Is Thailand going from land of smiles to land of shakedowns?
A number of over-eager police officers are taking advantage of Thailand’s new military-backed regime and martial law to turn tourism into a cash cow, some tourists believe.
On-the-spot fines for throwing cigarette butts on the street and demands to provide urine samples are a few of the examples of growing harassment of tourists by Thai police, as detailed in a recent article in Time magazine. The article’s subtitle is: “The land of smiles? How about the land of shakedowns?”
The article is based on dozens of articles in local newspapers about complaints to embassies, blog posts and updates on social media. The problem is especially acute in and around Bangkok’s nightlife, where tourists feel persecuted by aggressive police officers.
“If you go to Sukhumvit Road you can see the police on the hunt for tourists who are smoking and throwing down cigarette butts. Tourists will be asked to show their passports and pay a fine of 2,000 baht (€54). It happens all the time,” anti-corruption politician Chuwit Kamovisit tells Time magazine.
Police also lie in wait for tourists when they leave the red-light district Soi Cowboy, he adds. There, tourists are asked if they have used drugs and are forced to provide urine samples. Refusing will cost an immediate fine of 20,000 baht. Tourists have also been falsely accused of buying drugs, with massive fines demanded.
Embassies have had to step in to solve issues between tourists and the authorities. In December, British Ambassador Mark Kent discussed the issue of tourists’ increasing uneasiness about police with the Thai government.
[pictured: Bangkok; courtesy TAT]