A quick trip to madness
Watch out ... police reports don't come for free in Thailand. Photo: Alamy
If I'd known what lay ahead, I might've thrown a rock at the head of the teenager who ran off with the bag containing my passport, driver's licence, credit card and cash. But I wasn't to know then that losing your identity in Thailand starts a downward spiral that could end in temporary insanity, if you let it.
When your passport and valuables are stolen in Thailand - including all your cash - the first thing the victim must do is pay money. That's right, you've been robbed of everything you own, now it's the policeman's turn.
I rip my flight itinerary into a thousand angry little pieces ...
Police reports (for insurance) don't come for free, I discover halfway through reporting the crime to an awfully young trainee policeman. No money; no report. So I borrow 240 baht ($7.50) off the nearest backpacker (a feat in itself) and finish the process.
The policeman tells me to go to Bangkok immediately and get a new passport. I take the boat to Koh Samui from Koh Phangan
(of course I'm robbed on Koh Phangan, I am the cliched Australian at a full moon party who was lucky to even notice I'd been robbed at all) to board a plane to Bangkok.
I explain to the woman at check-in at Koh Samui airport that I'm flying to Bangkok to replace the passport I had stolen. I even show her my 240-baht police report. "No photo identification, you can't board the flight," she says. I reason with her. Then I beg. She calls for the airport manager. "Sorry sir, without photo ID, you can't get on this flight."
I rip my flight itinerary into a thousand angry little pieces and make my way to the harbour, where I begin a journey involving ferries, trains and buses that will take more than 12 hours (the flight time was 65 minutes).
Before my trip, I call my embassy where I'm told it will take a minimum of five working days to replace my passport. I cancel the flights and group tour to Cambodia I had set for three days' time.
I arrive the next day in Bangkok to find my new passport ready - the nice smiling man behind the counter tells me it never takes five days - but I can't change my flights back and I've lost my spot on my Cambodia tour.
Electing to flee altogether, I head to the airport and beg my airline to secure a seat on the next available flight home, but there's none till morning. With little cash, I sleep at the airport.
The next morning at customs there's a problem; they need to see a Thailand entry stamp on my passport. I show them my 240-baht police report. I cry a little, I tell them I just want to go home. It's no good.
Instead I'm frog-marched to a stark room where six customs officers watch a World Cup qualifying soccer game on TV. The game's obviously an important one because no one wants to leave it despite my teary protests that my flight's about to board.
I watch the big hand of the clock on the wall tick-tock right past departure. Someone eventually listens to me; he's actually quite sympathetic. But my next flight is now not till tomorrow morning.
I go and find my old bed on the carpet by the bookstore and settle in for the evening.
In high school I read Joseph Heller's Catch-22, which parodies a world where bureaucracy has made life truly insane.
In Thailand, I discover Heller's imaginery world becomes real, if only for a select few. All you need do is lose your passport; go on, I dare you to.