Firstly I should apologize for my slightly disingenuous title. The purpose of this week’s column is not to come to some definitive conclusion of whether a certain Thai island is guilty as charged but to run past you, dear reader, a few sentences of opinion and hearsay and maybe a few wisecracks on the subject on everyone’s lips this week – Koh Tao.
The island in Surat Thani province has been the center of much heated debate since 2014 – four years to the month – when two British holidaymakers were found murdered there. In fact there have been so many column inches and so much comment devoted to the subject of that crime and other mysterious goings-on that the words when placed end-to-end would stretch from Bangkok to the Old Bailey and back about 3.7 million times (latest Thai tourism ministry survey).
This week’s revelations and claims were far less grave than the events of September 2014 but there were similarities that literally jumped off the page and the screen.
Koh Tao has been in the dock of social media for a long time and the little whipper-snapper of an island just a few kilometers long seems to take up an awful lot of people’s time; both Thai and foreigners have opinions on the place even when they have never been there.
I have no inside knowledge. I have been there twice, run several successful school trips there in fact prior to the shenanigans of 2014. I didn’t like this so called “holiday paradise” much due to the fact everywhere seemed like a building site and there were more 7/11’s than my Bangkok area.
But I have lived in Thailand for many decades so I hope the following ramblings may afford the reader some insight on events there in both 2014 and 2018. I am not delving into its other myriad mysteries.
Online hordes akin to those of Genghis Khan attack Koh Tao. Vast numbers throw their weight behind theories that the two Burmese men convicted of the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller are innocent scapegoats. Keyboard warriors who claim to be in the know and those who admit to never having even visited are all convinced that a family or families of mafia operate there with gay abandon in collusion with a corrupt police force. Mention of a serial killer on the loose is also a popular theme.
Those who suggest otherwise and say it is unfair hype are invariable beaten down as ignorant of the “real Thailand”. When I first started commenting on Thaivisa forums around the time of the murders I stayed out of these threads. But I was intrigued by the ferocity of the opinions expressed so I was inexorably drawn into reading them.
My initial opinion of Thaivisa in general was that far too many people were bashing “my” Thailand. The specific Koh Tao bashing and everything that went with it seemed just an extension of that. For many years as the Head of the the Thai Department at Harrow International School in Bangkok I had spouted nothing but praise for the country. Anything negative I kept rigidly behind my frontage of rosy specs.
In addition, I often found highly negative views invariably came from the uninformed who had been in Thailand a few months or even a few years who wanted others to believe in their superior knowledge. To not believe in conspiracy was naive.
But after my retirement from teaching and being a trained journalist I wanted to be more objective and set about my own research taking on-board a wide range of opinions. My horizons improved beyond the confines and bubble of a British school in Thailand to the real world outside. It got a bit scary…..like it always does when you have to admit you might have been wrong.
These days I am strongly of the opinion that at the very least the convictions of the two Burmese men are what a British judge would rather euphemistically deem “unsafe”. I am also of the opinion that the great majority of the Thai hierachy believe that too. In time the Burmese men – frankly whether it is proven they were scapegoats or not – will be released. Not pardoned, that will be a step too far, but they will never be executed.
One of my favorite treatises on the subject of what has become known as the B2 came from Sondhi Limthongkul the Thai media mogul and former leader of the PAD. Now Sondhi may not be the trustiest Thai to live since Somchai Washington. Indeed he has multiple axes to grind after his car was shot up in 2009 by what was rumored to be the police and/or the military. But he has been around the block and back in Thailand as much as anyone alive and he still is, just.
His opinion – in a nutshell – was that DPM and defense minister Prawit “Watchman” Wongsuwan sent Chakthip Chaijinda – then a member of the National Legislative Council – as his emissary to Koh Tao to investigate what was going on there after the murders.
Lo and behold the Burmese miscreants had soon “confessed”, everything was successfully swished under that thickest of shag-pile – the Thai carpet – and the junta could get on with hounding Yingluck and getting more Chinese tourists to start actually paying the Thais for their holidays.
Sondhi said that all this was done as much to promote the good name of Prawit, showing him in a good political light for actually doing something constructive in the matter, as to protect the corrupt police and mafia families on Koh Tao. The latter was a given.
