Phuket Gazette

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket's international community

Govt warns scammers as Thailand is named top destination
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Thailand has long been ranked as one of the world's best tourist destinations, with so many awards under its belt. However, the Kingdom's tourism industry is not untainted.

Now that Thailand has finally made it to the Huffington Post's list of top 20 destinations for New Year celebrations, the government is calling on all Thais to look after tourists in their neighborhoods.

This plea comes as Thailand's reputation continues getting dealt one blow after another from reports about scams and crimes against foreigners.

Just recently, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article warning Australian tourists to be wary of extortion gangs in Phuket, some of who are allegedly in cahoots with local police.

Australian Ambassador to Thailand James Wise and his British counterpart, Mark Kent, have joined the Tourism Ministry's campaign to tackle tourist scams in the resort-island of Phuket. The key scams involve taxi and jet-ski operators in both Phuket and Pattaya, the article said.

In addition to all this, two Russian nationals were robbed and raped in Chon Buri late on Christmas Day.

The women, in their early 30s, told police that they were forced into a pick-up truck at gunpoint while they were walking back to their hotel. They claimed they were attacked by three men, who did not just rob them of their cash, cellphones and jewellery, but also assaulted them sexually.

The women, who were left to fend for themselves in a forested area, came upon a house and begged for help. The owners of the house contacted the police for them.

"We will hunt down the attackers," Pattaya police inspector Pol Lt-Colonel Patsa Dejparkkul promised.

Thailand needs to take serious steps in stopping crimes against tourists, otherwise its appeal as a great destination might fade.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said yesterday that the issue of travelers' safety had been raised and discussed in the latest Cabinet meeting. He said that while the authorities will do their best in strictly enforcing the law, ordinary citizens should also lend a hand.

"Please take care of foreigners. If anything happens to them, please step in to help," Surapong said.

He added that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had also instructed all relevant authorities to ensure the safety of tourists especially during the holidays.

"Don't hurt Thailand's tourism industry," he said, adding that criminals targeting foreigners ruin the country's image.

Tourists can call the 1672, (02) 134 4077 or (02) 356 0650 hotlines for assistance any time of the day or night, he said. (For the Tourist Police in Phuket call: 1155.)

Meanwhile, Surat Thani Governor Chatpong Chatphut promised to introduce measures that would protect tourists from scammers in the jet-ski, car and boat rental services.

He said this after a tourist complained that a jet-ski operator on Chawaeng beach attacked him after he refused to pay the exorbitant fees demanded. Four suspects have been arrested in the case.

"If all operators are required to buy insurance policies, this problem should reduce," he said.

Single-entry visa for Thailand, Cambodia
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: From today, tourists from 35 countries need only apply for one visa to visit both Thailand and Cambodia. This is part of ACMECS Single Visa – the first step toward an ASEAN version of the European Union's Schengen Visa scheme.

Visitors who want to visit both countries can apply for a visa at either country's embassy.

The ACMECS Single Visa should boost tourism in both countries as well as fulfil Thailand's objective to become a regional hub for tourism, said Foreign Minister Surapong Towichuk-chaikul, who jointly chaired a joint commission on bilateral cooperation with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong yesterday.

ACMECS stands for the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, which groups Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. All ACMECS members are part of ASEAN, and the ACMECS Single Visa is expected to pave the way for an ASEAN Common Visa.

The original idea to have a Schengen-style tourist visa was introduced at a meeting in Bagan, Myanmar in 2003 between leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. At the meeting they launched the "four countries-one destination" scheme, which Vietnam joined later. Foreign ministers of Acmecs then agreed at a 2005 meeting in Siem Reap that Thailand and Cambodia would try to implement the single-visa strategy first. "If the initial project is successful, then the remaining Acmecs members will join the scheme," Surapong told the press.

Hor Namhong said the two nations would most certainly benefit from the single-visa scheme as it would make travel between the two countries more convenient.

As for concern that traffickers might exploit the scheme, both countries have a "pre-clearance" system.

For instance, if a visitor applies for a visa at a Thai embassy, the documents will be forwarded to its Cambodian counterpart for approval, which will have the authority to reject the application, and vice versa. Also, visa fees for both countries will have to be paid. For instance, the Thai embassy will charge 1,000 baht for entry into Thailand and the tourist will have to pay the Cambodian visa fee upon arrival in that country and vice versa.

As per details provided by the Thai Foreign Ministry, neither country will issue a "multiple-entry" visa.

Up to 21 million people have visited Thailand this year, while Cambodia has had 2.3 million visitors in the first eight months of 2012.

Piyamarn Tejapaiboon, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the scheme will be slightly more beneficial for Cambodia, as tourists visiting Thailand will be able to extend their stay.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, added that the scheme should help boost tourism in Thailand because travel agents will now be able to offer Cambodia as an additional destination.

Apart from the single visa, the two ministers also discussed several cooperation strategies at the meeting yesterday, including joint efforts in the security, economic, social and cultural spheres. They also agreed to set up a permanent border checkpoint between Ban Nong Aian in Sa Kaew province and Stung Bot in Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province, as well as a temporary checkpoint at Sa Kaew's Ban Non Mak Moon and Banteay Meanchey's Ban Pray Chan.

Thailand will also do a feasibility study on upgrading a road linking the Stung Bot checkpoint to Cambodia's Highway No 5 to Phnom Penh. The State Railway of Thailand will also provide assistance in building a railway bridge connecting Sa Kaew's Kongluek village with Poi Pet in Cambodia to facilitate trade and tourism.

So far, the two countries' annual bilateral trade is worth about US$2 billion (Bt61 billion), Hor Namhong said. "Both countries have agreed to increase some 30 per cent of trade annually, but I exp
– Phuket Gazette Editors

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