Cops scamming tourists at Bangkok airport

Tourists face a lot of scams if they travel in Southeast Asia, but one especially nasty and hard-to-avoid one has been reported by the BBC. At Bangkok’s main airport, cops are accusing international visitors of shoplifting from the airport stores and then extorting money from them to drop the charges. Sometimes a “friendly translator” will help the desperate travelers, and then charge exorbitant fees for his services. This is a variation of the old “zig-zag” scam that is found in Thailand and other countries.

This reminds me of a shake down a couple of guys tried on me in Karachi, Pakistan. I had just left my hotel and was walking along the street when a car pulled up. The driver produced a card saying “Sindh Police” and the other guy said, “Give me your backpack, I need to search for drugs!”

I immediately had my doubts–the card was in English, their vehicle was unmarked, and neither guy wore a uniform. So I replied to them in a very loud voice “Show me some real identification!” They insisted on seeing my bag but neither got out of the car. Since we were on a busy street I kept telling them in a loud voice that I didn’t think they were police and wouldn’t give them anything until I saw some ID. As a curious crowd began to gather they got angry and said, “You better not have any drugs!” and drove off.

I ran back to my hotel and told the manager all about it. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Welcome to Pakistan.” I had managed to write down the license plate number but he told me the real cops would probably do nothing, so I let it go and continued with my trip.

My tactic worked against this particular trick, but wouldn’t work in the Thailand airport scam since the police really are police. While aware travelers can avoid many of the scams they face on the road, this is a tough one. If the cops are in on it, what can you do except cough up and complain to your embassy later? I guess avoiding the airport shops is the only way to reduce your chances of being robbed.

Have you been scammed while traveling? Tell us your story in the comments section.


Flights resume in Bangkok

Gadling has been following the situation in Bangkok over the past few days. Hundreds of thousands of domestic and international travelers were stranded when anti-government protesters occupied Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country’s international hub. Things came to a rather anti-climactic end yesterday (thankfully for those involved) when Thailand’s highest court convicted members of the ruling party of rigging elections held last year. Getting the result that they wanted, protesters simply abandoned the airport peacefully.

In the past few hours, those who were previously unable to leave have been flocking to the airport and to travel agents around the city in an effort to book their flights home. Cleaning and inspection crews have been working around the clock to bring the airport back to international standards. Airport officials claim that it will take two weeks before the airport is fully operational. For now, flights are trickling in. Travelers stranded might have to wait several more days before they can procure a seat on a departing flight.


Thai government dissolved as protesters finally leave Bangkok’s airport

The Constitutional Court of Thailand decided that the ruling People Power Party had to dissolve. Its leader, now former PM Somchai Wongsawat, was forced to leave office. That was exactly the result that the anti-government mob occupying Suvarnabhumi International Airport was hoping for. Their goal was to shut down the airport until the government was taken from power or stepped down voluntarily. Their goals achieved, the mob at the airport dispersed earlier today.

Supporters of the government criticized the court’s ruling by calling it a judicial coup. However, the court claimed it had evidence proving that the PPP, as well as several other parties, cheated and bribed their way to victory in last year’s elections. The party’s leaders will be banned from politics, but other members are already at work forming a new party called Puea Thai.

Suvarnabhumi is now empty, but it was damaged during the protests. The head of Thailand’s airports, Serirat Prasutanont, said that the airport would remain closed until 6 pm on December 15th. Equipment and systems must be checked prior to the reopening. The closure cost the airport more than $10 million.

[Related coverage @ The Nation]

Travelers getting out of Thailand, but the situation is worsening

Following the lead of Etihad Airways, more than a dozen international carriers have sought out secondary airports to get passengers out of Thailand. Tiny U-Tapao Airport in coastal Rayong (a few hours south of Bangkok) has seen 50 flights per day. Passengers have been squeezing into the one terminal, but tents and portable toilets have been sent up outside to help with overflow.

Don Muang, the old international airport in Bangkok, has also been receiving some international flights, though the chaos in Bangkok makes U-Tapao a better choice in the eyes of most carriers.

Meanwhile, anti-government forces are still controlling Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s international airport. Protesters are in the terminals and armed guards loyal to the protesters have set up checkpoints at various points around the airport. Small bomb blasts are occasionally heard throughout the airport grounds and a news truck was recently riddled with bullets after it was stopped at a PAD checkpoint. No one in the truck was injured.

Police have surrounded the airport and are organizing themselves. An end to the stand-off is most likely immenant. The question is, will it be a peaceful or violent end.

[full coverage: The Nation and BKK Post]

Thai Protesters Shut Down Bangkok’s Airport

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have ramped up their campaign against the the party of prime minister Somchai Wongsawat. Early yesterday, supporters of the PAD (People’s Alliance for Democracy) stormed past police lines and entered Suvarnabhumi International Airport. When they reached the departure areas, airport officials decided to shut the airport down. Several thousand tourists and travelers were stranded in the airport while more than a dozen flights had to be diverted to Bangkok’s old international terminal at Don Muang Airport.

Over 14 million tourists came to Thailand last year. Violence between the pro and anti-government groups had done little to dissuade tourists from visiting because foreigners have not been targeted. However, the situation seems to finally have spilled over into the country’s tourism industry.

Top Thai army generals have called for the government to step down. Despite promises to the contrary, it seems that another coup is possible (even likely). Meanwhile, things don’t look good for those stranded at Suvarnabhumi. PAD supporters have vowed to “close Suvarnabhumi Airport to send a final word… to Somchai and his cabinet: resign immediately and without conditions.” But the government is not budging. So looks like those trying to get into or out of The Land of Smiles are in for some frustration.

[related story]