Motorbikes, Passports, Puppies, and Bribes

Today, we bribed a police officer. At least, I think that is what happened. Either way, I feel weirdly good about it.

The plan for the day was to rent motorbikes and head an hour-ish north of Chiang Mai to see Bua Tong Waterfalls. Commonly known as “Sticky Falls,” this area is full of porous rock that makes it easy to climb up and down waterfalls. Considering it has been 90+ degrees and extra smoggy, getting out of town and into a waterfall sounded like the perfect way to spend our last day in Thailand.

Oh, and we invited our new friend Alan from the US/UK/Hong Kong—he has lived a lot of places. We met Alan at the Elephant Nature Park a few days ago, then ran into him at a market that same evening. And we’ve hung out with him ever since. 

The concierge at Alan’s fancy hotel pointed us to a motorbike shop nearby where the three of us rented two motorbikes for the day (I rode on the back of Andrew’s) for a reasonable price of 250 Baht (about $8 USD) per bike. 

As we browsed the helmet selection, the shop owner asked for a passport as a deposit for the two bikes. Always dubious of scams, we resisted. “My friends rode motorbikes here and got a ticket for not having their passports with them,” I told her. 

“No,” she laughed. “That is not a rule in Thailand. You only need driver’s license.” When I looked at her doubtfully she said, “My name is Malee. You call me if policeman want passport.” While she plugged her number into my phone, we told her our names. “Andoo?” she said incredulously. Then she laughed. And not just a little laugh. She full on cracked up. 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Andoo in Thai is good.” She pronounced his name incorrectly again. “Andoo means tiny, little, cute, small boy.” She cracked up again and we all joined in. As Andrew blushed, we laughed some more and repeated “Andoo” in our baby voices. 

Without further questions, I handed over my passport and let her put it in a drawer. She was kind and funny and suddenly, I trusted her with my most important document. Also, she had two cute little puppies running around her feet, so that helped.

Once we settled up, we hopped on our bikes and maneuvered through the city streets. After 20 minutes, we broke out of the city traffic and found ourselves on the open highway. “Andoo” looked relieved when I told him we would continue on Highway 1001 for the next 45 kilometers until we got to the falls.

 Being on the back of a scooter is boring, so I resorted to selfie-taking.

Being on the back of a scooter is boring, so I resorted to selfie-taking.

As soon as I got those words out of my mouth, a few policemen carrying signs and cones ran out into the street ahead of us. They began blowing whistles and wildly waving us over to the side of the road. As soon as we pulled over, they surrounded us with cones. We were cone-caged.

A cop with a medical mask covering his mouth, sunglasses covering his eyes, and a hat covering the rest of his head walked over to us. “Driver’s license, please.”

As Andrew fumbled around for his international license (yup, he got one from AAA before this trip), I smiled and asked our cop how his day was going. Trying to charm a cop isn’t the most original idea but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. 

He responded with enthusiasm and his mask crinkled in a way that I am pretty sure showed he was smiling. When Andrew handed over the license, the cop pointed to the unchecked motorcycle box and happily announced we were about to be fined. 

He continued to smile and then spread out his arms wide to show how big the fine was going to be. He threw out random numbers, “One thousand, two thousand, or three thousand Baht!” Then he told us with exasperation that we would have to go to the police office and wait all day long. The information was oddly unspecific for a member of law enforcement. 

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“Or,” he said, “you pay 500 Baht to me, and I take care of you.” 

“Ugh, okay. Thanks?”

“Until midnight,” he added. 

I glanced back at Alan to see he was already handing over a thousand Baht bill. “For both of us,” Alan said. “Let’s go.”

“You okay on motorbike until midnight tonight,” the cop reminded us.

Then they opened the cone-cage for us and off we went. It wasn’t until we were at the falls that we discussed what had just happened and it dawned on us all that we had bribed a cop. I texted the friend who had been fined for not having a passport. “Tourist tax” is what he called it.

Thinking about it this way, made us all feel okay. After all, it was an affordable bribe to get out of a fine and the police officers were the nicest I have ever encountered. Plus, we were excited about the sticky falls.

It just goes to show, a smile makes any situation better, even when that situation is probably illegal. Plus, the rest of the drive was beautiful so that didn't hurt.