New Book “Bangkok Hard Time” by Jon Cole

December 20, 2011

Bangkok Hard Time by Jon Cole
Published by Monsoon Books

The surreal true story of how a Western teenager came of age in 1960s Bangkok, turned international drug smuggler and walked the prison yards of Thailand’s notorious “Bangkok Hilton”

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Jon Cole, wearing glasses, with his brothers and sister in Bangkok

It is 1967 Bangkok, the Summer of Love, and for teenager Jon Cole, son of a US Green Beret colonel serving in the Vietnam War, life as a young Westerner in the City of Angels is sweeter than mangoes on sticky rice with coconut milk … until he is introduced to the infamous House of Lek. Drawn to the underbelly of Bangkok, the International School Bangkok pupil soon discovers ganja, opium and the two-dollar bordellos. What follows is a surreal but true story of one Westerner’s relationship with Thailand spanning four decades. A drug habit picked up at the House of Lek with schoolmates and GIs on R&R from Vietnam leads to a career as a drug smuggler, a nasty smack habit and, ultimately, a long stretch inside Bangkok’s notorious prison, the “Bangkok Hilton”. At the heart of Jon’s account of his misspent youth in Thailand and his subsequent life inside Klong Prem prison is a Thai-style acceptance of the consequences of his own karma and a desire to expose the fallacy that Westerners are mistreated in Thai prisons.

Jon Cole, far left, with other prisoners in Klong Prem Prison

“Bangkok Hard Time” is not your usual prison book written by a foreigner in a strange land. Jon Cole was for a time a student at the International School of Bangkok in the 1960’s. He knew the culture and some of the language too. When he was arrested some years later and sent to prison,  he already had an idea of what to expect and how to keep out of trouble. Not once in the book does Jon seek your sympathy. Nor does he try to dramatize prison conditions. In fact, he has a go at fellow inmate Warren Fellows who is the author of the bestselling book “4,000 Days: My Life and Survival in a Bangkok Prison”. Jon Cole describes Warren’s book as “a whiny, mendacious account of Thai prison life, in which he claimed to have been beaten by guards and forced to eat cockroaches and rats in order to survive”. If you want a more realistic look at life in prison during that time, then you should read Jon Cole’s “Bangkok Hard Time” book instead.

Jon Cole with a friend at an airport in the USA on their last smuggling run

COMPETITION: We have two copies of the book “Bangkok Hard Time” to give away. To enter is very simple. All you have to do is come up with a question that you would like to ask Jon if you met him today. Maybe ask him about his life as a teenager in 1960’s Bangkok. Or something about his time in prison. The two people who ask the most interesting question will each be sent a copy of “Bangkok Hard Time”. We will then ask Jon to answer your questions in an upcoming interview that will be posted here.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. The winners were: Mona Salce and Trudy van der Hoeven.

65 Responses to New Book “Bangkok Hard Time” by Jon Cole

  1. John Harold
    December 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for the chance to win this book. My question to Jon is “Would you like to ever go back to Thailand?”

    • jon
      December 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      I have and will again at every oppotunity

      • jon
        December 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm


  2. Mona Salce
    December 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    As an expatriate in Bangkok with 4 children in an international school, what advice would you give parents on how to keep our teenagers safe?

    • jon
      December 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      As an ex-pat,ex-con.ex-junkie and parent of two adult children i would advise you to try to impress upon them that a fool learns from their own mistakes and that a wise person learns from the mistakes of others…share the experiences of your own faults and short commings with them..finally. when they leave the house always remind them to never smoke dope when they are high

  3. javier Cruz
    December 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    My question is: if you have the opportunity to be back in time, and meet yourself in the 60’s, what will be your advice to young Jon?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 11:40 am

      buy stock in Wal-Mart,Sony and Apple

  4. Daniel Ahl
    December 20, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    What if anything would you change that happened in the late 60’s – do you think you would let yourself go through it all again?

