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Larry Cunningham at a Phuket honorary consul's forum

The Cover-up or the Consul: Cunningham's Jet-Ski Rumble Highlights Old Versus New Phuket

Sunday, September 1, 2013
Brave Enough to Change Phuket

PHUKET: An unedifying rumble between a Thai official and Australia's honorary consul, Larry Cunningham, has highlighted the gulf between the old Phuket and the new Phuket.

In the old Phuket, negative publicity was avoided by a conspiracy among all officials to suppress bad news.

In the new Phuket, a holiday island that at popular times contains many more outsiders than Thais, there are no secrets.

Rather than cover up Phuket's problems, local officials and envoys from all the countries that send tourists to Phuket try to fix them.

Those are the choices: cover up Phuket's problems, or fix them.

Mr Cunningham has spent the past eight years dealing with Phuket's problems, from an international perspective.

He has gone to police stations on Phuket to get Aussies out of trouble. He has talked to scores of people about jet-ski rip-offs and scams of all kinds.

He has confronted taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who show no respect to visitors to Phuket and only want their cash.

The words messaged on Friday to Mr Cunningham by a Foreign Affairs Ministry official are likely to bring serious protests from Thailand's envoys - all of them.

Siriporn Tantiphanyatep, Director of the ministry's Phuket office, concluded her message: '' . . . it is not wise to always say bad things about Phuket while you are still living and doing your business in this city.''

This alarming statement goes right to the core of the difference between the old Phuket and the new Phuket.

If an international envoy is not entitled to speak out about Phuket's problems and to fight for honest treatment of the citizens of his country, then who is?

As Phuketwan has noted, Phuket is still an appealing place for tourists. But its problems must be fixed. They must not be covered up or hidden. They will. not go away without action.

Officials who believe other nations' envoys should remain silent and live with Thailand's lies are kidding themselves.

They are way out of place on a modern, international Phuket.

To his credit, Mr Cunningham retained his cool in the face of the unseemly message, which was reaffirmed in a face-to-face meeting soon after. An apology would have been more appropriate.

If that message had been sent to Phuketwan, we would have messaged back:

''Like you, we want Phuket to prosper and grow stronger. That can only happen through disclosing and dealing with all of Phuket's problems. The era of the coverup is over. Please help us build the new Phuket.''


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Larry Cunningham has done an amazing job as honorary consul but it is long since overdue for Australia to have a permanent presence in the form of a full time consul on Phuket. With the number of Australians coming to Phuket as tourists sure to increase, if the current problems can be, then a ful time consul would be appropriate.
In fact it is surely needed now as Mr Cunningham must be getting tired off sorting out all my fellow Australians problems.

Posted by Arthur on September 1, 2013 12:24


There will be a very long transition period, Thais do not like conflicts if they can avoid them and prefer being quiet until the problem 'goes away' ... that is built into the system, this is the way people are raised so to change that will take time, a long time.

Posted by Sailor on September 1, 2013 12:39


Tourism and Sports Minister, Somsak Pureesrisak said: ''Tourist safety is now on the national agenda in particular a crackdown on mafia gangs in Phuket and Pattaya. Gangsters are now involved in enterprises that directly impact on tourists such as jet-skis and taxis.''

Seemingly, civil servants in Phuket did not receive the message from decision-makers and policy-makers from Bangkok.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on September 1, 2013 13:10


As a non Australian, I have valued the comments & efforts of Larry Cunningham over many years (I did not realize it was 8 years). It is sad that this effort is now 'rewarded' by such a 'threat' from a highly placed official who should know better & set a better example.

As you state quite clearly in the article, it is a battle now between old & new, with few signs that new is winning. However, we live in hope.

Posted by Logic on September 1, 2013 14:28


Excellent editorial. Fantastic work. Please keep it up.

Posted by gee on September 1, 2013 15:18


Many locals, unfortunately, don't want to be confronted with negative reality and truth,'sweet lies' are running daily life. Government officials obviously are no exception. When it comes to more important stuff, threats aren't unusual, as happend to me personally per as well, when confronting a lawyer with daily corruption. I'm glad that this one has been brought to the daylight, as it shows a widespread behavoir, probably based on long overcome values.

