Police checkpoints are an ongoing issue late at night in downtown Bangkok as foreigners in particular are targeted by police officers conducting unlawful searches and requesting urine samples roadside. It has become such a headache that some expats avoid areas known for checkpoints while some who used to be regular visitors have decided this nonsense is too much and are avoiding Thailand altogether. What can you do if you get stopped by police hassling you but you don’t want to play the game?
Last week’s column with more news of another police checkpoint where foreigners are being hassled by police elicited responses from readers:
The day I am forced out of a cab by cops will be my last long trip through Thailand and maybe I’ll never come back at all. It won’t go well for me because I’ll tell them to stick it. I find it disgusting that this has been going on for the last few years and I wonder how many people this happens to each day x 365, and how many were regulars who don’t come back anymore? There are other excellent options in South-East Asia and I suspect there is a lot of money the tourist industry loses because of this fascist practice.
It’s tough to know how the police would respond to an outright refusal by a foreigner to be searched. Be polite, stay firm, explain they have no reasonable grounds to search you and you should be able to talk your way out of it. But lose your cool and they may take that as a sign of aggression and things could escalate.
Another reader sent the following email:
No-one will ever be getting me to piss into a pot on the side of the road. If I were ever presented with such a situation, a phone call would be made from the side of the road, and believe me there would be a court date with the officer concerned. You can scoff if you want – let them try it, I say. They will surely get a “fight”.
You’re dealing with – some would say battling against – errant officers who have been through this a hundred times before. They know the system and they know how far they can push things. Will a phone call to a lawyer help?
There are countless stories of Westerners hiring a lawyer in Thailand, only for said lawyer to do a deal with the other side, or string the client along for more money, or make promises about things they cannot keep. Unless you’re sure the lawyer is really good, don’t expect the same level of help you would expect back home.
When the shit hits the fan in Thailand you can really feel like you’re on your own – and that’s why it’s best to avoid problems in Thailand in the first place. In terms of police checkpoints and requests to provide a urine sample roadside, if that’s not something you’re comfortable with it really is best to avoid the intersections where these checkpoints are known to set up. That’s probably better than having a lawyer on speed dial.
So what would I do? Imagine I am in a cab late at night heading east on Rama 4 Road. The cabbie turns left on to Rachada to head up to Sukhumvit and whaddya know, in the middle of the road are half a dozen men in tight brown uniforms shining torches in to the cab. They see a white face, the cab I am in is directed to the curb, the door is opened and I am asked to step out. The fun begins….
I would step out of the cab. (I know some foreigners refuse to.) The first thing the cops will do is ask to search you. They might not even ask but simply tell you that that is what they’re going to do. “Check body“, or words to that effect, will be said. This involves patting you down, putting their hands in your pockets, running their hands around your upper thigh and groin area and checking the contents of your wallet (and any bags you may have with you). They are hoping to find something illegal, specifically drugs.
I’d refuse politely, in Thai. I’d ask them why they want to search me. If they wish to make a search, by law they need to have suspicion / reasonable cause. If they don’t have reasonable suspicion – which they wouldn’t – I’d point that out to them. I am confident that in most cases that would be the end of it. Smile, be polite and I really do think they’d put me in the too hard basket and send me on my way. Thais are pragmatic like that, best to let me go and wait for the next victim. I am sure it helps that I am clean-cut and don’t look anything like the profile I imagine they have in their heads of a typical stoner, trouble-maker or criminal.
There’s debate over whether a foreigner comfortable speaking Thai should use Thai or English (or even another language). I believe polite Thai is the way to go, especially if you are confident speaking Thai.
I don’t know quite how they select who should pee in to a beaker roadside. I guess they have their perceptions of who looks like a drug user. You could refuse, but what if they won’t let things go? Let’s say they are determined to search you and have you to pee in a beaker. What can you do?
That’s when you need a get out of jail free card. Many Thais have one. It’s not a card per se – in some cases it might be – rather it’s someone you can contact who can help you when you’re in trouble – be it trouble of your own making or should you be the victim / caught up in something out of your control.
