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Phuket Resort Taxi Drivers 'Threaten Violence, Hijack Event Group Customers'

Friday, November 22, 2013
PHUKET: An events company went to pick up passengers at a five-star Phuket resort this week and was forced instead to surrender its clients to a taxi driver group who threatened violence.

The two mini-bus drivers and a female guide were told at the popular Katathani Resort: "Go now or we'll break your arms" and "F---- off before we punish you," a witness has told Phuketwan.

According to two sources, the drivers said they were also hijacking the commissions on the trip by the group to a paintball park and a gokart track.

One effort to contact the Department of Special Investigation - which has set up two Phuket Crime Crisis Centres to deal with complains - failed because the telephone went unanswered repeatedly, according to one contact.

The expat who runs the events operation declined to be named and said he had decided not to go to the DSI because of fears of repercussions over what happened on Tuesday.

Here are the emails that described the incident at the well-known Phuket resort. Similar events are believed to have happened at other Phuket resorts:

''My name is ----- and along with my wife run an event company here in Phuket.

''We had what we would describe as a serious run in with the so called taxi mafia today.

''Unfortunately we have decided not to go to the DSI, the reason being that after consideration we have to take into account that we will have to return there for other groups in the future and the DSI may well not be around then and yet we will have to face the same taxi groups.

''Our company went there today at 12.30pm to pick up a group of 25 guys who booked a series of activities from us for the Stag Party they are celebrating. The booking was made via our website some months ago.

''On arrival at the Katathani with two of our privately hired mini buses, we were stopped outside the hotel by a group of taxi drivers who told us we had to use their taxis.

''After some discussion with the group and a few threats made to our events manager we agreed to tell our mini buses to go and we would use the taxis provided by this group.

''This group only had one mini bus and three cars so the 25 clients and two of our staff had to all cram into these vehicles.

''Worse was to come. The taxi drivers also informed our staff that they would now be taking over the tour including all the commission made from the Go Karting Track and Paintball activity.

''Not only that but to make it more expensive for the group and to gain more commission they also scraped the Special Grand Prix Go Karting Package we had arranged with the supplier in preference for 10 minute lap times which works out far more expensive for such a large group and so much more commission for the taxi drivers.

''Our staff were then told they were not needed (it was not as polite as that) by the taxi drivers, so they had to talk to the group and apologise saying they were no longer part of the party activities and no longer under our company as clients.

''The group were actually ok, ie they were intent on enjoying themselves no matter what the problems. I am sure they were not aware of just exactly what was going on.''

Another email from a second person said the customers were Australians, and that the driver of a white minivan was the most threatening of the bunch.

''We actually tried to ring the DSI number at Phuket Town that my wife had in her phone while we were there,'' the email said. ''After trying 5-6 times and no answer, we gave up.

''I can only speak a little Thai but my wife was horrified at the physical threats made 'Go now or we'll break your legs/arms' 'F--- off before we punish you' and many other one or two word aggressive taunts.

''The driver of the white minibus: [registration number provided] was the worst of this sleazy group.''

The same person forwarded to Phuketwan and other Phuket media a copy of an email sent to the Katathani:

''I send this email after an event I witnessed on Tuesday with taxi drivers and a minibus driver located at your resort, threatening other Thai minibus drivers and especially a female guide who came to pick up guests staying with you.

''I do not know everything that went on, but my Thai wife translated to me what was happening.

''We were there to see other friends of ours who we ironically recommended to stay with you as it is a such a nice place.

''I have lived in Thailand for nearly 10 years and it makes me sick that tourists are still being used and exposed in this way. (Regardless of all the grandstanding and ongoing bull---- from government officials and police that say they are addressing it. Why should they anyway, so many of them will lose protection money)

''After seeing and hearing the threats that went on, I will no longer be recommending for friends and customers to stay with you.

''Additionally, I have taken photos and number plates of these aggressive and intimidating drivers and am supplying them to the newspapers, overseas travel media and the DSI.

''They are weak, cowardly thugs that need to be got rid of and your resort apparently supports them and has done for a long time. Thais against Thais openly using violent threats.

