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Scuffles mar a dispute between Phuket guides with violence feared

Violent Scuffles Raise Alarm as Phuket Guides Battle Over Tourism's Spoils

Monday, January 6, 2014
PHUKET: A violent scuffle involving opposing Chinese and Thai guides led to a confrontation at a Phuket police station tonight as more than 100 people clashed in a heated argument and a second scuffle.

The issue of qualifications for guides from China and Thailand will stay hot on Phuket tomorrow in the leadup to a gathering on Friday when Thai guides who speak the Chinese language and are mostly unemployed will protest and present a petition to Phuket Governor Maitree Intrusud.

Violence has already broken out with six Thai guides allegedly roughing up Chinese guide Ta Leng in a restaurant near Naka market in Phuket City last night.

Mr Leng, who claims he was struck on the head with a bottle, said he could identify three of the men but six were involved. he visited Vichit Police Station with the owner of the Ti Li Company to press charges and a crowd of about 100 supporters of the three accused men gathered outside.

Undermanned police were powerless to prevent some people in the crowd from scuffling with the two Chinese men as they left the police station.

Facing charges are Somchai Saetung, 39, Surapol Saelub, 24, and Ja Saema, 39. Mr Leng told police that he was sarcastic when he encountered the six men last night in the restaurant and suffered the consequences.

Accusations that Chinese guides are ''stealing jobs from Thai people'' will have to be investigated immediately by Phuket authorities.

Tour companies from some countries engage guides of the same nationality because their language skills are often superior. But Phuket guides make the point that the foreign guides often lack deep knowledge about Phuket's geography, culture and heritage.

Disputes involving Korean tourists flourished and were followed by disputes involving Russian tourists. Chinese tourist disputes now appear to be following a similar pattern. Incidents involving violence, however, have been rare until now.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


After 15 years working in the tourism industry, I have yet to meet a Thai guide that can even speak english fluently, even though there are supposedly hordes of them here..So, I can say with confidence that there are very very few, if any, licenced guides that can "speak the chinese language". Thai guides are the least competent in all of Asia, maybe the world.
It's weird, if I go to Burma, a country just emerging after decades of military misrule and isolation, I will meet loca lguides that actually can speak foreign languages, english, french, spanish, chinese and even thai very very well. I mean, it's really really hard to find a person, any person, that speaks fluent english. Abhisit is about the only one I have heard that can REALLY speak english. Most high level foreign educated people here, be it officials or ministers, speak terrible english. I don't know why, but it's a fact.

Posted by christian on January 6, 2014 23:22


Well, Phuketians, it's a brave new world - a globalized world, so get used to it. Secondly, Phuket is now rated as a discount tourist destination, but surely TAT will insist it's not, but it is. You have Euro trash, Russia trash, China trash, trash, trash, trash, quite fitting for a trashy and polluted island!

Posted by Wilai on January 7, 2014 01:05


Thai people's lack of English language abilities continues to surprise me, especially in popular tourist areas such as Phuket.

On many occasions, the taxi and minibus drivers who phone ahead to my hotel for directions are unable to speak more than a few simple words of English.

After giving them directions (in Thai language of course), I often ask them (the face-losing question) as to why they cannot speak English.

'If I can learn to speak Thai, why can't you learn English? This has been a tourist destination for decades'

Although the main reason for this lack of language skills is certainly due to the p*ss-poor educational system in Thailand, blame also rests with the individual, who prefers to rest on his/her laurels, rather than make the effort to improve themselves.


Posted by Simon Luttrell on January 7, 2014 07:12


I agree with Christian and Simon. Last year my wife and I visited Burma and we were allocated a guide who spoke almost perfect English. I asked her where she learned to speak such good English and she said she was taught the basics at school and followed that up by attending evening classes. The rest she picked up by listening to foreigners and writing down and then using phrases that were new to her. Even our driver could speak a smattering of English. In that regard Burma is far and away ahead of Thailand as far as basic education and self study is concerned. Thais are too lazy and their education system lacks the know-how.

Posted by Pete on January 7, 2014 08:42

Editor Comment:

''Thais are too lazy and their education system lacks the know-how.''
Total nonsense, Pete. The difference is that Burma was colonised by the British and good learning habits, as well as the language bonus, sprang from that. The education system in Thailand is deprived because revenue is diverted into the pockets of individuals through corruption. To suggest that learning habits are bad because of a national trait is bigotry.


This will be very interesting with 2015 approaching. The year of the ASEAN community. I'm afraid that Thailand has already fallen overboard. As so many thai people are lacking the ability to speak another language other than thai, and then sometimes with a southern or northern accent. Education is decades behind, and it looks that there is no improvement in sight. The priorities of so many Thais are too mixed up. Rather having the latest smartphone, than being smart. Rather having a 1000 baht fashion style haircut, than spend some money for good education. Instead of rising, this country is sinking. And to smack somebody over the head with a bottle, is really prove that the brain cells are in a tight knot.