The get out of jail free card concept is alive and well in Thailand. The best get out of jail free card would be having a very senior police officer or other very senior government official in your immediate family. If, for example, you married the daughter of a very senior police officer, you could call them. A quick word on the phone by your senior police officer father-in-law to one of the officers at the roadside would see you on your way.
Plenty of expats claim to have a get out of jail free card – but how good is it really?
Some years ago a very popular Phuket bar boss was arrested by police. The charge was along the lines of working without a work permit, or the bar was open late and operating outside the hours for which it had permission. It probably felt like a big deal at the time for this fellow but the reality is these are not serious charges. In most cases it’s a shakedown. The accused is taken away, made to feel vulnerable and encouraged to contact his employer who is told to go to the cop shop and things are worked out.
In this particular instance, the bar boss called his ex Mrs to help who as it happens has a brother who is a cop. When she heard her ex-husband had been arrested she went straight to the police station and started mouthing off about how her brother was a cop, she had called him, he was on his way – and they had better release her ex-husband or else there’d be trouble! As the story was told to me, a young, low-ranking policeman turns up at the police station most embarrassed that his sister had summoned him to help and he quietly slipped away with his tail between his legs. Other arrangements were made.
If you’re going to call on a Thai to help, they need to be of sufficient seniority, power and standing. And they need to be willing to help you out i.e. there needs to be an existing relationship between the two of you. Sometimes merely carrying the business card of a senior cop in your wallet and asking the officers politely if you can call your friend – which could be a bluff as you hardly know the guy – may be enough. As a general rule, cops who are overstepping their boundaries don’t want problems. But sometimes the officers have the backing of their own (very senior) boss….in which case it can all get complicated.
Back to the Rama 4 / Asoke intersection at 1:00 AM. Let’s just say that there I am, on the side of the road, the cops putting all sorts of pressure on me to submit to a search. Would I just let them carry out the search knowing that I don’t have anything on me illegal? They’re looking for drugs or e-cigarettes, neither of which I have ever used. I never have anything illegal on me so why not just let them carry out the search and be on my way? No, that’s not happening!
I’m not an expat any more, but I have a get out of jail card….of sorts.
The Mrs worked for many years in the entertainment industry. No, not that entertainment industry, but the TV / movie industry. She was the accountant for a Thai TV personality who fronts various TV shows and she eventually went on to become his PA. They were close and he was genuinely sad when she chose to move to New Zealand with me. Amongst his various ventures is a TV show commenting on the current affairs. He is always looking for exclusive stories and in the past I have suggested a couple – but he wasn’t interested as anything to do with foreigners in Thailand is generally of little interest unless it’s a really big story. Anything to do with dodgy officials and scams, however, is of great interest. If I was absolutely desperate – i.e. I genuinely feared I was in danger – I’d ask the Thai coppers who wanted to search me if I could call a Thai friend. I’d take out my phone and show them photos of me and this Thai TV personality in various places around town. I’d say that he was my wife’s boss when the other half’s former boss would be more accurate. Every cop knows who he is and I’m sure at that stage they’d kick me free. Even the smallest chance that they might end up on his TV show is something they would avoid. Truth be told, I don’t have his phone number in my phone and he wouldn’t want to know if I was in trouble of my own making. But for sure, he would be interested in a story highlighting cops up to no good. That always rates. That’s my so-called get out of jail card. Very limited use and basically a big bluff…but I think it would work in some situations.
Don’t be shy to dig your heels in if someone in authority is asking you to do something you know isn’t right. But this advice comes with a proviso – be careful how hard you push back. Push back too hard and they might feel aggrieved and / or feel like their fragile ego has been damaged. Causing them to lose face may see things escalate. There’s an art to dealing with these sorts of situations in Thailand so tread gently.
Fortunately most foreigners don’t have to deal with this nonsense and these checkpoints are only a problem for the late-night crowd. But frankly, just thinking about how to avoid this sort of crap wears you down and that’s something I really don’t miss. I hate the idea of feeling like I need a get out of jail free card, just in case.
Last week’s photo was taken of Suankularb Wittayalai School, an historic old school on Tri Phet Road, just around the corner from the old flower market AKA Bark Klong Dalat. This week’s mystery photo is rather easier.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Cowboy, a vision of the future?
