The Overzealous Treatment Of Tourists In Soi Bangla Continues
I read keenly the news articles and overall publicity about the case involving Australian, and resident of Victoria, Annice Smoel, who was holidaying in Phuket with her girlfriends back in May this year.
Regardless of whether she was guilty or not, or of her behaviour in front of the local police (which after my experiences I cannot blame her), the way she was treated and held in Thailand for extended periods of time while the police decided on her was clearly questionable. The damage this caused Phuket's tourism, and Thailand's standing as a safe place to visit, was very high from the amount of negative letters sent to the papers about her treatment. In fact much of the criticism was leveled at her for going to Thailand in the first place instead to our local holiday spots.
Our State Premier of Victoria Australia, John Brumby, during this incident said on the news, “Why do people need to go to Thailand anyway?!” The next day an advertising campaign was launched by the Queensland Tourism Authority to attract tourists to “safe Queensland beaches and islands”.
I was in Phuket at the end of June for 4 nights before going to Samui for 5 nights and then Rayong / Mae Phim for another 3. I saw first hand this continued abuse by the local police of tourists. Never have I seen such flagrant disregard for visitors. No mercy or cautions for people who do not live there and only visit to spend money, enjoy the environment and have a good time.
During the day time I rode my scooter with my wife (Thai) on the back and parked the bike just outside the jewellery store in Soi Bangla, a few metres down from the Aussie Bar that was drowned in controversy recently with the stolen bar mats. It was at the far west side before you turn into Beach road and the time was 2:30 PM.
We parked the bike opposite the store as we saw other bikes parked there and thought it was OK to park. We walked in to pick up the wedding rings and a gold wedding band for myself we had bought (26,000 baht) after they were sized correctly. We walked out after not even 5 minutes and came to the bike and it was chained up around the back wheel padlocked over the seat and all.
I thought "WTF" have we done to deserve this? What is going on here?
I then looked at my wife as she panicked, and then noticed the officer in brown prancing around some 7 metres away. I turned to my wife and said, "Put your helmet on right now! She hesitated, and I barked back as I put mine on, "Put it on now. Listen to me for once and come to the bike now!” I was using psychology to say to the man in brown, we are not going to buy into your trick and we are ready to go whether you like it or not so you better unbolt us as we will ride off dragging your lock and chain with us. This apparently worked and he came over and unlocked the padlock and we jumped on before we motored away. My wife said something to him in Thai just prior to us leaving something to do with being ashamed of himself for treating tourists this way. Her older brother is a senior police officer up north and she said that something is wrong with the psyche and management of the police in this province.
Just before we jumped aboard the bike to leave there were two other scooters parked in front of us and our fellow Australian tourists came back out of the clothes shop in front of their bikes. They had parking tickets on their scooters and were amazed at this and walked over to the officer to complain. From where I was standing the tickets were in Thai only <Well, that is fair enough! – Stick> but didn’t see how much they were for. I don't know the outcome of that as we left the scene in disgust that our hire bike would be sabotaged in this way, perhaps forcing us to give a bribe to the officer to release the bike to us. I think the presence of my Thai wife changed his mind and the scam was directed to farang only.
The various shop owners in that part of the soi came outside to witness the incident including the jewellery shop staff as they saw what was going on through the front window. Their livelihoods and businesses are under direct threat from harassment by the local police of tourists parking their vehicles to do business in their shops.
At no time were we blocking traffic or parked illegally as there were no signs anywhere in any language. There was no issue with road safety, security or traffic management in this case. Just tourists who in our case and the other guy's case (as they walked out the shop with plastic bags containing purchases) who spent considerable money in Patong, and perhaps the police want their share?
If the bike was not to be unlocked then a potential situation would have arisen with angry words exchanged between me and the officer. It was a damn hot, sticky day and we had just came back from Wat Chalong, Wat Suparam and Tesco Lotus way up in Phuket Town to pick up our purchases so we were at the end of our tether and anxious to get back to the hotel. I am usually cool-headed but cannot stand what was happening. No way was I going to pay a bribe to the officer.
Interesting how only one bike was locked up and the other two fined. We spoke to the hotel manager where we were staying and he said that the locked up bike was for the officer’s revenue paid directly to him, to perhaps be divided amongst the lower ranks and the ticketed machines for government revenue.
Have the police not learnt anything since the last incident? Were these same officers involved in the Aussie Bar incident? Is there an organised police racket going on in this vicinity?
Do they want to destroy Phuket as a tourist destination? Don’t these people realise the hatred that this brings upon them for their odious behaviour?
This left a bitter legacy in both our mouths about how Thailand is changing. Three lots of unhappy tourists that will tell all about it, and how many more everyday all day that we didn't see.
We have a saying that, “Once the dog dies the fleas have no where to live” and what we have seen in the last few months in the slow death of the dog. The fleas will be the Thai people whose incomes will dry up. We couldn’t wait to get out of the place as we were flying to Samui the next day where we have never experienced or heard anything like this happening over there.
I will send this to the Governor of Phuket for his attention if I can find his details. I have emailed this submission to the TAT both in Bangkok and in Sydney, including the CEO at the Phuket Provincial Office.
I have to admit that issuing parking tickets where there weren't any signs in place stating that one could not park there is not something I have heard of before. But that's not to say it does not happen as the police are involved in all sorts of interesting actions in Thailand.