Is Thailand becoming more or less violent? A difficult question indeed as so much of the subject is carefully hidden, or not openly talked about. Certainly in my experience we can subcategorise violence in Thailand in five ways:-
1. Personal violence towards an individual or individuals.
2. Gangsters / Mafioso violence.
3. Government organised violence.
4. Domestic violence.
5. Violence involving religion in South Thailand. I will not discuss this – it is out of my remit.
Certainly, Pattaya seems to be becoming more dangerous these days, but perhaps there is just greater reportage of the incidents? However, I never felt as secure in Pattaya as say, in Bangkok or anywhere else in LOS for that matter.
A police friend once told me some years ago and how true this is I don’t know as I have never been able to get a concrete answer, is that a murder does not appear on the official statistics until someone has been convicted for the crime. Naturally a goodly number of instigators in categories 2 & 3 would never be brought to book.
From what I saw over the years it appeared that violence by Thais against Thais was in general premeditated. Violence against foreigners tended to be as a result of the farangs idiotic behaviour. In my opinion there is not the random violence that occurs any evening in any town or city in the U.K. which is generally drink or drug fueled.
Let me give you an example : When the missus worked in the Amari Hotel, Sukhumvit 5, she worked a rotating shift cycle. One shift would finish at 11:30 PM so she’d be out of the hotel by about 11:45. This would continue for a couple of weeks before moving on to a day shift, etc. As we lived in Pratunam then, I’d catch the bus across to meet her, we would go into Foodland, score a can of beer for me and an ice cream for Pla. Then we would walk back to our apartment which I suppose must be about 3 – 4 km. Maybe a little more. However in all those many, many walks taking the same route every time not one person said peep to us; no bums asking for money, no pissed up louts coming on strong, just a nice cool late night walk across the city centre. Now, try that in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, wherever, but we did that for over a year and never had a feeling that harm may come our way.
With Thais to Thais I always got the impression that the culture was to blame. They bottle things up, try to keep smiling, the anger simmers away, they start plotting, then they instigate a scene. And of course once they have gone down this road they don’t know when to stop. It’s barbaric to watch.
Example: I was on a No. 25 red bus going down Sukhumvit one evening about 8pm. Luckily I had managed to get a single seat before it really filled up and so sat peering at the crossword in the newspaper. Up around Soi 30 or so a guy got on, he looked like a construction worker and he managed to get a seat on the opposite side from me but two seats forward. By the time we got to Soi 24 the bus was packed and I noticed three guys, also looking like construction workers get on at the back then begin to make their way towards the front. Then they stopped behind this initial guy so I assumed they knew each other and returned to the paper.
Movement caught my eye and on looking up saw everyone trying to push to the front of the bus, “Eh?”. Then saw that the three new arrivals were calmly plunging knives with a triangular cross section into this guy’s back and face. He never made a sound.
They took their time, and, no, I wasn’t getting involved with that lot thank you very big. The bus halted they got off and calmly walked away.
A traffic cop arrived had a look then instructed a couple of m/cycle taxi riders to carry the body / person off and onto the pavement. The conductress managed to find a bucket and a water source then sluiced down the floorboards before we moved off again, minus a fair proportion of the original passengers.
Later as I walked down the dark Soi I thought to myself, “Did I really see that or did I dream it?”.
Neung and Mau were on the porch so I joined them, sipped my beer then told them my story.
Oh yeah, pretty normal event really. Really?
Neung told me about the time she was on a non air-con red and cream bus barrelling down the expressway when two guys managed to throw another guy out of a window. Just no interest at all in the story or the eventual fates of the individuals. I saw other examples over the years but lets not make this too gory.
Saw this farang guy get the shit kicked out him one night in Nana. This was before they put all the new bars in the centre of the Plaza, I mean, you could actually walk around the ground floor without undergoing an assault course type experience. I was sitting outside the Woodstock watching the zoo over a beer when I noticed a fairly tallish guy emerge from a bar below us. He had a girl with him. After about 10 paces from the bar a circle of Thai guys materialised, surrounded him, then beat him to a pulp. What had he done? Arrives on holiday, books into Nana Hotel. Goes drinking and ends up at the bar then below the Woodstock. Takes a lovely out then goes back to hotel with said lovely. In the morning refuses to give her any money and throws her out. That evening he does exactly the same thing again but in the bar next door. Same scenario. He tried it a third night in the original bar. The bar told the girl to go as they knew she’d be back in ten minutes. That was the night I really realised that some people are just born dumb. How stupid can you get in this life?
A music teacher I knew, (European), gets a contract to teach a General’s daughter. 21 years old and a real beauty in his opinion. He opined to sleep with her, which in my opinion was probably not a good thing as generals' daughters don’t hang out with impoverished music instructors. He had duly done the deed and deflowered her – of course she wanted a certain quid quo pro and that meant he was now HER property. Difficulties soon arose and as you may imagine he spent a lot of time changing addresses from then on. By the time he left Thailand, he was literally a nervous wreck. (Implied violence can be just as debilitating as the real thing).
