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Tuk-Tuk Drivers Rule: Last Phuket Chance

Tuk-Tuk Drivers Rule: Last Phuket Chance

Sunday, March 9, 2014
News Analysis

PHUKET: We at Phuketwan owe readers an apology.

A tuk-tuk blockade in Patong and the revelation that passports are being easily stolen and bought on Phuket made us realise this week how wrong we have been.

Phuket remains a lawless place, where anything goes, despite the hopes we had for change sparked by the excellent advice of European Union and Chinese Ambassadors last year.

While the holiday island gives the appearance that it's a safer place and 99.9 percent of tourists go home happy, the tuk-tuk blockade proved who really runs the island.

It's plain that police are powerless. It's plain that the compromises attempted by administrators over the past 15 years have achieved nothing.

We believe that Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak - our Phuketwan Phuket Person of the Year 2013 - and Region 8 Commander Major General Panya Mamen are sincere and want Phuket to be a better place for both residents and tourists.

But if tuk-tuk drivers can take over the streets of Patong on a whim and be allowed to get away with it, Phuket has not place on any list of desirable destinations, or pleasant places to live.

That was this week's first shock realisation. The revelations that have followed the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been just as damning.

Phuket's motorcycle and car renters are supposed to have been ordered to cease taking passports as collateral.

It's illegal. Envoys from Europe, Australia and elsewhere have repeatedly pointed out the dangers of rip-offs and the risks individuals take by handing their most important document to strangers.

Phuket is supposed to be Thailand's first truly international destination. Yet there are no signs that international standards are being adopted, or even that there is a willingness to adopt international standards.

So once again we call on the Thai Government to make Phuket the place it should be, for residents and visitors, by conducting a strenuous no-holds-barred campaign to obliterate corruption on the island.

Put a hard, incorruptible man (or woman) in charge. Give him the chance that Phuket deserves to be made the role model for the rest of Thailand.

Then, when Phuket is corruption free, when the environment is properly protected, when sustainability has been achieved, take the Phuket model and make every province in Thailand as good as Phuket.

To ignore the important lessons of this week by not acting would mean a significant defeat to those of us who believe Phuket still deserves a chance.

But Phuket is ruled by its tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. And international standards are still constantly and almost universally ignored.

Here is a checklist of the seven items that the European Union ambassadors, meeting with the Phuket Governor in mid 2013, thought should be pursued.

The EU Ambassadors' List of Seven Phuket Necessities

.. An efficient and fairly priced public transport system in Phuket which is available to foreign tourists and residents alike.

.. An end to intimidatory and violent behavior by an element of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers.

.. Strict enforcement of marine safety standards, including flags on beaches to indicate when it is safe to swim.

.. Strict enforcement of standards of behavior for public officials, including police and Immigration, to ensure that foreign visitors and residents feel protected, treated in a fair way and never at risk of extortion.

.. An end to scams involving hiring of equipment such as jet skis or motorbikes.

.. Strict enforcement of road safety regulations.

.. Promotion of environmental issues, including monitoring of water quality.

We'll let readers consider whether progress has been made.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


At last! The Ed has finally seen the light ! Welcome to reality Alan, it's great to see you here mate :-)

Posted by At last! on March 10, 2014 00:11


Ed thank you for the apology, it is accepted, but I am not going to cheer because you have been calling me a doomsayer since March 2011. This means that you now see what "us" doomsayers have been saying, but it only fell on deaf ears.Nobody in authority here had any intention to change the pecking order at the food trough, only to wait to be moved away by the 6 monthly government shuffles, or the time for retirement came around. I said way back in 2011 that corruption will kill Phuket and I was told to shut up or eF off out of here.I am still here but unless serious punishment and proper law cases are meted out to the corrupt officials and those paying the tea money,( Like Singapore did), the grinding wheel will continue to grind Phuket into dust. Even the many empty condo and shoe box houses will crumble in to dust, like the rotting apartment complex at the northern end of Patong's northern end. The golden goose is dead and rotted away, the gravy train wheels belong to the mafia tuk tuk cartels and A sincere diplomat is like dry water or a wooden iron . . . useless. Time for change left in 2011.

