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SPECIAL REPORT: Fears of Phuket abductions

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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SPECIAL REPORT: Fears of Phuket abductions | The Thaiger

Special Report:

It is a typical story in Phuket: a taxi or van picks up passengers and on the way to their destination gets them to stop at a jewelry store, souvenir shop or travel agency.

A familiar experience, considered no more than an irritation or a waste of time by some.

But is it more serious than this?

PHUKET: For an elderly American woman who arrived alone on Phuket last January, the experience was a terrifying one, one that caused her to run out of the cab screaming for help once she reached her hotel. Prompted by the frightening experience, the woman called the US Embassy in Bangkok and reported that she had been kidnapped, according to an email sent to the Phuket Gazette.

“She was emotional and almost frantic,” the email said.

The woman said that she was picked up at the airport and had asked to be taken to the five-star resort where she had a reservation.

Instead, she was delivered to a travel agency, where she said she was “interrogated” about her personal information, such as where she came from and how long she planned to stay in Phuket. The agent told her that if she booked any trips, they had to be made through his agency.

The woman felt frightened and intimidated and pleaded to be taken to her hotel. She finally arrived there over an hour later.

When does a side-trip become an abduction? Two top legal officers in Phuket disagree on the answer.

Phuket Public Prosecutor Tawan Sukyiran did not mince his words.

“This is a case of abduction according to the law,” he said.

“The taxi driver, by not taking her directly to her hotel, which she had asked to go to, deprived her of her freedom,” he said.

“The length of time doesn’t matter. Even if it was just for five minutes, it can still be considered an abduction.

“She did not get out of the car willingly at the tour agency. She was forced to get out and she did so because she thought her safety was in jeopardy,” Mr Tawan said.

Yotsavee Pornperaparn, Phuket Tourist Police Superintendent, did not share Mr Tawan’s view.

“It is not an abduction,” he said, “because in the end, she was taken to her hotel.

“He did not kidnap her or take her to an unknown place,” he said.

Col Yotsavee argued that it is impossible to know what the driver and the woman discussed.

“She might have said something and the cab driver might have misunderstood her and thought she wanted to visit a tour agency,” he said.

“I don’t think this is a case of abduction, but it might be a case of cheating,” he continued.

“It would be cheating if he took her to the agency in order to try to get a commission from the company,” he explained.

Col Yotsavee said that this case was the first of its kind.

“A case like this has never been reported before… though taxi drivers do cheat and take advantage of tourists all the time. We have tried to fix the problem, but it’s out of our control,” he said.

He called on the public to report similar cases to 076-223 891 or 1155, with information about the license plate number, the color of the car and the driver’s name.

Some taxi companies have policies in place to protect tourists. Prasat Pechwang, a taxi driver with Phuket Taxi Meter Service Co Ltd at the airport said.

“If the taxi company finds out that a driver tried to cheat, drive out of the way or force a tourist to stop at another place on the way to the hotel, he will be barred from driving his car for the company for three days,” Mr Prasat said.

“The first time the driver will be warned. If it happens again, he might be fired,” he said.

How many tourists, backpackers to luxury guests, are taken on such an unwelcome first “tour” of Phuket is uncertain. However, one thing is sure – guests such as the elderly American woman are unlikely to be recommending Phuket to friends.

— Orawin Narabal

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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Patong

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms

The Thaiger

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Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | The Thaiger

by Sophie Deviller

Hotels on Thailand’s most popular holiday island are being forced to slash prices, with rooms left vacant and beaches sparse as Thailand’s tourism chiefs struggle with a plunge in Chinese visitors caused by the US trade war and a stronger baht. Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year, after Bangkok, and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.

Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals. But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, the numbers for January-September were down almost 20% year on year.

Claude de Crissey, the French Honorary Consul in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the Patong Beach area, says Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.

“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.

The problem is not only in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in the seaside resort of Pattaya on the mainland and on Koh Samui.

Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen about 10% against the yuan this year.

A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers in July 2018 also scared some off.

“We are worried,” said an industry insider, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs. Adding to the headache is the fact that more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being constructed on the island, raising the question of who will fill them.

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

“In terms of business, it’s not good,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, vice-president of the association of hotels in Thailand and director of Vijitt Resort.

“Because … we have more hotels, more rooms to sell, we have more restaurants, more coffee shops.”

Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic.”

“We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors.”

However, that is only up from 38.2 million in 2018, much less than the jump seen from the previous year’s total of 35.6 million.

Counting on India

Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.

A rapid expansion of the middle class in India, increased direct flights and visa-free travel have prompted Thailand to revise forecasts upwards.

It now expects two million Indian tourists this year, after an increase of nearly 25% on-year in the first seven months. But for now, the lower arrivals is evident on the streets of Phuket.

“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what it is at the moment,” said Paul Scott from Australia, who said he has been coming to Thailand for 15 years.

He mainly blamed the stronger baht for the drop-off but also the fact that Thailand wasn’t the untouched vacation paradise it once was. “Now it’s not so new … and it’s not cheap,” he said.

SOURCE: AFP

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

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Events

The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners

The Thaiger

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The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners | The Thaiger

4,000 runners from Thailand and overseas took part in the 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle Fun Run and Half Marathon 2019 yesterday, starting from the Phuket Gateway.

The event is expected to raise 700,000 baht for the charity, now in its 15th year. The money raised goes towards to The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which is committed to protecting the marine and coastal environment, and ecosystems, for the wellbeing of sea turtles that nest in the Mai Khao beach and the surrounding areas.

The annual race also provides funds for thePhuket Marine Biological Centre’s Injured Turtle Rehabilitation Program and The Third NavalArea Command’s Turtle Hatchery Program.

The race was in its 15th year and runners of all ages and abilities took part in the race. The morning’s racing was divided into five categories – the 21.1km half marathon, 10.5km mini- marathon, 5km fun run and 3k family run and VIP participants for all the races. The route of 21.1 kilometre race took runners northwest along the Haad Sai Kaew beach towards Thao Thepkasattri bridge, past the rural road No. 3006, run along the road – Pi Lai viewpoint area returned back along the T. Baan Tha Nun to the iconic Sarasin bridge before finished the half marathon in the Phuket Gateway.

For Mini Marathon 10.5 km – Over all category, Mr. Chinnawat Changlek clocked 39 minutes and 40 seconds to clinch victory in the male half marathon, winning prize money and a trophy with the signature of Phuket’s Governor. The winner in the female mini marathon was Surakarn Wanna with a time of 47 minutes and 47 seconds.

Winners also received a prize gift voucher as well as a medal. Congratulations to all participants.

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