    • jon
      December 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      the list is too long…still however, it is best to live with no regrets..

  5. Trudy van der Hoeven
    December 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    What advise would u give to non thai nationals serving in thai prison now? (Except from advising them to read your book ;b).

    • jon
      December 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      that is a long list…first learn Thai and Thai ways and respect them… drop your sense of superiority and acknowledge the fact that you are being treated better than they treat their own people.. realise you are a guest even though an unwanted guest…understand that you, not the Thais, put yourself in this glad you are not doing time in your own your hands to yourself,don’t think too much and accept the consequences of your own karma …there is more …it is all in the book

  6. Jim G.
    December 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    If not for the Vietnam War were the G.I.,s came to Bangkok on R&R to enjoy the many vices and most everybody turned a blind eye to what was going on could you do what you did now?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      if it was not for the war in Nam then i would never have been there to begin with

  7. Navin
    December 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Jon, what was worse, spending all that time in a Bangkok prison, or being locked up in a different prison if lies, drug addiction and a life of crime?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 11:33 am

      NAVIN…it is all the same my friend…jon

  8. Ole Rokholt
    December 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I was wondering if your american background and the 60ies with flower power, acid tests, grateful dead and the summer of love had anything to do with you ending up in this drug related mess in bangkok? if not, did it influence you in any way in bangkok/prison in the sixties/early seventies?

  9. Rolf Brunner
    December 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I was in the Chonburi-Prison in 1982 for 2 months…
    I’ve been living in Thailand from 78 to 83 Can remember the hard time in Thailand…. But now I’m retired and stay 3 years allready in Thailand again.

    • Richard Barrow
      December 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

      I guess you were lucky you weren’t blacklisted. Most cannot come back.

      • Rolf Brunner
        December 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm

        just 2 and a half year overstay…not persona non grata, had a young son with a thai woman…. Yes, 2 days in Penang and I was back in Pattaya for 6 months more…
        But still today I can remember my 2 months in this old Chonburi-Prison with Kao daeng everyday…Brown rice

        • Richard Barrow
          December 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm

          Which I believe they changed to white rice just for the foreigners. That is one thing that Jon touches on in this book, how much better foreign prisoners were treated compared to Thai. Would you agree?

          • Rolf Brunner
            December 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm

            Yes, I agree, 40 Baht Coupon everydas, Thai’s 20 Baht, Farang not have to work, Farang can sleep in the “hospital” and can use the toilet from the guards…but no white rice those days nearly 30 years ago…and nearly all the inmates an guards frindly with me, sory, my English, I’m a Swiss

  10. December 21, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Were there any Thai women (probably bar girls?) doing the drug smuggling along with you and were they sent to prison, too? Or was it just a “man’s world?”

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 11:50 am

      “no” to the first question…and “no” to the second question

  11. Jocelyn MG.
    December 21, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Jon Cole has given us a Novel of epic proportions! It is not one to be picked apart and judged, for we are all just one mistake away from “Hard Times” ourselves aren’t we? As a teenager, the word, “Consequences” was not in my vocabulary. Thank you Mr. Cole for giving the world a book that I perceive as entertaining, educational, and most of all a cleansing of your mind, soul, body, and Spirit. In closing, the question I have is: In writing and reliving the past, did this book provide you with a portal to slay your demons and finally give you peace?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 11:45 am


  12. William B
    December 21, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Love to have a copy of this book, as I have over 30 years of experiences with the Thai people. First as a young Airman at Ubon RTAFB. Then many years living with a Thai lady.

    • Richard Barrow
      December 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

      Well, to enter the competition you need to ask Jon a question.

