Edit: I recently wrote a post listing my practical safety tips for Southeast Asia that would have helped me to avoid this situation. Please go and check it out here if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia!
It all started at the end of my first ever week in Asia. I’d been in Bangkok for about five days with my three friends, Simone, Lewis and Paula, and we’d packed a lot into those five days.
We’d seen countless temples, explored the Grand Palace, partied on Khao San Road, been to see a ping pong show, attended the Calypso ladyboy show, done a lot of shopping and we had one final night to kill before we headed south to Koh Samui. We’d heard from a couple of people that Soi Nana was the place to be if you wanted a crazy night out, and so we decided to check it out.
We knew that Soi Nana was one of Bangkok’s infamous red-light districts (it is home to Nana Plaza, which claims to be the largest sex complex in the world), and as I love strip clubs and go-go bars, I was excited to see what Nana had to offer.
It turns out that we were about to get a lot more than we bargained for…
The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was when we couldn’t find a tuk-tuk driver willing to take us there. More than one expressed confusion about why we wanted to go, before shaking their heads and telling us that Soi Nana is a ‘very bad’ place.
Now, it’s easy to look back and think ‘if only we’d listened to them,’ but at the time, we just figured that it was because the tuk-tuk drivers probably thought that we didn’t know that Soi Nana was a red-light district, and they were just trying to save us the bother of ending up somewhere where we had no business being.
Perhaps that was the reason.
But perhaps it was something more…
After the first couple of tuk-tuk drivers had refused to take us to Nana, we found one willing, and sipped our wine coolers as the tuk-tuk zipped through the traffic. It’s important to note that we hadn’t had any other drinks at this point apart from one wine cooler each, at about 4% alcohol.
When we got to Soi Nana, we tossed our empty bottles into nearby bins and entered the first bar we saw. It was relatively busy, with pool tables, TVs playing sport, and of course, an abundance of beautiful young Thai women in the company of much older white men.
We sat down and a waitress came and took our drinks orders. Moments later, she returned with four pints of beer and we began to drink, chatting about whatever it is that young backpackers talk about at the start of a big night out.
We hadn’t had more than a few sips each when the waitress returned with four more pints of beer.
‘Oh, we didn’t order these.’
‘Yes yes, they from man over there, American man.’
Sure enough, when we looked over in the direction that she was pointing, we saw a man raising his glass to us.
We smiled and began to drink the beer that he’d bought us, feeling that it was impolite to finish our own drinks first.
After a few moments, the man came over and introduced himself. He said that he used to be in the US military but that now he lives in Thailand. He was good looking, in his late forties, with a muscular physique. We had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong.
That is, until, a young Thai lady on the next table beckoned me over frantically. I went over to her, confused, and she started firing questions at me.
‘Do you know this man? Have you met him before?’
‘No, he just bought our drinks…why?’
‘Don’t listen to anything he says. Don’t believe anything about him. It is all a lie. Don’t leave this place with him!’
‘Okay, you’re scaring me. Who is he?’
‘I can’t say. I have said too much. It is too dangerous, he knows too many people.’
I begged her to tell me more but she wouldn’t.
She was terrified.
Shaken, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. On my way back to the table, another Thai lady approached me. Just like the other one, she appeared to be a sex worker , and seemed very distressed.
Grabbing one of my hands in both of hers, she looked into my eyes and pleaded with me to get away from the American man.
‘You have to leave, he is a very dangerous man, you and your friends must go now!’
I rushed back to our table, where the American guy was still sitting, chatting up Paula. I managed to communicate what had happened to Simone, who insisted that we all go and play pool, so that we could figure out what to do without arousing too much suspicion in the man.
As we got down from our bar stools, Lewis stumbled, drunkenly. This was odd considering that we’d only drank one wine cooler, and no more than half a pint of beer. I mean – we’d just finished university – we could handle our drink!
Once at the pool table, we filled Lewis and Paula in on what I’d been told, and panicked. We all felt drunk at this point, and it was difficult to know what to do, when we were potentially in a very dangerous situation. I mean, who knows who this guy was!
After a hushed debate, we decided that we would go back to the table, and Lewis would go outside, pretending that he had to take a phone call. After a few moments outside, he would come back into the bar, still pretending to be on the phone, and tell us that we had to leave immediately as he had a family emergency that he needed to take care of.
Thank god, he seemed convincing, and we apologised profusely to the American man as we gathered our belongings and rushed out of the bar, leaving our half-finished drinks on the table. Once outside, Lewis continued pretending to be on the phone, and I turned around to glance back into the bar, where the American man was sitting, watching us like a hawk. I kept glancing back nervously as we power-walked up the street, and every time, he was still looking.
He didn’t take his eyes off us.
Deciding we needed to lose ourselves, we ducked into a random go-go bar in Nana Plaza, and sunk into a booth, watching girls in schoolgirl costumes try and look enthusiastic about their jobs, before deciding that it would be a better idea to just get back to Khao San Road to continue the night.
And what a night it was!
I am convinced that the shady guy spiked our drinks that night, as we were so drunk, despite only having one and a half drinks each. Small amounts of GHB, the ‘date rape’ drug, can result in a kind of giddy euphoria, and that’s exactly how we all felt. Simone and I were hanging out of the tuk-tuk, screaming and laughing manically, and Lewis found the biggest guy on Khao San Road and twerked on him! GHB can also affect memory, and the four of us could barely remember anything after leaving Soi Nana, despite the fact that we should have been stone cold sober.
Luckily, nothing bad actually happened to us, and hey, maybe the guy was just a lonely expat trying to make some new friends.
Or maybe he wasn’t. It strikes me as very odd that not one, but two locals would warn me about somebody, despite having nothing to gain by doing so. It strikes me as odd that we got blackout drunk after a few sips of beer, and that our experiences were in line with those of people who have taken GHB. It strikes me as odd that all of this happened in a dodgy area, run by Mafia, and fuelled by drugs, sex and petty crime.
Now, this is just a funny anecdote that I pull out at parties once in a while.
‘Hey, so my friends and I got spiked in a red-light district once!’
But despite the humour with which I tell the story, and despite the fact that no harm came to any of us (happy ending, woo!), it gives me chills to think about just what may have happened, had we carried on drinking the drinks he bought for us.
Was he going to rob us, sell our organs, sell us into sex slavery? Of course, all of these scenarios sound dramatic, but my gut tells me that those women saved our lives that night, because really, who knows what would have happened, had we stayed there – or worse – left with him.
What’s been your scariest experience while you’ve been travelling?
P.S. For a few tips on how to stay safe in Bangkok, check out my post on 5 Common Scams to Avoid in Bangkok!