Readers' Submissions

Try Somewhere Else, Because the Party’s Over




When did you last read of anything positive about Thailand? I can’t remember, can you? Things just get worse and worse, and the list of problems just gets longer and longer. You have to seriously wonder just how long ANYONE will want to come to Thailand for a holiday. I already find myself wondering why anyone still does, given the endless stories of scams and knowing there are many other places in the region that are often more beautiful, cheaper and infinitely more welcoming. I can only put it down to a lack of imagination, but it is clear that the word is spreading. There are places to go that simply are more in line with what people expect, want and pay for when they take a long trip overseas for a well-earned vacation.

This month, as usual when I flew back in to Swampypoon airport, I got the same warm welcome by immigration. “Good morning,” I say brightly with a big ‘Thai smile’. “Passport!” snaps the immigration man, before doing whatever he has to do and slinging the passport back at me. That is after, as usual over the past couple of years, I have been on a full flight from Europe and watched as the immigration forms are handed out and no more than a few passengers accept them. They are not planning to stop in Bangkok or anywhere else in Thailand. They are only using Bangkok as a convenient hub, to be departed from again as soon as possible.

Hopefully they don’t try any shopping while waiting for their connecting flight. Because what have we had lately? Well, the King Power Duty Free extortion scam has been going on for months, but has only recently hit the headlines around the world when they picked on the wrong people who bit back. Now, I’ve read, Thailand has been on the front pages of newspapers all over Europe as the tales of tourists being threatened with months in jail awaiting trial for alleged shoplifting go on and on. It has been the most read item on the BBC news website. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the accused, one or two of whom might have been guilty, the manner in which simple cases of shoplifting have been dealt with has ignited worldwide outrage and condemnation.

Briefly, numerous departing visitors have for months been accused of shoplifting, but have had no knowledge of an item placed in their bag when they have made a purchase. Some have been told by the cashier it is a gift, while some didn’t even notice anything added to their bag. Then, once the passenger leaves the shop, they are pounced upon by aggressive security staff and told they will go to prison for six months. They are duly taken to a police station, outside of the airport building even though there is a police office, and a tourist police office, in the main building, and ‘negotiations’ begin. Their passport is taken away and they are told that unless they plead guilty they must wait in prison for two months before their case is heard. Of course, for a hefty fee, sometimes amounting to a US dollar five-figure sum, they can receive an official police letter stating there is no evidence against them and they are free to go.
King Power, who let us remind ourselves obtained their airport monopoly through questionable means with no other bidders allowed, and then encroached upon areas beyond which had been agreed, and then later were ordered out of the airport before a change of government resulted in their ‘errors’ being ignored, says they have evidence. At the same time the accused have letters from the police saying there is no evidence. Strange, hmm. The company, in a belated and half-hearted damage limitation exercise, have posted a couple of videos on their website supposedly proving the guilt of a couple of the more high-profile ‘victims’, but many see them as inconclusive for a variety of reasons – too grainy, they don’t really identify the ‘shoplifters’, there is no indication even of when the video was taken. The situation has become so bad that some European countries have advised their citizens to exercise extreme caution when shopping at the airport. Extreme caution when doing something as harmless as shopping, for crissake! The government, even the Tourism department, have remained silent, doing what Thais do best, which is nothing. Guess if the scam victims, or anyone they know, or many of those who read the stories around the world, are impressed with the Thais. Guess what they’ll say to their friends and family and business colleagues. Find somewhere else.

Then there was the young lad who drowned in a Pattaya water park, while a lifeguard stood by and did nothing. His only job, his ONLY job, is to safeguard lives, but he couldn’t be bothered to investigate when the boy’s distraught mother came screaming to him for help. He thought she was just joking around, he said. He mistook a screaming, begging mother as someone playing a joke. Really! Certainly the lad was foolish in lifting up a grill to try and recover his goggles that had fallen through, but it should have been locked. Guess if it was locked. Guess whether any action is being taken against the park because it wasn’t. The only action taken was by the boys in brown, who homed in on a money-making opportunity when the boy’s distraught father lashed out at an insensitive photographer who was photographing his son’s limp, lifeless body. The father was invited to pay a fine of 24,000 baht for that. Who got the money, I wonder? So much for Thai compassion and respect for life. But it’s a culture thing, isn’t it, the Thai way we foreigners don’t understand, the lust for the locals to see bodies on the front page of newspapers and to hell with the feelings of the bereaved. If you don’t like it, tough, just pay up. Guess if that family, or anyone they know, or many of those who read the story around the world, are impressed with the Thais. Guess what they’ll say to their friends and family and business colleagues. Find somewhere else.

Then in the past few days there were the tourists on holiday at Phuket’s biggest resort, Patong Beach, who had to dodge bullets and run for their lives as some Thai ‘businessmen’ tried to sort out a little matter in the way that Thais know best, with a gun. One man died, several others were injured. And this wasn’t in the early hours of the morning. It was early afternoon. Guess if those who came to Thailand expecting a tranquil time by the sea in the Land of Smiles will be back. Guess what they’ll tell their friends and family and business colleagues. Find somewhere else.

