6’5” Thai cop uses ‘Find my iPhone’, his rice rocket bike and gumshoe detective skills to track down my iPhone in a random part of Bangkok. Then we all posed for selfies

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Thai Police, iPhone Recovery Squad
Thai Police, iPhone Recovery Squad

I spent a pretty lengthy day yesterday at Thai immigration, which is way out in the sticks at the old international airport in Bangkok. To get there and not blow all your dinner money on taxis, you have to take a subway, then a beat-up old bus, then ride on the back of a scooter till you’re finally there.

This time I had all the right paperwork and the staff were helpful. Awesome luck. Visa paperwork submitted, check. Everyone smiling and the right stamps in my passport, check.

Getting back again is a bit easier. Once you jump off the scooter there are more comfortable mini-buses that will take you back to the subway station with all the office workers.

With the sun still blazing down we managed to score the last two seats on a mini-bus that was just leaving. Awesome luck again.

Guess I’d used up all my luck by then, because I got out of the bus, walked over the overpass to the other side of the highway, got all ready to chill out in a park, and… realized I’d left my brand new iPhone 6s Plus in the back seat of the minibus.

That kinda unwound all the good experiences I’d had that day – leave your iPhone in a bus in any city in the world (except Tokyo maybe) and that phone has left your world forever. I ran back to the road. My bus was long gone, of course, but there were others from the same company. I tried to get one of the other drivers to help and he tried, but with about a hundred similar mini-buses buzzing past it was looking pretty hopeless.

Damn. That was more than just a phone, that was 90% of my work. I make instructional videos for a living and the iPhone is such a complete package that I use it and almost nothing else to make them.

Everything I’d made so far, everything I would’ve made in future, was now taking a free ride through Bangkok to an uncertain future. My best hope was that its new owner would get as much use out of it as me, instead of wasting that beauty on Facebook or WeChat.

Tried calling it, no answer. Not really surprised.

A really helpful Thai guy (the kind you can always find in Bangkok if you’re in need) was translating for the bus drivers for me, and he suggested we ask some tough-looking cops and soldiers that were sitting at a table under the underpass. I was pretty sure they had better things to do than help me and my stupid phone, but we tried anyway.

They didn’t speak much English but we got the message across somehow. Then the younger of the two cops whipped out an iPhone, fired up Find My iPhone and pointed at the login screen for me to try.

I punched in my Apple ID. Awesome luck again! Almost straight away I had a map showing me exactly where my 6s was having its adventure. Still one problem though – this is Bangkok, rush hour is starting, and… well, if you’ve ever experienced Bangkok traffic in rush hour you’ll know what I mean, and my mission was to find a moving target somewhere in that mess.

Did I mention that Thai cops are nothing to be afraid of, despite their badass uniforms? Here’s where they decided to go the extra mile (literally) to help out. The young cop put on his helmet, jumped on his police bike and motioned for me to jump on the back. Alrighty.

And off we rode into eight-lane hell, armed with the cop’s iPhone showing the target on its GPS. Dodging between the cars and trucks (plus a few wrong turns and side-streets) it took us about 10 minutes to find another row of those mini-buses, one of them with my iPhone inside. One of them. GPS is great, but couldn’t show me exactly which bus had my phone on its seat.

We worked that row of mini-buses, up and down, waking up drivers, asking questions, finding no English, no phones, till suddenly I saw a driver that looked ever-so-slightly familiar. Maybe. He was trying to avoid me but I had a 6’5” Thai cop with me and we broke him down. He opened his sliding door and made it clear that he didn’t have any iPhones. I did my best monkey climb in and under the seat until voila! My iPhone!

Thai military was on the scene too
Thai military was on the scene too (photo credit Jon Southurst)

The policeman seemed very happy with the situation and I threw some money the driver’s way, which he pretended to be happy about but I could see his iPhone 6s Plus dreams of glory evaporating, moment by moment. 

And so it happened that I recovered my phone in a city notorious for finders-keepers rule of the jungle. The young policeman, full of confidence and vigor, jumped on his bike and I jumped on the back and he deftly whisked me back to his boss, the old guy with the huge ‘Police’ reflective sticker on his chest.

Everyone seemed overjoyed for some reason and the cops took turns looking at my phone, and they did the international hand motion for selfies and all the cops lined up to get in the shot.

Obviously this picture was going to be used back at the station for ‘we did something today’ evidence and I got plenty of handshakes and smiles from the crew of cops. It was a surreal experience and I was quite taken aback as I had been warned many times that “nothing happens in Thailand unless baht changes hands first”. But I found that to be totally untrue. These cops listened well despite language challenges, were tech savvy (quickly whipping out ‘Find my iPhone’) and were meticulous as we went back and forth down the street, grilling the same drivers time and time again until we stumbled on the right one.

Grilling Thai Bus Drivers Over and Over
Grilling Thai Bus Drivers But No Waterboarding

As I use my iPhone for everything from shooting videos to editing videos to recording podcasts, shooting and editing photos with those annoying positive self-help-type quotes, without my trusty phone that would come to a halt.

Essentially my phone is the key tool keeping me working as I cruise through the world looking like I’m not working. So I have iPhone’s awesome ‘Find my iPhone’ to thank in addition to the Thai police, who I’ve found to be both polite and capable. Did I mention that I got my retirement visa (basically a green card for Thailand) today too!  It’s been a very good day indeed.

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