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Bangkok Shakedowns of Tourists Trouble British Ambassador

Friday, December 12, 2014
BANGKOK: Foreign tourists are calling it the shakedown. A growing number are being stopped, searched and harassed in the main tourist precinct of the Thai capital.

Sometimes they are led to a service station toilet and asked to provide a urine sample, supposedly to determine whether they have consumed any illicit drugs.

But according to letters to newspapers, blogs and even a specially set-up Facebook page, the targeting of foreigners is to extort bribes.

For months officials have been stopping foreigners on busy Sukhumvit Road and demanding to see their passports.

One person described the scene outside a coffee shop where two city inspectors and two policemen were stopping many foreigners.

''They were thoroughly searching tourists and their belongings, asking them to produce passports,'' the person told the Bangkok Post.

''Many of those unfortunate souls were then detained and I saw them paying money to the officials . . . one girl was reduced to tears and was obviously very upset.''

A blogger who attempted to get first-hand evidence of an apparent shakedown was chased by officers and had to hide in a mall.

Mark Kent, the British ambassador in Thailand, tweeted on Thursday that he has raised the issue with Thailand's tourism authorities.

The reports come at a time when the country's tourist industry is struggling to recover from a military takeover in May following months of political upheaval.

No statistics are available on how many people are stopped and searched on Bangkok's streets or how much of the supposed ''on the spot fines'' actually reaches police coffers.

Australia's smartraveller.gov.au recommends Australians visiting Thailand exercise a high degree of caution. Tourists are advised to always carry their passports in the country where it is an offence not to be in possession of photographic identification.

Tens of thousands of Australians are expected to holiday in Thailand during the Christmas and New Year holidays, the country's peak tourist season.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I don't think there is going to be a peak season this year for most of Thailand, and if there is, it's going to be a short 2 weeks Christmas and new year one. It's very quiet everywhere, empty restaurants and shops, and only the cheaper eateries have clients. Russians are eating at the food halls and markets due to the rouble crashing, Chinese are led from one big shop to another by the flag leader, Europeans seem very rare and keeping to quieter places like Khao Lac, Hua Hin. I'm sorry about the way things have gone, as many poor Thai people are one pay packet away from being on the streets, but the continual taxi/tuc rip offs, jet skis polluting the once beautiful waters, and some Thai hotel/ restaurant/shop workers being so rude to tourists it's hard to believe, all this has contributed to people going elsewhere to,spend their hard earned money. No, Thailand is NOT a cheap destination any more, and what you get does not live up,to what a holiday costs. Start by cleaning the place up for a start.

Posted by Elizabeth on December 12, 2014 14:01

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This is an interesting article.

I had read stories in the past on the internet about police extracting bribes from tourists for not having passports with them. I also read stories about tourists being stopped and fined where the policeman would point to a distant cigarette that had been dropped by someone else. In the circumstances, I almost always carry my passport.

On one occasion about 10 years ago I was in a taxi returning to my hotel in the outskirts on Bangkok. One young policeman saw me in the passenger seat and immediately pulled over the taxi. He then demanded to see my passport and was looking very pleased with himself. I retrieved the passport from my back pocket whereupon the policeman's grin immediately vanished.
The reader may make of that whatever he wishes.

That was one isolated incident. The police normally leave me alone but I notice that they make a habit of stopping Western motorcyclists who don't wear helmets while normally turning a blind eye to the locals committing the same offence.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on December 12, 2014 15:24

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Thailand seems to be one never ending story of extortion, shake-downs and rip off's for some tourists. The worst thing is in so many cases it is the police themselves who are the offenders.

Economy wise things seem real bad, pessimism is rife and shops and markets seem to be all filled with the same low quality Chinese crap you can buy worldwide or online. People have no faith in politicians or religious leaders. We are caught up in a cult of celebrity where everybody wants to be famous or a singing star.

Celebrities who are poor role models are worshipped. People are addicted to their phones and cannot go anywhere without having their phone as their modern day security blanket. Materialism rules and people are judged on what they have or wear rather than their quality of character.

We need to get back to simple values like being happy with what you have, respecting others regardless of their presumed social status and doing no harm either mental or physical to others.

Posted by Arun Muruga on December 12, 2014 16:22

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Elizabeth, with you 100 percent on your comment..

Posted by robert on December 12, 2014 17:00

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We are holidaying in Bangkok at present. No problems to date. I think it's wise to always carry your passport.

Posted by Helene on December 12, 2014 17:03

Editor Comment:

Most people won't have this problem or other problems, Helene.