Thais are not known for thinking beyond today, and they just don’t get it. People have come, so they will always come, so let’s take as much from them as we can. All foreigners are rich, all Thais are poor, so it’s justified. No matter that many Thais are poor because they are too lazy to work. It seems to have completely eluded many people in Thailand that there is something called the internet, and when something negative happens to visitors who are accustomed to more civilised behavior then the news is flashed around the world in hours, if not minutes.

We as foreigners are not alone in being constantly taken advantage of, but that is not the good news. That is the bad news. Because ripping people off is part of the national culture, and people will try and take advantage of you whether you are a visitor or a native. It’s the Thai way, all too often. Of course there are good and bad, but the good are suffering, and will suffer even more as less and less people from overseas who contribute a considerable sum to the local economy can be bothered putting up with the hassles. Thai culture is always all about the money. That comes first, and morals and fairness come a very poor second. And it’s not as if Thailand is anything close to the bargain it once was. On my most recent visit to Europe I was stunned at how cheap and of what quality much of the food and drink was. Thailand doesn’t come close. In Thailand, many Western things are at Western prices so where is the advantage there after paying the airfare, and all too often there are first world prices for third world quality.
Before anyone rattles off with the mantra that if you don’t like it here then sod off back where you came from, like many I have made my life here. I have family and friends, and there are aspects of living in Thailand that are good. But at the same time, the reality is that, in a league table of really good places to live, Thailand is nowhere near the top. That is why so many have left, and that number is bound to escalate as more and more tire of the bullshit and general inefficiency that is so much a part of life in Thailand.

Even ordering a meal can be a trial, as you never know if you’ll actually get what you ordered, or what the quality will be. For example, at Seacon Square in Bangkok there is a restaurant that claims to serve steaks from Australia and New Zealand, instead of the local boot leather steaks. But it is a lie. There is absolutely no way the steak I had there was imported. It’s an outright scam, but no-one cares. By the way, two of us ate there and ordered exactly the same food, but one came 15 minutes after the other. See what I mean? Service standards are appalling, but if you complain the result will be floods of tears from someone responding like a six year old when she’s done something wrong, or abuse and ‘you pay!”. My own wife was abused at an ice-cream place in Pattaya when they brought the wrong order, she not realising until she had the first taste. It was her fault for not noticing earlier. Imagine offering that kind of service and lying about the products they sell in the West.

The very people that Thailand had tried to attract, families, are being constantly discouraged from coming because of the endless tales in the overseas press about riots on the street, the airport closures for which still no-one has paid the price – apart from the tourists held hostage, the scams at the Grand Palace, the scams at the Erawan Shrine, the scams at Bangkok’s main railway station, the gem scam and the endless overpricing or ‘special’ prices for foreigners, led by the government with their national park fees and eagerly taken up as an example by the rest of the population, even at high-end attractions such as the aquarium at Siam Paragon and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in Pattaya. And countless other places. Soon, the only overseas visitors left will be exactly the people the government was half-heartedly trying to get rid of, the sex tourists, because the lure of Thailand’s most famous ‘product’, prostitution, draws those who often are willing enough to put up with the scamming and lies. But even some of those are giving up and going elsewhere. Not that the Thais realise there is anywhere else. They are brought up from birth to believe that Thailand is the greatest place on earth, and no-one can convince them otherwise.

With the economy bound to get worse and worse, and as the tourist industry sinks further and further as more and more realise there is just too much to put up with in Thailand, where is the country headed? As people lose their jobs in the cities, in the factories, and any number of businesses close, partly because of the worldwide recession and partly because Thailand absolutely refuses to join the modern world, what happens to the people? There is no welfare system to help them. No job equals no money equals no food. I imagine that many will flock back to the villages they came from and try to live off the land. They have no alternative. So businesses in the cities, with fewer customers, will struggle even more, with no solution in sight. Thailand, instead of doing everything it can to attract foreign visitors and their money, instead is doing its best to discourage those who do come ever to return. And the economic problems could be nothing compared to the social and political situation that could erupt when His Majesty is no longer around. The future in Thailand is bleak indeed. The country is plunging relentlessly and with increasing speed into an abyss, and the really sad thing is that, despite the effects of the recession, a large part of it is self-inflicted.

Stickman's thoughts:

To any readers who think Barry is over the top with this submission, let me assure you he is not. He is spot on the money. We've passed tipping point already and Thailand's rapid descent is accelerating.

I was on the phone with my favourite uncle the other day who also happens to be a confidante. I was telling him how bad things are and he implored me to get out saying that even from back in New Zealand he could see that the writing was on the wall. And in his words, "You don't want to leave it too late".