In Response to Anonymous’s Police Stop & Search
I wasn't that shocked after reading this gentleman's post. These police shakedowns are quite common between Sukhumwit
Sois 20-22 (but his ordeal did seem unusually harsh). Disturbingly, they seem to be on the rise. I used to think this was a function of class / ethnicity (i.e. whether you're a backpacker or black, no alliteration nor insult intended), but
times seem to be a changin'. Lately I have seen all walks of life shaken down, in no particular order :
(1) Persons of Color – 99% of the time this is sadly Black folks. I have seen black men pulled off of buses, even out of taxis! The boys in brown like to keep the African drug dealers cordoned off down near Nana Soi 4, so you don't see many past Asoke. Part of me doesn't see a problem with that. But for regular African-American (-Canadian / -English) black folks simply here on vacation this has gotta be frustrating. We know how racist Thais can be. The Thais tend to paint anyone of color with a wide brush. Oddly you never see them stopping Indians, but this is probably because "khon khaek" have been here a long time, speak the language, and sure they pester you to buy watches, but surely some of that gets kicked back to the local constabulary (and as far as the Indian tourists go, I'd hazard to say they aren't loaded with cash like farang visitors).
(2) Backpackers – there's a hostel near Soi 23 (Soi 23/1? – a small sub soi near the pedestrian bridge), but for the most part not a lot of budget-minded backpackers stay near Sois 20/22. I think the police assume these scruffy backpackers undoubtedly are carrying drugs, so they're an easy target. This is usually a protracted search as these backpackers usually have, well, backpacks – and giant backpacks at that. The police are hoping to find a ya ba tablet, a joint, any tiny amount of drugs they can haul you to the station for and demand a 30,000 baht get out of jail NOW fee. Backpackers might look disheveled and penniless, but they have ATM cards and farang parents willing to keep them out of jail (thinking like a Thai policeman). This happens at Ekkamai Bus Station frequently, as well.
(3) Motorcycle Gang Members – really. I saw some bearded, tattooed bikers (sans motorcycles), sporting leather vests along with "colors" from some European motorcycle club / gang, get shaken down at 7 AM when they got out of a taxi. I witnessed this while eating a plate of khao mun gai. This was sort of a no brainer for the police. I mean I don't judge people by how they dress when they come to Thailand (actually I do – I have been here too long!), but these guys were just asking to be frisked. Also, physically they weren't that intimidating (maybe "weekend warrior" types). Luckily for them, all they got was a cursory search, and were let go. On the other hand, I have seen some serious biker types, the real deal, who even the Thai police don't seem to want to f*ck with.
(4) Bargirls – man, I feel for the ladies of Sukhumwit working the "late shift". A lot of Soi Cowboy bargirls live on Soi 22, usually in the middle of the Soi and beyond where cheaper apartments are to had. The boys in brown start cruising Soi 22 around 2 AM or so. Bargirls on their way home frequently take a motorcycle taxi – the police spot them, and flag them over. A search ensues. Again, the cops presume the girl has ya ba (sadly this is probably an even bet), and that she's flush with money from a few short time customers. And if the fine is too steep for her, I'd hazard to say the cops think the girl has a few loyal farang regulars who will be happy to pay her "fine", but that's just my hypothesis. Side note : the middle of Soi 22 is a haven for motorcycle bandits late at night (remember the elderly Scottish woman who died as the result of a botched robbery by one of these thugs?). These same bar girls, if on foot, are prey for these dirt bags as well. The poor girls literally have to run the gauntlet getting home at night. So pony up that extra 100 baht for short time fellas, so your tee-rak can take a regular taxi home! <With the amount I hear they charge these days they could afford to get a limousine home if they were so inclined! – Stick>
(5) Me! – Yes, I have had my run in with these overzealous cops out to "protect and serve". This was in the morning mind you. Me, a white, middle-aged businessman, wearing khaki pants, collared shirt and brief case on my way to work at 8:30 AM. I have noticed there is always a pair of low-level policemen (they're younger, and you can tell by the lack of insignia on their shoulders) riding tandem on a motorcycle. They cruise around Soi 20 & 22 continuously like vultures, looking for just about any tourist regardless of age / color it seems. Maybe this is how they are broken in to the "tea money" system. They can quickly pull off the road and onto the side walk to accost pedestrians. I was on foot, just past Soi 20 heading toward Asoke when they skidded in behind me. I heard the typical "You…You" shouted out, typical of a Thai with limited English knowledge. I knew the shakedown was coming. My Thai is OK, and at first I thought to stop and talk my way out of this – set these rookies straight, so I wouldn't be stopped again. Part of it was out of pride. But I thought better of this, and just kept on walking. I heard a few more "You..You"s. I didn't turn around but held my briefcase shoulder high and shouted "bpai tum ngaan" (I'm going to work!). I picked up the pace, got to the pedestrian bridge and realized I was probably safe by now. A quick glance back and I saw they had given up, did a U-turn and were headed down Soi 20 to look for another victim.
Anonymous's stop-and-search obviously was way worse than mine. That really sounded like a f*cked up situation. As Stick mentions, you really need to evaluate each incident on its own. My attempted "shakedown" was really a low-risk situation for me in retrospect. But it felt good to walk away from! Seriously, depending on what part of town you are in, the rank and disposition of the police officer, your inebriation level, and your fluency in Thai of course – well, you need to decide what the best course of action is. Fight or flight (or bend over)? Sometimes, even if you know you are clean as a whistle, you might have to just grin and bear it – and put up with the search.
Safe travels on Soi 22!
Excellent on the ground report!