''I don't know what happened to the confused tourists, but probably taken to selective rip off and commission paying venues. Even though they were all males, some of them looked quite perturbed at what went on.''

Very few signs have been seen of a much-publicised attempt by the DSI - teaming with the Phuket administration, the Tourism and Sports Ministry and Phuket police = to end the corrupt stand-over tactics employed by many Phuket tuk-tuk and taxi drivers.

Violent incidents have occurred from time to time and the taxi drivers in the Kata-Karon region are known to want to expand their industry to ''guided tours'' to claim the excessive commissions paid by many Phuket businesses.

China has enacted laws to reduce the commission rip-offs that were part of the package tours offered to Chinese to visit Thailand and other destinations.

Other countries have been pressing for action from the Thai government. The latest incident indicates that Phuket taxi drivers continue to use standover tactics, even at five-star resorts.

Were you at Tuesday's stag event? If so, please tell us what you saw and heard. Email editor@phuketwan.com

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If Katathani wants to have customers, then, giving a relative remoteness of Kata Noi bay, and related logistics challenges, they should have play a much more active role in resolving such issues.

Posted by Sue on November 22, 2013 05:50

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ha,
this whole island is taxi whipped and phuketwan is scared, you do know the drivers name but wont tell,
everyone elses name of like everything in every story you tell, every overstayer, every dead persons name but not the taxi thug, right?

Posted by sandy on November 22, 2013 06:17

Editor Comment:

Your understanding of the way the world works is based on ignorance, sandy. We haven't been given the names of any drivers. Without the people making the claims wishing to be named and without police involvement, we'd be foolish to name anyone without proof. I hope that helps you get your facts straight in future.

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I had a bad experience with the taxi thugs at Katathani resort last year - asked the hotel duty manager to intervene but he was not prepared to do anything much. Why are major resorts allowing these thugs to operate at their premises?

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2013 08:20

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It makes me sad to read this story.
Are those DSI people still around?
Without being cynical, Phuket's people in all industries have yet to see any visible, measurable progress or any results as promised by DSI. It seems that there have not been changes at all when talking about those Taxi-Gangs, Jet-Skies etc.
At every hotel entrance, on the streets, on the beach and even at the airport it is business as usual the way I see and experience it.
Although I still hope to see some promised changes for the benefit of Phuket and its people, I would not place a bet that it will actually happen.

Posted by Mr. K on November 22, 2013 09:14

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For too long it was simply a case of the tourist loses but a zero loss game for the resorts that tolerate and dont resist this behavior. Yes they are pressured but its all too easy to simply roll over and allow it. Now with the power of internet reviewing they can be directly effected and actually lose money.

The only way to make a Thai business pay attention to the plight of its guests is via its income.

Posted by LivinLOS on November 22, 2013 09:31

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Despite being in the hospitality industry, I sincerely hope this letter and case gets to the international media and force the Thai government to actually act on what they promised.
Would be good to hear what Katathani has to say.

Posted by May on November 22, 2013 10:32

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What was the registration of the minibuses they were planning to use, as required yellow plates with black lettering, or were they white plates, therefor illegal to transfer tourists?

Posted by stevenl on November 22, 2013 11:18

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And the high season has only just started.

Posted by Buster on November 22, 2013 11:22

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Wow! This is really scary. At this point, the Katathani, the Centara group, and all the other hotels should meet with the governor, police, Bangkok DSI rep and have all these taxis cleared completely from all the hotels. If it doesn't happen immediately, all these hotels should have real, armed security thugs. The ex army kind that won't shy away from a fight. Had the Katathani had those, it would have been quite a different outcome. I realize that the managers are on the firing line but if all the hotels act in concert, the thugs can't attack them all.

Posted by earmuffs on November 22, 2013 13:47

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Hopefully time will show that more steps forward than backwards were achieved with the DSI operation in Phuket else the future may look bleak for people that prefer law and order.

Posted by Sailor on November 22, 2013 13:54

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Another disgraceful episode. And the equally disturbing thing is the lack of response from the DSI.
It doesn't bode well for the future of the island that these thugs continue to ply their rxtortion unchallenged.