The renovation of Country Road may have signaled a new model for Soi Cowboy. It’s now a tourist bucket list item, frequented by as many Western women as men. The servers are much less “friendly” in the traditional sense and now resemble a waitress like in any other bar. I think the scarcity of mainstream “normal” bars in the Asoke area is also fueling Country Road’s attraction to mainstream tourists. After the closure of Hemingways and The Black Swan just across the way, there just aren’t many options left for regulars. All that’s left is the (admittedly much improved) Scruffy Murphy’s and (the still horrible) Bradman’s in Sukhumvit soi 23. I would not be surprised if other bars in Soi Cowboy take note and follow suit with some kind of hybrid version more palatable to tourists. I rarely stop in Asoke for a drink on my way home. It’s usually Phrom Phong or Nana where there are more options.
A bargirl gave me…
You asked if readers had caught any ailment from a bargirl. Well, I have never caught a STD but what I did get one time was a nasty dose of red eye, or what some call pink eye. My friends assured me it is contagious and I almost certainly contracted it from a bargirl. It took a good couple of weeks to get shot of it.
Catching nasties in Asia.
Coming from Northern Europe, the immune system has not been exposed to typical Asian bacteria and (benign) viruses which means that a simple cold can take a long, long time to get rid of. The individual HLA genes are also different, meaning a weaker defence from birth.
The case of the unknown STD.
7 years ago I was single and a naughty boy. I did the Philippines and Thailand with a friend of mine. Being single, I indulged. When I returned home to Australia I started having pain while urinating. Not a good sign. At first I thought it was a urinary infection so I treated it as such. It got worse. Within a week I dreaded taking a leak, the pain was that bad. The doc recommended an STD test. I waited for a few more days and the result came back – negative for all STDs! Now I was sweating. What did I have? I told the doc he had to give me something so he gave me a very high course of general antibiotics and said he had no idea what I have but they should ‘kill it’! They sure did, and they made me sick. On my last day of taking antibiotics I couldn’t even go to work I was that nauseous! I made sure I finished the course and it went away. What did I have and how did I get it? I always wrapped up but didn’t whilst receiving oral which begs the question: Do we have to wrap up even for oral? Looks like the answer is yes. I took a holiday a year later and used the old seaman’s trick – after the deed you urinate and wash straight away. I never had an issue. I don’t want to go through that again.
Was it the bed or the girl?
A few years ago I brought scabies home from Pattaya. I don’t know if it was from a girl or from the bed in the hotel. Scabiderm took care of it pretty quick. I also had issues with the comforter in a Pattaya hotel with some kind of mites. I came back from Jomtien one day and laid on top of the bed after a shower and the mites went for my untanned butt cheeks. They stayed away from the tanned areas of my legs and back. Lesson learned: hotels don’t put in the care for the top blanket that they might for the linen.
Skytrain and underground station names.
With regards to skytrain and underground stations, Asok is named Asok because you’re on the Sukhumvit line and that line crosses Asok. Simple. Not much sense calling it Sukhumvit – how many stations could that name apply to? It is consistent with many of the other station names e.g. Chitlom, Ekamai etc….the name tells you where you are. Sukhumvit on the MRT is called that because the line crosses Sukhumvit….why would you call it Asok? The name tells you where you are. The comment about not highlighting connections on one system to the other is incorrect too. Connectivity has always been clearly shown on all maps both on the ground and in both sets of rolling stock.
Visa worries at Savannakhet.
I’ve just made a trip to Savannakhet to get my new annual visa. No problem with that, but while waiting in the hotel lobby for my room to be ready I endured about 45 minutes of an American phoning various people. He had previously been teaching in Thailand and now wanted a tourist visa, and was told he had been to Thailand too many times (even though he had been legitimately working there). When he asked what he should do then, he was told to go back to his own country. Just one side of a story, but not surprising. Except, while it is perfectly clear they are trying to get long-term stayers out, to ban people who want to come legitimately come as a tourist?
Regarding the TM30, I recently renewed my visa at Chaeng Wattana Immigration in Bangkok and there was no mention of it. I asked the lady on the information desk about having to complete it (I know that’s like putting your head in a lion’s mouth), and with a polite smile she said it only needs completing if you leave the country and not for any travel within Thailand. It seems that they’re either adapting things to appease us, or making it up as they go along. I’m on a trip to Europe in a few weeks so let’s see what the demands are when I return.
