Thailand – A Land of contradictions and scams;

Corruption – “business as usual”

Corruption – “business as usual”

Thailand markets itself as the Land of Smiles and with good reason, they are scamming every foreigner that enters the country and they think we are so stupid we do not recognise that we are being milked for every penny they can get. The problem is that the outcome of not paying is often a run in with the police, and for some, even prison. I certainly never experienced any run-ins with the local constabulary, but I met plenty of people that had.

The surface looks all shiny and new but it’s a facade and all about show, which is really Thailand in a nut shell. The majority that visit stick pretty much to the tourists spots which are outrageously expensive compared to the rest of the country and they think it perfectly acceptable to triple the price for a foreigner. For those that choose to settle here for a bit, be it retirement or work based, it is just frustrating and annoying to constantly have to pay bribes and ridiculously inflated prices.

Sadly the time I have spent in Thailand has left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth and it is a country I will never return to. The corruption, the lying, the cheating, and the constant demand for money for nothing just gets under your skin after a while. The Thai people seem to think that every person with white skin is a millionaire and there solely to be scammed for whatever they can get is not nice. Yes there is appalling poverty in Thailand but there is also extreme wealth, I saw more Ferraris, Porches and Lamborghinis in Thailand than I ever saw in Perth, and Perth is a very wealthy city. The Thai scam their own as well, whenever they can, but for these people, bribery, lying and cheating is just a way of life. For me it was just distasteful and tacky.

Would I recommend Thailand as a holiday destination? NO.

Would I recommend it as a place to work? A very resounding NO.

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There are plenty of beautiful, oriental, countries to visit, ones that have beautiful beaches with clean, clear waters. I would not dip a toe into the waters around Thailand, I have seen what is thrown in there. I have seen the beaches covered in dead fish and garbage which is hurriedly scrapped away before dawn in the tourist resort, but left to rot on the sand everywhere else. The stench travels for miles, the sewage pumped untreated into the sea, the locals throwing every rotting thing in as well. I watched a Thai man throw the carcasses of four dogs into the receding tide one morning, the same beach on which tourists would swim later in the day.

CORRUPTION;

The corruption in Thailand is endemic, it starts at the top and follows down through the government positions to the lowliest person in the land. Bribes are just par for the course and part of any dealings with Thais, locals as well as foreigners but of course, the foreigner is expected to pay considerably more.

I witnessed this often during my time in Thailand. One morning as I was sitting having a coffee at my usual spot, a small convince store that also made great coffee, located on the corner of a busy cross roads. The store was owned by two Chinese sisters that had come to Thailand as little girls. Mum was still alive and often came to sit with me as I sipped my iced coffee in the cool morning breeze. She was 98 the sisters told me, Mum spoke no English, but she seemed to like to sit, with a contented smile, and watch as I sipped. She patted my hand periodically and smiled, I found her company strangely compelling and I would have loved to have been able to talk with her.

Two of the other corners were private homes surrounded by tall fences and the third was a strip of park that was edged by the road on one side and the canal that surrounded the old city on the other. The trees of this small green belt provided welcome shade for most of the day. Because it was a busy intersection, it was the last cross street before the main road running through the city and the location of five huge schools, there were often policemen on hand to direct traffic in the morning.

As I sipped on this particular morning I watched three policemen standing under the trees of the park corner, they were chatting and having a cigarette. When they finished their fags two casually flicked their butts into the street while the third aimed his into the park towards the canal. One of them then headed into the intersection and began directing traffic while the other two watched on. I had seen a ‘farang’ (the name the Thai’s give to foreigners) heading towards the intersection and he smoked as he slowly made his way to work. He got to the corner on which I was sitting and he too casually flicked his butt into the gutter as he stood waiting for a break in traffic to cross the road. The two watching policemen dove across the road, it was the fastest I had even seen a policeman move in Thailand. They grabbed the farang by the arms and started to harangue him in Thai. He was obviously most surprised by this and had no clue what they were talking about. It seems that they were intending to arrest him for throwing his cigarette butt into the street. Fortunately for this fellow a Thai that spoke some English came to his assistance and suggested that if he paid them 6,000 TBH he would be allowed to continue his journey to work. The English speaking Thai told this fellow that it was illegal to litter, and that it was a ‘finable’ offence, pay up and you can go on your way, fail to pay and you will be taken to the police station and that will just increase the fine as there are so many more people there that will need to be paid. In this instance it was to be an even three way split, 2,000 TBH to each policeman. ‘It’s the Thai way’ the translator told him. Of course in any other country in the world I might have been tempted to stand up for this fellow and let the local coppers know that I had seen them do exactly the same thing not five minutes earlier, but in Thailand you never intervene or get involved, we all just turn the other way. It was his turn to be fined today, your turn always comes, they always find a way. The smart person just pays and keeps their mouth shut, it really is the Thai way.

