The incident of four tourists taking a parked tuk-tuk for a joyride early Thursday morning (Mar 24) could have ended much worse than it did, far beyond the possibility of facing charges. The four young men should be thankful it didn’t.
Of course, the four tourists were in the wrong and deserve a slap on the wrists – but by police, not anyone else. But it was the reaction after the men stopped and exited the tuk-tuk that was the warning sign.
One of the Thai men present – most likely the tuk-tuk driver – overreacted to something one of the four men said and chased after him down the street. What was he going to do if he actually caught him? Surely more than just express more strong words. Patong tuk-tuk drivers and their quick tempers have long been known. In nearly every confrontation reported they have had only one reaction: violence.
That incident came just 48 hours after a Thai female tourist frightened for her safety reported to police a motorbike taxi driver pursuing her after he was seen wielding a large knife. As the woman pointed out when she shared her video online, “Try to think about whether Patong is a tourist attraction nowadays or not? Can you carry a weapon too?”
Yet in both incidents this week the Patong Police upheld their long tradition of supporting the local taxi, tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi cartels.
In the borrowed tuk-tuk incident, police intentionally did not name the tuk-tuk driver in their report. In the knife-wielding incident, they revealed only what is to be presumed to be the motorbike taxi driver’s first name and assured that he had faced legal action – again, without specifying exactly what action was taken to ensure the driver and his associates now know that carrying weapons in public in Phuket’s biggest tourism town is unacceptable.
For decades action by Patong Police, and other Phuket officials, has been token. A grandstanding effort a handful of years ago posed as an invasion of police to rein in bad taxi and tuk-tuk drivers only saw the same practices return with months of the visiting police force from Bangkok leave the island.
No other serious efforts have been made. Officials just keep asking, “Please”. Everyone who lives on the island knows why. At last report, it costs only about B200,000 to put a brand-new tuk-tuk fully registered and legal on the street, but it can cost up to a million baht for the “right” to join a Patong taxi stand. That is just too much money to ignore.
The lack of attention to these incidents by leading provincial and tourism officials highlights the bigger issue, maintaining the Dark Ages mindset that if they do not recognise the problem, then it doesn’t need fixing. They couldn’t be more wrong. As for the bigger picture, there is simply no motivation among any of the players and powermongers to change anything when there is so much benefit to be had.
While not just Phuket, but the nation, struggles to attract tourists – according to the latest report by the TAT only 1,889 international arrivals landed in Phuket on Friday (Mar 25) – these incidents are only adding to the reasons tourists can choose from to not come. These incidents are being shared on social media. There is no stopping them.
Tourism officials quite rightly deeply believe that in marketing Phuket as a tourism destination all the “value add” options for a holiday – for example, Thai massages and shopping and dining options, in addition to the beaches – are considered cumulatively when tourists decide to vacation in Phuket.
But for some reason they are not understanding that the same is true for the negative aspects involved in deciding whether or not to travel to any destination for a holiday. The effect is cumulative; all the negative aspects add up to a reason to not come. This type of behaviour on the streets is not what tourists want.
If there is a time to actually get our tuk-tuk, taxi and motorbike taxi drivers behaving in a manner that officials keep saying they want, that time is now.