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It's those things, one after another, that kills this place slowly.The worst thing is, that there are so many people here that don't seem to care.Many say: we love our country, but they don't seem to understand that, there are (or were)a lot of other nationalities that love(d) this country as well. And among these people, there is (was) a huge amount, that spend a lot of money here, and partially keeps (kept) the economy going. What will happen if (or when) a big part of those people decide to never come back here again?

Posted by Carl on December 12, 2014 17:39

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Elizabeth: I stopped 1 night in Hua Hin 2 days ago & tourism is just as badly hit there as in Phuket & presumably all across the country.

Thai businesses are badly down. My girlfriend's family run restaurant business is easily 50+% down on this time last year. Yet despite having all the legal licenses, they still have to pay the police monthly - call it what you like.

Posted by Logic on December 12, 2014 17:56

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And we THINK changes are happening..... what a joke!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by DG on December 12, 2014 18:54

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As i drive by myself sice 2000 in Phuket and elsewhere in Thailand,I was stopped once at the Kamala police station,a very polite policeman asked for my drivers licence and passport,i told him i am sorry it's in the trunk i will get tit for you,he said don't bather it's ok,so not everybody in Thailand is trying to rip you off,being nice and polite can be a big help when talking to police and Thai in general

Posted by Khun Philippe on December 12, 2014 19:15

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If a business is 100% legal then pay the police for what ? It is payments to corrupt police which perpetuates the problem of police corruption

Posted by Paul on December 12, 2014 20:39

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Can anyone advice me a good quality cam for in my car and a good voice recording programme for in the car and to download for a smart phone. It's is becoming time to "secure" yourself. Please Brands & model names.

Thanks.

Posted by phuketgreed on December 12, 2014 23:37

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@Logic

call it what you like
===

It's voluntary gift. I am so surprised you still don't know it.

One Police commander on one recent eve of Chinese New Year have taught us, that he can not and will not stop all these shop owners if they wish to gift money to his officers.
Can we finally learn it in order not to ask again our stupid questions?

Posted by Sue on December 13, 2014 06:00

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"Foreign tourists are calling it the shakedown"

(Perhaps) tourist money is drying up - and extreme measures are needed to keep the "rice pots" full.

signed,

biting the hand that feeds..

Posted by farang888 on December 13, 2014 07:19

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Why looking at Bangkok when Phuket is the capital of extortion and bribes?? Just 3 dasy ago 2 friend of mine went to Immigration in Phuket to make a certificate of residence, that should be free, and were asked to pay 1.000 baht each !!! What a joke are the words clean corruption !!!

Posted by dave on December 13, 2014 09:12

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My friend and I were in Thailand from May-July last summer and we were stopped by a policeman in Bangkok asking for us for ID. We were a little drunk and so a bit brash and bold with him saying we thought he was being racist and only targeting us because we were white tourists etc, were from the UK, I think this shocked him and after about 10 mins of this, him at threatening to take us to the police station saying he could do what he wants because he's an officer, he gave up and we walked away. I don't recommend this because it could have turned out differently - a fine or worse (Thai holding cells aren't a place I want to be). He was just trying his luck but we told him where to go..

Posted by Jack on December 13, 2014 18:23

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I am not a tourist but a "farang" resident of Hua Hin. What annoys me and many of my visitors from Europe is the dual pricing: one price for Thais, usually zero and another for "foreign Tourists". Example : temple of the Emerald Bhudda in Bangkok. Free for Thais but Baht 500 for foreigners. Apart from its being racially discriminating it dissuades tourists from visiting again. Time for the Thailand Tourist Authority to get its act together.

Posted by Andrew on December 13, 2014 20:02

Editor Comment:

It's not racial because Asian tourists also pay the higher price, but it's certainly discriminatory. Whether it's positive discrimination or negative discrimination is a matter of opinion. Ideally, everyone would be charged a proportion of their own individual worth for admission. In the absence of knowing everybody's individual worth, charging ''rich'' tourists entry seems reasonable as mostly poor Thais should not be forced to pay to visit their own country's significant cultural sites. In developed countries, equity comes with more widespread wealth.

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Same goes for restaurants where you have a Thai menu card and a Tourist menu card just take them both pick your choice and then point them out on the Thai menu card the order of food is the same as on the tourist menu but cheaper, Then the issue about the poor i am sorry but that is not a foreigner problem so why should we pay more then average Example: if the government put salt and iron industries in a place like Isan wich is now the poorest in all of Thailand (Seminair 1994 Bangkok Kagoshima university) and Thai people lose there land,income and homes you should put the finger elsewhere and not extort foreigners/tourists to clean up there mess by saying we have so many poor people living here, Not everyone is rich when coming to Thailand some people have saved there money for years and years to come visit Thailand, It makes me furious to say that all foreigners are rich that is absolute nonsense, Get your facts straight and dig a little deeper to see that we foreigners are not responsible for the poverty but it seems no one have the guts to tell the truth and point out the people who are responsible for the poverty in the first place.

