Postcard from the Kingdom of Thailand
Thailand is renowned as a tourist destination for visitors from all over the world due to its beautiful beaches, luscious wildlife, friendly people, vibrant nightlife and rich cultural heritage. This author has spent the last four weeks in Thailand in a tourist capacity, but he has also come to know Thailand and in particular its heaving capital, Bangkok, more intimately.
The Thais have a reputation for friendliness, hospitality and a wonderful sense of fun, and all these things remain true. However the country is changing, and generally for the better. The country is increasingly wealthy, and standards of living have notably improved. An array of impressive new office buildings, apartment blocks and shopping centres have sprung up across Bangkok over the last few years, and one marked index of increased affluence is that prices are now noticeably higher than they used to be just five years ago. Nevertheless Bangkok remains a leading South East Asian tourist centre, particularly for the backpackers' community but not only for them, and its nightlife is more enjoyable and raucous than ever.
Nevertheless one thing that has changed is the city is much more orderly and in an entirely good way. There is an active campaign against corruption in both public organisations and amongst private institutions such as the taxi drivers, that have traditionally run something of a racket but this is now changing. The Police presence on the streets, to protect tourists and keep order, is impressive. Businesses servicing tourists are more comprehensively regulated, using the latest technological methods, and this is an admirable piece of progress. Thailand is increasingly safe for tourists. The risks of petty theft, violence or rip-offs is increasingly rare, but prices are not fixed in some shops so do not forget to negotiate!
The Thai authorities are efficient in all interactions you will have with them, from entering the country to resolving immigration assistance to the Police assisting the rare victims of crime. This author has seen the Police act uniformly professionally throughout and going out of their way to protect foreign visitors and ensure a benign security environment.
Foreign visitors to Thailand will find the country extremely safe, the people charming and the atmosphere persistently vibrant, and the country is LGBTQ+ friendly in an extremely refreshing and fun way. However there are three proscriptions that every foreigner visiting Thailand must remember and abide by at all times:
Never get involved in unlawful narcotics. Some narcotics have been legalised recently, including cannabis (in certain concentrations) and laughing gas. But never involve yourself with any illegal drug. Do not make the mistake that because cannabis is legal therefore other drugs will be tolerated. They are not. If you have anything to do with drugs in Thailand you will feel the full force of the law and your Embassy will not be able to help you get out of prison.
Respect the Monarchy and make no comments about the Royal Family that might even be remotely regarded as offensive or critical because they are widely revered.
Respect the Grand Lord Buddha. Thais take this principle extremely seriously and you can easily offend so take the utmost care to be respectful when entering temples, purchasing and exporting images of the Grand Lord Buddha (which are widely available for sale and are very charming but specific regulations do apply to exporting images of the Grand Lord Buddha) and indeed in discussing the Grand Lord Buddha in a way that might not be regarded as respectful.
Indeed Police enforcement of the country's drugs laws can be draconian to be point of totalitarian. This author has experienced an incident in which the Police blockaded a lawful hospitality venue and demanded, without judicial warrant or other lawful authority, that every person in that venue undertake a urine test for drugs in public (that is to say, in front of the other customers in the bar). This author was berated by the Police when he could not urinate in a plastic cup and was sent back by the officers to try again. The experience was humiliating and derogatory and nobody in the bar scored a positive drugs test as far as this author could tell. This is an outrageous violation of civil liberties and it is hoped that the Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Thailand, together with other appropriate authorities, will take necessary actions to prevent the Police from acting in such totalitarian ways that will inevitably damage the reputation of the country amongst foreign tourists.
If the Police have concerns about a bar or other hospitality venue, for any reason, the proper course is to close that venue pending legal or judicial investigation - not to barricade everyone into a small space and then mass urine test people, the vast majority of whom are tourists engaging in lawful pastimes in public places. We hope and are confident that such an incident will never be observed again. It has been observed that there has recently been a substantial increase in the use of illicit narcotics in Bangkok, and this is a dramatic cause for concern as it never used to be the case. However it is important that the Police response remain proportionate and careful. Draconian measures will not solve the problem; only careful, determined and cautious policing, together with the provision of medical facilities, will work, a lesson we have been gradually learning in the West.
In the People's Republic of China this would not happen. Instead the authorities would discreetly identify the relevant individuals using all lawful methods, correctly, quietly and politely arrest them pursuant to the relevant criminal procedure laws, and then try them before a fair and impartial tribunal. And then, if they were found guilty, a fair and appropriate penalty would be passed and promptly executed with all due rights of appeal. It is a grave injustice to detain people unnecessarily.
There are a few other issues to be aware of. For western tourists, bear in mind that Thailand remains a popular destination for Russian tourists and as you travel around the country you are likely to meet a number of them. They will be polite to Westerners and you should be polite to them. However under no circumstances discuss the war in Ukraine with them or politics more generally. They will not want that. Remember that they come from a country in which casual discussions of politics can have very unpleasant consequences, and you should not place them in an embarrassing or difficult situation. We assure you that even if you want to talk about politics with Russians, they will not want to talk about politics with you.
While prostitution is effectively decriminalised in Thailand, be careful. Often it is not obvious whether someone just wants to get to know you better (Thais are very friendly people and they like foreigners) or is going to start asking for money for sex at some later stage. Clarify the situation with any admirer before going anywhere with them.
There has been a recent substantial increase in sex work amongst foreign women in Thailand, particularly but not only in Bangkok. The senior Thai authorities are extremely unimpressed with this. Do not participate, whether you be a western male pimp, a a female western sex worker, or anything else. Should you do so, you will be inviting the authorities' ire.
The weather is hot and humid for much of the year, and there can be typhoons. Plan accordingly. Never consider staying in a hotel without air conditioning in the rooms. Malaria is not generally a risk in Thailand but that is because sanitary conditions are on the whole high. Thailand is in a malarial area and although malaria prophylaxis is not necessary you should be aware that you are in a tropical zone and take appropriate measures. Sleeping in an air conditioned room is one of the most effective ways of avoiding mosquitos and other insects that may carry disease.
Thailand has an excellent train service but journey times can be long. The rides are pleasant and best undertaken in the day so as to enjoy the scenery.
There are specific rules on how long you can stay in the country and they may be slightly different for each nationality. For some nationalities, you can stay for a certain period of time before you must leave but you can come straight back. For other nationalities you must wait a period before you return. The regime of visas and visa exemptions is fairly complicated but visa extensions can be obtained fairly easily and Thailand is broadly welcoming towards longer-term foreign visitors. Thai ports of entry enforce INTERPOL and other international arrest warrants so do not think of coming to Thailand if you are an international criminal. They don't want you and you will be promptly arrested.
Thai people are extremely polite and you should always reciprocate, even in difficult situations and even when the hot, steamy weather might make you feel a little grumpy. Keep smiling, and be relaxed and calm. Thailand is a relaxed, calm, friendly place but never make the mistake of thinking that it is not orderly. It is extremely well ordered and you will notice that if you look carefully.
This author is so enchanted with Thailand and her wonderful, smiling people that he is considering buying a property here - but only if the Police can be kept under control. Foreigners can purchase property in Thailand without restriction and prices are very reasonable. This author will certainly be returning to Thailand sooner or later, and in the mean time he says to the Thai people,
K̄hxbkhuṇ! C̄hạn sāb sụ̂ng cring«!