Like most backpackers without much of a set itinerary, we got completely stuck in wonderful, charming Chiang Mai.
I’d like to say it was solely due to the incredible friends we made there, or Aoi’s unforgettable Garden Home, which is undoubtedly the best hostel we have ever stayed in. I’d love to say it was down to the endless variety of activities you can fill each day with in Chiang Mai. But alas, it was actually because on our second night there, my boyfriend Matt was beaten to a pulp by a large group of locals and bouncers and we had to stay another nine days in the wake of it, so he could recover.
It sucks that it’s taken me so long to write this post. I guess it’s because I’ve found it hard to find the time and words to adequately explain this disaster when I’ve had so many truley amazing, life-changing experiences to take my mind off it. I’d much rather write posts about climbing volcanos and roaming happily through paradise, than about the week of utter hell we experienced in Northern Thailand, but we both thought it was important to offer the truer picture of our travels – the bad along with the good, and to share the important lessons we learned.
More importantly, this is a warning, to anyone who is thinking of heading out to Thailand to live the dream.
You will more than likely hear about a club called Zoe in Yellow whilst in Chiang Mai, and you will more than likely be roped into going like we were. I can’t stop you from going; boycotting such a well-frequented nightclub, the only one the city has, is impossible, especially when it has such a high turnover of naive patrons passing through every few days.
But please remember what happened to us and be careful. You are not invincible.
Beautiful Chaing Mai is a large city in mountainous Northern Thailand and due to it’s traditional feel, warm hospitality, relaxed vibe and the plethora of things to do, its an absolute mecca for backpackers. Sure, we’d heard stories about British lads getting into some nasty scrapes with locals, bouncers and the mafia on the party islands 1400 kilometers away, especially during Full Moon parties, but laid-back Chaing Mai is the last place in the whole of Thailand we’d ever expect it to happen. Since I’d already fallen in love with Chaing Mai once before on a previous trip to Thailand, I couldn’t wait to show Matt around.
We’d just arrived in the city from Myanmar and were looking forward to spending a packed five days meeting elephants, visiting temples, hill trekking and learning how to cook Thai food. The hostel was perfect, the other people staying there became our friends instantly, and we were excited about the whole of Southeast Asia spread out ahead of us.
On our first night, we had a few beers and a large group of us headed out to an infamous bar a few blocks away from our hostel that some of the more longterm residents had frequented every night for weeks: Zoe in Yellow. It’s trashy and loud, the music is terrible, everyone is wasted and it’s be no means at all the kind of place Matt or myself, or half of our friends we were with would usually enjoy, but we shrugged it off and agreed to stay for one drink – just to humour the others who wanted to party there all night, then walk to the nearby Rooftop Bar, a super cool little reggae bar on the main thoroughfare.
We grabbed a few drinks from one of the many booth-bars around a busy centralised courtyard rammed full of picnic benches. “Give me your phone, money and cards Kim, we all know what you’re like with losing things when you’re drunk”, Matt told me as we sat down. My precious phone was only ten hours old, freshly replaced on insurance after my original one was lost in India two months before.
Not a moment later, one of the barmen from Zoe in Yellow, wearing a yellow t-shirt, came over with an overpriced menu, shoved it in the middle of us all and insistantly tried to take our orders. We tried to ressure him that we’d just bought drinks and that we’d buy one off him as soon as we’d finished these.
“NO!” He shouted whilst repeatedly, slamming his finger down on the table. “This is MY table! Buy a drink from me or go!”
As it transpired, the ten or so seperate bars within Zoe in Yellow’s premises, that shared that outdoor area, weren’t actually part of Zoe in Yellow – we’d unknowingly brought in drinks from another bar onto their premises. “Ohhh, sorry, OK” we said, turning our palms up to signal surrender, and swivelling our bodies around to exit the picnic benches to leave begrudgingly.
It was then that I saw the man with the menus reach from the far end of the table and sucker-punch Matt square in the back of the head. He was thrown forwards into another Thai guy who immediately punched him too. Most of us didn’t know what to do and squealed and laughed from sheer shock. Matt’s a pretty strong guy so we didn’t think he’d be hurt by the two blows. But then for some reason, three bouncers appeared out of nowhere and chased our friend Chris out of the bar and into the road for simply trying to break up the commotion and make peace. They got him down on the floor from behind and proceeded to kick him in the head and kidneys.
Once they’d laid off Chris, who was spitting blood, I turned around to look for Matt, only to realise that the entire of Zoe in Yellow had broken out into a brawl and all I could see was a big pile of men. And no Matt anywhere. My world caved when I realised my boyfriend was underneath them all.
It must have only been thirty seconds but it felt like forever, watching helplessly as about six massive blokes stamped on my fella’s head repeatedly. There were so many of them gathered round him, they were having to elbow in to have a go at stomping him. I and another girl tried hopelessly to pull them off and the other girl, who’s name I sadly didn’t catch in the panic (wherever you are, a billion thank yous – so much respect for you for trying to help when no other person would), ended up with a bruised, swollen arm because they lashed out at her.