  13. Nathan C
    December 21, 2011 at 8:45 am

    who were 3 of the most interesting people you’ve met, and why?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      the answer to this question requires an essay

  14. Laura Trairatnobhas
    December 21, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Jon, yours is one of several books written about the Thai prison system by Western prisoners. From the reviews, however, it would seem that your “prison reality” differs greatly from that of other authors. Why should we believe your story rather than theirs?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      Laura…Damn good question which is answered in the book..i am looking forward to your personal review after you have read it..jon

  15. Alasdair McLeod
    December 21, 2011 at 11:52 am

    What experience or personal quality allowed you to remain objective about your treatment while others ended up being so critical of the Thai system?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      understanding Thai and Thai ways combined with acceptance of the fact that i,not the Thai people,had put myself in that situation kept my whining to a minimun

  16. Katie Wellington
    December 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Jon – Looking forward to reading your first-hand account of what life was like for you during this period of time – can you explain why you felt compelled to be drawn into the drug courier trade, knowing the ultimate consequences of these actions if caught by the authorities?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      pure greed

  17. Karl Dahlfred
    December 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    From your experience, can you tell whether the U.S. government had a consistent policy regarding American citizens arrested and imprisoned under Thai law? Did they try to help out? Pull strings? Intervene? Or did they just leave you (and other American prisoners) at the mercy of the Thai system?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      Karl…consistent policy? pretty much..try to help? yes..pull strings? sure…intervene? seldom….the US embassy seemed to have two primary functions regarding citizen prisoners #1 monitor the treatment and well being of Americans..#2 count heads to make sure we were still there..

  18. Khun Don
    December 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Apart from the stupidity and futility of crime, did you learn anything of great lasting value in prison?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Khun Don…to me this is the best question…i learned to not dwell on the experience …but that is easier said than done

  19. December 21, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    How would you describe the freedom in the jail? And don’t you feel in jail while being outside? 😉

  20. Rob
    December 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Jon, if you could rewind your life back to 1 significant point and do something different, when and what would it be?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      I would not have married my first wife

      • Patty
        December 30, 2011 at 6:21 am

        OH Jon! You still make me laugh!

  21. Rachel Stead
    December 22, 2011 at 9:20 am

    You started the story as a “western teenager” but I suspect you ended it behaving and speaking more like a native Thai person (although I may be wrong about that?)

    Now you are free of the restrictions of Thai prison do you have any thoughts about being more “Thai” than “American” and are there different areas of your life that are more one than the other?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      Rachel…i can never be more “Thai” than “American”….and yes i have embraced many of the personally percieved superior aspects of some of Thai culture

  22. Linda Belonje
    December 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Jon, looking forward to reading your book. I believe there are quite a few international kids in Bangkok nowadays who are also involved with drugs. Some of them think that as they are expats and their parents have money they will be protected from being sentenced to prison. My question is: when you started making the wrong choices as a teenager, did you think you were immune to the consequences because of your expat status?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm

      yes..and at the time it was pretty much the case

  23. Fredric
    December 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Jon, with your experience of the Thai prison system, do you think it actually reduces the crime rate? Would you say there are fewer repeat offenders in Thai prisons compared to western countries?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      “yes” to first question…”i do not know” to the second

  24. Bill
    December 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Do you feel you would be alive now had you not been caught and sentenced?

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm


  25. Richard Barrow
    December 22, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Many thanks for all your great questions. It was difficult to pick just two, so what I did was to enter all of the names into a “list randomizer”.

    And the two names that came out at the top were:

    Mona Salce and Trudy van der Hoeven.

    Congratulations. I have sent you an email requesting your street address. The competition is now over. However, feel free to continue posting questions here if you like. I’ll be doing an interview with Jon soon and I will be including some of your great questions.

    By the way, there will be another book give-away here next week for yet another prison book. This time “Escape: The Past”. More on that soon.