The litter laws apply only to foreigners and they really are funny. Thailand is filthy, every street is covered in trash, rotting food, discarded bottles and cups, and doggie doos! There are millions of stray dogs in Thailand (I will be posting separately on this issue) and they leave their droppings all over the few footpaths that exist and one has to constantly watch where one is walking or you’ll step right in it. There was a dog near my school that took to dropping his load on the staircase of the footbridge that crossed the main road. It was used by hundreds every day, all trying to side step the stinking pools of poop. The Thais are also ‘spitters’, they ‘hoike’ into the street, on the footpath, they even do it in restaurants. They ignore litter laws and just throw their trash where ever they want. You know where a group had their picnic the previous evening because they ate and drank, and then just walked away and left everything lying all over the ground. The dogs have had a go at it overnight so now it is spread all over the place and will eventually blow around and down the street.

VISAS AND WORK PERMITS;

Getting a work permit for Thailand is a long, drawn-out, and expensive exercise, and you are never really sure why the charges keep coming and why you are constantly putting your hand in your pocket. But pay you do and over and over again. One person tells you it is better to get an O visa as this is very easy to turn into a B visa in order to work so you pay for the O visa. The next visit to the same office tells you that you cannot turn an O visa into a B Visa, so you just waste a few thousand baht and you now have to pay for a Tourist Visa which is valid for 15 days only. You cannot turn a locally issued 15 day Tourist visa into a B visa anyway because you need to have 21 days left on a tourist visa to get a B visa. So now you have paid for an O Visa and a Tourist Visa both useless and you have to do the mandatory border run.

There are hundreds of companies running day trips to borders for the issuing of a new visa, and three day trips in order to get a longer visa. While I was here they changed the rules yet again and decided that the one day visa run would still only give you 15 days extension so you really needed to do the three day trip in order to get the right visa. You pay to get out of the country and then have to pay again to get back in. Interestingly the price varies depending on where you come from, white people pay three times what others pay. Then you have to go back to immigration and apply for the B Visa. I was quite fortunate in that one of the teachers at my school knew one of the immigration people at the Cambodian border and so I only had to do the one day run, pay for the visa and an equal amount as a bribe and I got the one month visa. This process used up 10 pages in my passport!

Once you have the B Visa you then have get a work permit which is yet another exercise in paying and repeat visits to their office to watch them shuffle paper around for half an hour or so and then be told you have to go back and get something else that wasn’t on the list because they only decided yesterday that you needed it.

The last bit of paper you need is a Thai Teaching Licence, and I suspect anyone that has worked here in that capacity is currently rolling around laughing right about now. The majority, anecdotally, that work in Thailand as English teachers have no qualifications at all, well, other than the ones they bought on the black market of fake documents that is alive and well here. In the seven months I spent in Thailand I met just a handful of teachers that actually had a degree, the rest were operating on forged documents and had been doing so for decades. They also make no secret of it, one guy was selling authenticated British Embassy stamped, and sealed, Affidavits stating that the fake documents were legitimate and issued by the university to the holder. One set of documents, that I actually saw, was issued from Cambridge University and the certificate had three glaring spelling mistakes, one of the being Cambridge which was spelled Camebrige, and these documents had allowed this person to work as a teacher for 10 years!

