Thailand is indeed a beautiful country, attracting a record 32.5 million foreign tourists in 2016 alone and generating a massive 2.52 trillion baht, or USD$71.4 billion dollars annually - an increase of 11% since 2015, reports the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Mastercard's Global Destination Cities Index released annually, lists 132 of the most visited cities around the world. The index is measured by the number of international overnight visitors to the city and in 2016 Bangkok topped the list with 21.47 million international visitors to Bangkok. By comparison, London England ranked second with 19.88 million international visitors, followed by Paris, France with 18.03 million international visitors annually.
With the numbers of tourists flocking to popular tourist destinations including Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui, what also follows is a ratio of crime where tourists can become an easy target for those seeking to exploit vulnerable tourists.
Corruption in Thailand is endemic and although there is a legal framework and a range of government authorities working in the fight to end corruption, it still manages to pervade the whole of society in many ways. Unfortunately, the Royal Thai Police Force has the unenviable reputation of being the most corrupt institution in the whole of the country.
In 2017, Thailand will host a number of major events including the official state funeral for Thailand's most loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej who is set to be cremated on October 26, 2017 in Bangkok. A funeral pyre is currently under construction in preparation of the event. The funeral will take place over a five day period with many thousands anticipated to attend. Another major event for the nation will be the formal coronation of the late King's son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn who ascended the throne in December 2016, with his coronation set down for some time after his late father's funeral.
The late King's funeral pyre under construction (Source/Credit: Amanda Mustard)
It seems barely a day goes by without an allegation of incompetence, laziness or corruption being leveled at the Royal Thai Police, however like most things there are always two sides to a story. A Royal Thai Policeman earns very little, with the average police officer being paid around 15,200 Baht per month, little more than USD$450. Entry level salaries for new recruits are reported to be in the range of 7,000 to 8,500 Baht per month, or USD$209 to USD$254.
Police checkpoints in and around Bangkok's nightlife districts are one location where many tourists have experienced 'stop and search' by the local constabulary. Some examples of 'tourist shakedowns' by police include:
- Tourists fined for failing to carry their passport.
- False positive curb-side testing for drugs or alcohol.
- Smoking on the street.
- Dropping a cigarette butt.
In 2015, Time Magazine journalist Ian Lloyd Neubauer himself became a victim of police corruption in Bangkok, he detailed his story as follows;
It was Christmas Eve and I was at the upstairs area of a terrace bar in the Silom Road area having a late-night drink. At around 2 a.m. I called it a night and descended to the ground floor. There I saw half a dozen police officers searching the premises and interrogating the bartender, who was handcuffed on a chair. An officer detained me straight away. “What's going on?” I asked, identifying myself as a journalist.
He made a menacing fist at me, which convinced me to pipe down. About 15 minutes later, another police officer produced a bag of white powder, shook it near my face and accused me of buying it. I emphatically denied the claim. Meanwhile, other police officers began helping themselves to drinks from the bar. When the bartender protested, they kicked him in the shins.
Eventually, a police officer took me outside where a Thai woman told me if I paid the equivalent of $15,200, I would be released. I told her I hadn't done anything and would not pay a cent. I was taken back inside, where officers had now detained another four Westerners present at the bar. They then took all five of us in taxis to a nearby police station without a word of explanation.
Over the next four hours we were individually forced to undergo urine tests for drugs, during which a policeman standing guard in the lavatory taunted me by saying, “You cocaine.” Images from popular books and a TV series on the notorious Bangkwang Central Prison penitentiary, the so-called Bangkok Hilton, flashed through my mind.
Next we were taken to a media room with powerful fluorescent lights. Exhausted and dishevelled, having not slept the entire night, and with our urine samples lined in front of us, we were photographed in a setting that made us look guilty as sin.
Some time after dawn we were presented with a typed document — in Thai — and told to sign it. At this, I drew a line and demanded to speak with the Australian embassy. Only then did our tormentors back down, casually informing us we'd all passed our drug tests and would be released — if only we signed on the dotted line. I did so, but I also scribbled, “This is not my signature” on the document before walking back onto the steamy streets of Bangkok at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day, traumatized but elated to be free.
During my detention, I identified myself as a journalist many times and asked for an explanation. None was given to me. After my release, I wrote to the official email address of the Thai police, but it bounced back. I copied half a dozen other government agencies, including the Australian embassy in Bangkok, which is supposed to have a police-liaison unit, but the only reply I got was from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which said the following:
'The Royal Thai Government and the Royal Thai Police have no such policy to detain, harass, abduct, threaten and drug test Western tourists in Thailand. On the contrary, the Royal Thai Government recognizes the huge importance of tourism and safety for all foreign tourists is an on-going priority for the country'.