Posted by Resident on September 1, 2013 19:52


How did the Consul expect another reaction from a privileged Thai Ammart? Apparently nobody are aware who and what they are dealing with. These endless bla-bla meetings by the Hon. Cons. are nothing more than old imperialist behaviour, and I'm surprised that the Thai's haven't kicked them out of their country yet! How would The Proud Aussies react if a bunch of Hon. Cons. in Australia would start to direct and advise about the local populace on Bondi Beach, and what they could do, and not do? Back off, you arrogant Farangs, if people don't like Phuket, or Thailand for that matter, then stay away. It's a disgrace how stupid and arrogant this whole matter has been handled.

Posted by BOM on September 1, 2013 22:30


Nice troll BOM - I give it a 7/10.

I don't think there is a new Phuket. The old Phuket portrayed in the articles are simply subject to more scrutiny and consequent ridicule. The "ammart" don't understand the critiscism, most of the locals don't see the point (or understand the dangers) or complaining.

Fair dos to PW for exposing the threats, abuse and scams against tourists on Phuket. Some may see it as cultural colonialism - trying to impose or encourage values like decency, fair play and responsibility in Thailand.

Trouble is, the locals by and large don't want to hear it.

Posted by Barry on September 2, 2013 05:52


To bom.
If Thais are not ready to comply with modern-world rules of behavior and can't or don't want to solve tourism-related problems, they should close their country for tourism and go on to play with rice-pledging schemes.

Posted by Stranger on September 2, 2013 07:53


More foreigners than Thais at times? MAybe we should all get together and take Phuket over - we could probably just buy it?

Posted by Tonkin 2.0 on September 2, 2013 09:32


@Bom does have a point. Aliens/foreigners really have no right to come into Thailand and expect all to be as it is back home, wherever that may be. Suggestions at improvement would probably be welcome, hopefully. I will say two things. 1)I find the level of intimidation of taxi drivers at the airport very offensive. 2) Until the corruption is weeded out, and that is not going to happen overnight, very little will change on Phuket. So, you may as well live with it or take a taxi to the airport.

Posted by Sudo Nim on September 2, 2013 09:55


Sounded like a threat to me.

Posted by larry on September 2, 2013 10:25


Very sad, but not surprising at all. Thinly veiled threats aimed at a honorary consul, coming from the highest foreign ministry official on the island. Crazy, but like i said, not surprising. Cue "UN is not my father" etc etc. There are countless examples of how Thai high ranking police, officials, ministers are lashing out in an extremely childish manner.

Posted by christian on September 2, 2013 11:14


@Sudo Nim:
''Aliens/foreigners really have no right to come into Thailand and expect all to be as it is back home, wherever that may be''.

Why have holiday destinations around the world if foreigners have no rights?

Posted by Pete on September 2, 2013 11:22


@BOM there is a difference between Australia and Phuket, Phuket's wealth is mainly driven by foreigners/tourism therefore they should be treated with respect. Before there were foreigners here in Phuket it was a poor fishing place. BOM, do you prefer that!

Posted by Fiesty Farang on September 2, 2013 12:42

Editor Comment:

This issue has nothing to do with comparisons between Thailand and Australia. It's about the mutual respect and common courtesy that is usually displayed by officials of one country to envoys from other countries. BOM's comment is so off-beam it doesn't warrant a response.


I am sure in every government there are politicians that think things that they do not want said in public, but what surprises me (or the longer I stay in Thailand perhaps not) is that this lady is in Foreign Affairs. Therefore she should be nurturing the envoys. Talking about strange things in Thailand in the news some Thai Immigration centres are not accepting newly issues UK Passports for Visa transfers etc unless they have a letter from the issuing authority. If someone can forge UK Passports they will easily be able to forge a letter. As I said strange things happen in Thailand.

Posted by Fiesty Faranf on September 2, 2013 12:59


@ Ed. u 100% right about a response to ignorant Bom is not worth.. so therefore i pass this to u.. at the end of the day its like this, it has nothing to do with foreigner trying to tell Thais in any way what to do or not to do. we all thats posting opinions here love phuket, want to be in Phuket, spend money in Phuket and llts more. as we as forigners dont always understand Thai people , Thaipeople dont always understand foreigners.. so therefore we trying to help Thai people here to solve this issues that Foreigners sees as problems. if Thai people or the people thats behind this issues understand that this is not a common way in western world to handle guests or customers they all would make a lot of more money in the end and in a respectful way that i think also are more in their culture and even in their religion... so Pass this over to a ignorant person as Bom that we all only try to give u the hand u need to get it. cos ur NOT get it...

Posted by frog on September 2, 2013 13:17


Larry Cunningham has done a great job assisting Aussies in Phuket. Agree with Arthur that it now time for a full time consul presence here - Larry is a hard act to follow!