Posted by ThailandFan on December 15, 2014 02:48

Editor Comment:

Tourists are rich enough to afford to travel - then some expect to pay the same price as locals in s developing country who will never be able to afford to travel. This is the selfishness that prosperity brings. Equality is great when all participants have the same ability to pay. There's a reasonable excuse for some dual pricing as long as there are developing countries.

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I still disagree but everyone is entitled to a opion, At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day More than 80 percent of the world's population lives in countries where income differentials are widening The poorest 40 percent of the world's population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. These statistics can be found on globalissues, So to say that someone who can afford to travel is also rich is a big misunderstanding, It depends on what that person had to sacrifice or how long that person had to save there income to a degree that its possible to travel, Sometimes its a once in a lifetime thing and they will never be able to travel again, As you can see there is a minority that can do whatever they like but that is a small percentage. And forget about charitys most of the collected money from charitys goes in other pockets then were it supposed to be going, If this was not the case the world would be saved already, The governments are responsible for the fall or uprise of a nation, They should take care of the people who are living in there country but as in many cases they don't bother as much as they should so to shakedown tourists or whatever people try to do to scam someone out of there money (Not only Thailand) is always a bad thing it shows that they don't consider the background of that person and assume that they have enough to spend anyway, That's a narrow way of thinking, Governments and big industrial corporations are responsible not tourists as many examples show all over the world. So to shakedown tourists for the actions and decisiones a government makes is again not our responsibility let alone that we have a saying about it, That should never be a reason to harass tourists who are oblivious to what's really going on and just want to spend there well earned money on a vacation that could be a once in a lifetime experience for most of them. Most people don't even bother to come back because of the bad experience they had when they got ripped off and intimidated, That goes for double pricing also, Its not polite to charge double for a item that's less below the normal charge assuming at forehand that you are a rich Falang, I am sorry but that's not only double pricing but also a double standard.

Posted by ThailandFan on December 15, 2014 18:12

Editor Comment:

Dual pricing is not a shakedown. It would be unfair if poor locals had to pay the same as rich travellers to experience their own culture. People who can afford the luxury of tourism are richer than those who have more pressing needs, like survival.

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I wasn't talking about culture events and also not about if poor locals should pay the same as (rich) travellers its just the other way around the travellers who supposed to pay much more then the locals, My experience about double pricing was in Bangkok (infact it was triple) where i had a bowl of soup for 20 Baht, Then the day after i went to the exact same stand but with a different vendor wich was now run by a man, The day before it was run by a woman, I ordered the same bowl of soup and suddenly i had to pay 60 Baht so i told him that the day before the same bowl of soup was 20 Baht instead of 60 the answer that he gave me was that there was no chicken in that soup for 20 Baht [LOL] Well it sure was, Finally i said 'Fine 20 Baht without the chicken' And the smile disappeared like ice in the sun, That's just one example of what i have experienced, Now a days i just walk away and go somewhere else, In the end its their loss not mine, I am not greedy and not to proud to give a tip wich i usually always do but that would be my own choice and a free choice not because someone tries to force me paying for something above the normal acceptable rate because of the rich traveller syndrome.... And Ed its nothing personal sometimes people have a different view, Have a nice day.

Posted by ThailandFan on December 15, 2014 22:11

Editor Comment:

People often have different views and I would agree that when it comes to food, Prices should be the same for everybody. It is odd, though, how people who complain about paying double or triple in the marketplace will pay ten times that without complaint if the same meal is served at a top restaurant. When you are seen out shopping, you're seen as a comparatively wealthy person. You are being discriminated against because of your wallet. It's perceived you can afford it. A rich Thai would be put to the same test.

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That's why i never eat in top restaurants or stay in 5 star hotels for the simple fact that i don't care less about luxury, The simple things in life are good enough for me, Ill give you the statement "you're seen as a comparatively wealthy person" I get that but it doesn't apply for everybody and they don't seem to get that either, Oh well some things you can really get your head twisted about over and over again, No need for that though i still love the culture and Thailand, I think that the irritation level in my homeland is 9 out of ten so there you go, Now the number for Thailand as i think you would like to know, Well its a 2 out of ten, Sabai.

Posted by ThailandFan on December 15, 2014 23:45

Editor Comment:

2 out of 10 is no problem? Good to hear.


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