A Few Scratches
The sun rose over the rolling hills surrounding Pai as roosters sang songs of morning terror. Early bird construction workers joined the symphony of sounds and began drilling, chopping and clobbering away at buildings. I rolled over, groaned and buried my head further into my pillow. Another hour or two of sleep won’t hurt, we have plenty of time, I thought.
Three Days Earlier
In the quaint, picturesque town of Pai, located in Northern Thailand, it is common for tourists to rent scooters, thus enabling them to visit the many natural attractions the mountains encompassing the village have to offer. On arrival, my group of travel companions, Hayden, Sam, and our newest addition Kaisa, decided to heed the advice given to us and rented scooters. We chose the company Pai Western Motorbike. We had no idea what was to follow.
On the first day we only rented two scooters and rode doubled up to Tham Lot Cave. The winding road that carved its way up and down the mountains provides motorists with a thrilling ride. Blind corners, steep inclines and declines and truck drivers flying around scooters and cars at double the speed limit makes for an interesting time. Apart from the mayhem of passing traffic, the view is incredible. Tall trees thick with shocking green foliage and vines swinging down from incredible heights rise up from the rich, dark reddish-brown soil that borders the pavement. As you ride higher, the rolling hills that are accompanied by perfectly tended rice fields take your breath away. Warm air from below and cool air from above clash on your face and one can’t help but to smile and enjoy the sun peaking through the fauna to kiss your cheeks.
After a brilliant three days of scooting around, visiting the koi fish filled Tham Lot Cave, the sparkling clear Sai Ngam hot springs and the awe-inspiring Pai Canyon at sunset, we enjoyed the plentiful, and delectable foods at Pai’s renowned night markets.
The Morning of Scratches
The broken record of cock-a-doodle-do rang in my aching ears and after a long fight with the stronger side of my will that was keeping me in bed, I rose and began to pack my bags. Our bus was to leave at noon. Hayden, Sam and Kaisa set off around nine-thirty in the morning to bring the scooters back to the rental shop.
The sun was shining and chattered filled the air of The Purple Monkey Hostel. I was going about my morning without the slightest idea of the events happening just down the road. Just under an hour passed and Sam appeared on the foot path. His swim shorts were ripped up the side, he was missing a flip-flop and two of his toes were cut open and bleeding. My immediate thought was he got into a minor accident on the bike, but that wasn’t the case. When I asked him what had happened, he replied, “You should see the other guy”. I thought he was joking.
When they arrived to the Western Pai Motorbike shop the man collecting the bikes decided to accuse Hayden of crashing the scooter and pointed out scratches all over the bike. The scratches were already there when he rented the bike and Hayden never came close to crashing. The man then said that they need to pay him 500 Baht for the damages incurred in order to get Hayden’s passport back, but Hayden and Sam protested.
They were situated in the tight alley way next to the shop and the bikes when the man shoved Hayden and began growing with rage. Sam stepped between the two in effort to diffuse the tension, but the man was so consumed by his ploy to scam my friends that he swung at Hayden. Agile as he is, Hayden dodged the punch, but the horrific man wasn’t done. He wanted to hurt them. Sam stepped in once again, but this time it was with a forceful blow to the man’s brow. With shocking contact, his skin split and blood came rushing down his face. Whether the man realized he would not be able to win a hands on fight against the duo, or he just wanted to escalate things for his own personal enjoyment, no one knows, but he went into his shop and him and his friend returned with metal bats and chairs. They began welting Sam and Hayden with the bats. As Sam tried to get out of the alley to avoid the abuse, his swim trunks got caught and tore open as he was forced backwards where he also cut his foot open. Eventually they were able to get out into the street where people were passing by in numbers. Safe, for now.
They left with haste towards the hostel and the police station. Hayden’s passport was still at the motorbike shop and it was imperative that we retrieved it because his Myanmar Visa was enclosed and they had plans to travel there the following morning. Sam stopped by the room to pick up the receipt for the rental and informed me of what happened. The hostel advised them to go to the tourist police first and ask how they should proceed. Once again, I stayed back. There was little I could do, and having not witnessed anything I would be of no use.
To our dismay, the tourist police explained that if Hayden were to go to the Thai police, both the shop owner and Hayden would have to pay a fine. According to the tourist police, in Thailand if you are attacked and then you attack back, even in self defense like what Hayden and Sam did, you are still guilty and will be fined. With new insight of the corrupt policing in Pai, Hayden and Kaisa returned to the motorbike shop with the 500 Baht, willing to pay.
The man refused to accept the payment nor return Hayden’s passport and instead demanded 5,000 Baht. Not wanting to get into another altercation they left quickly and returned to Purple Monkey to discuss the matter. Would it be worth 5,000 Baht (160USD)? Was it too late to go to the police? No one quite knew what to do, but with Sam and Hayden’s trip to Myanmar in high priority, he decided to do it. Hayden walked back to the shop, alone, with money in hand, and was once again willing to pay.
You could tell how tense we all were, how frustrated, how angry. Why did this man go to such extreme heights to scam us? With no one to assist us, we felt helpless. What option did we have but to pay? They were going to get away with it all and the only thing we could do was sit and watch.
When Hayden arrived at the shop one final time, he handed the younger man a stack of money. As he was counting the other man went inside and returned with a pistol. He loaded it and threatened Hayden. The stack was only 4,100 Baht, Kaisa had accidentally miscounted, and the shop owner was furious. Hayden quickly assured them that he had the rest and retrieved the missing 900 from his pocket. With the loaded gun still clenched in his cold hand, he gave Hayden his passport. Immediately Hayden left, not looking back, not stopping for anything.
Hayden was shook up, as anyone would be when a gun is drawn on them, and so we slowly finished sorting our things and then took the long walk, purposely avoiding Western Pai Motorbikes, to make it in time for our bus to Chiang Mai. With a great sigh of relief, we left the corruption, violence and any remaining fear behind us as we drove through the beautiful winding mountains, far away from Pai.
**Note to travelers in Pai, Thailand***
Do NOT use Western Pai Motorbike! It is located on the same road as the Pai Pub, Police Station and Purple Monkey Hostel. These people do not deserve your business and you are at risk of getting scammed.
- **Reminder*** When renting motorbikes, take photographs of the entire bike when you rent and ask the salesperson to get in the photo as well.