    • jon
      December 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Richard…thank you for your kind and understanding patronage…”Escape” and the subseguent prequel “Escape: The Past” written by my fellow inmate and kindred spirit David McMillan are both gripping accounts. As a fairly accurate description of Thai prison life you will notice that he never claims to have been beaten by guards or forced to eat cockroachs and rats in order to survive..David is not a whiner

  26. Dave
    December 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Jon-simply put I have read Warren Fellows book(the damage done) finding it to be embellished somewhat. Although a reflection of his experience. Is the jail hell or could sanity remain within the soul for the duration of sentence. Also is some of your inmate acquaintances still incarcerated now? Everyone understands that the Thai system is harsh and certain offenders would be still if alive and not dead from illness in Thai jails for more than 20 years?

  27. kevin
    December 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    ive read the damage done by warren fellows and that book can put you off thailand for life, is most of the book blown out of proportion

  28. paulbkk
    January 13, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Any chance the book can be translated and published in Thai?

  29. Farang Sober
    February 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I knew from page one that Warren’s book was exaggerated and unreliable. I don’t believe half of it. So I look forward to reading yours instead.

    But Jon, Thailand in the 1960s and 70s must have been a great place, with the few farangs who were there treated like royalty.

  30. Gideon
    February 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Would you agree the overcrowding and apparent inhumane conditions are a sign that the Thai government and its people just don’t care to change it. Surely the government has funds enough but obviously prioritises it in other ways. In any Western country these conditions would be considered outrageous, driving huge public protest and government official/minister would be called to accountability and take actions and heads would roll. Apparently the Thai do not mind. They may think offenders deserve what comes to them, Karma thinking. I am really interested in the why, myself living happily in Thailand for a number of years now.

  31. Fred Rehkopf
    February 17, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Use to go to ISB and was good friends with your brother. Do you have an email address I can correspond

  32. spencer
    February 28, 2012 at 3:54 am

    how far down soi 18 was “phi baan lek” (as mentioned in jons book)and was it on the left or the right..?? can anybody help as i wish 2 photgraph how it looks now….????

  33. kelay
    April 3, 2012 at 2:00 am

    I was wondering how many opportunities you had to use “LOG” during your stay @ Klong Prem MANN…

  34. Dennis rasche
    September 24, 2012 at 9:57 am

    My friend and air force pilot at the time steve mullahey told me a story about delivering some coolies to a prisoner in thailand
    Years ago from ur mom. So today i was checking to see if you were still there to have some friends there ck on you. Glad u r out. Told steve to email u

  35. Steve Mullahey
    September 25, 2012 at 7:06 am

    HI Jon, I brought you cookies your mother had made in January of 88. I was there at the prison with a friend Kenny Poorman. I was telling your story at a dinner party last week and someone took the time to research your name. I had assumed you were still in prison all of these years, glad to see you are out. I only spent a few hours there and it still left quite an impression on me. I hope your mother is alive and well.

  36. Elizabeth Delehanty-Pfeiffer
    July 14, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Jon, I am looking forward to reading your book. I attended ISB from 1974 through 1978, and I, like many others, experienced many, many drugs. I quickly become addicted to opiates (heroin), but was lucky enough to be caught by the school and family before the police caught me, and was subsequently sent home. I did visit after that, and did not do any drugs. I would love to go back now, free of drugs and see how Bangkok and other areas are as of 2013. It is ironic, as I still keep in touch with many old friends from ISB, even though I am married with two girls, 18 and 15, and live in the Chicago area. My blood still runs deep with the memories of living abroad (as well as living in Africa) and am extremely interested in reading about your time in prison. It seems that your perspective is very interesting, and mature, to say the least. I would love to learn more about you and your life, and how you are leading your life now. Fascinating it sounds to me.

  37. npr
    November 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I was in a Thai prison when this post about your book was originally made, but out again now (obviously). I get the feeling your account doesn’t exaggerate as much as many others. My own experience means I do not believe much of what I’ve read in many ex-pats’ accounts of Thai prisons.

    What was the worst aspect of it for you? Out of interest, for me it was the lack of privacy – whatever I did there was always someone within at least a few feet of me, month after month after month.

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