Here are more photos kindly provided by a reader of the new bar complex going up on Sukhumvit soi 7, the first new bar complex to open on Sukhumvit in some time. Note, I use the term bar “complex” and not bar “area”. Call me a cynic, but from what I see in these photos punters are hardly going to be flocking there. Will punters get excited about a new complex that has the character of a shoebox?
From the bar district of Phnom Penh comes word that customer numbers are not what you’d expect at this time of year. Fewer punters means less money is flowing through to the girls and that has some in a tizzy. Random arguments break out and there’s tension in the zone.
Over the past 3 weeks word from the bar areas in Bangkok is that business has picked up but that doesn’t necessarily mean the girls are making money. I’d expect a similar reaction from the Thai girls to their Cambodian sisters if things continue like this. Customer numbers up in the bars is one thing, but many are looky-loos out to snap the neon to post on social media and see a real-life ladyboy – and then they can say they have seen Bangkok’s red-light areas. Lots of foot traffic does not necessarily mean the girls are making money. And when they aren’t making money and things aren’t going their way, they get bitchy, the atmosphere changes and it’s no fun for anyone.
Rumour has it that the Hooters branch on Sukhumvit soi 15 will reopen on December 6th.
I know of more than a few people in Bangkok who have never been to Pattaya. I get it, Pattaya is definitely an acquired taste. But I had never heard of the opposite until this week. I heard of a fellow who has been in Pattaya for 10 years and has never been to Bangkok, the airport aside.
Dollhouse in Pattaya has a new manager, Ian, who previously ran Sin Bin.
Does Imagine Club in Pattaya have the highest standard barfine and the highest asking prices by girls in any gogo bar in Thailand? This week a long-term reader enquired about taking a lady in Imagine long-time. He was quoted the long-time barfine rate of 3,000 baht. And the lady requested 11,000 baht. Throw in a few drinks and you’d be looking at 12,000 baht all in, or around $USD 400. While some bars increase barfines to 4,000 baht at New Year, this 3,000 baht barfine (which at current exchange rates is $USD 100) is, I think, the highest standard barfine rate I have heard of.
Bourbon Street has long been the most popular spot in Bangkok to celebrate Thanksgiving and no doubt it will be packed to the rafters this year too. Other places are doing a Thanksgiving spread but I’d stick to American-themed / American-run places and Bourbon Street is still considered the best.
Back in the day there were some in a wider group I hung out with who had a carefree attitude towards life. Some frequently partied without a party hat, confident that whatever nasty should come their way would be knocked out with a quick course of antibiotics. For them, the enjoyment they got from unprotected sex with bargirls far outweighed the risk. Some contracted STDs so frequently that they became familiar with the respective symptoms of different STDs and the appropriate antibiotic to treat it (remember, antibiotics are available over the counter in Bangkok). Hearing them talk about this in a bar was as casual as recommending a new beer. Is this sort of thing common these days? There’s been much said in the mainstream press in recent years about STDs resistant to all but the last line of antibiotics (which need to be administered intravenously i.e. in a hospital). Are some people still so carefree (*reckless* would be a better word) or is this sort of behaviour part of Bangkok expat folklore and left where it belongs, in the past?
A reader asks if there are any high-quality ladyboy clubs in Bangkok? He would really like to visit a classier ladyboy establishment than the same old Nana Plaza ladyboy gogo bars. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Via the other half, I hear more middle-class Thais are tightening the purse strings. It’s not that they don’t have money nor that their income has dropped, it’s more a lack of confidence about where the economy is going. It’s not so much related to what is happening around the world (which most of this crowd have little knowledge of, and no interest in) but in what they see on the home front with things slowing a little.
A reader kindly sent a copy of the menu for Today @ Soi8, the beer bar which opened a few weeks ago near the start of Sukhumvit soi 8. Apparently things have picked up a little and there are a few more girls working there.
