Good Cop, Bad Cop
Thai police are targeting male foreigners on Sukhumvit Road, east of the Asoke intersection. This grabbed headlines a few years ago and stopped for a while. It was wishful thinking that would be the end of it. It’s happening again.
For years I wrote about police stopping, hassling and conducting unauthorised searches of male Caucasians along a small stretch of Sukhumvit Road and down some sois. What bothered me almost as much as what was happening was the response of some readers who called it fake news – it hadn’t happened to them so it couldn’t possibly be true, right?! Some didn’t care, and said it was good that the police were doing their job. When the issue finally made the mainstream news those who called it fake news went silent. And some who had said who cares changed their tune when they found themselves stopped and searched illegally by those whose job it is to uphold the law.
I started writing about this issue way back in 2012. It finally hit the headlines in the mainstream press in 2014. It became such an issue that the Thonglor Police station distributed pamphlets in English explaining people’s rights in the case of being stopped by police.
The police need a reason to stop someone (such as an eyewitness account of a crime just committed by someone who looks like and is dressed the same as you). Any search must be carried out in a well-lit area. Anyone stopped by police is allowed to photograph / take video of the police before they are searched. If a urine sample is requested, it must be taken at a police station and not in a public place.
Unfortunately it seems the police distributed the pamphlets with citizens rights to the public at large, but not to the police officers who are stopping and searching people.
An email (edited a little as the fellow is not a native English speaker) from a Stickman reader this week shows Caucasians are being targeted.
I just experienced my first checkpoint from Sukhumvit police near soi 39. I was neatly dressed in jeans, and a polo shirt. It was before midnight and I was going to 7 Eleven.
The officer was very rude, and many times asked if I had drugs. Are you drunk? He wanted to put his hand in my pocket and distracted me by shining his torch in my eyes. I had a bag which he checked many times and he seemed sad that he found just my camera and my wallet. He tried to check the wallet too. He looked around to see if I had thrown something. When I showed him my passport, he said, “Go pee Thonglor!” He did not care about my passport. He kept saying I was drunk and taking drugs.
And he wanted to examine my mobile phone. I refused and he got angry. I kept calm, even if I did not like the way he touched me. It was all carried out in a dark place.
As the cop was getting angry, another cop came along, speaking much better English. He was more polite. The good cop told me to move in front of 7 Eleven because it was light. I think he understood the bad cop was a bit too aggressive.
In the end, I asked my wife to come because I was not feeling good. She came and when they saw her, they just told me to go home. They did not open my passport as they were not interested in it. They are targeting males and are looking for drugs and electronic cigarettes.
The police were rude and aggressive. I can understand why people are angry about this.
One Japanese man was also checked and it was the same good cop, bad cop routine. The checkpoint was legal, and there were a lot of officers. Carrying a bag at night was a pain in the ass. Lesson learned.
They want money and obviously they wanted me to find something illegal on me. The police were trying to get their end of the month bonus.
You need to stay calm, even if what they are doing makes you crazy. It happened 30 minutes ago and I am still in shock.
This was not an isolated incident. This happened on Sukhumvit soi 39 which is popular with Japanese expats, and a Japanese blogger recently wrote about being stopped and searched not once, not twice, but 3 times in 10 days in that very area.
The police stop people who fit a profile in their mind of those who may have drugs or e-cigarettes (which are illegal in Thailand) on their person. They know that the average foreigner doesn’t want to get involved with the police, and doesn’t understand their rights. They also know from experience that some foreigners are willing to pay on the spot if anything illegal is found. For an e-cigarette or the smallest trace of drugs, the going rate to walk away is 20,000 – 30,000 baht. Getting drugs off the street and making Bangkok safer hardly seems like the main reason for carrying out these searches.
While you do hear about the odd foreigner being searched in other parts of the city, it is the area immediately east of the Asoke intersection i.e. in the direction of and just beyond Emporium and Emquartier, where these searches take place. For the most part they happen well after dark, often very late in to the night, from 11:30 PM until around 3:00 AM.
