I have a brother who invested over £1,000,000 in Thailand in the late 1980s setting up a golfing resort. Following the 1991 coup, his Thai 51% partner, thought it would be a good time to have him removed from the Kingdom, and following a few words
in the right ears, and few baht in the right pockets, this duly happened and he lost the lot. As is often the case, the Thai partner actually never invested a satang of his own money. As is also often the case in these circumstances,
the Thai partner lost the business within a year due to his lack of business acumen. If the Thai had not been so short-sighted, then the chances are that everybody would have done well out of the venture, but in the end, all the original participants
made nothing, or lost everything.
There are parts of Africa where monkeys are trapped by their own greed. One particular technique is for a man to walk along eating peanuts. Once he has seen he has attracted the attention of the monkey population he digs a small hole and drops a few nuts inside, and covers the hole up, making it just large enough for the monkey to get his hand in. As the monkey grabs the nuts, his hand expands into a fist, which he can’t pull through the hole. The trapper then walks up to the monkey with a net and its game over. The monkey has become so fixated on the nuts that he won’t let them go, thus leading to his own capture.
Being cheated by business partners is not a uniquely Thai event, and it goes on all over the world. However, in most countries, there is usually a legal system you can resort to in the hope of rectifying matters. In Thailand, there is a perception that an ‘honest lawyer’ is an oxymoron. You can’t be sure he is not selling his services to the highest bidder, and even if you are the highest bidder, you can’t be sure your lawyer isn’t also being paid by the other side. If you look as if you might win your case, it would not be a surprise to get a call from the local police saying they are looking into allegations you are involved in drug trafficking, at which stage, you are well advised to book a taxi to the nearest airport, and take the first plane leaving the country.
My brother told me about what he called the “rule of ten”. As part of the price of doing business, if a policeman came to his bar, the drinks were free. On one occasion, an officer demanded 100 baht. When this was refused, the officer suggested it be resolved at the police station. At the police station, the Sergeant took control of the situation and suggested the matter could be resolved for 1,000 baht. Again my brother protested, and the matter was referred to a Captain who regularly drank at my brother’s resort.
Initially, my brother was pleased to see a familiar and friendly face, especially when he was cordially greeted and invited to sit down. This quickly changed when the Captain said, “Mr Joe. Why do you bring me these problems? Don’t you understand how things work here? If the officer thinks you have done something wrong and gives you the chance to pay a 100 baht ‘fine’, you should pay it. If he has to get his Sergeant involved, the fine increases to 1,000 baht. Now I am involved, I have to ask you for 10,000 baht, unless of course you want to speak to my boss”.
Needless to say, Joe got the message, and from that day forward, the rule was “Pay the 100 baht, and ask him if he wants a drink”.
Looking at the various forums on Thailand and Pattaya, it seems nothing has changed much in nearly twenty years, except perhaps the scams used to extract money from Farangs. Recent allegations focus on Airport Duty Free Shops, and even the BTS, where it is claimed, a Danish non-smoking tourist was scammed out of 10,000 baht for illegal smoking.
The reality is if a Farang becomes the victim of one of these scams, the more he protests his innocence, the more it is likely to cost him. By and large, there is no real interest in protecting the Farangs, unless of course, you happen to be someone with good connections abroad.
There is a legend about Monte Carlo, which at one time, had a notorious reputation for suicides committed by gamblers who had lost everything. The Casino operators were worried about the adverse publicity this might generate. The story goes they paid the local Gendarmerie to notify them of any suspected suicide, and when this occurred, an employee was sent to the scene as quickly as possible to stuff the pockets of the deceased with money. Thus the suicide rates amongst gamblers in Monte Carlo very rapidly reduced to zero, though the number of unexplained suicides shot up.
Again, reading through the bulletin boards, I was struck by the number of tourists who apparently commit suicide in the Land of Smiles, or whose deaths are explained as bizarre accidents. I could never read a story about a tourist being murdered, unless by another tourist. Contrast that with a recent report that Thailand is the most dangerous place on earth for British tourists, and you can see there is an immediate conflict in the statistics. I have to admit, when I read these suicide stories, I got the impression someone had taken a leaf from the Monte Carlo public relations book. It is never a good thing for tourists to be murdered, especially in a country where tourism is the second largest industry.
