Complaining about inequality in the law in Thailand is commonplace among the 'farang' who live there. This inequality is so bad that even the tourists are starting to complain about it. I'll give you an example for those not familiar with this problem; If a lone traffic officer is roadside, looking for the occasional misdemeanour such as no seat belt or speeding, and you the tourist are driving with two or three cars driven by Thai's, have a guess which one he is going to flag down?
If he stops a Thai it will be a 200 baht fixed penalty notice. He will likely ask the Thai to pay him but the Thai has the option of going to the Police station with the ticket and paying over the counter. In fact the average Thai on the road has only a few baht in his pocket and will have to go the next day after borrowing off half his family to pay it, or go via an ATM, so he cannot take the shortcut route and go on his merry way. He cannot afford that luxury. He will take the ticket along with a bit of verbal bollocking and off he goes. But you? You are a tourist. You have money in your pocket and a considerably bigger quantity of it too. He will stop you and ask you to pay him and write the ticket out in Thai. He will tell you it is 400bht or maybe even go for gold and tell you it is 1000bht. And you will think, 'ooh, that's only £7' and give him the money. Not least because you don't know where the Police station is or how to pay the fine so you are happy with the arrangement, and so is he because he is now at least 200bht richer. And more if he doesn't bother to pay the fixed penalty.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking he is doing you a favour, or that this is the way the fine system works. I know a divorced woman in Bangkok whose son goes to university the expense of which is way beyond her meagre means. Her ex-husband gives her 350 Baht every day to pay for food so she can pay for their son's education. Her ex-husband is a Police officer, he doesn't earn 350 Baht every day, and he has a new family of four to keep besides his ex.
Is it corruption? I would suggest any possibility of a public servant being able to exchange favour for financial gain will lead to corruption on a larger scale, and it does. If you are stopped for drink driving at night there will be three or four officers present and it is going to cost you five or six thousand Baht to keep you out of jail and there are countless stories like the couple who were accused of stealing at Suvarnabhumi airport who had to find $4,000 before being allowed to go home.
It gets worse. If you find yourself locked up in a Police station, you have to pay for your food and drink. You can also be made to pay for your lodgings which you may also be sharing with some wholly undesirable reprobates, and note: that was plural. So now you hand over five hundred baht to the officer and ask him to get you some cigarettes, a bottle of water and something to eat and never see him again and you are reduced to begging from an old lady who comes several hours later to give her nephew something and you shell out the money again, if you still have any after the officer at the desk has emptied out your pockets. But you are not yet worried because you know you are innocent and this will soon be sorted out because when you were asked if you would like anyone told you are here, you answered, 'tell my embassy'. And when the nice Thai chap with very good English who has been sent officially to ask you what happened and tells you he can sort it out 'no problem' you are understandably relieved.
Then he tells you that you need a lawyer and will have to pay first and you do not have 50,000 Baht with you so you have to get it wired. And yet another day goes by which means you need yet more money and the nice chap says 'yes everything ok but have to pay for court fee's' and you need another 50k. This will go on for a week until you are £4,000 lighter and haven't washed or slept for three days and have diarrhoea from drinking the tap water. Then you will be released and you go home, having paid again for your airline ticket, and heartbroken that your holiday ended in tears and three days later it dawns on you. You have been scammed. You never saw a judge, never saw a lawyer, and you never saw anyone from your embassy. And you have to ask 'How on Earth did you end up in this mess?'. The answer is simple, you panicked and you believed everything you were told.
Fortunately incidences on this scale are rare but the traffic piggy bank is considered normal and overlooked by the authorities. You have no choice, you have to pay. But this isn't corruption, it is the 'system'. What is corrupted is your perception of it. What is wrong is your choosing the easy option. If he is yakking away in Thai, tell him you 'mai khao chai'. You don't understand. Take the ticket and say 'ok, I go to the Police station now' and walk away saying 'Thank you'. Then go and queue up and pay the fine. The law in Thailand is not complex, nor is it slow, neither are there any laws that will catch you out. You will be dealt with in minutes at the station and there won't be any unpleasantness. And you will have got one over the officer who much to his dismay singled you out but got nothing out of it. DO NOT try to be a smart-ass and report him.