The reality was that the fate of the Burmese – considered dastardly since 1767 – and coming to a just conclusion in the case was all secondary to saving Prawit’s not inconsiderable fugly mug.
Shortly thereafter Pol Gen Chakthip was promoted to become the 11th commissioner-general of the RTP replacing Somyot Poompangmoung in September 2015. Sondhi says he got the job based not on abilities in policing but on work to make his superiors look good in matters like Koh Tao.
This week on Thaivisa the island has been everywhere you turned. And for Rooster it has meant dredging up those old feelings about KohTao almost every hour of the waking day. This is not just confined to reading the news. I have translated most of it and been involved in writing it and even contacting those intimately involved in person.
Big Joke Maj-Gen Surachet Hakpan was dispatched by Prawit to Koh Tao after claims made by a nineteen year old woman now in England that she was raped on there in June. Noticing any similarities to the activities of the DPM in 2014? The only difference is that these days he is even more embattled after the watch scandal.
BJ is of course Prawit’s new assistant spokesman, read flunky, but no fool. He knows full well the power and influence of the DPM as overseer of the police – and his own potential promoter – so there must have been considerable trepidation as he traveled south to find what he essentially was required to find.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Or more precisely find that his master’s assertion that there was no mafia, no rape and nothing untoward going on in Koh Tao was right on the money.
BJ made his opinion up based almost entirely on the testimony of the owner of the hostel where the alleged victim stayed and a few assorted traders nearby. The shallowness of his investigation was all too obvious to anyone with eyes and probably anyone without.
In fact, my words of warning last week about being careful who one gets into bed with could have been “haranguing BJ’s huu’s” (ears) at a faster rate of knots than an illegal Koh Tao jet-ski. If he had bothered to read them, that is.
Now this is not to say that the British lady has not made it all up. After all, it has been known to happen as the French policeman found to his cost on Koh Samui the other month. Stories abounded – and reached BJ’s by now battered ears from the same convenient hostel source – that our London ‘victim’ was anything but. She had shagged a male friend while drunk and regretted it with her boyfriend arriving next day, it was claimed.
The boyfriend was genuinely shocked and very wary when Rooster managed to track him down in Dulwich. Along with the mother of the alleged victim he was freaked out how I managed to find him. (Bless the innocence of the millennials! Using a few clicks on Facebook and a bit of Rooster nous was all it took).
He was adamant that “Issy” was raped by a Thai but that was what he had been told by his now ex girlfriend. Was it not incumbent on her to first and foremost lie to the one person that mattered most at the time? Him. I put this to the ex boyfriend who was adamant in his denial though perhaps he thought incumbent meant I had just called him a cucumber. He blocked me moments later.
The mother – interviewed on YouTube by veteran and respected Thai journalist Suthichai Yoon – screamed about mafia and cover-ups and bent cops. We didn’t find out exactly where she had been doing her research but it was obvious that online forums were a chief suspect.
She clammed up when Rooster came asking embarrassing but necessary questions about insurance fraud and her own motivation warning me off her, her family and their friends.
This from a fellow Londoner!
I am afraid I got the distinct impression that the UK tabloids had not only paid mummy Baxter for her story but told her to keep schtum. My mole at The Sun was not sure – though for him Koh Tao was yesterday’s news again and he could move back onto the size of Jordan’s tits in Brexit Britain.
Meanwhile the alleged victim – probably the most sensible in this mess – remains quiet despite the magnitude of what she has said. Little did she know that her night out – whatever happened – would have ramifications to the top level of government and the police in the Thailand she left behind cutting short her back-packing adventure.
With that holy buffalo of the good name of Thai tourism once again at stake, Maj- Gen Surachate’s wholesale whitewash of Koh Tao, along with tourism minister Wearysak’s tired pronouncements that visitors are still up 3.758%, has left no one any nearer the truth. BJ even burbled to a tired Thai media that the next move would be to prosecute The Samui Times, who denied they had a vendetta against Koh Tao, and several others for reporting and sharing fake news. Indeed the editor of the Samui Times is becoming the latest scapegoat.
Did you know that if you enter ‘fake news Trump Thailand’ into a Google search you get 23,000,000 hits in 0.62 seconds…….
Let’s face it, for as long as Koh Tao remains above water all we can say for sure is that it will remain in the dock!
