An Explosion Waiting to Happen
Some years ago I was telling anyone who cared to listen how Thailand was on its way to becoming the most backward country in the region. While other countries were opening up more and more, going forward, Thailand was going backwards and doing its best to discourage visitors with more and more restrictive and often pointless laws (no alcohol sales in the afternoon in a tropical country for one. What do tourists make of that?). Bars were and are closed at any time at the whim of the authorities for no apparent reason other than they can do so. Even the legal or accepted closing times are several hours earlier than most Europeans can enjoy back home, so why come to Thailand to party? Why not save the airfare and stay at home where customer satisfaction is the priority rather than gouging as much as they can from everyone, or go to places closer to home where prices can be lower and standards often infinitely higher than you will find at many venues in Thailand.
Now the New York Times has published a revealing report, hidden of course in Thailand, that not only does the country have the highest personal debt in the region but that crime has risen by a staggering 63 percent in the last year. That must be the biggest rise anywhere in the world. While the bad boy of South-East Asia, Burma, has abolished the military dictatorship and allowed free elections, Thailand has gone in the opposite direction. Censorship, enforced or self-imposed out of fear of the consequences and the threat of being hauled away to some secret location for what is laughingly referred to as attitude adjustment, has now reached the stage where someone who criticised the police on Facebook faces eight years in jail. When challenged by a brave journalist a few months ago as to what would happen if people did not follow the rules about what and what not to write, the PM said they would be shot. It was only after his remarks caused outrage around the world that he said he was only joking. Strange sense of humour.
When the new United States Ambassador to Thailand suggested that the laws against any critical mention of the royal family, or the military dictatorship, or anything else for that matter, crippled the right to free speech, predictably large groups demonstrated against him and demanded he return home. Their signs of course had English spelling errors, but then what can you expect in a country which has the third worst English language rating of anywhere in South-East Asia, behind only Bhutan and Cambodia. The military had, of course, banned any gatherings of more than five people as it could lead to 'unrest and misunderstanding' among the population, but that only appears to apply to those protesting about the military dictatorship and not those damn trouble-making foreigners like the Ambassador.
The illegal unless it suits us protests and the censored NYT article came in the same week that the USA downgraded the Thai aviation industry, which bans any Thai-based airlines from opening up new or expanding any existing routes to the USA. I’m told that applies to code-share arrangements too, which makes nonsense of Thai Airways saying that as they don’t fly to the US it doesn’t affect them na-na na-na-na. Their code share arrangements will probably have to end and they will, I believe, be the only Star Alliance airline to be so sanctioned.
There is talk of the European Union also taking the same path. It may indeed not affect Thai Airways though, as in addition to not having enough passengers to maintain the service to Los Angeles they have also ended flights to Madrid, Moscow and Johannesburg. Soon they might only be a regional airline flying to China. Certainly, they have not come anywhere near to keeping up with the competition. As an example I fly to Dubai, and I believe I am right in saying that Emirates operates six flights a day to/from Bangkok, including two A380s. Thai has one flight, so it is obvious which airline people prefer.
Back to the local edition of the NYT for a moment. The paper is printed in Thailand, but where the article about Thailand’s ailing economy and swiftly escalating violence should have appeared, the space was left blank to prevent the printing company falling foul of the shut-up or be locked-up laws. Anyway, the printers say they will no longer print the paper in Thailand after next month due to ‘escalating costs’ (of free speech, although that is not what they say). It will still be printed in neighbouring countries, where we can assume the costs are lower.
As for violence, there are stories on an almost daily basis of men kicking women unconscious on the street (while bystanders watch and do nothing to stop someone being killed or sent to intensive care), or taxi drivers attacking passengers or other road users, or various other acts of violence. Bars are raided at 4 AM where dozens of teenagers who have parents who don’t know how to parent are arrested, loaded into a pickup and then allowed to jump out and run away. Real Keystone Cops stuff. Or they are out in the early hours racing their bikes and terrorising the neighbourhood and other road users, all without the knowledge or care of their parents. Or parent in many cases, as Thai culture dictates that the ‘man’ of the house often does a runner or is kicked out for drunkenness or gambling or womanising or violence etc. Select any or all of the above. Scams continue to happen where they have happened for years in full view and with the obvious compliance of the authorities while every few months a crackdown is promised and never delivered. The latest, which will last about a day, is punishing taxi drivers in four locations in Bangkok for refusing fares.
Meanwhile, those welcoming people to Thailand prevent them laying a sunbed or umbrella on the beach to shade them from the burning sun and heat and have no concept at all that these visitors will return home with tales of a country that is becoming more insane and closer to a banana republic by the day. Or if you refuse to use a chair that is provided and hired by someone who has decided to take ownership of that bit of the sand then you can expect abuse and violence. Plenty of videos of that happening are doing the rounds. Some will have been discouraged from coming anyway when, after a tourist was assaulted, the PM spouted that if women visitors to the country wanted to be safe then only ugly women should wear bikinis. That doesn’t even address the obnoxious policy of double-pricing, led by example by the government who charge visitors a higher fee to visit national parks. That tells every Thai it is okay to charge guests to the country more.
And don’t bring out the old chestnut that Thais pay taxes which support the parks so they should pay lower prices. Everyone pays tax (VAT) every time they shop in a store such as Central or 7-11. Of course, things get a bit murky tax-wise when you buy from the local corner shop or noodle stand. I wonder how much tax they pay. Even supposedly respectable private companies get into the double-pricing act, such as the BTS in Bangkok who offer discounted fares to over 60s, but only to Thais. The MRT, to its credit, treats Thais and foreigners the same.
There is a massive unrest and anger bubbling just below the surface in Thailand, and although the leaders of the country can intimidate the population into not talking or writing about various issues, they have not yet found a way to stop them thinking and talking behind closed doors. Like a volcano, one day the country will explode and no-one will be able to stop the consequences without massive loss of life.
As reality dictates that we now live in a climate of extreme caution and as I can be arrested for saying “Boo” to the wrong people, I have not allowed my name or email address to be used. Any comments can be sent to Stick and he will forward them to me. Do not expect a response as I will continue to remain anonymous to protect my ability to be allowed (for now at least) to remain with my family in the lunatic asylum.
It would be easy to criticise this article as being overly negative or perhaps suggest the author doesn't know Thailand. Let me refute those comments. I think the article is accurate and a fair barometer of how things are in Thailand and on the second point, the author is a long-time resident of Thailand.
Much of what this article touches on are some of the reasons I chose to leave Thailand. I felt things were moving in a direction I wasn't comfortable with and as the months passed by I felt the position of foreigners was becoming less tenable. When I left Thailand, I thought I'd probably return for a visit each year or so, but with all of the difficulties the country is experiencing – which are entirely self-inflicted, Thailand is not on the radar. India, Argentina, Australia and Japan can expect to get my travel dollars in the next couple of years.