Posted by jimbo34 on November 22, 2013 14:12

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The problems with the taxi's here are not solved in spite of the promises from DSI.

Yesterday some of my regular guests were detained involuntary, more than half an hour, at an office, on their way from the airport to here.

Stealing uostumers from travel agencies and hotels, overtly threaten staff from other companies with violence, withhold tourists against their will - no problem, just part of daily business.

The taxi group now has learned, that the can do everything without consequences.

Posted by Hotel Owner on November 22, 2013 14:21

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So come on then DSI, this seems a fairly clear allegation. It would seem that the drivers could be identified quite easily. I am sure the group of tourists would be able to confirm if they were taken around in taxis and a white van, or two minibuses.

So what are you going to do about it?

Investigate it? Or do nothing?

Hmmmm

We are all watching......

Posted by Action, not talk on November 22, 2013 15:57

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I think the DSI must be filled with despair when it comes to the endless problems in Phuket and just want to go home.

Posted by Rod on November 22, 2013 17:39

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time to have off duty police ride shotgun on the tour busses?

Posted by surang on November 22, 2013 23:10

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As long as the "taxi-mafia" is protected by "somebody", this problem will continue. When a really good and prober public transportation infrastructure is etablished together with only legal taxies seen on the street most of the problems will be solved. And then tourists MUST learn only to take legal transportation possibilities.

Posted by Lars Th. on November 23, 2013 03:20

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If the law is the same in Thailand as most of the rest of the world then to take action the Police need a formal complaint from a victim NOT a witness. If the owners of the company involved will not make a complaint what are the police meant to do?????

Posted by Arthur on November 23, 2013 03:51

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Arthut, that is an 'criminal offence liable to public prosecution' !
They are public transportation, have the right, to use the road for business.
Therefor, they are under special supervision of some authorities. In the rest of the world, I mean. Here at Phuket, they are only protected, because of this status.

Posted by Anonymous on November 23, 2013 05:37

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I picked up my friends (Chinese), who are staying with my wife (Thai) & I, at the airport. I was asked by a black taxi driver what I was doing.
Only after my wife explained did he walk away. Very uncomfortable to say the least.

Posted by Jacgem on November 23, 2013 08:35

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@Arthur, in many parts of the world, if the police know of an "incident" they investigate it, the "victims" become witnesses, time and time again, here on Phuket (if you lived here you would know), we see the police hesitant to investigate, in fact they actively discourage victims from making a complaint. Why they do this, maybe they are lazy (certainly not overworked) or do they have their "snouts in the trough?" We may never know the reason behind their failure to do their sworn duty.

Posted by DSI Watcher on November 23, 2013 09:50

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Sadly, this is the way things work here in Phuket.Foreigners or Thais considering entering tour business, involving transport and commissions paid by companies, should think about it twice.This is not a free market.
Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are no more thugs than any other oligopole in the world. They protect their business and their territory, and everybody would do the same at their place.
Anyway, the event company hoped to cash in on juicy commissions too, right?

Posted by william on November 23, 2013 10:09

Editor Comment:

Perhaps the event company figured that if there was a commission, they were entitled to it. Some companies prefer to pass on the discount to their guests. The excessive commissions are certainly the cause of the problem.

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This is an example of just how outside the law these tour operators and taxis feel; A few weeks ago in the Billion Dollar Plaza, I parked in front of one of those hijacking tour operators that force tourists to view their offerings. I was meaning to just run into the neighboring newspaper office to pay for an ad. The man came out and told me not to park there, that it was his space- although it really isn't. It's public for anyone using any business at the plaza. When I refused to move, as I was already out of my car, (and there was no where else to park,) telling him it would be "just for a moment," he hit me very hard on my arm and threatened to beat me up. I told him not to touch me again and hurried toward the newspaper office. Luckily the staff paper were outside their business and the man backed off immediately. The newspaper manager told me it would be best to move my car- it was Ok to double park behind his car, and that they had problems with that man before making claims on spaced he has no right to.

