This is the sign that greets people arriving by boat in Haad Rin. The sign is big and prominently located on Haad Rin Pier. It is hard to miss. What is perhaps harder to understand is what the sign exactly means. It is a great example of how Thai can get lost in translation.
The sign made me laugh. The two points of curiosity are ‘Kancha’ and ‘fine imprisonment’.
In Thai a ‘k’ sound is often pronounced as ‘g’. Thus, ‘Koh Phangan’ is pronounced ‘Go Phangan’. One has to presume that the official charged with coming up with the text for this warning sign got his ‘k’ and ‘g’s confused. It should be ‘ganja’. I love the word ‘ganja’ – it conjures up images of getting stoned by the river Ganges. It is a Hindu word tinged with religious implications. It is the type of word Bob Marley would use. For those fans of weed, it is a great word and often the word of preference to designate the plant. Officialdom in the UK and the USA would never use such a word. They would write ‘marijuana’ (Spanish origin) or cannabis (Latin origin).
The sign suggests that ganja is widely available in Haad Rin. New arrivals might find this good news, and may take less heed of the warning.
So on to the warning. Getting caught with marijuana or magic mushrooms is ‘punishable by fine imprisonment’. The conflation of two different punishments: namely a fine and incarceration is done deliberately. Taking drugs in Thailand is illegal. Those caught should be processed by the law and appear before a court.
However, the reality is that those caught with illegal substances in Haad Rin are threatened with prison time and then allowed to go once a fine has been paid. It is very unlikely that the 99.9% of victims caught and made to pay 25,000 Thai Baht or more in fines are ever given legitimate receipts. You can also be certain that Thais caught in possession don’t pay anything as much and are highly unlikely to appear before a judge.
There is no general moral condemnation against marijuana or magic mushrooms in Thailand as there is in say the USA. Back in the day, it was the old mamas in the cheap guest houses who were often the dealers. It is just a sad reality that the Full Moon Party has made it huge business to sell the stuff and catch a few unlucky souls taking it.
If you are paranoid about getting caught, but fancy a try then head to Mellow Mountain on the Full Moon party night. They sell magic mushroom shakes. Everyone knows about it and the police seem to tolerate it. If they were raided you could just deny the drink was yours.
For those hardened international tokers the real worry is the piss tests that police in Bangkok and Chiang Mai / Pai force tourists and expats to take. Even if you don’t have anything illegal on you, if the tests come back positive you will be treated as a criminal.
The sign’s meaning is obscure; this in a way mirrors the far from transparent way in which those caught breaking the kancha and magic mushroom laws are handled. Beware; heed the sign; and be cautious. If not abstemious.