You do have rights in Thailand, but they almost certainly won’t be explained to you. Protesting that the search is illegal will fall on deaf ears. Asking why you have been stopped will be met with silence. Objecting to being searched in a dark area won’t stop them. Do you really have the backbone to stand up alone to a gang of policemen bullying you down a dark soi late at night?
This feeling of extreme vulnerability was the reason a friend who had lived in Thailand for several years chose to leave. He was stopped at a checkpoint at the Asoke intersection some years ago, hauled out of a taxi, and had the fingers of more than one policemen delving in to his pockets at the same time. He was neither a drug user nor an e-cigarette user but it reinforced to him that he was a nobody with zero rights. He said lar-gon, Bangkok.
Foreigners need to stand up against being stopped and searched like this and I believe the only way to do that is for anyone who is stopped to post about it online. If you are stopped and searched and your rights are abused, post it about it to social media. Facebook groups like Bangkok Expats and Everything Bangkok would be a good start. Newspapers are always interested in this sort of thing, especially when a pattern emerges. Send reports to your favourite bloggers.
As word spreads that once again some police are carrying out searches down dark sois and asking for urine samples on the side of the road, it will make the mainstream news. Again. And then there will be a period of reprieve. Again. Let’s try and make that period of reprieve permanent.
Last week’s photo was taken at the Ratchaprasong (Central World) intersection, looking south towards Rama 4 Road with the Police Hospital on the right and Hyatt Erawan Hotel on the left. This week’s photo is one of my favourite night-time views – or perhaps more specifically, early evening views – in Bangkok.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
When to visit?
I have been to Thailand all months except April and October. I prefer January – March. Perfect weather (December evenings can be chilly sometimes and too many people during the holidays). Maybe March is my first choice – it’s cheaper and has a more laid-back vibe. For June to August, I agree with you. I have had bad luck with the weather in November and December a number of years, with rain when it should have dried up.
December through to March to be avoided?
In your months to visit column, note that there are very dangerous pollution levels from November through March. I suspect this is the new normal. It used to be that we enjoyed the cooler months of December and January the most, but this has changed the last 3 years and this is now the best time to get out.
Different fares from different countries.
You mentioned that July was a good time for flights to Bangkok. That may be the case from New Zealand but from the UK for most of July and August you are looking at near Christmas type prices for flights.
Airfares to Thailand from the US.
Airfares from the US during the summer months (mid-June through August), the best mid-week flight round-trip to Bangkok June through July is $757 while September through October is $457. School starts back in September and pretty much all flights domestic or international are at their cheapest from then until mid-November, Thanksgiving. The first 2 weeks in December have fair rates but mid-December through mid-January are very expensive for Christmas & New Year.
Pot, kettle, black?
Regarding the character / legend fellow you removed from your piece because he’s now “strongly anti-immigrant” and doesn’t want publicity? I don’t have hard data on this, but I’d be willing to bet money that the exact same farang expats who complain the loudest about immigrants in their own countries are the ones who live in Thailand for years without learning the language or caring about the customs, and try to exploit every loophole they can in the Thai legal system (including often outright breaking a number of Thai laws). Just food for thought.
Soi 7 goings on.
That building in the vacant lot on Sukhumvit soi 7 is being dismantled rather than bulldozed. I guess the old timber is worth something. That end of the soi reminds me of a scene in Northern Ireland during the troubles – steel barricades, derelict lots of torn down buildings, and a street going nowhere. Only the Biergarten stands alone, defying years of speculation of its demise. This will either kill it or revive it. About 2 years ago the Biergarten invested in new leather for its decrepit bar stools, perhaps their first investment since the Vietnam War. At the time I remember thinking, hmmm, do they know something?
Mad Professor venturing further down Sukhumvit Road.
I just now (midday, Sunday 23rd June) saw the famous Mad Professor busy at work outside one of the exits of Phra Khanong BTS station, near Starbucks. He had around 6 large pieces of cardboard and was busily scribbling away at them, rapidly changing between the different pieces of cardboard. He seemed completely oblivious to passersby and was shouting unintelligible sounds in an over-enthusiastic but not at all aggressive manner. There is a piece of his work on the pavement on Pridi Banomyong road which appeared recently.
Medical care in Thailand.