Posted by Charles on January 7, 2014 09:05


The problem is not that Thai people don't speak English. I know plenty of travel agent representatives, concierge, receptionists etc. who speak English very well. The problem is that anybody can become a tour-guide without having to proof any kind of qualifications. This job is unregulated and having people working on commissions mostly, it already got it's reputation as a low-class employment. Qualified Thais simply find better opportunities.

Posted by Jakubp on January 7, 2014 09:11


Ed - British colonization has NOTHING to do with Burmese English skills.

Fact - The Burmese resented the British colonization and even rioted violently all the way through 1932. During the British stay the Burmese population had little interaction with the British as throughout the colonial era it was mostly Indians that served as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders. The British influence was contained for the most part to Rangoon. Since 1948 the country has been ruled by the military who I am sure has not pushed for English literacy.
The current generation would have had little influence from the British occupation.
It would be like saying Thai's can easily speak Japanese since Thailand was allied with the Japanese. Of course just as the Burmese with the Brits, the Thai's also came to resent the Japanese.

Posted by Richard on January 7, 2014 10:12

Editor Comment:

Spot the difference: Britain in Burma 1824-1948. Japan in Thailand 1941-1944.
Your guesswork about the future has been moderated out.


"The problem is that anybody can become a tour-guide without having to proof any kind of qualifications. This job is unregulated and having people working on commissions mostly, it already got it's reputation as a low-class employment."

All simply not true.

Posted by stevenl on January 7, 2014 10:43


If only it was about "tour guiding" - offering tourists real insight into the island's heritage and nature. Sadly it's mostly about marching bus loads of naive first time tourists into overpriced shops selling absolute tat (ironically, much of it made in China!!)

Posted by barry on January 7, 2014 11:57


Most of the Thais I have come into contact with in Phuket speak English pretty well..even in the boonies of Trang lots of people do...most learned by contact with tourists/industry..not from schooling. Met a young lady years ago who taught herself by wading through an English novel..get over it SIl and several Thai friends can speak or get by in German, Russian, English,French and a little Chinese..all self taught. Me ..still have a problem speaking ENGLISH.LOL

Posted by david on January 7, 2014 13:06



Define "pretty well"..Most people in Phuket can understand and talk a bit of english, and some can even handle conversational english. But real fluent speakers are extremely rare. And if you are a licensed tour guide you are supposed to be able to explain complicated subjects such as religion, history and culture in a sophisticated and engaging manner in the language you have a license for. An extremely rare thing here, but not in other asian countries.

Posted by christian on January 7, 2014 16:13


Concerning the comments about Myanmar/Burma.

Although my home/business is in Phuket, I spend term-time teaching English in Yangon, Myanmar. I teach both young children and adults.

After Burma gained independence from Britain, teaching of English was discouraged. The government also 'snubbed' their colonial ex-masters by changing driving on the left to driving on the right!

Older Myanmar people speak good English, whilst many adults born post-1945 have poor English skills.

But both the government and Myanmar people now recognise the need for their children to learn English, to compete in the modern world and especially in the ASEAN community.

My adult students are serious about learning the language - I'm proud to be able to help them.

My young students (7-8 years old) at the international school where I teach are taught the whole curriculum in English. They are eager to learn the language. By the way, they also learn Myanmar language AND Mandarin Chinese.

Outside of the Myanmar private schools, the government schools teach written English, although spoken English practice is difficult, due to the lack of native English speakers. But what they lack in facilities, they make up many times by their keenest to learn and to improve their situation.

I am very fortunate to live this 'double-life' of living and experiencing Phuket (the pearl of the Andaman, ha-ha!) during school holidays, and then experiencing the stark reality of Yangon.

At the end of the day, employers will choose the best person for the job. As ASEAN full integration looms, these Thai tour guides should stop complaining and start working/studying to improve themselves and their service.


Posted by Simon Luttrell on January 7, 2014 18:13


am not moderated again am i?

Posted by Frog on January 8, 2014 11:18

Editor Comment:

To say ''No one trust Thais anymore'' is offensive and untrue. You need to get out more, during daylight hours.


I work in thai tourism company. We have good-speaking english thai guides and poor-speaking as well. The main answer to "why you don't try to improve your language skills" is "I'm lazy" or "I don't have reason, my salary wouldn't be more".
So my expirience gives me only one explanation as to why local guides are incompetitive with foreign ones - laziness and lack of real incentive. Thanks.

Posted by Stranger on January 8, 2014 12:08


ok, can i say people lacking of trust for tour guides from Thailand and prefer countrymen? but being ripped off isnt offensive? or is it untrue that that happens to much? lets go to Thailand not Phuket and u see the difference. night and daytime.. U also should know that after 10 years here i seen more then i have to sometimes and i do work with more then 60 locals and atourithies on top of that.. dont claim u are the only one got knowledge about whats happen here.. thank u.

Posted by Frog on January 8, 2014 12:58

Editor Comment:

I don't ''claim to be the only one with knowledge about what happens here'' but I can tell a false accusation when I see one. You need to be able to put whatever problems you have accurately. You wrote: ''there is only one problem and that is that No one trust Thais anymore.'' That's just not true. It's certainly true that some people prefer to have guides from their own country. It's my job to try to stop readers from making inaccurate comments.

Thursday January 27, 2022
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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