I was essentially battered over a parking space. If I'd had a witness, I' would've made a police report.

Posted by Christy S on November 23, 2013 13:00

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@Hotel owner.
Good that you post a comment and you must be frustrated by what goes on. More so though, you and other hotels/ resorts are reluctant to comment too much or identify yourself understandably because of repercussions on your businesses, which in the short term would have a negative impact for you. However, the old saying "short term pain for long term gain" so badly needs to be embraced to deal with the TukTuk, taxi and Minibus thugs. The problem is and always has been who ultimately controls this lucrative market that causes so much grief for honest hard working Thai's and legally operating expats. Lets get to the root of the problem. it is your high ranking government and police officials here in Phuket, supported by their Bangkok counterparts.
Why, well we all know why.
Not until honest people from all areas and businesses bandy together, including large support from the media, will the ongoing issue begin to be addressed at the root of the problem.
Local media need to cover things more openly and the overseas media needs to be given honest and direct lines of regular communication. Additionally, controlled media releases should be sent to ambassadors/embassies of countries like Germany, China and Australia who have already voiced concerns and inturn they release information to guide and steer their countries tourists away from these thugs.
So, publicly embarrass the perpetrators and hurt them where it hurts most. It will take some honest, forward thinking people working in unison to begin taking this tact, but done well and over time will achieve and have far greater results than all the talk and open ended promises we currently get. Ultimately tourists and so many local businesses who currently turn a blind eye to everything, will benefit greatly in the long run.

Posted by Beachboy on November 23, 2013 13:03

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William, what you forget is that the event company has done all the work, i.e. promoting events, advertising their services... everything required to run such a business, all the taxis/tuk tuk drivers have done is use intimidation and at times physical force to commandeer the event companies customers. They are simply racketeers how sadly seem to be above the law. Phuket needs someone like Elliot Ness.

Posted by DSI Watcher on November 23, 2013 13:10

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William, if you read the original email we wrote into Phuket Wan you would see that we were trying to reduce the commission costs to the stag group. Besides reasonable commissions are normal in business throughout the world, its how business works! Its the outrageous excessive amounts that benefit unscrupulous tour firms/taxis and the supplier themselves.

Posted by Event Company on November 23, 2013 13:22

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Please allow me to expand on DSI's comment re police. In October my car was hit in the rear by a 13 yo boy with two passengers on a motorcycle who was speeding on a narrow, no passing road. The police assigned blame to the child and ordered the father to pay me restitution. At that meeting, even though I brought my own translator, police insisted I instead speak through a translator on the telephone who warned me he, "was very worried for my safety" and to accept an absurdly low settlement of 5000 baht. I was asking for 15, 000 which was very fair. He further insisted I'd be sure, "..to have hit men after you." When I told the mediating officer what was being told to me, he simply refused to acknowledge it and his English skills, which were perfectly adequate before, evaporated. I was successfully intimidated and accepted the low offer.
I was played like a fiddle. My lesson? To to always, always take a paid, hopefully impartial lawyer with you when you are in negotiations involving the police. They are simply not on your side. BTW, the child was not charged in any way and got away completely with breaking the law, endangering his passengers and damaging my property.

Posted by Christy S on November 23, 2013 13:58

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@ event company: did you hire legal transport, so minivans with yellow plates?

Posted by stevenl on November 23, 2013 14:15

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@ Beachboy - thank you for the sympathy, but honestly there is not much our branch can do about this problem.

I don't pay any commissions to taxi's and I warn my guests about what to expect when they arrive.

Sometimes I inform the local press about occurrences of bad behavior, but revealing my name in public, would only result in a non pleasant visit from "somebody", so no sense in that.

Local medias do what they can, but they have to protect their sources and solid prove is needed, before anything is written in an article. Have you noticed the announcement written in green under this article?

A scandal in international press sometimes results in a short campaign against the culprits, but destroying the entire reputation of tourism on Phuket in international press, will only hurt business with high investment and low income. They simply go bankrupt.

