A few months ago i ran a story about how the Junta in Thailand was proposing to tighten up all the drinking laws, forcing bars to close early and banning advertising etc. It was entitled â€śThailand Shoots Itself In The Foot With New Alcohol Lawsâ€ť. Well, it seems like they have decided to shoot themselves in the other foot now.
I lived in Bangkok for 4 years and I loved it. I love the Thai people, the culture, the food and was even getting to grips with the language, albeit a â€?restauranteseâ€™ version. Things changed and I came to Saigon which I also love, in fact of the two cities I actually prefer Saigon, but that is by the by. When I lived in Thailand I travelled throughout the country and enjoyed Chang Mai, where I lived briefly and the islands in the South. I thought Isaan was fascinating and would love to see more of it. In September I had the chance to return on a very brief business trip and loved it, it had that familiarity that one feels when returning home.
I was in Bangkok in 2010 when all the troubles were at their peak. In fact my arrival in 2008 was delayed because the Yellow Shirts had closed the airport. After the election and the subsequent win by the Red Shirts, things quietened down for a while. Soon however the political elite grew increasingly frustrated that the Red Shirts had control and it all started up again. The resultant carnage left more than 80 civilians and 6 police dead, more than 2100 injured and saw buildings and even shopping malls burned down. The Chinese have a saying, â€śMay you live in interesting timesâ€ť Those of us in Bangkok at this time certainly did.
Once again things quietened down again, but trouble of a political kind is never far away in Thailand. Once again unrest started to take over the city and the Black Shirts, who claim to be neutral, started making noises. This of course resulted in the military coup which saw the current military junta in place and â€?runningâ€™ the country. Some of my friends in the bar business have related stories to me of quite aggressive policing and one friend was forced to give a urine sample in public, to prove he was drug free.
Stories are now coming out of Bangkok with alarming regularity, of police and army bully-boy tactics and oppressive behaviour towards foreigners. That they should start targeting holiday makers is a classic faux pas by a military regime that wouldnâ€™t recognise a damaged economy until the banks closed. A woman recently wrote in to one of the major newspapers in Thailand and described how, with her fiancĂ©, they were stopped and searched twice in two days in the street in Bangkok. On the second occasion, again the guy was forced to give a urine sample in the street. The letter started with the woman saying, â€śWe are two white European tourists. After only one weekend in Bangkok, weâ€™re leaving to visit more welcoming Southeast Asian citiesâ€ť. and ended with, â€śThis is our first and last visit to Thailand. The atmosphere is oppressive and intimidating. The bars and clubs close earlier than other cities.â€ť
At the same time as all this is going on, The junta decide that to clean up Bangkok they have to close down all the massage parlours on Sukhumvit road, that are offering extras to customers. That will be about 90% of them, then. With the usual Thai un-joined up efficiency, it was only Thonglor Police District that was affected with hundreds of establishments on Sukhumvit Sois 22, 24, 26 and 33, raided. More boarded up shop premises, more girls working on the streets and no obvious improvement for the citizens and visitors to Bangkok. It might well be that after a day or two they will all open again, no doubt paying a larger amount of â€?tea moneyâ€™. Again this is the Thai way, it doesnâ€™t matter if you are achieving anything or not, just as long as you are seen to be doing something. Never mind the fact that all the police and army have their own little â€?placesâ€™ where they can go for a massage and a happy ending; just show a bit of strength, suck up to your commanding officers and hey presto, job done.
Meanwhile in Phuket, police officers have taken to wandering onto beaches to confiscate parasols that holiday makers have brought themselves as they are making the place look untidy. In a Keystone Cops like operation police and army officers raided Surin Beach and confiscated umbrellas and sun loungers, leaving holiday makers fuming and vowing never to come back to Thailand. The confusion is nothing if not humorous. Local party officials in an attempt to â€?clean upâ€™ the beach, have banned the local vendors from renting out equipment. For years the vendors have paid their weekly â€?tea moneyâ€™ to the police, in order to be allowed to operate. But the Junta wants the place to â€?look niceâ€™, whatever that means. So heavy handed officials decided that this ruling included tourists, and their personal property. It took intervention from The Thai Royal Navy to smooth over the mess. But not of course before the story hit the Worldwide media, with newspapers in many countries running stories that will hardly boost next years holiday season.
Well done Thailand, you have managed yet again to turn a bad holiday season into a disaster. Already this year the country has lost more than a million holidays. At the same time Vietnam and Cambodia are reporting record tourism figures. What an amazing coincidence. Once again Bangkokâ€™s loss is Saigonâ€™s gain.
As for the people who were bemoaning the Red Shirt government, you know what they say. Be careful what you wish ask for