Tips For Interacting With The Royal Thai Police
In all interactions with police remain courteous, respectful and act in a reasonable manner at all times.
Don’t ever raise your voice, make threats of issue demands.
If you are in the wrong, show humility and be prepared to be issued and subsequently pay an on the spot fine.
If you find yourself in a dispute with a Thai national, it is highly likely the police will take the side of the local, even if you are not to blame. It may be a tough ask, however tourists should accept this and move on.
Do not draw attention to yourself by pointing, smiling or attempting to talk to a police officer unless he talks to you first.
Don't stand out from the crowd by being loud or drunk in public.
The Tourist Police
If you are genuinely innocent of any alleged breaches of Thai law, the best way to navigate around any potential issues when dealing with the Royal Thai Police is to request the presence of the 'Tourist Police' or make yourself directly known to them immediately a dispute with a local occurs.
The Tourist Police Division's are tasked to provide help and ensure safety and security for both Thai and foreign tourists. The Division collaborates with organizations including the government and private enterprise in order to strengthen the tourist industry of the country.
The policies and procedures of the Tourist Police Division are set up to maximize efficiency and align to the main policies set down by the Royal Thai Police and Central Investigation Bureau, for the safety of tourists and to reach the objectives of the Tourist Police Division. A number of operational policies provide the foundation of tourist policing in the region, including;
- The Safety and security of the lives and property of tourists.
- Crime prevention.
- To investigate and facilitate a resolution to achieve justice.
- To maintain the nation's internal security policy.
- To foster relationships with tourists and the community.
With the growth of tourism over the last 30 years, this special unit was set up by the Royal Thai Police force to deal with the safety and well being of tourists. Officers of the Tourist Police wear a distinctive badges on the their arm, speak English and a number of European languages. Many tourist police are expatriates who volunteer their services to assist visitors to the country.
The Tourist Police may be called upon to intervene and assist tourists involved in road traffic accidents, theft, disputes with hotels or shop keepers where a foreign tourist is involved. Tourist Police act as arbitrators in disputes and often de-escalate and negotiate situations where a resolution may not otherwise seem possible.
Tourist Police can be found in many tourist hotspots in Thailand including;
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Samui
It's always better to avoid interacting with police no matter which country you plan on visiting. Thailand is no different, so by taking a number of precautions tourists to the region can have a trouble free vacation by avoiding interaction with police or criminals by undertaking a number of safety measures including;
Make sure your room is locked and bolted at night.
Always leave valuables, airline tickets and passports in the hotel safety deposit box.
Carry a photocopy of the identification page of you passport. The police can demand to see it at anytime and by law you are required to produce it.
If you take a taxi, ensure you clearly communicate to the driver the intended destination.
In Bangkok taxis have meters, however in provincial areas tourists will need to negotiate the price prior to entering the vehicle.
When traveling by train or bus never leave valuables in your luggage and remain cautious when a stranger offers free food or drink. Thai’s are for the most part very hospitable however it also possible for food and drink to be drugged, unfortunately when you awake your valuables have gone.
If you hire a vehicle, read the terms carefully and make sure to take out fully comprehensive insurance cover. Take photographs of all sides of the vehicle, including areas where existing damage is present.
Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants if you are traveling on a motorcycle. A minor spill when wearing shorts can ruin your holiday. Believe it or not, the law requires you to wear a crash helmet contrary to what you might see.
The law requires front seat passengers in cars to wear a seat belt at all times.
Driving standards in Thailand leave a lot to be desired so take extra care when traveling by road.
If you hire a jet ski, always wear a life jacket and keep away from areas where people are swimming.
When driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle in Thailand, you are required by law to hold a valid Thai driving license or and International driving permit. Your license from home is not sufficient. Driving without the correct license will also invalidate your travel and rental car insurance policies.
Always take out travel insurance before leaving home. If you are involved in a road traffic accident in Thailand the maximum amount of compensation guaranteed by law is only US$2,000. For anything more, you will have to go to court, possibly waiting years before the matter is dealt with, and still never see a dime in the end.
Since 2003 there has been a crack down on drugs throughout Thailand. The penalties for possession and trafficking have been enforced with extreme severity.
Thailand's special Tourist Police force was founded to assist visitors. The officers are multilingual and will help deal with theft, accidents and disputes. In the event of an accident never flee the scene and request the presence of the Tourist Police to assist.