3 foreigners arrested on a secluded beach in Pattaya on Saturday deserve little sympathy for breaking the law. However, this virus situation and the experience of an elderly French expat on May 3rd continue to raise questions about the future of tourism and foreigners in Thailand, not least in Pattaya.
Three defiant foreigners broke the law in Pattaya on Saturday and were arrested by the police for swimming on a secluded beach. The incident follows the arrest of 5 French and Belgian nationals on Sunday, May 3rd, among them an 80-year-old French man whose 42-year old Thai partner has now taken up her concerns about his treatment by police with a local MP. It is being reported that a meeting between the local MP and the police chief in Pattaya has fully resolved concerns raised by the French man’s Thai wife. On Tuesday, April 28th, 23 people were arrested including 11 foreigners for violating similar beach bans in the city. These incidents raise questions about the inability of some foreigners to get the message about just how serious these laws are amid this crisis. However, as the days go by, the crisis itself is raising more questions than answers about just how this will impact Thailand and its foreigner population as well as Pattaya’s tourism industry.
Three foreigners were arrested by police on Saturday after blatantly defying local orders made under the emergency decree which closed off eight beaches in Pattaya from this weekend until the end of May. The order was issued by the Governor of Chonburi province, Pakarathorn Thienchai.
Clearly placed notices near the beach in various languages including English and Russian were visible which expressly forbade any person from accessing the beach or the waterfront.
Arrests took place at a beach behind a local hotel
The beach where the arrests took place was behind the Asia Hotel and the tourists were spotted by an official breaching the strict lockdown provision.
The order has been made for health reasons and also to curb domestic tourism activity in the resort city for now.
City officials say tourists were warned politely
An official within the Pattaya City Municipality, Athiwat Yungklan, briefed the media on Saturday and explained that the three tourists, a Ukrainian national and two Russian nationals, were asked by an official to retire from the water and comply with the local law now in force.
The trio defied these instructions so police were reluctantly called in, leading to their arrests.
They were taken to Pattaya City Police station where they now face certain prosecution and an appearance before the courts.
Growing fears for Pattaya’s former tourism base and nightlife scene caused by the Covid 19 virus
Pattaya’s authorities have deployed stringent restrictions on the resort city during this crisis which have, at times, particularly targeted the city’s foreign community which has been seen as a heightened health risk.
The outbreak in Phuket, which is the most severe in Thailand, has also heightened fears among Pattaya and Chonburi officials.
The response to the virus threat has left the city’s tourist trade in ruin with growing fears for its future.
Despite its shift in the last few decades to portray itself as a more family orientated destination, the basis for Pattaya’s tourism trade remains rooted in its emergence, sixty years ago, as a seaside nightlife spot.
It is being reported that many smaller tourism operators, including those operating beer bars and small restaurants, have already sold up and left their business concerns behind.
Under current government plans, entertainment venues and bars may be reopened sometime in July but Pattaya along with Phuket and the southern islands, key tourist hotspots, will be closely watched by those with the burdensome responsibility for fighting this virus war and protecting lives.
Veteran tourism operators say ‘new normal’ cannot work for Pattaya’s famous nightlife scene
Many veteran tourist operators have also expressed doubt and scepticism at suggestions of opening under a ‘new normal’ regime of heightened hygiene and social distancing.
They question whether a tourism trade based on nightlife, entertainment and alcohol can operate successfully under such conditions while some tourism bosses in Pattaya predict that the time has come for a change in the resort still regularly dubbed by UK tabloids as infamously ‘sin city’, after 60 years of being a nightlife haven for world party goers.
Chonburi tourism boss feels change is coming for Pattaya and that recovery will take 2 years
Thanet Supornsahatrangsi of the Sunshine Hotel Group in Pattaya is the acting President of the Chonburi Tourism Industry Council. In recent weeks, he has predicted that Pattaya is facing change.
Mr Thanet has raised a number of key concerns such as the ability of any venues or tourism operators to comply with stringent new health regulations.
He predicts that it may take up to two years for Pattaya to get back on its feet while also suggesting that a new form of tourism for the city may emerge. One that is not nightlife orientated.
He thought that the future of Pattaya’s tourism trade might lie in a more family orientated resort and has suggested that firms in the city should adapt to this model.
He predicted that future visitors to the seaside resort would not be nightlife tourists.
Similar questions in western countries with growing discord but strong public support for a lockdown
Similar questions are also being asked in western countries about the prospects for recovery and the future nature of business concerns and markets with a growing potential for discord as conflicts emerge as to whether the approach taken to this threat has been the right one.
This is coming as, slowly, new information is emerging about the origin of the virus and its characteristics. The most notable news this week was that the virus may have been active and spreading in Europe even in November last year.
However, public support for the lockdown measures is still strong as is the case here in Thailand despite the economy being listed consistently in opinion polls as the public’s biggest worry.
80-year-old French man shocked on May 3rd when he was arrested by police for walking on the beach
On Tuesday, April 28th last, 23 people were arrested at a beach in the centre of Pattaya for breaching the emergency much the same as on Saturday.
Later, on Sunday 3rd May, five foreigners, all part of a French Belgian group of expats who have lived in the city for a long time, were arrested for taking their daily stroll by the sea.
