Drugs in Southeast Asia are plentiful and cheap. Buckets, weed, LSD and mushroom shakes, you can have it all in countries like Thailand, Vietnam and The Philippines. But drugs are not always used on a recreational basis. Getting drugged in Southeast Asia by strangers is almost as common as having a scooter accident. I interviewed a friend who got roofied and lost his phone, €500 and his memory.
For good reasons my friend chose to stay anonymous in this interview, so let’s just call him Bobby. Bobby knows what it is like to get drugged. Having been a victim of spiked drinks three times, once in Vietnam and twice in The Philippines, I felt like there are important lessons for us to learn from his stories.
“On my first solo backpacking trip in 2010 I went out almost every night, for 3 months in a row”, he told me. Bobby’s travel addiction and search for adventure has brought him to about 35 countries so far, but almost killed him on several occasions. He survived a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in the Philippines, walked away from a horrific car crash in the Australian outback, and got chased in his own hostel by an angry motor biker with a knife in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam he explains. Bobby should be luckily to still be alive.
But not all of his memories are still fresh on his mind. I interviewed him to learn more about his adventures in The Philippines, especially on a specific day in July 2012. Here is his story:
Bobby had just arrived in The Philippines when he was spending his second day exploring the streets of Manila on his own. Being hungry and looking for a place to eat, Bobby stood on the streets staring around when a man came standing aside him. Then Bobby asked him: “I am hungry, do you know where I can find some food? I want it cheap and local”. It was a tragic mistake.
The man, who looked around 45 years old, answered: “Well, I know something. Let me grab my mother first, then we can show you the way”.
An so they went. Inside the restaurant he was shown around and told to order some typical local dishes. After having finished them all, he was wondering what to do. His original plan to have his beard shaved was soon abandoned when the couple invited him to join them to a nearby park. “My mom was a history teacher, and she can show and explain you all the monuments there”, the man said. Bobby, who told me he always prefers to hang out with locals whenever he can, couldn’t say no to such an innocent offer. They jumped into a jeepney and off they went.
Until then everything had seemed fine he explained me. They walked through the entire park and spent a few good hours together. Then a next offer was made. “We are now going to the centre, do you want to join?” As Bobby was expecting a friend of him to arrive at his hostel only by the end of the evening, he once again accepted.
A taxi was flagged down and for the next hour he travelled with the two through the crazy traffic of Manila. Staring out the window he saw how he got further and further away from his hostel, when at some moment the taxi stood still in the middle of a random street.
“That’s when I felt for the first time that things weren’t right”, Bobby told me. “Why?”, I asked him. “Just gut feeling”, he answered shortly. He continued: “We weren’t where we were supposed to go to, this street didn’t look anything like the centre. And I also noticed how the mother and her son suddenly had turned quiet. They weren’t as talkative as before anymore. I asked them: ‘We aren’t in the centre yet, so what are we going to do?'” The man answered: “My sister lives here, we can relax for a while and have some food first”. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Bobby was in limbo.
“Okay, screw it let’s do it”, he thought. He had been with the couple harmlessly already for several hours and so he felt a psychological barrier that prevented him to simply say ‘no’. “I’ll just go in, and keep a careful eye. I will keep my backpack right by my side and never leave for the toilet”, he promised himself.
Inside Bobby noticed an old little man (65), and the assumed sister (also roughly 45 years old). The TV was turned on and they started singing some karaoke. “The usual stuff”, Bobby said. But his gut feeling still kept him on edge. Large plates of food were brought in, and everyone started eating. But Bobby didn’t like the food at all.
Then things started to get vague. Bobby: “I remember at some point the sister started force feeding me, and I was thinking ‘what the heck is going on here? This is not good!’. Now I know that I was already drugged, but how they did it? I really have no idea. Everything went slow, I couldn’t think anymore. I was fine with everything, and so I also went to the toilet.”
My last memory is when I walked out of the toilet. I am seeing the old man in front of me when everything gets blurry. I reach out to him, I think I was even shouting at him to help me. But he did nothing and just stood there. Then I fell on the floor and passed out…
The first thing I remember is walking the stairs up to my hostel. So I think they brought me back at some point, but I am not sure. I am missing my complete memory between about 4pm and 9pm.
When a friend saw me, I shouted to him: ‘Dude, I am so drunk!’, not knowing yet what had happened. He then laughed at me, looked a bit closer and told me: ‘You are not drunk, believe me’. My friend is used to a fair bit of recreational drugs and so he knew what he was talking about. And so it finally hit me. I sobered up a bit and ran to the hostel owner: ‘Help me, I lost my phone!’.”
Bobby explained to him the whole story of what had happened that afternoon, until the moment he passed out. After, the hostel owner pointed at the wall. “Look there, your whole story is written their as a warning. You were not the first!”. And so Bobby went to the police office with his friend to report the crime. Himself he cannot remember anything from those few hours, all he knows is that he was feeling very ill and needed to throw up outside nonstop. Days later Bobby also found out that €500 was missing from his bank account. Apparently he had taken out money while he was drugged, but there is no way of telling what has really happened.
Bobby probably became a victim of the drug Rohypnol, a commonly used rape drug. He got roofied, which rendered him incapable of resisting. This way, letting him withdraw money must have been a piece of cake for his attackers.
The drug does not make you pass out though, so Bobby believes that his attackers were unexperienced and gave him an overdose. “It was the mother, she’s responsible for it all”, he believes. “But because of the overdose I think they regret, so they brought me back. I heard of other people who are just dumped on the streets.” True or not, we will never know. Bobby never bothered too much though and continued travelling through The Philippines. But he left Manilla the day right after. “It’s a shit hole, trust me. Crime, poverty, a sex industry so much larger than in Thailand. Not my type of place.”
I asked my friend what we can learn from his story. Here is what he said:
1. Always listen to your gut feeling
Your gut feeling is more important than anything else. My attackers were quite old so normally you wouldn’t expect anything bad to happen. But looking back now, I did sense there was something sketchy about the whole situation. I should have never gone inside that house.
2. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is
I have been victim of drug spiking multiple times. In Vietnam a guy was walking around with 10 buckets and handing them out for free. He was American, I was with friends to take care of me but that all couldn’t prevent me from drinking from his spiked drinks. Looking back, it all did seem to good to be true.
3. Nothing wrong with taking risks, but use your brains
I am a risk-taker, because I know that the best experiences I have had while travelling come from taking risks. I got invited to weddings, crazy after-parties, slept in a bad-ass apartment in Bangkok overlooking the whole city, I slept on a catamaran in the middle of an ocean, people have taken me everywhere.
READ MORE: 8 Essentials for Safe Travel
Being young, all you want is just to explore the world. If I never took any risks, I would just be following the Lonely Planet from A to B and sleep in the hostels listed in it. You can get much more out of travelling, just keep using your brains.
4. Never carry your bank cards
Only bring along some cash, you don’t need your bank cards unless you go to the ATM. Also make sure you always have about $75 hidden in your large backpack as a backup. This money will always be enough to get you out of a bad situation.