Posted by Robin on March 10, 2014 01:30

Editor Comment:

Doomsayers are partly to blame for the lack of change because they do nothing. Change has to come, the only question is whether it will come in time now.


Excellent article....

Posted by robert smith on March 10, 2014 05:36


Fine, but I think you will find they had their chance, and Bangkok's a bit busy at the moment

Posted by phonus balonus on March 10, 2014 05:38


The cornerstone of democracy is the legal system, sadly there are entities above the law.

Posted by gee on March 10, 2014 07:32


BEST ARTICE I have read on the site ! .. Shame that nothing will change .. The quality of PHUKET and the people running the place is long gone..

Posted by Danny on March 10, 2014 07:42


99.9% of tourists go home happy... Does this figure come from a real life survey?

Posted by Nick on March 10, 2014 08:01


Ed, When the tuk tuk drivers took over the streets of Patong recently, the Police gave into their demands...again. They were angry because the Police were arresting drivers caught in a sting operation. The Police were finally doing their job to affect some change. When the Police gave into all the tuk tuk drivers demands, including transferring the top cop, it just empowered the Taxi monopoly further. Readers wrote many comments to PW stating that the Police should have stood-up against the tuk tuk blockade. You shot down all those commenters, saying that "violence is not the way to change". Nobody was talking about violence....Just the Police doing their job. Keeping the streets clear. Making arrests of wrongdoers. I don't doubt that their would have been a violent reply from the tuk tuk drivers, but these guys aren't going to change by talking...If the tuk tuk drivers fight back against authority, then arrest them and make their sentences long and hard! Make fighting against authority a serious crime and this would deter them. This is what what crime and punishment is all about. If they were afraid of the consequences of fighting against the Police, things could change. Sooner or later the only way is a confrontation between the authorities and the taxi monopoly. I'm sure it's going to be messy but these guys aren't going anywhere without a fight. We all want change... We want to be able to take a meter cab, same as Bangkok. We want to be able to park our cars without fear of damage from some monopoly that owns the streets. But if the Police cannot stand their ground it will never happen. There has to be a confrontation eventually...

Posted by Tim on March 10, 2014 08:43

Editor Comment:

No police superintendent is going to take risks by acting unless he has the numbers. Confrontation has to be avoided for now. The lesson this week is plain. As we've said before, a strategy for reform is what's needed. That requires first up, a strategist.


Your 'mea culpa' moment is praiseworthy. It is only sad that an eternal Phuket optimist such as yourself has come to recognise that even as 'hope springs eternal' the many major problems facing the island are nigh insoluble. I voted with my feet three years ago and moved north.

Posted by Michael on March 10, 2014 09:18

Editor Comment:

I think that's a problem, Michael, when people leave a place and still make judgements based on the place they knew. There have been changes for the better, just not enough of them to make the kind of impression that's required.


Now please apply these revelations to the entire nation, and PW will be presenting the full story.
I have a dream wish, however, that resident foreigners would one day take Phuket over and apply our democratic principles to its governance. A new concept in nation building, we've already started with sites like these. Thank you, Phuket Wan

Posted by The Night Mare on March 10, 2014 09:20

Editor Comment:

There are some aspects of life on Phuket and in Thailand that stand as an example to the world so it's more a matter or preserving the good and adapting as Phuket and Thailand grow even more international. But without a game plan, upheavals and rebellions become a part of the process.


"Doomsayers are partly to blame for the lack of change because they do nothing. " Generalizations yet again. Some of your so-called doomsayers HAVE campaigned for change to no avail. Things like asking senior police officers why they do nothing to prevent traffic accidents in a small village that are preventable by cutting down on the illegal use of motorbikes is just one example. I was been met with blank looks and 'mind your own business, this is not your country' The no progress attitude is not that o your readers, more that of those with the real power to instigate change but remain ambivalent. 7 months after your much-vaunted arrival of the white knights of the DSI things are, if anything worse than before, but you continue to belittle others. You've certainly changed your tune since incurring the wrath of the Thai navy, one wonders at why?

