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European Magazine Slams Phuket Chiefs for Lack of Attention to Phuket's Problems

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
PHUKET: Local authorities fail to tackle Phuket's problems because they are annoyed at criticsm by honorary consuls and ambassadors, says a stinging article published in one of Europe's best-read magazines.

Germany's Stern (Star) weekly magazine, with seven million readers, quotes Phuket senior honorary consul Dirk Naumann as saying: ''Since we last spoke two years ago, nothing has changed.

''On the contrary,'' the widely-respected Phuket expat says, ''all things have become worse. The Phuket mafia has a firm grip.''

A link to the article, attached to a Tourism Authority of Thailand page online, was drawn to Phuketwan's attention today.

The author relates how ambassadors and representatives from European Union countries have urgently asked the Ministry of Tourism for help, listing deadly currents on beaches, crimes and violent taxi drivers as problems that need speedy attention.

Envoys from 18 nations met face-to-face on Phuket with the Phuket Governor just over a month ago at a summit designed to begin the process of solving Phuket's problems.

The Stern article mentions a concerning number of drownings on Phuket's beaches and refers to ''an inadequate lifeguard system and the lack of enforcement of warnings to swimmers.''

The ambassadors also listed jet-ski scammers, the violence of tuk-tuk drivers and the inadequate care for tourists by police and immigration authoritities.

Representatives from the Australian embassy and the Chinese ambassador had also recently expressed their displeasure over rip-offs, fraud, violence and corruption, the article said.

It was highly unusual for diplomats to ''go public'' in the media with complaints, the article says: ''But their complaints fall on deaf ears.''

The article adds that the Bangkok representative of a large tour operator, who does not want to be named, said resignedly: ''The initiative of EU ambassadors will not change anything.''

Regular meetings were held on Phuket between honorary consuls and Phuket authorities for two years but no meeting has been held since September last year.

Although the Phuket governor promised the European ambassadors that meetings with honorary consuls would resume, a month has passed and no date has been set.

German honorary consul Dirk Naumann, who with a previous German ambassador instigated the innovative series of meetings, said consuls now have little contact with Phuket authorities.

''The new governor of Phuket is mad at us because we always come back with complaints,'' Mr Naumann told the magazine.

German tourists would come to Phuket less often, he said, partly because of the high exchange rate but also because of rip-offs and German television reports about contaminated water.

''Fifteen percent of German tourists do not come back because they are abused, assaulted and ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers,'' Mr Naumann told Stern.

Germans complained about bad experiences on Phuket. One couple with two children said they had to pay 200 baht for a tuk-tuk to go 1.6 kilometres from their resort to a restaurant.

The return trip was even worse - they had to pay 200 baht per person, the article said.

''The tuk-tuk ride would be more expensive than dinner,'' Mr Naumann said. Phuket has the reputation for being the most expensive part of Thailand.

''Chicken, eggs and rice are cheaper in Germany,'' Mr Naumann said.

Under a sub-heading, 'The Better Side of Phuket,' Christof Muller, chief of tour operator Go Vacation Thailand, told 'Stern' that customers who took package holidays tended to avoid Phuket's problems.

He recognised that sewage sometimes ran into the sea and there was crime but package passengers were largely protected.

Efforts have been made to fix security problems as a priority, with security cameras now widespread and taxis being legalised in Phuket City, Kata, Karon and Patong, the Governor of the TAT told the magazine.

However, the boom in numbers of arrivals on Phuket, generated by Chinese and Russian arrivals, was deceptive, Mr Naumann said.

Chinese and Russians remained 2.7 days on average and spent much less than Europeans, who stayed 7.9 days, Mr Naumann said.

Stern noted the drownings on Phuket's popular beaches and added: ''With mass protests and undisguised threats against the island government, the many illegal taxi and tuk-tuk drivers oppose any attempt to conform to regulations.

''Illegal tour guides take tourists out. Taxi drivers 'kidnap' passengers and take them to hotels where they do not wish to go, or force them to purchase items they didn't realise they wanted.''

Mr Naumann, a much-respected longtime resident of Thailand, said: I've been here for 40 years. I never thought it would come to the point where Phuket is worse than Pattaya.''

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I have to agree having spent time here in 2005, then 8 weeks in 2008 and again this year. The whole place has gone downhill and prices are on par with Europe, the South is the worst by far. There are other places in Thailand for me now.

Posted by TheBulldog on July 16, 2013 18:52

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Why is Mr Naumann still living in Phuket, if nothing changes ? Did he do his job well ?
All these foreigners living for long time in Phuket and always complaining,but who dont want to leave. I came first time in 1991 and live here now 10 years, I had never a problem. Permanently shooting on jet ski operators is also not always fair, I had a customer who had a jetski incident, the case was dealed in a correct and friendly way by the operator who was insured, dont make from a mosquito an elephant every time there is an incident and let hear the version of the local people. Tourist are not always the nicest people the way they speak and handle the locals.
This week 2 british guys wanted discount at Naka market for a Leo beer who was sold at 35 baht, they complained the shop owner and said that at 7 eleven it was cheaper, these are poor tourist, sorry !These people we dont need either in Phuket.