Thankfully there were far more lighter stories to bring a chuckle to the most curmudgeonly of keyboard warrior on Thaivisa. Comments and pronouncements of Prawit’s far more handsome but equally buffoon-like leader Prayut led the way.
First one of note was the pocket general’s opposition to the proposed new huge penalties for drivers with no licenses. Jumping on the outraged netizen bandwagon, one could almost believe that the general now believes that the letters P.M. stand for Populist Militiaman.
He is certainly learning how to ingratiate himself with the Thai public ahead of next February, May or whenever he decides the Thai people are happy enough to vote again. He even came out with a modicum of midweek sense when he stated that “you can’t blame everything on driving licence violations”.
While some posters saw this as a red rag to a bull and tantamount to belittling the importance of his compatriots’ lawbreaking, others saw it as a fair assessment of the absurdity of attaching too much importance to one area of the whole road carnage maelstrom.
Department of Land Transport bod Sanit Phromwong reminded us that more than twice as many accidents are caused by people without licenses. The irony of tens of thousands of prangs and fatalities caused by those who DO have a “bai khap khii” (license) seemed to have been missed on this Dean of Road Knowledge (D.O.R.K.). This came in a story about the DLT asking the public their opinion on the changes.
I wonder if anyone will actually read the comments let alone act on any of them if they do? Delayed rhetorical question alert…..
Meanwhile, both Bangkok’s and QUOTES’ (Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard’s) finest were covering themselves in glory in a series of raids on those most insidious of un-taxed items: dildos and sex drugs.
Krung Thep and Pattaya’s ‘upstanding members’ of law and order were seen pictured with lots of long pink things and packets of gel that they probably thought would make your hair stand on end. The pictures were a “caption writer’s” paradise though some would say that no image will ever compare to that of former chief Somyot and his spokesman standing in front of Suckers Bar in Nana Plaza back in 2015.
Google it if you are the one person in Thailand who has never seen it and lol’d until your teeth fall out.
So to a couple of Rooster Awards. The “You Bottled It” prize goes to Jakkrit and his mate on Koh Pangan who did their level best for Thai /Farang relations by getting a Portuguese woman in stitches…. though she wasn’t laughing with the twenty needed in her head. Look guys, try and pick on a male your own size next time.
There’s one in Nakorn Sawan just waiting – he’s called the Ninja Flasher.
While the “Battleaxe You Should Obey” prize goes to our favorite octogenarian gran Vera Unsworth over in the UK. Son Vern – the famous caver who helped get the Mu Pa boys out – was again slurred as a pedo this week by obnoxious Musk Melon. Now it seems that Vern has finally got his finger out and is going for the billionaire’s billions after his mum’s sage advice from Braintree, Essex.
Take him for as much as you can, Vern – and do get Vera a fur coat at the end.
Finally, the story of a handicapped Thai woman who called out her boorish, able-bodied compatriots for barging past her to get on the lift at a BTS station made me reminisce about my very first day in Thailand back in 1982.
I was reading a guidebook on a train travelling from Sungei Kolok to Surat Thani – people were gabbing all around me in incomprehensible tongues as they tried to find a place to sit and crouch in the crowded carriage without stepping on each others toes.
The guidebook gave a potted description about the notable things about Thailand and the Thais. It highlighted two points – that Thai language was very difficult to learn and that Thai people were noted for their politeness.
I have always found one of these statements to be true and the other to be inherently false – and it is not something that everyone concurs with if online evidence cuts any mustard!
Maybe it was my own mustard keenness to learn and make more sense of my surroundings or perhaps just the time I put into it, but I never found the Thai language remotely difficult. Years later when I came to teaching it, my students used to be amazed when I claimed how easy it could be – some grasped what I was getting at, especially the young.
But when I suggested with a twinkle in my eye that Thai should be the world language because of how simple it was, my older students smiled and thought I had gone troppo.
Then there is politeness. Sure,we all experience rudeness at times no matter where we live, but I can honestly say that I am still overwhelmed by the daily kindness and courtesy of virtually all the Thai people I meet in the street, shops, my work…everywhere.
However, the idea that Thais are especially polite is a notion, like the wheelchair-bound woman on the BTS, that is not universally shared by the Thai people I meet.
Maybe it’s because I am a farang.
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