Gangsters and Mafioso? We farang don’t see much of this as they tend to keep it within their own circles. But gambling debts seem to be one of the main reasons for people getting hammered or murdered. Then again, those incidents tend to be carried out in private or secluded areas so little chances of witnesses.
When they were building Soi 1 Tower I left for work one morning to find Soi Zero full of cops. I asked the Lieutenant what was happening and he explained that a guy had been thrown off the top floor onto the construction rubble some 16 floors below. He said that they knew that people met to play cards at night on the unfinished top floor, so it was probably a gambling debt.
Then of course there was the German guy who managed to run through the plate glass window in his room in Baiyoke Tower and went down about 27 stories. (Mem, Bee and I actually saw that one happen – messy). The police grapevine said that he’d bought a lot of smack and tried to do a runner without paying. It was suicide apparently. O.K.
The U.S. guy back there about '95 who had owned a bar in Pattaya but one day fled to Bangkok to get to the U.S. Consulate. Too late, it was Friday and closed. Sunday he is found ‘by accident’ in his room in the Dynasty Inn having put
a plastic back over his head, plasti cuffed it sealed then plasti cuffed his wrists behind his back. Potential Houdini methinks.
One of Pheung’s Uncles, who was a bit of a lad to be honest, shoots himself four times in the head with a .38. Cops reckoned suicide. Yup, O.K. then.
The line between organised crime and some of the more nefarious members of the law enforcement agencies is blurred to say the least and I’ll leave it at that for fear of spilling too many beans. However, having worked with the military in Thailand for 9 years, one does tend to be included in the talk around the dinner table, so as to speak.
Government oraganised violence is nothing new in any country, but don’t forget, it is not so long ago that the army were tasked to shoot the crowds demonstrating for democracy. This has happened before in Thailand several times and may we hope it does not happen again. No one person ever seems to be accountable for issuing the orders to fire and no accurate statistics are ever available for how many people became casualties either by death or wounding at Rachdamoen or Thammasat or any other similar instance.
I remember when it all kicked off at the Democracy movement; I was leaving Jakarta to return home for a few months via Bangkok for a few weeks. The aircraft routed via Hong Kong whereby we were told that a serious situation had began to evolve in Thailand and that if anyone wanted to leave the aircraft now then please do so. I would imagine that there were about 10 passengers on that aircraft when we touched down at Don Muang. (Got free champagne all the way though!) It was weird going up Petchburi Road and seeing the sand bagged machine gun posts at the the railway crossing there. The whole town was dead – curfew time.
Then of course the ‘war against drugs’. Extra judicial killings. How many? 2,500? More? How many foreigners, (excepting Burmese, Khmer and Lao), were killed during this particular brainwave? Not many I suspect, but the concept of settling old scores or redividing the turf due to a Prime Minister’s tacit permission to behave in this way is appalling. I am sure there is just the same level of Yaa-Baa and Heroin manufacture as there ever was. Just that now different people are in control having had the opposition fixed. The Phu Yais will be o.k. though – they know how to split the profits. And again, no one is ever accountable…..
Domestic violence ; Alas this is only too common in Thailand and takes the form of beating your wife, or having the power to let your wife squirm as you set off on a Sunday to spend time with the Mia Noi. Some Thai guys treat their women like slaves, which I suppose when under marriage law a man technically owns his wife then certain individuals will act accordingly.
We all know of the mangda types in Thailand – and there are lots of them. But the amount of times that I have seen a guy give his wife a thrashing in the local community is unreal. It seems more common upcountry than in more populous areas and I would put a large responsibility on the government for this problem ; Poverty allied with the availability of very cheap, strong alcohol. Ever drunk Lao Khao? It’s foul but potent. Even in BKK a large glass was 5 Baht, upcountry was 2 Baht. 5 glasses of that and if it’s a full moon the hair starts growing.
But as many a tired farang will know, domestic violence works both ways. Some Thai women are lunatics, pure and simple. No, I do not profess to suggest that it is any demographic group as in my experience a bar girl with 12 years experience under her belt can never be as vicious as an educated hi-so lady. The rational is simple; Hi – so’s don’t expect to get knocked back. This leads to serious loss of face, simmering anger, then the problem. Bar girls learn to roll with the flow unless of course the guy has been an absolute fiend. Then it’s get her “My brother me”, time. Your hospital bill – not mine.
All in all, Thailand is a violent place. However it is not a violent place. It just depends on how you position yourself. As far as us foreigners go there are elements who just do not get it that we are transgressing on their turf when it comes to the naughty money. Would a bunch of East End gangsters be very happy about a bunch of Thais turning up in London and not speaking the language one iota, try to take over certain elements of a long established business / racket? I think not. All a matter of perspective you see.
Personally, I have always felt pretty safe in Thailand, safer than in many countries, but like I said, it is how you position yourself socially, with manners and body language. As Freud said, “Does the pig make the sty or does the sty make the pig?” It’s an interesting concept and one that I have been thinking of for many years. I still don’t have an answer. Just keep smiling, never get angry and you will be O.K.
What perturbs me is the number of unprovoked and random attacks. These are on the increase.