Readers' Submissions

This Land is Their Land

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • October 13th, 2008
  • 7 min read


This submission is in response to Andrew Hick’s “Plundering Farang Pockets” submissions and the hundreds of other such submissions I’ve read with pretty much the same sentiments and comments on the “dual pricing” and “skin color based racism” where it concerns admission into Thailand attractions, national parks, and the such. When I first came to Thailand I’d already read about this “horrible racist practice” in hundreds of places and I just made up my mind to accept it as something I couldn’t change, so why whine about it? I didn’t look any further, investigate any further, I just took all the whiners' words for it and accepted they were right.

One day the obvious struck me. National parks, temples, attractions, what do most of them have in common? Yes, most are publically owned. This means the government, province, or even the local community owns them. For the most part, the major part, how are publically owned parks and attractions funded in your country? In the USA and I’m guessing many other western countries they’re funded through taxes. Depending on the tax structure between federal, state, city (they all take a piece) many attractions in our countries have “dual pricing” and whatever else you want to label it.

Disneyland. Any California resident can tell you that Disneyland will often have periods where residents pay substantially less for their entrance fees. Other attractions have followed this example. In state residents pay a significant portion of taxes that out of state residents don’t pay, and a portion of these taxes go to giving major corporations tax breaks, supporting their infrastructure, and many other forms of support. Is this racism or any form of bigotry at all? I don’t think so. Sure, not every California resident pays taxes, but seeing if you have a local drivers license is an easy way to segregate those who get discounts or not.

Colleges and universities. I’ve attended a few, taught at a few more, and each and every one has tuition tiered on if you were a state resident or not. Why? Because you pay taxes as a resident, or most do. Are they being racist charging up to 10 – 20 x more for tuition to people from Thailand or New Zealand, as those from their home state? I don’t think so. It’s just that in-state residents have a form of ownership in their colleges and universities and regularly pay for their support through local taxes.

On a national level you won’t see dual pricing in the USA much at all. You will see it for hunting permits, fishing licenses, and land use fees (camp sites, national park permits, etc), but you won’t see it for instance at the Washington Mall, Air and Space museums, historical sites, and the parts of our country where we really want our visitors to know more about us and our history.

There are many reasons we either do or don’t have dual pricing on such attractions in the USA, and I don’t think any of them have elements of bigotry or racism. Instead, they are carefully thought out and legally made policies where most things are considered.

If we accept and understand dual pricing in our own countries, why are we bashing Thailand for doing the same? I’m guessing because most haven’t taken the time to look beneath the surface, to investigate the history of the site, or to do more than react to their initial reactions which by themselves can be quite telling. Most of us accept that liars expect people to lie to them. Cheats expect people to cheat them. Thieves expect people to steal from them (the list is long) and racists often suspect people are being racist towards them. I’d rather try to understand what’s beneath the surface.

When I looked beneath the surface of dual pricing in Thailand I saw an almost identical model to my own country. More, I learned that if you have a work permit, local ID, local drivers license, that if you ASK then you can get the same “Thai price” the locals are charges. Why? Because if you’re working and living in Thailand then you’re paying taxes, supporting the local economy, and contributing to the national parks and attractions just like the Thais do.

I regularly (and I mean each and every week) take visitors to local attractions. Zoos, national parks, temples, you name it I take them there. I can’t think of a single place we go where I don’t regularly pay the Thai price. I’m sure there are probably some out there, but the overwhelming majority of them will charge you the Thai price if you take the time to ASK and if you carry your ID or work permit with you. Heck, it's my experience that once they learn you have a work permit or local ID then the smiles get bigger, the doors open wider, and you get treated in a more warm and special way.

Folks, it costs a lot of money to fund a national park. I grew up on Santa Monica beach. I remember each and every morning (during the season) before the sun came up the big “sand sweepers” that would comb the beaches picking up trash, smoothing the sand, and generally making the beach more attractive. They did the same after sunset. Back then as a kid I never stopped to think about how much it cost to run those machines. The capital costs, maintenance, labor, insurance, fuel and repairs, I’d guess it costs tens of millions of dollars to run those machines annually on just that beach alone. Our beaches aren’t cleaner because Americans throw less trash on the ground than Thais. Our beaches are cleaner because we’re running expensive machines across the sand when no one is looking at a huge cost to the local taxpayers. I’ll give you that the typical westerner is more concerned with their environment and is more proactive in it’s upkeep than are Thais, but I don’t think the difference is as huge as you might think it to be. And let's remember we were not always that way. Most western countries have ruined their own forests, seas, lakes, rivers through pollution and neglect long before we learned our lessons and started cleaning it up.

Thailand is indeed amazing. Thailand is even more amazing if we take the time to look beneath the surface and past our own personal perceptions where we can see just how much the Thais do with so little. Thailand doesn’t have the national budget of America or the UK, but I think overall they manage extremely well with what little they have. Well enough that when we’re not complaining about it, we’re out there visiting and / or living here. Grab some perspective folks… it’s free.

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

You've got me in two minds here. The overall point you make, I can accept, but I don't agree with some of the detail…let me explain!

I am in favour of DISCOUNTS for locals whereby the locals get a discounted price over the standard price. Sure, fine, no problem. I do agree that those working locally and contributing to the economy should be able to avail themselves of this also – which is true 95% of the time in Thailand.

The issue however, as I see it, is that in Thailand the locals do NOT get a discount but rather those of another nationality get GOUGED on the price.

In yesterday's weekly column I write about the nightmare when I took a friend to the Lumpini Muay Boxing stadium. There is a flat rate price of 230 baht for Thais whereas foreigners pay 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000 baht, depending on where they sit. 230 baht strikes me as a fair price. So why not charge that price to foreigners and a DISCOUNTED price of say 100 baht to Thais? When you look closely at what is being charged – 2,000 baht – that is $US 60 or £35. That's a lot of money to sit in what is a very basic and not particularly comfortable stadium! Hell, a ticket to see Manchester United at Old Trafford costs less than £35 – and that is in a modern, comfortable stadium.

Discounts for locals is a great concept. Gouging foreigners is not and it this practice which is doing immeasurable damage to Thailand's reputation as a tourist destination.