A few weeks ago I reported that a provincial private hospital in Khon Kaen charged higher prices than one would pay in Europe. Now it’s time for the other side of the coin. I had a bladder infection so I went to hospital. As it was recommended by friends, I went to Srinigarindra Hospital in Khon Kaen, a government hospital affiliated with Khon Kaen University. We got there early afternoon to register first, which went very smoothly, and I was told to come back at 16:30 to see the urologist. I had to wait for about 30 minutes for my turn, which is reasonable. The doctor was knowledgeable, examined my prostate as well and took 2 urine samples for 2 different tests. I was prescribed antibiotics for the infection and another medicine to shrink the prostate so my bladder could empty. So far so good. When I went back to the counter the nurse told me to go to the cashier and pharmacy which were in another building a bit away. When I asked how to get there she said follow that guy and handed him my paperwork. We followed him out to find a golf cart parked right in front. We got in and he drove us to the cashier. When I say to the cashier, I literally mean just that. When arriving at the other building he drove straight inside, through the corridors around a couple of corners for maybe 100 meters and dropped us off right at the cashier’s window with the pharmacy right next to it. The total bill for hospital fee, doctor’s fee, 2 lab results, prostate examination and 2 different medicines was 930 baht. After payment we got back in the golf cart and he drove us back to our car. Again, not just to the park but in to the park and right up to the car. My impression was that medically it was as good as any I’ve been to in this country and service-wise, as good as it gets. This just goes to show it is still possible in Thailand to get cheap, quality medical care. Forget the private hospitals, they are just money machines.
The gloom and doom is being felt across the bar industry by owners and staff alike, but there is one group of women who are said to be thriving. Freelancers. Word from a few readers is that there are more freelancers milling around Soi Nana these days than there have been in a long time. With crazy money being asked for barfines and by ladies working in bars, the 1,500 baht standard fee asked by those loitering on Soi Nana isn’t such a bad deal.
Access to Soi Nana late at night was blocked due to drainage construction a couple of nights this past week. Motorbike taxis heading for Soi Nana had to go to soi 1, head down the soi and then cut across to Soi Nana. There are two points where construction is taking place. It’s not known how long construction will continue for so don’t be surprised by disruptions.
Down in Pattaya, a name from the past is about to make a comeback. Beavers is set to return. Whereabouts will it set up? More in next week’s column…
A minimum number of lady drinks purchased as a prerequisite before you can barfine a lady. Tiered lady drinks with different (read: high) prices. Ladies getting double lady drinks (that cost twice the price) without telling you. Is this really good business practice? This nonsense is happening in one of the most popular gogo bars in Bangkok. PR girls AKA greeters / hostesses automatically get a double lady drink if a customer offers them a drink which will set the customer back 340 baht. To make that number easier to understand, $US11 / £9 / €10 / $AUD15. Say the price in a currency you’re more familiar with and you get a better idea of just how expensive things have become. If the lady was to inform the customer that lady drinks for her are a double, cost more and he agrees to it, all good. But do you really think she’s going to say that a lady drink for her is double the standard lady drink price? When challenged by a customer about the higher price, one lady explained that the lower salary paid to hostesses is augmented by higher commissions on lady drinks. That customer was a Stickman reader and he said that he felt scammed. He will return to the bar because it’s one of the dozen or so gogo bars left in Bangkok still worth visiting – but no-one will be getting a drink from him in there ever again. Perhaps he should just spread his wings and flutter away to another bar?
Lousy exchange rates are a hot topic amongst expats, perhaps second only to visa issues and visa rule changes. The poor Brits have suffered for a while with the Pound now buying less than 39 baht – and more than a few Brits are taking a break from visiting Thailand. I predict a drop in the number of Aussie and Kiwi visitors for the very same reason. The Australian and New Zealand dollars have each dropped by around 20% respectively against the Thai baht over the last 2 years. Their respective falls have been slower than that of the Pound which plummeted following the Brexit referendum. Our English friends screamed when the Pound fell from 50 baht to 40 (it now barely gets around 38.9 baht), Aussies have seen their dollar drop from 27 baht down to 21 and Kiwis from 25 baht to 20. I think you’ll find the numbers of Aussies and Kiwis take a dip – specifically those who have visited previously and had been accustomed to lower prices and a better exchange rate. First-time visitors (from everywhere) will continue to flock to Thailand but as I have been saying for a while, how many will be in a hurry to return?
