The Thai Mafia Encounter

The Thai Mafia Encounter

A Story by Beavo

A travellers tale of a close shave during a backpacking trip to Singapore


I have been travelling to far flung places for most of my life and have had many great adventures along the way. Ive been asked many times what inspired this trip or that trip? what was your favourite place? where would you love to go next? All difficult or near impossible questions to answer in full, but I know for sure that my childhood had a big influence on my desire for adventure. Growing up in Bonnyrigg, a small town, eight miles south of Edinburgh, wasn’t particularly exciting or inspiring but come the weekend my family would escape to our caravan in Crail. Crail is a small picturesque fishing village on the Fife coast and was a whole different world for my brother and I. Here we were left by my parents to roam far and free at an early age, never really confined by meal times or the onset of darkness, and limited only by our imaginations as to what we might get up to. We had a group of friends, sons of other regular caravaners who would also appear for weekends at the Sauchope Links Caravan Park throughout the 70’s and early 80’s. These lads came from all over Scotland and were generally slightly older than my brother and I. Together we fought the Japs and the Gerries, played British Bulldogs for hours on end, explored the rock pools and beaches, and wandered endlessly around the countryside searching for things to climb, swing from and explore. It was total freedom for a young lad, and that is something I have craved ever since.

By the time I reached my teenage years, the caravan days were done. My father sold the van when I turned 14 and was beginning to work towards my o levels at school. Or at least that was the official line, in more recent times I have wondered if it wasn’t more to do with me having met my first girlfriend, who was also a campsite regular. Mandy came from quite a rough background in my parents eyes, she was certainly more worldly wise than I was and perhaps she was seen as a threat to my fragile innocence.

Too bad then, that soon after my 16th birthday I discovered Lasswade Rugby Club, or at least I fell in with the adult factions of the club through turning out for the 3rd team on Saturday afternoons. This was my introduction to the adult world and all it had to offer, and it was an exciting time for me and my friends. Alcohol, adult humour, girls and camaraderie with people whom I had only ever seen as authority figures before, all became available at the rugby club.

My friends and I were soon quite a big part of the club, breathing new life into not just the playing side but also the social side, as we turned up week after week at the Saturday night discos and social functions.

Lasswade was a great social club with long standing links to clubs in Wales and France and would tour these clubs on alternate years, coinciding with Scotlands away games in the 5 Nations Championship.

I was signed up for my first tour to Cwmgwrach, Wales in1986, travelling down by coach and being billeted with a local family for the weekend. We played a match against Cwmgwrach first XV on the Saturday morning before heading to Cardiff to see Scotland lose 22 -15 to Wales. The rugby however, was usually secondary to the main purpose of these tours, which was to have a thoroughly wild and drunken time with our hosts. At 19 years old this was such great fun for me and I made many great friends, male and female, over the following years. Rugby players it seemed were always instantly your friend, no mater where you were in the world. I loved singing my head off in a big group of lads with whom you had bonded with for life after having tried to knock their head off their shoulders only an hour or so before hand.

In 1991 I took my rugby touring to a new level when I decided to follow the National team out to New Zealand for a month long trip. This was a massive experience for me, backpacking round the country and going to Scotlands games in various towns and cities, the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Rugby is like religion in New Zealand and with half the country seemingly descended from Scots, I was greeted with open arms by everyone I met. Myself and the dozen or so fellow backpackers who were following the tour, were made to feel like prodigal sons at the post match celebrations, and we rarely had to put our hands in our pockets to pay for our beer.

I returned from that trip a changed man, I was more confident for sure and I wanted to experience everything in life and live it to the full. I was curious about peoples lives in other countries and wanted to experience more of this travelling, backpacking life I had discovered. It was total freedom on a new scale and I was now determined to travel the world.

I returned to my job as an Engineering Technician in Edinburgh were I was doing well and earning good money for my age, but nothing would do now but for me to save every penny I earned and to plan my escape from small town boredom.

Just over one year later and after much sacrifice I had managed to save around 6 thousand pounds and had in place a solid plan to buy a round the world air ticket which would take me to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. I planned to work if I could but my priority was to see as much of these countries as possible, and to photograph myself in all the places I had read about and dreamed of since my return from New Zealand. I would visit Ayers Rock, Niagra falls, the Barrier Reef and The Canadian Rockies, I would bungy jump, white water raft and water ski, and I would have the absolute time of my life with random backpackers from all over the world, I couldn’t wait!