One recent case involved the murder of a New Zealand expat married to a Thai. The wife is alleged to have confessed and then retracted her statement. Family members and friends of the expat point out the money belonging to him had reportedly gone missing. The case against the wife has recently been dropped, though an alleged hit-man, supposedly hired by the wife, is awaiting trial. The expat’s friends and family have run into a brick wall in tracing the missing money, and are suggesting most, if not all of it, has come into the possession of the Thai Police.
Imagine you are the minister responsible for tourism; the last thing you want to see in the papers is that murder of tourists is a real problem. Thailand is not the only country in the world that faces these problems, but most western countries make the solving of these crimes a priority. Of course in places like Thailand, money is often the motive for such murders, and if the people who investigate the murders are themselves corrupt, you are faced with the problem that if there is anything worse than a tourist being murdered, it is the failure to solve that murder by the powers that be.
I have for some time been considering the possibility of an early “retirement” to Pattaya. It wouldn’t be a retirement as such, and I would still have to “work”, but I would probably have about 10,000,000 to ‘invest’. I have been self-employed in a number of businesses since 1975. Most of these were a success, and allowed me to eat and sleep to a reasonable standard. All things being equal, I don’t think I would starve to death if I set up a business on my own in Thailand. But all things aren’t equal.
At the moment, there are a few loopholes that would allow you to start a business, usually a bar. There has been a recent clampdown on visa runs, and I suspect that in due course, these loopholes will also be tightened up, if not closed completely. So that forces us into the hands of the Thai partner, often a girlfriend, but not necessarily. Just as I suspect the murder / suicide rates are manipulated by the powers that be, I am also sure there are no statistics kept on the number of Farangs who are cheated with impunity by Thai ‘majority’ business partners every year. Even if you find a trustworthy partner, suggestions are now being made that the Thai authorities will investigate the source of your partner’s wealth to establish if they are really a front for a foreign-owned business. I think in due course, that might also become a scam. They let you open a business, investigate you, confiscate the business, and then sell it to the Thai partner of the next unwitting Farang.
I have come to the conclusion Thailand is populated by two types of people, those who earn their living from putting their hands in your pockets, and those who earn their living by serving you. The irony is that it is usually the latter that have the least, and they are generally the more honest of the two groups.
So what is the attraction that would make so many of us want to retire to LOS? For most of us, it is the women, who are generally the opposite of the ‘entitled’ western women that we are used to. The gamble we are really taking, is the happiness we perceive we have found in Thailand is usually as long lived as our relationships with Thailand’s women.
I shall be shortly making my sixth and final trip to Thailand. For the last four trips, I have been seeing the same girl, but I don’t think the relationship is going where I want it to go. I am still thinking about early retirement, mainly because I have seen so many people retire when they are too old to enjoy it. However, in the expectation that my long term girlfriend and I will be saying goodbye to each other permanently, I find myself curiously relieved at the prospect that I will no longer have a good reason to retire to Thailand.
It’s clear that I know what the risks are, and yet I keep recalling a story about Chico Marx. He was an inveterate gambler who in between takes on film sets, could usually be found in a card school. On one occasion, someone on the set warned him that he was being cheated, to which he replied, “I know, but I am just trying to see if I can beat them anyway”. In the same way, I have this view that if someone in Thailand decides to separate me from my money, and they can get control over it, my money and I will become estranged from each other. Somehow or other, I see the impending break-up of our relationship as just the excuse I need not to play cards in a casino where the rules are stacked against me.
I am told Cambodia and Vietnam are much more welcoming to foreign investors and business and property ownership is relatively uncomplicated. What you own, you own. Wait a minute though – don’t they have women in Cambodia and Vietnam who look and behave very similarly to the beautiful Thai women?
I have this vision that one day, the Thai Minister for Tourism will ask what has happened to the all the tourists, and will be told, they have all gone to Cambodia and Vietnam. For those of you who think this is a long time in the future, you need to remember in 1969, Pattaya was just a fishing village, and by 1980, it was rapidly starting to establish itself as the world’s favourite adult playground.
I have loved my time in Thailand but I know that it has always been a one sided love affair.
Wat do they say about gambling? The house always wins, right?
I don't think it is any different in Thailand… The house always wins.