Posted by Mister Ree on March 10, 2014 09:21

Editor Comment:

We don't belittle anybody, but we certainly do challenge bad ideas. Our approach hasn't changed and we have about as much concern about our fate as we do about your opinion. Putting your own motivations into the minds of others is your problem, Mr Ree. We simply aren't obsessed by self-interest, a negative shared by the corrupt and many Doomsayers. We don't abandon hope as easily as the Doomsayers do, either.


Good one mate....but where to find an Elliot Ness Untouchable that is not in the pork barrel? Probably would have to come from Singapore or? But "they" would not let that happen methinks.

Posted by David on March 10, 2014 09:22

Editor Comment:

There are plenty of good, honest Thais but not enough good, honest leaders.


It's all up to the locals, expats don't have and never had a say in this. On average, there is at least 1 taxi and/or TukTuk driver in every Phuket family. If they don't realize the damage that is done to the island and keep their eyes blindly focused on the money they can get today without planning for tomorrow, there is not much hope left. Unfortunately strategic planning is not really a key-strength among the officials here who are closing their eyes way too often and open only if it's for their personal benefit.

Posted by Jakub on March 10, 2014 09:30

Editor Comment:

Expats and tourists have a huge say. As Phuket becomes more international, so its administrations should become more international. That's what's not happening. The honorary consuls' meetings should have grown in significance as a forum for all kinds of ideas and suggestions. Sadly, that hasn't happened. It's time, though, that the island's ''owners'' came into the 21st Century.


The doomsayers in no way, shape or form "partly responsible" for the lack of change.
Most of us are foreigners with no vote and no power.
You and your blog were not doomsayers, yet, you accomplished no concrete change at all.

As I have said before, only when Thai people themselves come out on to the streets with counter-protests against the greed and corruption shown by government agencies and certain business interests will change ever begin.

As to the apology, all I see is the statement that you "owe" your readers an apology, yet, there isn't an apology.

Posted by sir burr on March 10, 2014 09:33

Editor Comment:

Advocating no change is wrong, whether you're a tuk-tuk driver or a Doomsayer. Saying ''nothing will ever change'' is the mantra of the defeated. The need is for more people to advocate change and pursue it.


It takes a man to apologise, well done. I don't like the word "doomsayers" in fact most are "realists," I welcome PW to the "Realists" club. As expats we are all aware that there isn't much we can do, we are totally ignored/shunned by the authorities and seem as a pain in the arse. What we can do is highlight the problems and hope that the word gets out to the rest of the world, this then impacts on investment and tourism, in other words the ONLY thing that motivates greed, the all mighty baht.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 10, 2014 09:39


Impressed to read a reality take on what so many have known for so long Alan, well done on the article. If only we could say more on what the authorities continue to deny, but those who face up to the daily pressures from the collectors and real powers on Phuket cannot for fear of reprisal be it the Tourist Police and their monthly pocket money from business along with the long list of other 'collection groups' which some have highlighted only for zero to be done about so where do we go from here? One last chance? I think the days of chances are well and truly behind us, their is no local authority strong or brave enough to take on the real powers that be and the only outcome that can effect real change will be the demise of this once great tourist attraction after which the the money hungry will no doubt depart to the next best option to continue their rape of all that is good about Thailand.

Posted by Me on March 10, 2014 11:02


At no time have I ever advocated "no change". I would love it to change, but, I have always known that change must come from Thai people themselves. As stated in other reader's comments, as foreigners, we are powerless.
You can go on formulating all the X-point plans you want that will rectify all the many problems that Phuket has, but, without someone that not only has the power, but, the willingness to act and continue acting, then nothing will happen, as you have now realised. It has taken you a few years of hard observation. Exactly the same process that many of your readers have gone through that have lived here many more years than yourself.

PS. I support your stand against the outrageous position of the Thai Navy. I wish you all the best on that subject.

