a Merc and driver for the day and taken the lads out on the town. So when I phoned my resident host and publican to ask him for a mutual (amateur) taxi driver's number, he told me to wait and someone would pick me up.
Now of course this is all news to me, up rolls this limo and calls my name, and I've dumped my stuff in the boot and and just pleased I'm 40 minutes from bed.
Ahhh but there was one more twist in the tale. Instead of my hotel, we pull up outside this rather large bar with band in full flow. That's what I like about the lads in Thailand. They don't give you time to be miserable.
Several tequilas, beers, and smokes later, it was just like I'd never left, and it went on to be another fabulous (and thankfully this time, tsunami free) Christmas. And a merry story to be told over brandies of the day I was caught smuggling in Thailand and lived to tell the tale (well, in those circumstances, you do have to widen the brim of the hat somewhat).
I'm already booked for the coming festive frolics. Only this time I may do my own flight bookings. And with Suwanapoom open, I probably won't chance taking a mobile booze and tobacco shop with me, either 😉
Almost every story I have heard of Westerners getting caught for exceeding the allowances sees guys approached by officers after they have already cleared Immigration and Customs. And ouch, the fines are awfully stuff!