Posted by JD on September 2, 2013 15:14


@Barry: Troll? Me? No, I'm telling the truth about Thailand and Phuket! The first time Farang discover Phuket he fall's blindly in love. He's never experienced this kind of freedom to do what he want, ride a bike with no hat (I did in 1999, but not at Chalong Circle!) - find a young pretty girl, or boy, eat and drink like a crazy, party like a madman, behave like an idiot, and pay your way out of trouble. Later, if he "wakes up" - and the love feeling has cooled down a bit, usually after some sort of chock, accident, broken heart, broken arm, financial ruin due to "sudden buffalo sickness epidemic in the North East Thai Provinces" - he then begins the tragic route of trying to change Phuket, and the whole populace of Siam, to conform with his own cultural belief system! He has forgotten what he came here for, and fell in love with: The anarchy, the corruption, the patronage system, the money rule law, the smiles (false, surely, but what the heck, they SMILE, not too serious like all farang) - and then it's uphill, or down from a condo balcony thereafter. The idiots and do-gooders, NGO's, Missionaries etc. they spend most of their time on Phuketwan, and telling all other people how to behave. NO THANK YOU I SAY! If you don't like it here, go elsewhere, maybe Bangkok, like I did when I got fed up with Phuket in 2001. I knew the party was over then, and how Phuket would transform into a genuine hellhole of a Tourist Trap.

Posted by BOM on September 4, 2013 21:04

Editor Comment:

Like so many Doomsayers, you are imposing your own narrow perspective on us all, BOM. We're not all so easily misled.


"sudden buffalo sickness epidemic in the North East Thai Provinces".

Yeah, you use the wrong bars and pick up the wrong girls. From what you write you are a sex tourist/resident. You are the sort of person that made Phuket a ''genuine hellhole''.

Posted by Pete on September 5, 2013 10:50


@pete: I prefer to be an honest sex-monger, instead of this hypocritical missionary lot here at Phuketwan! Who spend the most dough? Who support most of the poor people in the NE, and some locals when I used app. 600.000 THB in a 3 month holiday? I'm tired of all the NGOs, Christian Missionaries, the "know it all about Siam" types - who walk around with an attitude of being the perfect tourist, while complaining about a 30 Baht khao pad gai being too expensive! YOU are better fit to do Bali, or maybe even Malaysia with this attitude, NOT Phuket, NOT THailand.

Posted by BOM on September 5, 2013 19:38


An honest sex-monger who turns out to be a Cheap Charlie; 600k baht for a 3 month holiday is a spend of just over 6,600 baht per day, but I suppose you manage with cheap hotels, cheap girls, cheap booze, cheap food, no condoms, and save your laundry till you get home.
How you support most of the poor people in the NE, I'll never know - you're just bragging and disproving your self professed honesty. I happen to live in the NE and can tell you the people, rich, poor and in between are some of the nicest to be found anywhere. I don't believe one of them would accept charity from a sex-monger like you.

Posted by Pete on September 5, 2013 20:21

Editor Comment:

He's probably as good at that as he is at arguing a case with logic and intelligence, Pete.


@Pete: Cheap Charlie? I'll consider it a compliment from you, thanks! Who in their right "logical" Western mind would pay up and settle in the NE Provinces, with a house,car and life insurance in her name? Who would do that? NOT me, are you crazy? You people are insane, talking about me lacking logical sense? Shame on you, you should know better, you are all installed with a Thai blood sucker, who can't wait for you to die, and she will do all that it takes to get you expedited asap. Wow, the morons you are, wow! Living in Isaan, Pete? Getting on with the stupid baan nok Lao Khao p*ssed typical Thai "friends" huh? Or the same style low life Farang loosers? Enjoy it, mate, hope you're on Prozac, cause it sure is depressing up there. Do like me: FFF = Find, f***, and forget, and your soul is at ease, all the time.

Posted by BOM on September 6, 2013 00:16

Editor Comment:

Sounds more asole than soul to me, BOM. What a pity you get past Immigration.


@Barry: "Trouble is, the locals by and large don't want to hear it."

So, in fact, you agree with me?

Phuket IS for the local populace, the Thais, how did you all forget that in your endless ego-trip as a tourist, a sex-pat/expat, longterm resident, whatever. It's NOT your home, it's home to the population of Phuket, damn it, why do you want to colonize this island, and poisoning it with your stupid imperialist "we know better" attitude?

Posted by BOM on September 6, 2013 02:20

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