In early November 1991, just a few days after watching my beloved Scotland team knocked out the rugby world cup by the Auld Enemy in a nail biting game at Murryfield, Edinburgh, I boarded a plane for Singapore, the first stop on my grand world tour.

I landed in Singapore in the early morning and was hit by a wall of heat as I exited the airport to look for a taxi, all round I could hear insects croaking in the trees and every sight was new and exciting. I made it into the city centre and took shelter from the sun in a shopping mall where I sat with my trusty Lonely Planet guide book and looked for the page I had marked with potential lodgings for my 3 day stay. As I browsed the pages intently, I suddenly became aware of the person who had come to sit next to me on the benches. He was a local guy, about 60 years old and smartly dressed in shirt and tie and he wore gold rimmed glasses, and was quite official looking. He spoke to say hello and when I answered in my Scottish accent he looked at me with a smile. You are Scottish? he asked and proceeded to tell me how he had fought beside Scottish soldiers in the second world war and held the Scots in high regard. I was interested for a minute or two but I was keen to find myself a place to stay and to head off for some breakfast. He was quite insistent however and introduced himself as John and asked if he could help me in any way. Too polite to turn down his offer I quickly found myself following this guy through the city streets to the local YMCA which he recommended to me for my stay. After he had seen to my successful check in he told me to meet him outside in the street in the evening of the following day and he would be pleased to show me around. Again, too polite to refuse I agreed and shook his hand in thanks, then he was gone.

Off I went to find somewhere to eat, I had the village people song, YMCA going round my head on loop and I was happy as Larry.

  Next day I spent the morning roaming the city streets of Singapore city taking in every sight, sound and smell of the place. It was a melting pot of different cultures, religions and race and I was fascinated by everything I saw, it was so exotic, and different to things back home.

I was enjoying myself and reluctant to keep my commitment to meet John but I also thought it might be quite cool to have someone to chat to over a beer and to learn a bit about life in Singapore. I changed into my smartest clothes for the evening and met him at 6 o’clock outside the YMCA.

We went to a city bar where I ordered up two local beers, and we sat at a table in the rather upper class establishment surrounded by businessmen and well dressed, attractive ladies. I was relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere on the first night out of my travels. John was chatting away and telling me how his niece was to be married in two days time and suggested that I should attend as a guest of honour. I dismissed this with thanks, I had no interest in going to a strangers wedding but politely cited my lack of suitable attire as reason not to attend.

The conversation drifted on and we had another beer or two but Johns demeanour seemed to change slightly as the evening wore on. He repeatedly brought up the subject of his nieces wedding and suggested that I might buy myself a suit in order to attend. He told me his brother owned a tailors shop and could arrange a cut price deal for me on a hand made suit. Again I deflected from this subject by telling him I had no money for such a luxury as a new suit on my poor backpackers budget.

I was getting quite merry after an hour or so but also a little wary of my new friends pushy attitude.

Ever the trusting, naive young lad however, I had another beer and agreed to move on to the next bar. John led the way along a side street to an all together different establishment to the classy joint we had just left. It was dark and a little shabby, cheap red seating and curtains and not much else. I realised quickly that I was the only tourist in the place and became slightly nervous. As we sat in a large horseshoe booth to one side of the dingy lounge, we were suddenly joined by two new characters and I instantly put my beer down and felt myself tense up at their appearance. One was a slim hard faced local man, dressed from head to toe in black, he had a full head of curly black hair, menacing little eyes, and was dripping with gold jewellery. The other was a nasty looking, heavy built brute who worn a red t-shirt and was chewing a match stick, neither looked like my friend.

They sat down next to us in the booth and John introduced them to me, I instinctively rose to my feet to shake their hands, but was told to sit down by John. ‘Don’t stand while these guys are seated’ he said in a serious tone, which alarmed me considerably.

Who are these guys? I asked, but John was talking now to the two newcomers in a foreign tongue and he ignored me completely. I made attempts to join the conversation but Black shirt and Red shirt just looked, nodded and smiled thinly, I could tell they didn’t understand what I was saying. I was also aware that what they were talking about with John, was me!

I stopped drinking at that point and tried to focus my thoughts, luckily I wasn’t drunk but I was not fully clear headed either. When ever I tried to stand up and move from the booth I was told firmly to sit down, John had become a different character all together.