Matt thankfully thrashed around enough to be able to pick himself up (he told me afterwards that if you stay on the ground in a situation like that, you’ll probably die) and literally sprint like a madman out of the bar. By the time I followed him out, he’d completely dissappeared into the night. I realised instantly that my phone had been in Matt’s pocket so I couldn’t call him. Two British guys approached me and asked me if I was looking for the guy they’d seen running past a second ago covered in blood and shouting for help.
“Ahhh shiiiiiiiit is that ya boyfriend is it? ….Ahhh shiiit. Erm, just go home. Go back to your hostel, you don’t wanna see him. It’s bad.”
“He’ll be hiding. If the bouncers come out and catch him round here they’ll fuckin’ do a lot worse, we’ve seen it.”
Thanks, boys. Sorry to put a downer on your fun. Enjoy the rest of your awesome night.
When I did find Matt, he was being looked after by the gorgeous girl who had had her arm bashed. I thought he mightn’t ever see out of his left eye again. It was completely swollen shut and bulging. Every inch of him was covered in blood. Once I got him in the taxi to the hospital I found a big flap of skin was hanging off the back of his head.
Two hours, £200, countless stitches and an x-ray Matt was thankfully given the all clear and we left the hospital to head to the police station to attempt to report what had happened. Two policemen had turned up at A&E, but spoke no English. They took one look at us two blabbering Brits, heard the name “Zoe in Yellow” and laughed aloud before leaving. We had no luck at the police station either, but at least five of our friends turned up to find us as we left.
The Aftermath & Corruption in Thailand
The shock of it lasted days and made me physically ache. All the pain Matt experienced, I felt too. The heat and humidity made Matt’s stitches unbearable and the swelling refused to go down. The stigma attached to a Brit with two black eyes in Thailand is another thing: the amount of sniggers and thoughtless comments Matt’s face prompted made my blood boil. Only one question ran through my mind again and again for a week. Why us?
It took a few days before Matt was okay enough for us to get out and do things to take our mind off of what had happened. He was always so conscious of how he looked to people but I’m so proud of how brave he was – so many guys would have flown home.
As it transpired, Zoe in Yellow is infamous for dishing out at least one brutal beating a week. We heard that one person was once even stabbed there and another, beaten with a metal pole by the staff. And the worst part? The regulars of Zoe’s who took the hostel party there that night knew this, they’d witnessed it themselves, and one had even been punched there a few nights before by a member of staff!
In fact, most backpackers and holiday makers in Chiang Mai were and are aware of the dangers a drunken trip to Zoe’s can pose, but I guess it’s the careless and utterly discompassionate ‘It’ll never happen to me’ attitude that keeps the place packed to the rafters every night.
That, and the fact that the owners bribe encouragable young holiday makers with ‘free drinks’ in exchange for kind TripAdvisor reviews.
Despite Aoi’s incredible efforts for justice, the multiple trips to the police that she organised ended up creating nothing but more frustration because of course, the police were already in Zoe in Yellows pocket. Every time a new backpacker showed up to the station with fresh wounds inflicted by the staff of Zoe in Yellow, I’d imagine they would just increase the amount the owner had to pay them each week in order to keep open.
In other words, the police in Thailand benefit from backpackers and tourists being assaulted, beaten and worse.
When we and our friends logged into TripAdvisor in the wake of the beating to all leave bad reviews and warnings of the club, we found a string of similar ones already posted. Brutal assaults by the staff have been happening for years, and it’s still only getting worse. Here’s a few of the recent TripAdvisor reviews we found of this wreched bar when researching it for this post…
Aaaand a particularly poingant one from from September last year…
It took a while for us to get over what had happened, to trust people again, and even longer for Matt’s wounds to heal.
What really brought it home to me was the tragic news that came a few months later, of a couple of backpackers the same age as us who were brutally murdered with a garden hoe on Koh Tao’s most popular beach during a night out. The reasons why are still unclear but it was reported to be an act of ‘farang’ hatred comitted by two Burmese immigrants who are now awaiting trial. My guess? Was it shit committed by those two Burmese guys.
I know these are two very different isolated incidents, not at all related and committed by different perpetrators, because of different motives. BUT they both go to show how anyone can become a target of powerful and violent business-owners and mafia in Thailand, especially, it would seem, Western tourists enjoying themselves maybe a bit too much, with the attitude of ‘Yeah. It happens all the time here, but it’ll never happen to me’.
We British backpackers love Thailand. But all of this leaves me with one really big question:
Does Thailand hate us?
For a much more in-depth look into the dark side of Thailand, read this: http://mikeestravels.com/2014/09/25/the-dark-side-of-thailands-island-paradise/