Business with no investments and high income are very different - like bacteria, if no provisions they die, but as soon as trade activities increases they will revive.

In this case the offenders and thousands of their coworkers pay a fortune in protection money - every day, year around. These money rises up in a pyramidal structure, with the result that the members of this group never get indicted for their offenses.

So basically we speak about a loosely associated army, with the rights given, "to live off the land". It takes an army to beat an army. The state police DSI has already tried, with no success.

Posted by Hotel Owner on November 23, 2013 15:16

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@ Fred
Why are major resorts allowing these thugs to operate at their premises?

Because the management there also have a family and a home etc... Same as government officials that would want to clear out this mess. They quickly come to the conclusion that they love their family's and their own safety more than their job.

Posted by Paul on November 23, 2013 15:29

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@Beachboy - just a clarifying comment. You can't steer tourists away from transportation. Everybody is dependent on that industry. There is no choice here. Jet-skies for instance, you can just boycott, but not these guys.

Posted by Hotel Owner on November 23, 2013 16:48

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@earmuffs
won't happen. Some of the big powers behind the Tuk Tuk m...., eh, cartels is from families, owning hotels, too.
The power is still in old(ish) phuket hands!

Posted by Anonymous on November 23, 2013 17:11

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Hotel Owner, I agree with you and the way you have described the make up of the whole situation is spot on. Its was only a matter of a couple of years ago that the then Phuket Police Commander was asked in a public meeting why he was not doing anything about the taxi and tuk tuk scams, his reply was "because they know where my children go to school" this is the reality of the situation. The DSI or police cannot protect anyone from these gangs

Posted by Event Company on November 23, 2013 17:49

Editor Comment:

There has seldom been a case of violence being attributed to the reason you describe, Event Company, since a bus driver was beaten in the 1990s. If people don't have the courage to stand up for their beliefs, little wonder change has been so long in coming on Phuket.

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Here here Ed.
Can't agree with you more.
I'm ready to stand up, shall "we " start organizing people to get together.
Will ring you early next week.

Posted by Beach boy on November 23, 2013 18:45

Editor Comment:

You may organise whatever you wish. We certainly won't be involved.

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@ Ed - do you mean that there has seldom been a case of violence, proven to the public, in connection with taking over customers from event companies?

Or do you mean there has seldom been mentioned violence, in connection with tuk-tuks or taxi's, who claims the right to transport a group of people?

Posted by Hotel Owner on November 23, 2013 19:56

Editor Comment:

I mean that we've heard no reports or recriminations against individuals and olnly a few where people are directly involved in violence in the space of the past 15 years. Intimidation is a greater issue and that's what should be dealth with - by the authorities, not, as Beachboy appears to be suggesting, by some expat group. Every incident of intimidation should be reported by those involved - resort managers, tour officials, tourists - to the authorities.

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Last night could not post due to 502 Bad Gateway
Ed
Your a joke. You twist and turn, edit content from comments that sometimes changes the context of what people like me are posting and in having the ability to choose not to post articles challenging you, unless it suits you, well you've shown your true colors. I thought you were better than that. Finally, my suggestion before in getting people together was not as an expat group but all people affected, especially Thai business people such as Hotel Owner as they would far outweigh every other affected parties or groups. They would gather and collate events/information from multitudes of locations and present them in a unified front to media and authorities. Your wrong assumption and "implying" made more of an ass of you than me but you probably won't post this, but at least its food for thought for you.

Posted by Beachboy on November 24, 2013 19:58

Editor Comment:

You are free to call as many meetings as you like, beachboy. But any kind of group or gathering you organise will be perceived for what it is: foolish interference. Change will come when the victims show enough courage to go to the authorities and pursue justice for themselves. Stop expecting the media to do it for you.

We encourage beachboy and other readers to try to avoid the personal abuse that always comes when logic disappears from beneath an argument.

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Not far from me there is a residential lane occupied by middle class Thais, all gainfully employed. Then one day an established Phuket family built a business in the lane, working with loud machinery throughout the night, as well as dumping suspected toxins on the property, the fumes which permeated throughout the lane.