You will find all over the web stories of getting fined for feeding an elephant but the mahoot got no punishment. Or dropping a cigarette butt on the floor and getting a massive 1000 baht fine and how this is only for tourists. Let's put this in perspective. I live in the UK, a country where, as Jeremy Clarkson rightly points out, you can be fined for eating a sandwich. You can have a stereo but you are not allowed to use it. The DVLA will sell you a private number plate that spells a word but the Police will fine you if you put it on your car. You cannot use the word 'Paki', or 'coloured' or any of 'gay, poof, bitch, or The 'N' word' unless you are Afro-Caribbean and you can now be sentenced for up to six months imprisonment for using expressions like 'queen' or 'spastic'. Schools do not have blackboards, they are chalkboards, a janitor is a incumbent hygiene technician, garden fires are illegal, children cannot wear a hood, you cannot overfill your dustbin and you are only allowed one bin bag per household. If you employ 16 people, one must be in some way manually challenged, and you must not call them disabled, any political persuasion outside of mainstream is illegal except shouting abuse at soldiers returning from war. Internet surfing is monitored for illegal downloads, every household and occupant is registered with the BBC whether you have a TV or not, and there are 6,000 speed cameras and 4.2 million CCTV cameras, which can be used for the very important purpose of prosecuting you for putting a cat in a wheelie-bin that was left illegally for three days on the street.
The last government introduced 16,480 new laws. And how many were introduced in Thailand during that period? = 112. Some will say what about the riot act etc. These were changes to existing laws and the re-admission of emergency powers. In the UK the government has gone mad at it and like many others, I once got a £30 fine for pressing the red button on my phone to cancel a call while I was stationary at a round-about. A woman was fined for drinking bottled water while stationary at traffic lights. I got fined thirty pounds again for driving down our local high street between the hours of midnight and 4.00am. I didn't know I wasn't allowed to and when I complained it was agreed I was unfairly penalised and I was instead fined £30 for driving without 'due care and attention'.
I am sure you do not need me to list the things you should not do but littering, loitering, drunk and disorderly, fighting, pissing on a statue of Buddha, exposing yourself, foul language. It is no different to being in your own country and yet for some reason farang whine about the laws in Thailand but not because they exist, but because they only apply to farang. The thing is though, they do not. The law in Thailand applies to everyone. There was an infamous drug baron clean up a while back with Police invading peoples houses. Every house was Thai, every person arrested (in some cases shot dead) a Thai national, and every farang ex-pat house.. ignored, largely because they were not on the suspect list, but that didn't stop the farang moaning about it.
By the late nineties Thailand had become a hub for illegal drug trafficking and Thaksin Shinawatra was under International pressure to do something about it. Police were trained in military tactics and issued with stab vests and protective clothing. In Feb 2003 during a raid the Police shot dead four suspects and there was public outcry when Thaksin gave them amnesty from prosecution over the killings. It was claimed it gave the Police a license to kill despite the fact that all four dead were armed and one of them with a machine gun. By the end of the month the authorities had to burn the evidence because there was so much of it. 3.5 tons of methamphetamines, 695 pounds of heroin, and 81 million pills. They had arrested 230 drug dealers and manufacturers but within a month there were 89 dead suspects.
**Thaksin miscalculatedly called the operation 'An eye for an eye' and the death toll from the killings went on. By April there were 230 dead, Kofi Annan cancelled a planned trip to Thailand and Thaksin had to reduce the campaign despite the fact that the USA wanted them to keep going because it had a marked effect on the flow of Opiates from Myanmar to the western world. In Thailand they had destroyed more than one billion pills but what stopped it was the death of one woman. She was an aging aunt and an innocent victim of the Police raiding the wrong house and most agencies said it was proof that the Police were shooting on sight with a shoot to kill policy despite the fact that she was not shot by a Police bullet. In fact no one knows who shot her dead but Police ballistics were able to prove it was not an officer. That led to claims of a cover up and the Police using personal weapons instead of issue.
