Reformed drug smuggler revealed the story of how he was the only Westerner who managed to escape from a Thai maximum security prison. The plot involved a Chinese Triad, an umbrella, and a ladder. 

British-Australian David McMillan, now 64, was sent to the notorious Klong Prem Central Prison – ironically nicknamed the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ – in 1993 after being arrested on drug trafficking charges. 

McMillan, who had already spent 11 years in an Australian prison on drugs charges, resolved to escape the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ after learning he was facing the death penalty and could be executed within weeks. 

Speaking in an interview with LADBible, McMillan recalled how he broke out from his prison cell with the help of a criminal nicknamed the ‘Viking’, a poster containing hacksaws, and an ability to adapt when his original plan to swim across the prison moat fell apart. 

‘From the moment I stepped into that prison in Bangkok, escape was on my mind,’ he said. 

Reformed criminal: British-Australian David McMillan, now 64, was sent to the notorious Klong Prem Central Prison - ironically nicknamed the 'Bangkok Hilton' - in 1993 after being arrested on drug trafficking charges. Pictured, McMillan as a young man

Reformed criminal: David McMillan (British-Australian), is now 64 and was sentenced to Klong Prem Central Prison, ironically called the “Bangkok Hilton” in 1993, after being charged with drug trafficking. McMillan in his youth

Escape: Speaking in an interview with LADBible, McMillan recalled how he broke out from his prison cell with the help of a criminal nicknamed the 'Viking', a poster containing hacksaws, and an ability to adapt when his original plan to swim across the prison moat fell apart

McMillan, Escape: McMillan, in an interview with LADBible, recounted how he escaped from prison with help of a criminal named the ‘Viking. A poster with hacksaws was attached to McMillan’s cell. He also had the adaptability to change his original plan, which was to swim across the prison moat.

Audacious: McMillan became the first and only Westerner to escape Klong Prem Central Prison in Thailand, pictured from above, by breaking out of his cell, avoiding guards, scaling a wall using a makeshift ladder and 'walking' through the front gate under an umbrella

McMillan was audacious. He broke out of his cell and avoided guards. McMillan then scaled a wall with a ladder, and “walked” through the front gate.

McMillian was involved in drug trade in Australia during the 1970s. He eventually built an international network of smugglers that included ‘couriers’ or mules operating in South America, Europe and Thailand.  

In 1982, he had been convicted for drug trafficking. He was the first to be jailed. After being found guilty of drug trafficking, he was sentenced in 1982 to eleven years in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison. He survived the fatal fire that engulfed the high security section and claimed six of his fellow prisoners’ lives. 

While still in Australia on parole, he traveled to Thailand in 1993 to retrieve the money that he had kept there. He was arrested at the Chinatown area of Bangkok just moments after boarding an outbound plane from Bangkok Airport.  

“My head was boiling with anger, and I cannot tell you how careful or imagining I had been, in order to make certain no one knew my whereabouts,” he stated.  

The suspect was discovered with a fake passport, enough drugs and sufficient evidence to warrant his arrest and conviction for drug trafficking. For a Thai drug trafficking offense, death is the maximum sentence. 

McMillan was moved to Klong Prem. Klong Prem is considered to be one of the worst prisons in the world, housing up to 20,000 prisoners across several sections including a women’s prison and an institute for drug addictions.  

McMillan was kept in McMillan’s main men’s prison. It houses around 8,000 prisoners.

He said that “The foreigners section was just a collection of broken people that the winds had blown to a corner in Asia.” The sentences were usually between 40 years and life. These sentences ranged from 40 to 60 years in length.

Criminal past: McMillian, pictured, became involved in the drugs trade in Australia in the 1970s, eventually building an international smuggling ring involving 'couriers', or mules, operating across South America, Europe, Thailand and Australia

McMillian has a criminal history. McMillian (pictured) was involved in drug trafficking in Australia in 1970s. McMillian eventually established an international smuggling operation with ‘couriers’ or mules that operated across South America and Europe as well as Australia.

McMillan was on block 6’s third floor in a shared cell. Sten, a Swedish male, shared McMillan’s cell with him. He was also known as the ‘Viking’.

McMillan escaped after spending more than two years at Klong Prem and was informed that his case would be “brought to an ending”.  

“[I was told]Within two weeks, I was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. It was not pretty. It was executed by machine gun. The machine gun was attached to the plank, and the prisoner was tied with three strings. It is then welded to a wooden bench. There are three strings that can be pulled by three of three guards so that none of them can claim that it was their gun which ended this man’s existence.

Thailand’s “Bangkok Hilton” is home to a number of disease-ridden cells. 

Klong Prem’s cramped prison can spread diseases quickly. Inmates are tattooed to combat boredom and have relations with ladyboys. But, they need to be cautious due to the high HIV rate in Thailand’s transgender population.

If inmates are having problems, they can be given boxing gloves to fight each other inside the ring.

According to Reuters, a typical cell measures 1.5×3 metres and can accommodate five inmates on blue beds.  

The Bangkok Hilton is its name. It was named for the TV show that depicted the horrors of Thai prison life. Because of its high population and harsh conditions, it is one of the most difficult prisons to visit. 

McMillan saw the guard, who is usually outside McMillan’s window, was missing one evening and made the decision that he would escape. 

