Thailand is commonly referred to as ‘The Land of the Free’. The implication is that you can get away with a variety of minor infractions without having to worry about the authorities. Or rather not having to worry that the full weight of the law will apply; rather a fine will be claimed. The military took over in May 2014 and have quickly sent out signals that this laissez-faire attitude is not acceptable. This has various implications for people renting cars in Koh Phangan and elsewhere in Thailand.
The police have been told to enforce the existing law. So far news stories and announcements have focussed on visa rules. The law doesn’t allow people on a tourist visa or education visa to work in Thailand. People with back-to-back visas crossing in and out of Thailand via one of the surrounding countries look very much like they are working in Thailand. Immigration officials now have to question people doing this. Unless the answers are convincing a denial stamp is put in the passport. This has clear implications for those working illegally especially in the diving and tourist industries.
Connected to this policy change, the law stating all foreigners must register their whereabouts in the Kingdom (normally done by the hotels and resorts) is being enforced. Concomitant to this is the law stating that a foreigner must have his or her passport on their person at all times. And by all times, the implication is that this includes on the beach and also when renting a car.
It will be interesting to see how car vendors in Koh Phangan are going to deal with this new directive. Eventually a tourist wishing to rent a car will refuse to hand over their passport as surety against damage. They might even involve the police who might feel obliged to uphold the rights of the tourist for fear of publicity leading to accusations of dereliction of duty.
The most logical way forward is to set up genuine insurance for car and motorbike rental. This would involve gathering proof that the person intending to rent a car had a driving licence. There would be an added cost to the vendor to do this, and the chance for scams and revenue boosts would be lowered.
On August 1st, 2014 Thai Visa Forum reported that a jet ski operator was taken to court for trying to ‘scam’ tourists by asking for 15,000 Thai Baht for damages to a jet ski. He was taken down the police station and the compensation payment was dropped to 2,000 Thai Baht. This story has a clear parallel with motorbike rental scams. It is easier to ascertain the real cost of repairs to mopeds and motorbikes as there are numerous mechanics on Koh Phangan. Expect for a tourist in Koh Phangan to refuse to pay a large repair bill until he has consulted the police. The military junta’s resolve will be tested.
The present government has already turned its attention to the fact that all the outdoor parties in Koh Phangan are unlicensed and that alcohol is being sold after 12 am.
The land of the free is becoming less so. Whether the crackdown will last beyond the life of the present administration is not clear.