Beyond The Border

Over the years my friends’ sons and daughters suspected that my travels are connected to the CIA or some criminal enterprise. My denials only confirmed their opinions mostly because they viewed their parents as strictly 9-5 straights.

Recently one contacted me on Facebook and asked if I was in Thailand to transport drugs. Thai police are very strict on traffickers and I have never entertained any business enterprise involved the shipment of drugs within or outside Thailand, however back in 1994 I was motorcycling north of Chiang Mai with two Italian friends. We reached the northernmost point of Thailand, Mai Sai, and stayed at the idyllic Mai Sai Guesthouse. Butterflies floated over the tropical flowers and young Burmese children swam in the river. I was content to drink a Singha beer, but they wanted more.


“Prego, opium.” They chorused this mutual desire.

“Don’t say that too loud.” Undercover Thai police specialized in entrapping westerners. I tried to deter their obsession, but they were relentless and I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

I set out for the western mountain crest marking the frontier on a 250cc ATX.

No police patrolled the road.

No passport control either.

I spotted an old man from the Yao tribe. I asked him if he knew where to find ‘fin’ or opium. He nodded with a toothless grin and pointed into Burma. I thumbed behind me and he jumped on the back of the trail bike. We drove several kilometers to a small village of thatched huts and runny-nosed kids. He spoke with several men and came back with five fingers up.

“$50?” I asked and he smiled once more.

The money was the Italians, so I wasn’t losing anything if he disappeared into Burma.

I handed over the cash. He and another man drove off in a pick-up . I sat in the village watched by everyone like I was a TV showing an American sit-com without subtitles. After 20 minutes I started getting nervous. I was in Burma without a visa looking for drugs.

Potentially big trouble.

I heard a truck coming up the hill. I got on the bike and started it in case the truck belong to the Burmese police.

It was the old man.

He got out of the truck with a garbage bag of pot.

Five pounds at least.

I shook my head.

“Not ganga. Fin. Opium. Horse. Ma.”

None of this filtered through our language barrier, but he lifted a finger for me to wait. He went into a hut and returned with a bag of white powder.

It looked familiar and tasted familiar too. Chinese # 4 Heroin.

This was the deal. Dope for money.

I thanked the old man and stuffed the cellophane bag into my boot. Thais are very wary of people’s feet. They consider them dirty and my boots were caked with dust. I drove back to Mai Sai through several Thai police checkpoints without any incident. In my room I showed the bag to the Italian.

“This is not opium.” They were disappointed until we chased the dragon.

This was the real gear and I explained that opium was tough to find now that the DEA was waging its war on drugs along the border. The growers refined the opium into heroin for easier shipment. The Italians could have cared less. They were in oblivion and by the end of the week they were hooked to the gear. They wanted more, but I wasn’t pushing my luck. I gave them directions and headed back to Chiang Mai.

I never saw them again.

I explained this my friend’s son.

“Right.” He preferred to believe his own story and I was guilty as charged by a teenage mind. Better than the real thing, because I like my freedom and I know better than to do something that stupid now I’m a grown man.

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