Zach Laan

Watch out for the fuzz

Encounters with the boys in brown

After my previous blog about license plates I decided a follow up was in order. I have never seen a "9999" license plate pulled over by Thai police and watched the exchange. I figure it's kind of a Thai albatross of sorts. However, I have been part of a few stops during my time and have heard several other stories of encounters with police. All of the following did happen.

1. Arai naaaaa?

I had just made a down payment on a Honda City to make the commute to see my girlfriend at the time easier. My school was in Kantaralak, a district in Si Saket about 35km from the Cambodian border and an hour drive from Ubon Ratchatani. I came into Ubon for some baguettes and a KFC, as my district did not possess those lovely Western delights. As I was driving out of the city a cop flagged me down.

I had my Canadian license, but no international one. I also had no supporting paperwork, as it was all in my girlfriend's name. At the time my Thai was strong, but I made a conscious decision to play dumb and use only English. After some awkward exchanges (cop's English wasn't good) he managed to convey that he was going to take me to the station to write me up and do who knows what else. A few more words, I handed him 800 baht and was on my way home. I gave his family a nice meal at MK and he didn't bust me or empty my whole wallet. Thai Thai.

2. Government ID's

When I had my Honda City we had a regular license plate, but my girlfriend was a Thai government high school teacher with full benefits and the ID card to go with it. These are the teachers who have the brown uniforms with gold shoulder boards on Monday's and have special all white outfits for auspicious occasions. Side note: I love the way Thailand uses the word "auspicious" to mark occasions.

Anytime we got stopped at a checkpoint she simply flashed her ID and we were waved through without a second glance. My Thai homestay mother is a government dentist and it was the same thing with her. After I got hit with the 800 baht pay-off my girlfriend yelled at me for being an idiot. I got stopped several times after while driving alone and simply picked up the phone and called her. Thirty second explanation of her government status to the officer and I was good to go.

3. Youth Factor

Before Kantaralak I was stationed in Sakon Nakhon and my transportation was a 100cc Honda Wave bike. The high school was next to the rajaphat university, technical college and primary school. You can imagine the mad dash in the morning with all the students. I had a helmet, but wasn't particularly fond of wearing it. Mainly because I'm super cool and a bit of a moron.

There would be traffic cops at the U-turns close by the schools a few days a week. The first few times they stopped me and asked about the helmet. I played the "No Thai" gag and explained that I was a teacher at the high school. They waved me through. Teachers are highly respected in Thai culture and in a smaller town like that I got the nod. I was also smart by smiling a lot and showing my gratitude for their kindness. For the rest of the year they got to know my face and we would just smile and nod at each other in the morning. No 200 baht ticket for me. Did it have anything to do with the fact that I was a 24 year old Caucasian male with blue eyes and light hair who smiled? Absolutely. Is this a topic for another article? You betcha.

4. Bangers

A security dude on the Skytrain once came sprinting down and almost tackled me because my foot was on that stupid yellow line. My friend, who lived in Bangkok and was with me when it happened, made "banok" (country bumpkin) jokes at my expense for the rest of the night. This has nothing to do with cops. Just shows the difference between the city and country and the way people follow rules. I would've probably been busted for the 200 baht helmet thing in Bangkok regardless of my age and physical features, but in Sakon Nakhon? You're laughing.

5. Fourty Four

My homestay father owned the Honda CRV with a "44" license plate as mentioned in the previous article. He paid 120,000 baht ($4,000) for it. During that time he drove like a bat of out hell all around Isaan and never had a problem. No accidents, no tickets and VIP treatment. And in case you wondering, bat out of hell speed is 150-160km/h.

Currently, he owns a Toyota Camry Hybrid with the license plate "11." I asked if he paid for that number, but it was actually the 11th Toyota Camry Hyrbid purchased in Khon Kaen province for that year's model. Neat. So sometimes it might just be the 15th Mercedes that was bought in Nakhon Somewheres. Does he have extra pull driving an expensive car and being the 11th person to buy it? You better believe it. Now imagine you had "9999" on a BMW or Porsche. Yowza.

6. Saffron

The reason I came to Thailand in 2007 was to visit my mother who was already working at a temple school in Nongkhai. She worked with the Thai teachers who were also monks and they would travel around together. It was always a borderline gong show. A 50-something Canadian woman riding along with a 30 something Thai monk doesn't happen often in Thailand, much less the rural parts. As you can imagine, they were met mostly with slack-jawed stares of pure befuddlement from the local coppers. They were too confused to even ask a question. If you want to make Thai heads explode as a farang, befriend a monk. Also, my mom could've made millions smuggling contraband across the Mekong into Nongkhai from Laos with that sweet transportation setup. Talk about a wasted opportunity. We could've been the first farang kingpins. Ugh. Moms are the worst.