The local residents protested their displeasure, first to the business, then to the authorities. Nothing happened, except a series of threats from the business owner. So the residents gave up - all but one courageous local woman homeowner who could not tolerate such an injustice.

It took a long time, receiving an escalating series of threats in the process, but she persevered by making many visits to different island authorities stating her case (the business was in clear violation of the law). After many months of her constant visits to various officials, the business one day moved out of the lane.

The bad news for fitness enthusiasts is that this business has relocated to an area frequented by joggers, cyclists, and walkers. That sickly sweet aroma you detect may not be from the flowering of the area vegetation. . .

Posted by Treelover on November 25, 2013 05:50

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Ed
OK, you've surprised me with your openness and posting my last post. I now look forward to more interaction with you.
In regards to your comment "stop expecting the media to do it for you" is confusing. Surely having a large base of issues collated, prepared and submitted to you or the media in general, would be advantageous in exposing the goings on. It would save you time and effort, yes?
Individuals going to authorities would not carry the same weight as groups of people. Things so, so often get swept under the carpet, forgotten about or purposefully overlooked but when groups, combined with media coverage get together and list the problems, a lot of the time officials hands are then forced to investigate, which "may" and I say may result in some action. You deleted wording from one of my previous posts of an additional legal and effective way to achieve results and I will subsequently save this as a future recommendation for "the people" to instigate.

Posted by Beachboy on November 25, 2013 09:30

Editor Comment:

As a reader who began commenting on Saturday, I suggest you go back and absorb the past six years' coverage on Phuketwan. Otherwise you are wasting my time and other readers' time with uninformed guesswork. There is a system in place for enforcing law and order. The idea is to make it work properly, not impose more talk and anarchy. Individuals must take their problems to the authorities. Change will happen when enough of them do that. We edit falsehoods and myths out of comments. Readers who form wrong impressions (ie, ''Hotel Owner is a Thai'') then regurgitate them as fact are a constant problem.

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Hmmm... Interesting. We were considering that hotel as well for the remaining week of our trip, but decided to skip the whole area instead. :( Quite happy on the other end of the island, actually.
Still, this is not the first report like this, and our own experience isn't much better either. There are so nice, unruined places in this area - where they even speak english... So we will not visit Phuket again. Ever.

Posted by Tony on November 25, 2013 13:37

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I have just returned to phuket for my 8th time in two years and nothing has changed at all!! I. Still get asked for taxi inside airport they quoted 1600 bht I just laughed at them,then the taxi always stop at a office on the way to patong they say ;were you stay? So I tell them and they say ; hotel no good is gone burn down,this had happend 8 times in two years to me so I know they are lying.so that's it I'm never coming back to phuket ever again il take my money elsewhere to spend I'm sick of this every time I come here.

Posted by Anonymous on November 26, 2013 11:11

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"There has seldom been a case of violence being attributed to the reason you describe, Event Company, since a bus driver was beaten in the 1990s. If people don't have the courage to stand up for their beliefs, little wonder change has been so long in coming on Phuket."

I would suggest there has seldom been a case of recrimination because people are smart enough to back down before it happens.

Unless there is the will at national government level to completely demolish this Phuket gangster cartel, it will continue to do whatever it likes.

Posted by Harry Barracuda on December 8, 2013 17:11

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We told Ed months ago that the crackdown led by DSI would be a big flop - big statements at the beginning and hot air and now a pointless exercise. NOTHING has changed

Posted by Damien on December 19, 2013 11:12

Editor Comment:

You're one of those people who expects overnight change, Damien. The problem has taken years to evolve. There are no miracle cures. I would suggest 12 months is a fair time for a thorough assessment, after the new airport controls are in place and the tuk-tuk ranks are banished. August 9, 2014.

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I used to visit phuket 2-3 times a year, upto 2006. I`ve never been back to phuket, but still come to Thailand, every year.
I can`t see myself ever visiting phuket again and tell all my friends not to visit there.
Phuket is a big `rip-off`.......

Posted by ch1ldofthemoon on September 14, 2014 00:40


Monday December 22, 2014
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