Posted by sir burr on March 10, 2014 11:47

Editor Comment:

I haven't realised anything of the kind, but what I gathered long ago is the Doomsayer's habit of imposing their gloom on everyone and everything and then pretending they have it right. I'm not interested in your cadaverous view of the world. The problem is that the longer people stay on Phuket, the more they think they know. What actually happens is their brains atrophy and cease to function, so no new thoughts enter. And yet new thoughts are most important, unless you wish to live in the past forever.


@sir burr, I couldn't agree more. To think that expats have any say about what goes on here in Phuket is simply not true. Only when the Thai's want change will the change come.
Saying "nothing will ever change" is the mantra of the Thai's here on Phuket, when they are affected by the results of their choices only then will the mantra change.
Ed, you are correct,"The need is for more people to advocate change and pursue it" - but that doesn't mean more expats - it means more Thai's.
The powers that be will NEVER be told what to do by none Thai's.
I am not a doomsayer just being realistic.
One step forward - 3 back,17 years here and apart from infrastructure and business investment changing, the mindset of the locals doesn't change.
Might as well go bang your head on a brick wall.This is my opinion.

Posted by G Horne on March 10, 2014 12:11


@ Laurie Howells and Robin and others congratulating ed for his appology..What appology? Where? He only says he OWES one and is not man enough to actually give it on his site..a leopard doesn't change its spots!!

Posted by Andre on March 10, 2014 13:07

Editor Comment:

You certainly become spottier and still have nothing of value to say, Andre.


This is one subject I'm not happy about having been right about, but I appreciate the admission.

To say PW has not changed anything is very unfair. Sure the same decades old problems persist and some have even grown worse but PW has made a difference in introducing at least a hint of what is seriously lacking in Thai society in general:


For too long the established island media outlets practiced self censorship, proudly declaring " We know what to write about and what not "

PW was having none of that and it takes some serious cahones to go against the powerful flow and press on with what you believe in.

Awareness had grown immensely on Phuket, if not among locals then at least among foreign visitors and those abroad.

Phuket receives a lot more coverage in international media than it ever did and for a large part we have PW to thank for that.

Ironically this seems to be the very reason why local authorities are strong-arming PW in their attempt to silence it.

I sincerely hope they do not succeed and that Alan and Chutima have the energy, will and funds to continue fighting for what they believe in.

I salute and thank you both. Don't give up.

Posted by ThaiMike on March 10, 2014 13:37

Editor Comment:

Thanks, ThaiMike.


"I don't like the word "doomsayers" in fact most are "realists," I welcome PW to the "Realists" club."

I am very realistic as well, just with a completely different perspective. Does that make me a positive realist and you a negative realist?

Posted by stevenl on March 10, 2014 13:49

Editor Comment:

We prefer not to join clubs, stevenl. Realists know that change is inevitable: Doomsayers, otherwise known as no-hopers, do not.


"There are plenty of good, honest Thais but not enough good, honest leaders."

sad but true..the good and honest have better things to do ..doing honest and good things maybe? Governance and "good and honest" is sadly an oxymoron.

Posted by david on March 10, 2014 14:33

Editor Comment:

No distortions please. As we said, there are good, honest leaders, but not enough of them.


@Andre, technically you may well be correct, but that is up to debate. To me if someone said they owe me an apology then I would take that as an acknowledgement that they were wrong, and I would accept that as good enough. You may not, you are entitled to your belief, allow us to have ours.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 10, 2014 14:41


@stevani, once again you get things wrong, keep trying, I'm sure one day you will get things right. A realist is neither positive or negative, they simply face reality, something one day hopefully you to can accomplish.

Ed, your reply to Jakub raised the issue of the honorary consuls meeting, I suspect the governor stopped these simply because the honorary consuls proved too embarrassing. Phuket needs a strong captain.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 10, 2014 14:53


Strict form of controls must be in placed... to limit number of licensed taxi or tuktuk, without any restrictions to the number would mean more drivers competing for business = demand for higher fee eventually. Private operators should not be allow to adjust taxi fee, should instead be controlled by government base on fluctuation in fuel cost...Government must take serious action against illegal operators as this serves to protect safety of tourists and it must introduces a penalty system to punish wrong doers...points deduction to bad drivers....all taxi must be fitted with meter...doesnt matter if the starting fee is higher than other region even bkk, this must starts now.