So you are armed and ready to work, you have the right visa, a work permit and a teaching licence. You’ve forked out thousands for all the right bits of paper and heave a huge sigh of relief when you get them and then they tell you that you have to report to immigration every 90 days, you feel like you are on parole.

Now while there is no stamping cost for this visit to the immigration office you will usually discover that it is located in some far flung corner of the region and if you are not brave enough to drive you have to pay for a moto-taxi or a tuk tuk to get there and the trip is never cheap. It’s usually a good 20 to 30 drive and almost no-one speaks any English at all. The Thais just love paperwork and you pay for them to twiddle around with bits of paper that seem to serve little purpose. It is frequently discussed by foreigners as just another way for them to make money out of the farang.

DRESS CODE FOR FEMALE TEACHERS;

All schools have dress codes, some are stricter than others. Women are never allowed to wear trousers or pants, they must wear a skirt. Some schools are a little more flexible as to the top half, they will allow any sort of top that covers your shoulders and reveals no cleavage, while others insist on a blouse with a collar. My friend works at a school that allows the female teachers to wear trousers on desk-warming days (no students attending but teachers required to be there) and on Saturdays when they run extra classes for students. My school was a lot stricter, no trousers, ever, for any reason. I was soundly, and publicly, berated by my head teacher for turning up on a Saturday to help some students put together a play wearing trousers. The fact that I was there to work with students on my day off, and was not getting paid for it, was irrelevant.

Skirt length is also mandated and must be at least knee length for foreigners, it seems that the local teachers can wear skirts as short as they want, and some of them come to work looking as though they are not actually wearing a skirt! Call me old fashioned, but dressing in a super short mini skirt to teach children is just tarty in my mind. But tarty is a word I would use to describe Thai women in general. Harsh? Yes, but sadly all too true. They rant and rave about how bad the foreigners are here, that we do not respect their culture and their ways, but a short walk down the main street of Pattaya, day or night, will show you the real Thai life and culture rather than the one they try to portray in their glossy brochures. Girls, barely dressed, wobbling down the street in their 8 inch heels, the picture created is a caricature of sleazy. The scene is repeated all over Thailand, and it is sad. If you are male I am guessing it is heaven, if you are female they just treat you with contempt, they see you as a challenge to their access to the farang men.

I did speak to a number of ‘Thai wives’ and they were quite open in telling me that they lived with the fat, slobby man because he was white and had money. They didn’t love him, he was a meal ticket and many of them had multiple partners. There is a huge sex industry here and the girls are using it to their advantage. They play up to a fat old man while he is here on holiday and he pays for everything. They live in the resorts with them and they live it up and the price is sex. The man then goes home and starts sending her money. Sometimes she will tell him that she wants to start some sort of business, sewing, cooking, whatever, and he offers to pay to set her up. It’s not a lot of money for a foreigner, but he is in effect supporting her and sending monthly payments. He’s gone, so she moves to the next one and the same scenario is played out. One woman I met had five different men sending her money. I asked what she would do if more than one of them was coming back to visit at the same time. Her answer, ”Oh is easy, I tell him I have big exam, or big event coming up and I will have to work hard. Can he come next month instead?” They think it’s funny, they are getting all this money and these men have no clue.

I cannot count the number of farang men that I met that told me of the ‘last disastrous relation’ and what they had lost. They had paid to have a house built but the land was owned by the woman or her family. It’s very difficult for a farang to own property in Thailand and so while he might own the house he does not own the land on which it is built. The relationship ends in disaster, more often than not, and he has a house built on someone else’s land and there is little he can do about it. The Thai courts will usually end up awarding it all to the woman and the fellow is left with nothing. Fighting it too hard has led to a number of murders here, and a quick look on Google will show you just how often.

Are these men stupid? Yes.

Do they repeat the process with the next woman? Yes.

In my opinion these men are fools from the beginning but they see it differently I guess, and given the frequency of the same story I can only surmise the Thai women have something to offer that they cannot find anywhere else.

