Prior to my life-altering, three-month backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, I was aware of the strict smoking laws in Singapore. But since I was not planning on going there and nothing suggested the situation was similar in other countries I was visiting, I set off a happy smoker, looking forward to many smoke-filled and joyous days in the sun. Upon arrival in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, I was pleased to note that smokers smoked on the streets without much trouble and that most restaurants were also smoke free. After all, that is how I like my restaurants. Soon my partner and I headed off to the tropical paradise island Ko Pha Ngan, famous for being home to the biggest rave parties in the universe, held every full moon. Our goal was of a different kind though, as my partner planned on enrolling in a weeklong detox programme in a hippie place called the Sanctuary. The detox programme consisted of drinking mud shakes, eating nothing, and, to top off the fun times, rinsing your colon with coffee twice a day.
Taking my cue from her healthy lifestyle, I decided in a delirious state of mind that I should quit smoking. Which I did. For the next five weeks I did not smoke a single cigarette. Now I am not a casual smoker, I have smoked close to a pack a day for the last 13 years, so this was no small feat. These were enjoyable five weeks, although I did regret a little not being able to sample the local tobacco in Laos, which included some exotic brands. My travels then took me to Vietnam and five weeks after my decision I found myself in the bustling capital Ho Chi Minh City. Angelina Jolie the humanitarian was in town shopping for a new minion in the Brangelina army and my deluded mind took this as a sure sign that I should take up smoking again. Sitting outside the massive Sheraton hotel, where Angelina was staying, way out of my financial reach – even in Vietnam – I fired up a local cigar and fantasised about Angelina and her surely exciting life.
My new freedom meant that in Cambodia, my next stop, I was able to taste the unexciting brand Liberation, which frankly tastes like dried horse shit. But these were easy places to be in for a smoker. Everybody and their grandmother smoked, so I fitted in rather nicely. My partner frowned upon this, having enjoyed being around a non-smoker for over a month. But life isn’t fair, and to her credit she is fully aware of that fact and left the bickering about my habit to a bare minimum.
After some very enjoyable smoking in Cambodia it was time to head back to Thailand for the last days of the journey. I spent twenty days taking in Bangkok, which is an exciting place to be in. There I smoked on the streets with locals and tourists alike, carefree and happy. On my last day I ventured to the city’s shopping centres for some last minute purchases. I was hell bent on acquiring a mobile phone and the massive MBK shopping mall was the perfect place to go. MBK must have the biggest selection of mobile phones in the entire universe. I am more fussy about mobile phones than I am about cigarette brands, but after a few hours I managed to find a phone I both like liked and could afford.
Any smoker can tell you that they would rather be outside smoking than inside shopping so it should come as no surprise that I fired up as soon as I got out. Usually I exited at ground level, but this time I was going to take the futuristic sky-train to my ant-infested guesthouse, so I took the exit on a walkway on the third level where I noticed a few smokers indulging themselves by the door and took that as a clear sign that it would be ok to smoke.
That was my mistake. Soon after I had extinguished my cigarette a surly, young policeman approached me and pointed me to an even surlier looking colleague of his. I was asked to sit down and the interrogation began. “Do you smoke a lot?” Yes, I said, instantly thinking of Sir Mix-A-Lot, snickering at my own wit. “In Thailand it is forbidden to smoke!” he said, instantly setting me straight. I stammered something incomprehensible. “Where are you staying? How long in Thailand?” I instinctively lied about the length of my stay, hoping that the policeman would take pity on the novice traveller. He did not. He explained to me that I would have to pay a 2000 baht fine, roughly equal to 4000 ISK, the same price I had paid for a new mobile phone minutes earlier. I swallowed hard while he shuffled some papers in a manner only people with authority can do. He then explained that there were two ways to handle this. I could go with him to the police station and fill out a report, which would result in my name and picture “being available on the internet”, or I could pay him and everyone would live happily ever after, not adding that he could then buy a new mobile phone, but I got the hint. I hesitated for a second and then paid the man. He quickly pocketed the money and shook my hand, smiling and waving as I left for the train.
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