Posted by Thai in Phuket on March 10, 2014 14:58


If you pay a bribe, 'own' property, break traffic laws or procure a prostitute your part of the problem. So many here believe the law doesn't apply to them.

Posted by gee on March 10, 2014 17:04


I object on this one:
"Expats and tourists have a huge say."

IF Phukets administrations would become more international,
IF the honorary consuls' meetings would have grown in significance as a forum for all kinds of ideas and suggestions, protocolled, put into agendas and into some kind of middle-to-long-term island development planning and
IF the island's ''owners'' came into the 21st Century,

THEN expats and tourists would have a say. As you mentioned, all this is not the case and the only one who have a say here are the ones who triggered this article. You find them around police stations when something is not up to their liking. Some of them you also find in uniforms in the police stations behind some desks.

Theoretically, the most power still should have the tourists who are paying for basically everything here. If the flow of tourists would slow down, a move towards a different approach to make the island more attractive might start sparking in some heads. But this is not the case yet. The airport is just being expended because the numbers don't go down and there is still enough cake to share the easy way before it will be necessary to start questioning the model. I am very confident change will come. But this is not the time yet. Things always need to get worse before it gets better.

Posted by Jakub on March 10, 2014 17:27

Editor Comment:

There was a time when all complaints went to the TAT but there are now Internet sites that review all destinations around the world and more active ambassadors who respond when their citizens are not treated well. So any attempt to hide problems rather than fixing the problems is much more liable to be exposed these days. Rihanna tweets, the world listens. Expats and tourists have a huge say.


Of course tourists/ foreigners have a say or at the very least we can determine whether or not we contribute to such issues.
We can decide to travel to Phuket or we can decide to go elsewhere where better services are provided. We also can provide recommendations on whether or not certain destinations are worthwhile.
While most agree that the issues being discussed can be improved, governance could be better and local authorities could do a better job, why do people decide to travel to a developing country in the first place. We seem to be trying to turn Phuket into the very same place as we normally live and with the predictability that we experience at home. The reason I travel to Phuket is for family obligations and the contrast to normal life, the Wild West, the street mayhem and on return home, appreciate how good life really is.
If I want clean water, minimal crime, no rip offs and quality services, I can just stay at home.
People have the choice to vote and make a decision as to whether any destination provides overall satisfaction and value.
Phuket provides this, although it is far less enjoyable than say 10 years ago. You know what to expect most of the time and experience allows you to avoid dangerous situations.

Posted by Manowar on March 10, 2014 18:19


Welcome to the darkside.. We have cookies.

Sad to say we all go through a cycle.. The initial love affair.. The first appreciation for the rot.. The hope to try and fix it.. The disguest and fight to try to effect positive change.. and finally.. Either becoming one of those awful grumpy expats who hate the people they live among, walling yourself in your ivory tower west coast if you can afford it, with a mae baan to do your errands, or realizing you need to leave to preserve your own dignity.

I know few people, who dont have vested tourist based businesses they need to protect, who have managed a 10 year residence without coming to the same conclusion.

Posted by LivinLOS on March 10, 2014 18:33


I am one of the realists, I suppose, and I do not see changes coming in the near future. Whatever they say or propose. But I have my own thoughts here by this article, and that is: I read a lot of comments, in regards to the tuk tuk gang, but how many of these readers have actually taken the airport bus already, just to try to make a difference? If the world needs a change, maybe we should start with small steps ourself.

Posted by Charles on March 10, 2014 19:32


Thank you for your article. I cannot agree more.

Phuket and its local people has offered me many great memories. That of which I'm truly thankful for.

But being chased down by a drunk tuk tuk driver, screaming and yelling in Thai just because he wanted to race down the streets of Patong faster than everyone else... is not my best memory of Thailand's truly international destination.

Being monopolizing mafia of transportation and ripping tourists off is not enough to keep them happy i suppose.

Posted by Alex on March 10, 2014 22:03

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