INTERNET;

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The internet, oh the trails and tribulations of internet access in Thailand, made far worse if you have been living in a country with some of the fastest, and most reliable, internet services available. You pay by the month for most internet services in condos in Thailand and they are usually pretty unreliable and fail to live up to the hype of ‘superfast high speed internet’. There is a company one should steer well clear off, a certain Smile Net. You buy either a one month access for 300 TBH or a weekly at 100 TBH, it advertises itself as a high speed connection, but sadly works only intermittently, usually the problem is that Smile Net don’t pay their bills.

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We, the tenants, pay through the building office so there is nothing we can do about him not paying the bill. He, of course, always falls back on ‘I no understand….’ when you call daily to ask when you can have the internet service you have paid for. My last month I paid my 300 TBH and had the use of the internet for about three and a half days per weeks, added to that is the huge cost of phone calls to find out when it will be available again. So internet use for my last month in Thailand cost me almost a 1,000TBH, which compared to other locations might be cheap but what you are actually getting is pretty much comparable to the old dial in system, certainly not the high speed system that they advertise. Uploading and downloading are pretty hard as the system drops out all the time and Skype calls are impossible some days.

When you do manage to contact someone from Smile Net they will tell you it is your computer that is the problem – Restart, restart, he will say even when you send him a photo of the message you get when you try to log in –you haven’t paid your bill! Another tenant told me that it was possible to get your own internet service and it was only 400TBH a month and it was yours and yours alone and was high speed and very efficient. Shame I had not known that earlier.

BEWARE THE I AM A BUDDHIST CLAIM;

The more they tell you how devoutly Buddhist they are the more care you need to take, you are about to get really scammed.

I have to say I was very surprised by this as they all purport to be devout Buddhists, but the more they tell you how Buddhist they are the more wary you need to be. It is usually a good sign that they are about to scam you in a very big way.

AIRPORT SCAMS;

There has been much written about the on-going scams that occur at Bangkok’s International Airport and travellers need to be very wary when entering and leaving the country. One that is not widely written about is the Excess Baggage Scam. If the check-in desk is manned by Thai staff then beware, this was how I was caught out, and it was a very costly experience.

I arrived, on the Wednesday morning, for my flight with plenty of time to spare as I had to see the Airport Quarantine in order to get an export licence for Missy Fleur. It was very inexpensive but a little time consuming. I had arrived at the airport at 10am and it took till 2.30 to get the one page document I needed.

I had contacted Siberian Airlines, the airline I was booked to travel with, in regards to excess baggage costs on the Monday, so I was aware the cost of excess baggage was 19 Euros per kilo. I also knew that I had about 10 kilos of excess baggage – this equated to a little over 8,000 TBH. The dog was an addition over that, and you pay regular excess baggage charges for carrying a pet. She had just been weighed at the Airport Quarantine, and I had asked if I could also weigh her in her bag, she and the bag totalled 4 kilos, so I know I was up for another 3,500TBH. From my calculations I made it a total of about 12,000 TBH for dog and bags.

When I arrived at the check-in counter they weighed the bags and told me the total was 37 kilo for the entire shipment. I was surprised as I had weighed the bags when I too them to the left luggage before going to the Quarantine office and the total combined weight was 30 kilos.

They then weighed the dog and said she was 6 kilos. I queried this immediately and showed them the form from the Quarantine office which stated her weight at 3.5 kilos so it did not make any sense that they were weighing her at 6 kilos. They weighed her again and said ok to the 4 kilos for her. The other issue was that a dog weighing 6 kilos is required to travel in the hold as cargo, they must be under 5 kilos to travel in the cabin.

Then they told me the price was 20,000 TBH for the bags and 5,500 TBH for the dog. So I was being charged at 6.5 kilos for the dog and I now apparently had 23 kilos of additional luggage not the original 17 they had stated. They then informed me that this was the cost just to get to Khabarovsk airport and then I would have to pay again for the second leg of the trip to Yuzhno and that the cost went up at Khabarovsk as it was a domestic leg of the trip and so the baggage allowance was lower and my cost would be more, they suggested about 40, 000 THB for the bags and another 5,500 for the dog. They also suggested that if I paid them for both legs of the trip they would do it for 50,000 TBH (US$1,560) and thus saving me 1,000 TBH. Of course I queried this as it was the same airline and I was merely transiting, why was I paying twice?