Note: This is not a commentary on anything, nor is it meant to show the Honourable Royal Thai Police in a negative light. It's simply a few stories about things I experienced.

If you've had any funny, wild or crazy encounters with the boys in brown and want to share, drop me a line 


As a motorcyclist who spent most of the 80's and 90's dispatching around London, I would urge anyone who thinks it's too hot or they're too cool to wear a crash helmet to hang around outside the emergency department of any hospital or for the lucky ones, the prosthetic department.

I don't want to sound like a teacher when I'm online but the Zach's article identifies perfectly in several areas the idiotic behaviour of a minority of westerners. I will limit myself to the motorcycle aspect.

1. Roads are hard. If in doubt, plug in a sander, turn it on and apply it to something which doesn't contain blood. Then imagine sliding down the road at 30 mph.

2. Heads are brittle. Drop an egg on the floor, then try to scoop it up. You will have a good idea of what the emergency services will have to do before they contact your family.

3. 10 years after my own accident, I still visit Selly Oak Rehabilitation Centre in Birmingham and often bump into another biker who lost an arm and a leg, another is a girl who was a pillion. She's got a chopped wheelchair now. I could go on with other examples....

Your comments regarding the Thai Royal Police are too asinine to go into, even if you did mean them to be light hearted.

If you ride a motorcycle, keep your skin covered and have good medical insurance. Thailand's a superb country for biking, enjoy it responsibly.

By Mark, Chiang Mai (7th October 2013)

I was driving behind my brother on the outskirts of Bangkok and we both got pulled over. Turns out we got pulled over for not driving on the left hand side. My brother could speak Thai and did. He got a fine. I was still new here, only about 3 months. I couldn't. He pulled away and it was my turn. I gave the cop a polite Wai and smiled. He is younger and better looking then me. He realized that I couldn't speak Thai, pointed to the left side of the road and told me to bugger off. So Mr. Berty...... I do agree with "some" of your points, but not speaking Thai to get out of paying tea money is fine in my book. I think many would agree.

By Ron, Rangsit/BKK (19th September 2013)

Berty, I do not think that type of behavior just pertains to foreign teachers here in Thailand as there are many foreign visitors and retirees who do plenty of other things that make all what you describe seem mild! I would just put all what you describe into the category of being young and foolish. Most of us have have been there in our younger days but hopefully have out grown it all. The thing that really amazes me here in Thailand is when I see 65+ year old acting like a 65+ year old foolish teenager. So maybe you've actually become more jaded about this then the people walking around Thailand calling themselves teachers.

By Thomas, Thailand (17th September 2013)

Excellent!!! This did make me chuckle. In one "article" you've...

a) announced that you have no local or even international license

b) have systematically lied to several police officers about your ability to speak a language

c) bribed your way out of breaking the law

d) boasted about your girlfriend's status as a civil servant and how she uses it to aide you in breaking said law

e) admitted riding around in the vicinity of the school in which you work as a TEACHER with no helmet because your super cool/a moron

f) denigrated the Royal Thai Police by suggesting that they let you break the law because your blond haired, blue eyed and white skinned

g) and finally... albeit jokingly, rued on a missed opportunity to smuggle contraband

I first read this and thought nothing of it. Then it dawned on me just how jaded I have become by the people in this country that walk around calling themselves teachers.

Amazing stuff!!!

HINT: None of us are the perfect role models that our profession dictates we should be, including myself; however, some of us don't announce this via the internet.

Use your noggin, mate!

By Berty Basset, Bangkok (17th September 2013)

The secret is when the cops try to flag you down just ignore them that is what I do as I am not doing anything illegal, actually they are, as they just want some money for nothing!

By Thomas, Thailand (16th September 2013)

Only encounter I had was in Nakhon Phanom, pulled up to a checkpoint without the helmet and got waved over to the 200 baht fine table. Handed them my US driver's license and they said "200 baht". I walked to the ATM and when I came back a different cop was there, smiled, turned down the baht, and said "wear the helmet, understand?". Most of the Thai police I've met have been professional and courteous. I'm sorry to hear that some guests (I hate the words "farang" or "foreigner") get extorted, but agree that sometimes being well-dressed, courteous, and smiling, goes a long way.

By Sam, east coast China (16th September 2013)

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