Posted by Eric on July 16, 2013 19:12

Editor Comment:

Dirk Naumann loves Thailand, which is why he has lived here for 40 years. And he would be the first person to tell you that many people who come as tourists go home happy. What he has seen over his long time in Thailand is a change for the worse, and it's that change that he wants corrected. Rip-offs are more evident than ever for tourists - and for residents. It is possible to live for a long time on Phuket without problems. But telling the people who see the problems and speak out about them to ''go home'' is not the answer. In many cases, this is their home. The proper answer is to fix the problems, not try to cover them up or pretend they don't exist. What we are talking about here are life and death issues, including needless drownings. Nobody should tolerate unnecessary deaths in the water or on the roads. Have you ever spoken to the friends of a just-drowned person, Eric, and tried to explain why they weren't properly warned? Have you ever tried to explain why safety standards are often below standards in the rest of Thailand, let alone international standards? The honorary consuls are the first people to acknowledge that tourists who behave badly should be treated in exactly the same way as locals are treated. But if you've had no bad experiences, no signs that things aren't quite right, no problems with taxis or tuk-tuks, no occasions when you've thought the price was too high, then you've led a remarkably charmed life on Phuket.

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I have been living and working on Phuket for over 16 years...had a guts full of the pure greed..gonna be moving to Chiangmai to live..much better people living there, too.

Posted by kiwi on July 16, 2013 19:52

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The bulldog, regarding pricing if prices are up for you as european, first have a look at the exchange rate=how poor the euro is now. In 2000 you changed 1 euro for 39 baht in 2003 you exchanged till 52 baht.Today again around 40 baht The difference in prices today has a lot to see with the euro his position, And we should not exagerate that the price is the same as in europe, a main course in europe is close to 25 euro or 1000 baht/pp, in thailand you can still have a nice fex seafood meal at Leam hin seafood for 500 baht/pp.The salaries went up, the gasoline get up, or should Thai people give everything for free. You as a european also wants to get paid for the job you do or the service you offer.
For sure Thailand has still a good value for money. But of course if you stay and eat every day in the 5* hotels there restaurant you pay the same price as in Europe thats correct. Phuket is still safer then most european cities.

Posted by Eric on July 16, 2013 20:29

Editor Comment:

At the end of a long post about prices, you say ''Phuket is still safer then most european cities.'' That's a discussion with no relevance to prices.

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Dear Editor, For once I completeley concur with your view. ( I promise I won't make a habit of it!). Having lived here more than 30 years, I understand where Dirk Naumann is coming from. It is our home but it is sad to see what has been allowed to happen to a once beautiful island (there are still a few semi-unspoilt spots available) and the attitude of the locals (many are not locals but come from nearby provinces to rape the place) and the so called "public servants" that has changed so much over a relatively short period of time.
Luckily I don't have to be in contact with most of the BS that occurs for the tourists, however, when I transit the airport, which I do regularly, it then becomes apparent what everybody else complains about.
Unfortunately I don't see it changing until such time as the Thai culture of patronage changes which is not going to be in your or my lifetime.

Posted by Guy Cummins on July 16, 2013 20:57

Editor Comment:

It is not in Thailand's best interests to accept corruption and inefficiency as responses to the needs of residents and visitors. To have people in positions of authority who falsely claim they are doing the right thing by ignoring problems or alternatively pocketing vast sums for not doing their jobs is appalling.

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every thing has a use by date and phuket has reached its date, its only the sex trade that keeps it going all other costs are simalar to other countrys for hotels and food or air fares .

Posted by GT on July 16, 2013 21:19

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That's what I call a slap in the face (to Phuket tourism. Concerning that Stern is online and facebook. I guess that 10 million have read the article by now. What might the people in Power on Phuket learn? Well probably nothing, ending up being in Power of a second or third grade destination in some years...

Posted by Swede from Malmo on July 16, 2013 23:24

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The honorary consul meetings, and recent ambassadors meetings with Phuket officials were all bark and no bite.

If they don't back up their complaints with potential repercussions, their efforts to gain change are toothless and useless.

The Phuket officials realized this, but apparently the consuls and ambassadors didn't.

Posted by Relox on July 16, 2013 23:52

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Thailand has become too greedy, if tha's even possible? New markets, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Indonesia, Iran, rest of the middle east, India, Pakistan, and they spend less money than the "traditional" EU, USA etc. Phuket is a crazy place, I never see this in Turkey, we changed a few years back, got control of the scams, we understood, Thailand don't understand, a laugh,a smile, or a gun at your forehead, a scam, and a quick $$$ for everyone! Why should they worry? +20 mio. visitors now, and TAT going for +30 mio. it's totally crazy.

Posted by Kamil on July 17, 2013 02:55

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@ED: did you respond to the consul, by saying, that there is no such thing here in Phuket as mafia? That it is a monopoly? Did you? Because that's what you tell your readers all the time, and I'm sure, as good as phuketwan is, you don't have as many readers as the stern....