Is there such a thing as an agnostic in Thailand? Not an aetheist – which is different – but an agnostic. Here in Kiwiland I think just about every one of my friends would be described as agnostic and most of our generation, that is Gen X. We’re not anti-religion, there’s just no religion we care to follow and the idea of religion in general is about as important to us as the colour of our neighbour’s car. Thais, on the other hand, seem to feel almost compelled to follow one religion or another, even if it is nominal.
It is kind of disappointing that in all my time in Thailand I never had a genuine friendship with a Thai male. I knew a few but none were ever what I would call friends. And I am sure I am hardly alone because I can only think of a couple of Westerners I know who have what I’d call a genuine friendship with a Thai male. I thought about this when I was watching a movie set in expat Japan and the issue of friendships between Western males and Japanese men came up. The main character, an expat in Japan, said such friendships are not common. Is that the case Asia-wide? Do Western expats in other countries across Asia have friendships with the local men. How is it in neighbouring countries? What about in more affluent North Asia?
A long-time reader who frequently tips me off about police checkpoints in the Sukhumvit area sent the screen capture above of a map with a location marked where police checkpoints operate frequently. This is in the back sois around Sukhumvit soi 39. He says that on the most recent occasion he was stopped there were around 15 officers and they were only interested in stopping Westerners. This was not a late-night checkpoint, but mid-afternoon in the Bangkok heat, around 2:00 PM. He lives in this area, passes through there all the time and says it is getting worse. White guys are searched on the suspicion of carrying drugs while Japanese are targeted as they are known to use electronic cigarettes (which are also illegal in Thailand). Said fellow ended the email with this comment, “I can’t wait to leave Bangkok, I am counting down the days.” A good young guy, he’s had enough of the BS of being stopped by police in Bangkok. Can you blame him? As a side note, how long has this crap been going on? I did a quick search of this site and see I have reports of this sort of thing going back almost 8 years! In the column of March 25, 2012, I wrote: “I don’t know whether it’s part of a wider crackdown or just a few vigilant coppers, but I am seeing more and more people stopped on Sukhumvit by police and asked to show their passport. This is happening during the day and those stopped are Westerners who look respectable, including young female visitors and families with kids. Passport checks in downtown Bangkok by the police have traditionally seen men of colour or rough looking foreigners targeted. Not this time. Even the most wholesome looking folks are being stopped and asked to show evidence that they are in the country legally.”
I used to feel free in Thailand, I really did. But these days I feel anything but. It starts from the moment you enter the country with the unsmiling Immigration officer. Next, there’s a song and dance providing your passport at the hotel – and some hotels now check your visa, making it feel like cold war Eastern Europe. You may be asked to hand over your passport when doing the most innocuous things such as topping up the credit on a skytrain card. You have to walk through metal detectors when entering an underground station and increasingly, new office towers have scanners too. Your bags may be searched each time you enter a skytrain or underground station. There’s even a security checkpoint to pass through at the entrance of Nana Plaza. The requirement to show your original passport often – some claim that you need to show at the bank not just when withdrawing money from your own bank account, but when making a deposit – seems so over the top. And then there are all of these police checkpoints in parts of downtown Bangkok, not just late at night but also during the day. I could go on and on. Thailand ain’t the land of the free.
Quote of the week comes from a friend who lives in the heart of busy Sukhumvit, “Whitey is definitely getting scarce around here nowadays.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Anonymous, “Of Limbos And Lathers”.
A Brit spent time in the notorious Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre after overstaying his visa, and while in there had a fellow inmate die in his arms.
An American is arrested in Chiang Mai with false travel documents after stealing someone’s identity and getting a passport in that person’s name.
Thai hospitals are up in arms over foreigners who abscond without paying for their treatment.
A Thai restaurant employee in Kansas shoots and kills one of his Thai colleagues who also happens to be his cousin.
An American retiree of 18 years posts a video about what it’s like as a retiree in Thailand these days.
Bangkok felt the shaking and many Bangkokians were unnerved by an earthquake centered several hundred kilometres north of the capital.
I am very grateful to everyone who helps with the column by letting me know what they see happening on the ground. In an ideal world I’d be in Bangkok myself, reporting on what I see with my own eyes. But being based in New Zealand I am reliant on people who tip me off. So to all my friends, readers of the column, bar bosses, venue managers and everyone who sends in info, I am very grateful to you all.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]