All it required was to be able get out of the tiny window that had been blocked by heavy metal bars.  

McMillan said, “I was able to construct furniture that can be taken apart and assembled as a ladder to the tall, upper window. This is the only window in my cell.”  

“I then went to the bathroom and dismantled a poster I had been sent by someone. [contained]Two hacksaw blades… I also took out other tools, such as a flashlight and a laser pen. The bars were in my hands and I began to build them.

Sten also had wooden frames in his bag, purchased under pretense that he wanted to paint. These were to be tied with cable ties, ‘100m’ of Army boot webbing, and taken from his bed to make two ladders.  

McMillan had a rough plan, but cutting the windows bars was much more difficult than he anticipated.    

The first stroke with that tungsten-steel steel [hacksaw]This old bar was the best place to be a violin player. Sten was working on this, and I kept my eyes fixed to cracks in cell bars that lead to the 60ft sleeping guard.

McMillan began moaning to his cellmates because he was worried about the possible consequences if they caught knowing someone was escaping. McMillan threatened McMillan   

Sten broke the bars so McMillan had ‘6in’ clearance to let him through around 3AM. 

He continued, “On one side of the wall was a plank made of wood that slid into the bars on the other side and project out into the night air.” A footstool held it in place. So I could escape that cell locked in my room, the plank was kept sideways by a footstool. That was the only step. 

McMillan was transferred to the Klong Prem, which holds up to 20,000 inmates across a number of different sections, including a women's prison and a correctional institute for drug addicts. Pictured, a prison guard stands watch over the sleeping quarters of one section

McMillan transferred to Klong Prem. This prison holds up to 22,000 inmates and has a range of sections that include a women’s prison as well as a drug addictions correctional facility. One section of the prison is pictured with a guard standing watch.

“I had to do a strip-down to the bare essentials, then grease it up. After that, I put a towel on my cut window section to protect my back, and lifted myself up.

McMillan was suspended once more on the blank. He then threw the webbing from his army belt to the ground, and began to shimmy down.Sten pulled the rope out and I flipped it over.

McMillan spent time creating a mental map to the complex, drawing from the weekly visits to church and the hours he spent outside the block. McMillan was able to locate the guards and planned on scaling an outer wall, crossing a 25-meter moat and eventually escaping. 

McMillan’s escape from the jail was delayed by the length of the complex prison.  

McMillan has since turned his life around and is now an author and has been featured in TV programmes

McMillan, who has since made a complete turnaround in his life and is now an author. He has also been featured on TV programs

He had to stop when he was near a guard, who stood suddenly to get some water. 

“I felt that I was powerless because there were so many walls to build and no energy left,” he stated. “But I knew what was going to happen and that I would be dying slowly but horribly.” [if I was caught]”

His obstacle was Mars Bar creek, the name given the open sewer which ran around the perimeter of prison. He crossed it using his rope and ladder. The outer wall was next, and he continued climbing up slowly.  

He added: “I used some of the army’s boot webbing to create a rope that would sail up to the ground. When I arrived at the main moat, it was too late to get across.

It would have been loud, but it was so peaceful. It was impossible for me to walk so I had to turn around and go to the entrance. 

McMillan pulled out long, khaki trousers from his bag. This was a wise choice. Guards couldn’t wear khaki trousers and prisoners could only wear shorts.  

McMillan’s plan was changed and McMillan needed to find the courage to cross the prison edge to reach the exit. 

He had a small umbrella that he kept in his backpack, which was the key to his brazen escape. 

“It had just rained enough that it gave me an excuse to use the umbrella. Walking slowly toward the front, crossing the bridge, I noticed that this was the area where the guards arrive for work. Also, it is the place where shops and people set up. I wondered if someone would notice the guard arriving late. I know one thing for certain, escapees don’t bring umbrellas in case it pours.

McMillan reached the front of the building, crossed the walkway and got onto the six-lane highway leading to the airport. 

He said, “I looked around at prison and saw 12,000 people. It was two-and-a half years of mine.”

McMillan was finally able to reach the outside. 

He had most of his money left with his cellmates, to be used to defend themselves against the fury of McMillan’s guards. However, he still had enough cash to pay for taxis to Bangkok.  

McMillan had interacted with Harry, his former cellmate and a member the Chinese Triads. Harry had set up a fake passport so that a mirror could be placed in the bathroom back. 

McMillan got his passport back ‘within minutes’. 

“[At the airport]A friend had left a bag in the luggage room and I was able to pick it up. After I had inserted my ATM card, it stated “Please contact your bank”. However, a second card worked and the customer was able withdraw $500. 

McMillan booked an international flight from Toronto to Singapore. He exhaled relief when he got through Immigration. 

The problems didn’t end once he left Klong Prem. McMillan was then arrested in Lahore in Pakistan where he spent the next three years in prison. 

McMillan, who is now an author, has turned his life around since then and was featured in television programmes like Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men.  

McMillan, nearly two decades later, still experiences nightmares about his prison time and admits that his experience as a criminal caused him great losses. 

He said, “As far my waking lives are concerned, would you be willing to give up everything that I’ve seen and learnt and understand for a more peaceful life?” Both yes and no. 

But it does [bring] huge destruction. It was, in many ways, a waste of life. A person can do more good than they think, be more creative, help others, and that’s the best choice.