March 15, 2014 00:00 By Nirmal Ghosh The Straits Time
Khao San Road, crammed with budget tourists from across the world, has long been a backpacker hub for Southeast Asia.
The streets are lined with restaurants, guest houses, travel agents and shops selling cheap cotton clothes and souvenirs.
Police lounge at either end of the 200m street, keeping an eye on things.
Itinerant Indian “fortune tellers” and Nepali tattoo touts lurk and accost passers-by.
“You have a very lucky face,” one Indian “fortune teller” told me.
Normally, the handful of vendors making fake identity cards are clearly visible. On Wednesday though, I had to hunt for one.
I asked a Nepali boy who was trying to find customers for a tattoo shop, and he took me to a man, who was this time positioned slightly back from the street at a discreet table with two stools.
He was a Thai man, in a blue shirt and wearing glasses. There was an air of edginess from the start.
“What country?” he asked me.
I told him I was Indian and he looked incredulous. But then he produced a large album – the kind used to hold business cards – for me to flip through.
In it there were well over 100 samples of identity cards, from driving licences to student passes to airline crew passes and many others. There was even an Interpol ID card and a Singapore identity card.
When I expressed surprise at the Interpol card he stared and said: “Are you Interpol? Are you Interpol?” But I laughed it off.
I chose a Singapore driving licence and a Qatar Airways crew card. They cost 800 baht each.
He informed me they would take an hour and a half to make. I gave him a couple of passport photographs I had brought for the occasion, and he said that for the airline card he could alter the photograph to have me in a suit and tie.
I asked him quietly if he knew anyone who could make a passport, and he said he did not. I asked him if he made Thai IDs and he said: “I don’t do Thai.”
This was something a law enforcement source had told me – the fake ID peddlers don’t ever make Thai IDs, which is why police leave them alone.
It is also probable that they pay police, my source said – entirely believable given the environment and the trade they are in.
When I arrived at the appointed hour, the man again said: “Are you police?” I laughed and shook my head. Then he asked where I lived and what I was doing in Bangkok. He seemed satisfied by what I told him.
Then a young South Asian man who seemed to be helping him appeared and pressed a folded piece of paper into my hand. Inside were the cards.
In my hands were a spanking new Singapore driving licence and a Qatar Airways crew card. The only difference from the real Singapore licence was the absence of holograms. The fake ID vendors do not seem to be able to make cards with holograms.
Yet, on the face of it, the cards were startlingly realistic.
“If any enforcement officer just takes a quick look, or Googles these documents to compare them, they are unlikely to spot any problem,” my law enforcement source said.