One of them was an 80-year old French man who was due to renew his visa on May 15th next.
While the Thai government recently extended automatic visa extensions for all 30, 60 and 90 days visas until July 31st next, one-year visas, which are the basis for most retired foreigners staying in Thailand were specifically not included in this relief.
Failure to renew an annual visa is a serious concern for any expat living long term in Thailand
Failure to renew a visa is a highly dangerous situation for any foreigner who has been living in the kingdom for an extended time.
The brush with the law has left the elderly man deeply disturbed at a time when most people are also quite apprehensive at the effects of this virus and what it means to their lives.
The man’s 42-year old man’s Thai wife or partner, Ms Pim or Dao Duangpim, was shocked to hear her husband had been arrested with the other French people for walking on the beach.
A similar ban was in place throughout the province of Chonburi at the time similar to the one that came into force today.
The French man has lived in Thailand for many years and regularly makes appointments with other foreigners and his friends to meet and exercise near the beach in Pattaya.
Broke the emergency decree provision with severe consequences – his wife admits his culpability
His Thai wife admits he was wrong and broke the strict emergency decree provision. It is a mistake that is already costing him dearly
These laws are necessarily personally invasive and unprecedented because authorities are dealing with an unprecedented situation. We live at a time when doing something that had hitherto been natural and harmless freedom, has become a crime.
This is something that leaves everybody disturbed about this situation.
The immediate problem was the payment of bail to be released from jail but he could not get a receipt
This deeply shocked the hitherto law-abiding foreign residents of the resort city. It immediately presented him with severe problems.
The first was the need to provide surety pay bail to secure his release. This cost ฿50,000.
However, the French man was baffled to be told that the bail payments would not be returned after the court hearing. He also queried why he was not given a receipt or tracking documents for the funds paid over.
His wife, Ms Pim, came to the police station in Pattaya to assist her husband. The 42-year-old woman claims that police were not very helpful or cooperative in addressing her questions.
She also claims that she was not allowed to take photographs of the documents or evidence before her at the scene by officers present.
Expat needs passport to review annual visa
The next major concern for the French man was about the status of his passport which he needed for renewing his visa but also to be able to present to authorities on other occasions as required by law.
His wife claims this was withheld by police officers to prevent him using it to flee the country and he was not even allowed a photocopy.
Visa can be voided for breaking the law
Then, there are the implications for his visa renewal process for having breached the law in Thailand. Committing a crime in Thailand is sufficient grounds for the Immigration Bureau to declare any visa void. It is a power that is regularly used to deport wrongdoers.
All this, even before the man, in his eighties, faces a court of law where he could face a jail sentence or fine of up to ฿100,000
His wife has raised the incident with Chonburi and former Future Forward MP Kawinnat Takhee who represents Chonburi Region 7.
Ms Kawinnat, in December last year, applied to join the Thai Local Power Party which supports the government of Prayuth Chan ocha.
All Pattaya police officers blameless in this matter
The local MP promised to take the matter up with Pattaya’s chief of police. She said that the issue raised by the elderly man’s Thai wife was bad for Pattaya’s image and consequently for tourism.
On Saturday, however, it was reported that a meeting between Ms Kawinnat and Pattaya station chief Police Colonel Khemmarin Phitsamai, on Thursday this week has resolved all the issues raised by the French man’s Thai wife.
Senior officers from the station later met Ms Pim who also expressed her satisfaction at the outcome attributing everything to a ‘misunderstanding’ at the time.
She fully accepted the station chief’s position that all officers involved were blameless and simply carrying out their duty under the emergency provisions.
Held at the police station, had to pay the police to take him and friends home during the curfew period
Finally, at 1 am on the 3rd of May, the French man who had driven to the beach on his motorbike, could not make his way home because of the curfew in place outside.
He was joined by his Thai wife and two French friends who also needed to get home.
The group says they paid ฿2,000 to the police officers to drive them from the station through checkpoints to reach the safety of their homes.
Leisurely Sunday on the beach is anything but
For an 80-year-old man whose life in Thailand is built around his retirement visa, this leisurely walk on the beach on a Sunday in early May became anything but.
The story highlights again the importance for foreigners to assiduously and most carefully be aware of all regulations and laws at this time and without fail, adhere to them.
This virus is not only a health threat, it is a legal, cultural and economic one also for non-nationals in Thailand at this time of heightened tension and the state of emergency which is in force. It cannot be treated casually even at 80 years of age.
The alternative, as for this unfortunate French man, is a legal minefield of problems, entanglements with the Thai legal system and uncomfortable repercussions.
Western foreigners, as aliens in Thailand, must assiduously comply with the law no matter how trivial
The beaches in Pattaya, however, will soon be open again and even the beer bars.
Undoubtedly, this virus and the economic flux in its aftermath will challenge the dynamic of tourism in Thailand which has drawn so many foreigners here to live and even more who visit regularly and have formed a special attachment with the country.
How the Covid 19 virus will ultimately impact the world and Thailand is not yet clear. One thing, however, should be crystal clear to foreigners, particularly westerners, living here.
This is not your home country, and it will never be. You are an alien in this kingdom and any disregard for the law is ill-advised no matter how trivial you may think it is or how long you have lived here or even how much you love Thailand.