I Looked round the bar for an ally but there wasn’t another western face to be seen and suddenly I realised I was in a scary situation. I didn’t know where I was or how to get back to my hostel, I was being lined up for god knows what by some pretty unpleasant characters and I was a long long way out of my depth.

This was no friendly sociable meeting and I knew I had to get out the situation quickly, but every time I tried to leave I was being sat back down by John and stared at by the thugs sitting opposite.

I continued with my friendly approach of smiling and attempting to make conversation, but I wasn’t making any breakthrough. I started to panic, what was I going to do?

Eventually I noticed that the lounge doors had been opened and I could see people outside in the street, I decided to make a break for it. I stood up again and said to John I was going to the wash room, I walked across the lounge and half way to the wash room doors I turned suddenly and headed out the main exit and into the street. My head was spinning but I managed to spot a taxi and jumped inside, as I spoke to the driver the door at the other side opened and in jumped John.

I burst with anger at this point and shouted at him in a rage, telling him to f**k off and get out the cab. He shouted back saying, ‘You are in trouble, those guy in there are Mafia from Thailand. The guy in the black, he is the leader, the guy in the red, he is the killer! They want you to bring drugs from Malaysia to Singapore’

Well I knew that drug offences carried the death penalty in Singapore and at that point, I nearly passed out.

You set me up you b*****d’ I screamed in horror but he continued by accusing me of being too friendly and blamed me for trying to talk to the thugs for too long. ‘Here, these guys can kill you, put drugs in your mouth and the police do nothing’ he said. At which point I was almost in tears with absolute terror.

The taxi dropped me at the YMCA and John disappeared. In shear panic I went straight to my room, stuffed all my belongings into my rucksack and ran down stairs. If John knew where I was staying then I wasn’t safe I thought to myself and I had to leave right away. I handed my room key to a confused receptionist and walked out the hostel and into the dark.

I made a beeline for a park area which I knew was to the rear of the hostel, it was pitch dark and deserted and I threw my self down against a tree with my rucksack on my back. I was trying hard to focus my thoughts, sober up, and think what to do next. In my head, those guys were mafia and would be after me, they probably owned all the taxis and every driver for miles around would be on the look out for a little blonde haired Scottish guy, shouldn’t be too hard to find.

After about an hour, I was feeling a little less agitated and was sober enough to come up with a plan, but now all I wanted to do was get as far away from Singapore as I possibly could. I eventually plucked up enough courage to flag down a street taxi and as I jumped in the back seat I said one word, ‘Airport’

Luckily when I got to the airport about 1 o’clock in the morning, I was able to change my flight to Sydney for a departure early the next day. The girl at the Quantas desk was lovely and I was so relieved to see a friendly face. Afterwards, I was so exhausted that I flopped down on the floor in a quiet corner and sat there with my head in my hands. I was sure now that John had targeted me right from the start and saw me as an easy prey to be intimidated into becoming a drug mule.

I imagined myself being force fed condoms full of cocaine in some seedy Malaysian bar, held at gun point by black shirt and red shirt with John grinning in the background.

I was shattered. My trusting naivety and my belief in the fact that I was Scottish, and so everybody was my friend, had been my downfall and I could so easily have been drugged myself and on my way to Malaysia by now, I was very glad to have escaped.

The next day I boarded a flight to Sydney Australia, I had been upgraded to a comfortable business class seat and fell fast asleep shortly after take off. I remember waking up as we started our decent into Sydney and blurting out my story to the smartly dressed businessman sat next to me. It all came out in a slightly agitated stream of non stop excited chatter, which produced little response. I’m not even sure the guy spoke English but I didn’t really care, I just wanted to talk to somebody about what had happened. We landed soon after breakfast and the Businessman disappeared quickly without a word, he probably thought I was nuts.

The rest of my travels that year went much more as I had planned. I met many many great people from all over the world and made friends with people whom I am still in touch with nearly 30 years later. It was a life changing experience for sure and gave me great confidence to take on more and more adventurous trips in years to come. I learned a hard lesson that night in Singapore and it could have turned out much worse than it did, but it set me in good stead I suppose. It made me street wise and where ever I go now, I am always just that little bit more wary than I was before. Not everybody is a rugby fan, Not everybody is your friend!

© 2020 Beavo

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Added on May 24, 2020
Last Updated on August 6, 2020
Tags: Travel, adventure, travel writing, Singapore, backpacking adventures, travel adventures



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