I immediately went to check the prices to ship the goods separately which had to be done through an alternate independent office. They could not do it as they apparently only ship to Moscow, I then went to the post office and elected to send a 20 kilo by mail as that had a flat rate of 8,000 for 20 kilos, given that I was only 10 kilos over weight, but they insisted that it was 17 (but were charging me for 23!) I elected to take this option. Two of the airline check-in staff then approached me in the post office and said I would need to use two 20 kilo boxes because I was 37 Kilos over weight. What? What happened to me 20 Kilo free allowance, it seemed to have evaporated.

I put the bags on the scales at the post office with the Airline staff still standing there and asked them why the bags were showing as only 10 kilos over weight and yet they were claiming 17 and now 37 kilos- standard answer was given, ‘Mistake’. Meaning the post office scales were incorrect. I immediately unpacked the box and repacked the bag.

My other concern was that they would not accept my credit card as payment for the excess, they would only accept cash. This is always a good sign in Thailand that they are scamming you, they take the money and pocket it. On the way back to the check in counter I stopped at the British Airways desk and asked them if they accepted credit card for excess baggage payments, of course they did, and I also checked with the Emirates staff and the reply was the same. Of course both these airlines have staff from the country of origin of the airline, whereas S7 relies on local Thai staff.

Now I knew I was being scammed and not matter what I said or did they insisted that I pay 50,000 TBH up front or I would not be allowed on the flight. I rang a friend who speaks fluent Thai and asked for help, he spoke to them and he said that they had set a price and if I didn’t pay I was not flying. He suggested that I leave one bag at left luggage and arrange for it to be shipped later. I had another friend offer to just pay the bill and argue about it later, she was standing at the bank ready to transfer the cash to them immediately. This was declined as the money would be traceable by going into one of their accounts and they kept insisting cash only, cash only. They even suggested that to my friend that she transfer money to me by Western Union, in my name, and then I could give them cash! When I refused this they told me the flight was closed and so I was too late.

I have been travelling my whole life and I have regularly had to pay for excess baggage and this is the first time that I have ever been told that they will not take a Credit Card. I have also never had an airline suggest that the only form of payment accepted is cash. This is, after all, an international airport, and there are few of those that do not accept credit card payments, or provide the ability to direct debit monies into their account.

Of course I missed the flight, and I promptly sat down and cried – always a good release after such a frightful afternoon.

Needless to say my new boss was pretty unimpressed by all this, he had also offered to pay the excess via credit card via phone, and been refused. So the ticket needed to be transferred and the penalty paid, which is of course my cost. A new ticket has been issued and it clearly states that the cost for the dog, and any excess baggage, is paid once and once only. So it will be interesting to see if they try to double charge me for the dog again, there will, of course, be no excess baggage, it is being shipped via DHL!

One of the reasons that I am leaving Thailand is because of the appalling corruption and the constant need to pay bribes for the most minor things, and there is no doubt in my mind that they saw me as someone that could be scammed as I was a woman traveling alone. I reweighed the bags before I left the airport and sure enough, I had 30 kilos of luggage and the dog and her bag weighed 4 kilos.

Interestingly I have since spoken to some Russian people that were subjected to exactly the same thing on the same flight. They were charged exorbitant rates for excess baggage, one fellow paid 90,000 TBH for what they said was 20 kilos over. He paid it but was asking the travel people to look into it. The problem is that if you pay it you will never get it back. They will deny everything and it will go around in an endless circle of changing answers and ‘Misunderstanding….’

Lest you think this is just a personal ‘tirade’ about Thailand I have added a few links that might be of interest;

Thailand, for many, is not a “land of smiles”

 Thailand urged to tackle dark side of ‘Land of Smiles’

Thailand: Land of smiles or tourist trap?

Police Corruption in Thailand Rises

I Hate the Internet in Thailand: Slow, No Connections, Constant Website Blocks

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