Posted by Charles on July 17, 2013 07:02

Editor Comment:

The word ''mafia'' is misused by many people, Charles. We don't know which particular ''Phuket mafia'' the honorary consul is referring to, but the ''tuk-tuk and taxi mafia'' is actually a monopoly. On the other hand, the ''Charles mafia'' is a harmless group of commenters who waste the editor's time. A word that once had a specific application - for gangs involved in terror and murder - has become meaningless through misuse. If you don't have something to add on the actual topic, your mafia shouldn't bother wasting my time. Your inability to say anything of interest should alarm you.

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@ED: it was merely a question that I asked, just to inform myself. If you feel that I wasted your time with it, you shouldn't had written a whole dialogue about it. A simple yes or no would have done the trick.

Posted by Charles on July 17, 2013 09:59

Editor Comment:

We look forward to the day when you have something to add, Charles, Think ''value, I must add value.''

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Ed... Oh dear, here we go AGAIN, you refusing to accept that "mafia" is correct, do look at a dictionary, PLEASE, but that is a side issue, you use of the word "monopoly" is in fact INCORRECT, the CORRECT word is Oligopoly.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 17, 2013 10:20

Editor Comment:

Don't waste my time.

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Having also lived on and off for 15 yrs, my experience of living in Thailand has taught me not to expect anything. Foreigners in most cases are completely ignored and just seen in most cases as a 'cash cow' having no more rights than a lump of wood. Trying to change spots on a leopard will always be a difficult task, and thinking that grievances will dissapear just because high-ranking officials start waving their fingers around will just bring on a smile, then be filed under the listing of 'Mai Ben Rai', and dealt with when I haven't got anything else better to do. Those that have lived in Thailand for a long time, will only know too well that foreigners are second class. Change will come, but slowly, and when Thais are ready for it !

Posted by reader on July 17, 2013 11:28

Editor Comment:

Fortunately, reader, judging by today's news, doomsaying may no longer have a future.

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Just a comment on the word 'mafia'. Sure we all know it's widely used generic term to refer to groups of individuals who employ coercive behaviour to achieve particular ends. I would like to point out it's also commonly used among Thai people themselves, another instance of the ceaseless flow of non-Thai words that have made their way into Thai. I've been a professional translator and interpreter of the language for many years and first remember coming across the word 'mafia' in a Thai magazine about 30 years ago when I taught at a university in Chonburi province (just up the road from Pattaya). During the 80s crime syndicates in Chonburi, Ratburi, and Phetburi (all provincial capitals renowned for their hit men - 'mue puen') were often referred to in the Thai popular press (e.g. Thai Rath, Daily News, etc.) as 'mafia' - in addition to more traditional Thai words for crime bosses and hoodlums (Jao phor, nak leng, anthaphan, etc).
Other than that my commendations to A.M., the editor. From the evidence of the comments section alone you are one of the most 'hands on' professionals in the media business, anywhere. Please don't take that to mean some oblique form of criticism. It's praise.
Finally, a general comment on Phuket which I first visited in 1975 when there weren't even any 30 baht a night bamboo 'bungalows' on any of the beaches. It's hard to believe now that it was a very friendly place indeed, next to no traffic - and certainly no 'taxi mafia', no 'girlie bars' (Patong had but a few fisherman's huts in the middle of the beach), but there were, of course, Thai-style brothels in the town (in 1980 or 81, if I recall, one of these establishments burned down and a ghastly discovery made - the charred remains of a couple of young women workers locked up inside). Such horrors aside, Phuket was a most gorgeous place. It was almost too good to be true. How things have changed. That line from Joni Mitchell's 'The Big Yellow Taxi' rings in my ears - 'they take paradise and put up a parking lot'. A little hyperbole I admit, but one can only wonder what the 'Pearl of the Andaman' will look and feel like in another 30-40 years. Happy days.

Posted by Kaen Phet on July 17, 2013 11:37

Editor Comment:

Thanks for adding value! Let's hope today's news about Bangkok finally intervening makes Phuket a great mafia-free place to live and to visit for the forseeable future.

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It is not just Thais. For example: How much does a pizza cost in an Italian restaurant in Phuket against a west European country? At least 50% more! Some blame the exchange rate but the price of raw ingredients is really not that high so it is greedy markup.

Posted by Logic on July 17, 2013 11:54

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"How much does a pizza cost in an Italian restaurant in Phuket against a west European country? At least 50% more! "
And how much does a Pad Thai cost in a west European country against Phuket? At least 100% more.

Posted by stevenl on July 17, 2013 13:00

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"Efforts have been made to fix security problems as a priority, with security cameras now widespread and taxis being legalised in Phuket City, Kata, Karon and Patong, the Governor of the TAT told the magazine."

You've got to love a Thai with a sense of humour....

Posted by Harry Barracuda on July 21, 2013 17:43

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The use of the word "Mafia" is probably inappropriate. You should stick to "organised crime", as it is so very well organised in Phuket, from the top down.

Posted by Harry Barracuda on July 21, 2013 17:47

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I have been to Thailand around 35 times in the last 6 years. I have never been to Phuket and have no plans ever to set foot on it due to the constant negativity.

Posted by PC on July 21, 2013 18:07


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