Whether it was right or not does not matter to me because the policy had the desired effect. What did take my interest was the incredible number of farang who had also suffered because of this so called shoot to kill policy. A TT member said his wife's aunt was also shot dead. Another said an old lady in his village had been shot. On the web a story by a farang described in detail a raid that went horribly wrong at the wrong house where the whole family was executed in their beds. The thing is, the odds of any farang, who number only 30,000 in Thailand, knowing anybody who was shot during these raids is 30 times greater than you knowing a National Lottery jackpot winner. I don't know one, I have never met anyone who knows one, and there has never been one in the town of 30,000 residents where I reside in the UK. This tells me more about the farang who tell these stories than it does about what really happened.
The reality at tourist level is that you will see roadblocks everywhere on highways looking for people traffickers, and in cities they are collecting kids on motorbikes because they are under 15 and this has nothing to do with farang but they also got me with no seatbelt. I did something wrong, I didn't whine about it, I paid the 200 baht and went on my way. If you get caught by the 'Cigarette Police' don't moan about it being unfair. You dropped your cigarette on the street so pay the fine.
The punishment brings me to another little ditty by Jezza, "Why is it in the UK we have to pay for something we haven't seen and then queue up and wait for our turn to be summoned to collect our goods. For those who adore an overexuberance of officiation, how about being made to follow arrows round a one way system to ensure you pass through every department and an abundance of useless staff in crappy uniforms who tell you off if you try to go the wrong way". This doesn't happen in Thailand. Go to Index in Thailand and they ask politely can I help you? and show you what they have available and let you try it out. BP have petrol pump attendants. There are virtually no vending machines but you can get coffee any time of day and no one seems to think they are there for your benefit. Thailand, unlike GB knows the meaning of 'Customer Service' is not sign written at a disinterested desk next to the exit. And the officialdom is just as simple. You do not have to go to the court house between 10.00 and 15.00hrs to the paymasters office. There is no logon and payment failure or sending this and that to this address where it gets lost and they ask you to pay again and again.
There are no computers to hold you up or paperwork that has not yet been submitted. The officer gave you a ticket and when you pay at the station it is logged and tied up with the paperwork later on. There are two officers at the payment desk and a clerk who does the writing. You are in and out of the Police station in less than 10 minutes (on a good day) and they are polite toward you even though you have done something wrong. Though the girl in Ayutthaya asked me my fathers name and I replied with some frowning "it's the same as mine why?" She meant my family name but with such a simplistic system why would you feel aggrieved when you get a fixed penalty? It is no big deal.
Some though, choose to go to Thailand and break the law. There are tourists who have shoplifted, stolen cars, trafficked drugs, assaulted Police officers, graffitied images of the king, abused children, not paid hotel bills or damages, committing every offence from murder down to overstaying. And every one of them has something in common. They were welcomed into someone elses country and thought they should be allowed to do whatever they wanted. I cannot think of any crime that would outweigh such santimonious contempt for their host. And most of them have something else in common, they think their punishment did not fit their crime, thus proving they are santimoniously contemptuous.
There is a sign at the airport warning you that drug offences carry the death penalty. Does anyone think a country that uses the death penalty would not also put a murderer to death. Or serve lengthy sentences for any lesser crime? Yet on a forum recently a guy was asking where he can buy good quality 'weed'. When I explained his foolhardyness I was called a Nixonite and a Fascist living in the dark ages. That I may be but I am still alive and I am not living in the Bangkok Hilton. It is highly likely he soon will be and there is a good reason for this. The Police in each district know who their local dealers are and they collect intelligence on drug trafficking all the time. If they get a Thai 'yabba' user or 'smack' addict on a downer he will start talking in exchange for charges. They will bring in the small dealer who will have to give a few names in exchange for release. He is not going to name his supplier, it would cost him his life. He is not going to give up his best customers, that would cost him his income. He will give a farang, a tourist, he will give the Police you. They then do not need a search warrant, nor any evidence, because they have a statement and you are going to jail.
So what I am telling you is 'Go to Thailand for your hols. It's great. But let's not break the law'. That's just bloody rude.
www.thailandqa.com = Newspaper reports at the time.
www.andrew-drummond.com = Daily Mail story four years later about two families who were victims.
www.atimes.com = Breaking news about the high numbers of killings.
www.metafilter.com = A farang declares it is over 1,000 dead in three weeks.