From a mate in the UK comes the following quote, “One of the things I learnt very early on in Thailand was just how selfish expats become.” Perhaps self-centred might be a better fit than selfish but there is some truth in what he says – and I think part of it is that there is little in the way of a sense of community amongst expats in Bangkok. In other parts of Thailand there might be a feeling of being part of an expat community, but in Bangkok, I’m not so sure. Expat society in Bangkok feels so fractured these days. And when there is no sense of community, why give a shit about anyone else seems to be the attitude of many.
According to Google, this site’s readership comprises approximately 13% females. Who would have believed that? For the ladies in the readership, Whisgars, the whisky, cocktail and cigar lounge on Sukhumvit Soi 23 is bringing back its Lipstick Society ladies night, with special prices on cocktails and wine. It will also featuring clothing, cosmetics and jewelry from select designers. Lipstick Society will take place at Whisgars at 7 PM on the first Wednesday of every month, starting this coming week. It’s 199-baht++ margaritas, mojitos and glasses of select wines. Groups of four women or more get 20% off select bottled wines. Drink while perusing jewelry, clothing, soaps, cosmetics and perfumes. On July 3rd, Kaya, an emerging skincare brand will showcase their product. Gents are welcome too, of course.
I used to dread visiting the Immigration office at Chaeng Wattana. It felt like a zoo and you never knew how long you would be there. You might get out in an hour, or you might get stuck for most of the day – which would mean battling horrible traffic trying to get back to the skytrain and back to Sukhumvit. As the number of foreigners living in Bangkok increases so does the number of people visiting Immigration and from all accounts it’s bursting at the seams. There can be a queue of people waiting at 6:00 AM, notwithstanding that the office doesn’t open until 8:30 AM. Waiting times have blown out and some people report not leaving until close to 7:00 PM. The one positive is that if you are issued a ticket, you will get served and assuming everything is in order, your visa extension (or whatever it is you need to do) will be processed. Sooner or later, Immigration will have to expand the office or better still, open another Immigration office in Bangkok. A new branch nearer downtown would make a lot of expats happy and would sure lighten the load at Chaeng Wattana. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
The best columns – or at least those that seem to be the best-received – are when I write either about myself, or share things about myself in the article. This week a reader sent the following, “I think old-time readers would like to see a more detailed discussion from your own personal experience on how living abroad impacted your financial life and career, in either a negative or positive way.” It’s a column I’d love to write but it’s a column you cannot win with. Say that Thailand was the best thing ever for your financial situation and you’ll be labelled a bullshitter and / or pilloried for showing off. If you say that in retrospect you wasted the best earning years of your life there will be an avalanche of “serves you right!” emails. That’s why these days I tend not to say too much about myself. No matter what you say and no matter how hard you try to offer personal experience in the hope that others can take something from it, my experience has been that responses will most likely be unkind. It wasn’t always like this.
Reader’s story of the week comes from a reader who has had enough of Thailand and has returned to his homeland, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish“.
Claims have been made that pollution in Thailand has been stable for the last 5 years.
A year on from a maritime disaster where many tourists died on a boat that sank in Thailand, visitor numbers have not fully recovered on Phuket.
Overdevelopment, overtourism and pollution are causing Chiang Mai, the rose of the north, to wilt.
Two Thai women are pickpocketed in the UK by a gang of pickpockets.
I know the tone of the column has hardly been positive recently but it’s not unexpected given everything that’s going on. There are still good times to be had and there are still plenty of good deals out there. Thinking about the places this column focuses on, Billboard and Butterflies are as good as ever. There have been 39 baht beers at The Aussie Bar on soi 11 for the last month. Vesuvio still does pizza as good as anywhere, save perhaps Naples. Many ladies on Soi Nana would be delighted to entertain you for 1,500 baht. I hope that my casting a critical eye over things does not put you off too much. I still venture to Bangkok myself so it can’t be that bad, can it?!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org