29/ Aug/ 2014 Headless Bodies Found Near Abandoned Catamaran off Koh Larn Island Two headless and badly decomposed bodies were discovered Thursday afternoon in the sea off Koh Larn island, approx. 10 kilometres off the coast of Pattaya, and near an abandoned yacht which is thought to be connected to the unidentified couple. Police haven't yet determined the nationalities and age of the man and woman, who are believed to have been dead for 10-15 days, or whether the deceased had been killed or committed suicide.
The headless bodies were discovered about 800 metres from an abandoned, large white Lagoon 440 catamaran, named "Cat Rynna", which witnesses said had docked in the area for about 10 days. While Pattaya One News report that the catamaran "was locked from the outside" and "inside there appeared to be no obvious signs of a disturbance", the Bangkok Post suggests that the yacht "appeared to have been ransacked". Police will now try to identify the owner of the luxury catamaran and establish a "definite connection" between the couple and the abandoned vessel. Update -A day after the discovery of the bodies, Pattaya One reports that the couple are "thought to be of foreign nationality" and that the abandoned catamaran "is not connected to the pair in any way" but belonged to a Belgian national and was "currently being captained by a German. The boat experienced technical difficulties and with the permission of the Marine Department ... was anchored 500 meters off the coast of [Koh Sak island] until it could become sea-worthy again."
28/ Aug/ 2014 New Extension Rules: Now Tourists Can Stay in Thailand for 60 Days Without Visa Effective from Friday, August 29, tourists will be able to extend their visa-exempt stay in Thailand by a further 30 days, not just seven days as previously. From now on, if you're eligible for a visa-exempted stay of 30 days in the country, you will no longer need a 60-day tourist visa if you wish to stay in Thailand for more than a month but not exceeding 60 days.
All you need to do is visit your local immigration bureau after your first 30 days have expired and apply for a 30-day extension at a fee of 1,900 Baht; effectively giving you 60 days of stay without having to apply for a visa prior to your visit. Just expect you'll have to prove that you're a "genuine" tourist and produce a confirmed air ticket out of the country within the 30 days of extension and maybe show some cash and hotel booking confirmation. If you plan to stay in Thailand possibly longer than 60 days, you're still advised to obtain a proper tourist or other visa prior to traveling to Thailand.
28/ Aug/ 2014 New ED Visa Extension Rules: No Extensions If Visa Older Than One Year Visa extension regulations have been tightened for foreigners who enroll to study Thai in private language schools outside of the official school system and have obtained an Education Visa (ED visa). Effective from August 29, ED visas will be valid for only one year; foreign students will be granted visa extensions of 90 days each time but for no longer than one year in total from the date of entry into the kingdom. Current ED visa holders who hold a visa older than one year, will now have to leave Thailand and apply for a new ED visa before their current extension period ends.
26/ Aug/ 2014 Tough New Crackdown on Alcohol Promotions ... If media reports and health officials in Chiang Mai and Phuket are to be believed, the military junta is set to implement tough new rules regulating the advertising and promotion of alcohol, apparently in an all-out effort to cut down on alcohol consumption in the country. In brief, "all promotion of alcohol is now illegal", including happy hours, word of mouth, and alcohol-branded bar paraphernalia like glasses, ashtrays, beer coolers and beer mats. Bottles of booze will also be required to carry graphic warning labels, similar to those on cigarette packets, and "no drinking after midnight" will be allowed in bars and restaurants ...
Details of the law admittedly hard to swallow and are "vague and open to interpretation". They were first given to Chiang Mai CityNews by public health officials in Chiang Mai on Monday and later confirmed by a health official on Phuket. The harsh new rules are reportedly based on an "existing [yet mostly ignored] law, the Alcohol Control Act of 2008", with fines ranging from 2,500 to 500,000 Baht, or punishments of up to six months in jail. An official in Chiang Mai explains that "under the newly enforced rules, all alcohol products must carry health warnings, sales are banned to anyone under the age of 20, and initiatives promoting alcohol - such as happy hours, free ice and mixers ... - are banned. No drinking is allowed after midnight in bars or restaurants, even though sales have ended; no alcohol logos are allowed on glasses, ashtrays and other paraphernalia; and bars will not be allowed to display posters or bottles - even old ones - featuring such logos. Bar staff cannot wear T-shirts with alcohol logos, and it is illegal to promote events such as wine and beer tastings. Alcohol logos ... are not allowed to be displayed in sponsorship or any kind of advertising or promotion. Promoting alcohol through word of mouth is also illegal ... All printed photographs of glasses or bottles in the media must have visible brands and logos blurred." As for advertisement for alcoholic drinks, there will be tough new restrictions and graphic warning labels will be mandatory on bottles.
And if that's all not clear enough, the said military official provided CityNews with a few more unpleasant details: "All promotion of alcoholic consumption is illegal. It is no longer legal to offer any winnings or prizes in relation to alcoholic beverages; all drinks must be sold at normal costs and no gifts, exchanges of goods or discounts of any kind are allowed. Encouraging people to try an alcoholic drink is not allowed - no inviting people to sample alcohol. No more three-for-two promotions, no more free mixers, free ice ... no written or even spoken promotions or discounts are allowed. No alcohol logos on plates, cups, vases, or anything commercial are allowed. No posters (even old ones) of any alcohol bottles or glasses with logos - or logos themselves - or any other decorative items in a bar or pub or establishment selling alcohol. If you wear a T-shirt or apparel with an alcohol logo on it and happen to be serving in a bar at the same time, it is considered an advertisement, and that is illegal ... No old bottles ... can be used to decorate a business. No drinking is allowed in cars ... no drinking after midnight is allowed ... No word of mouth promotions, so servers are not allowed to recommend particular brands."
As previously, alcohol sales remain banned on the four main Buddha holidays; alcohol consumption is only allowed in specified areas (e.g. not in public parks); alcohol sales are not allowed at "mobile bars" and to people aged under 20 years or those "obviously drunk".
Sounds tough?! Read the full piece at Chiang Mai CityNews to get the whole picture; it's actually pretty scary. A legitimate question is certainly what impact the new rules will effectively have on businesses like beer bars or pubs that make a living selling alcoholic drinks, and how will drinking customers be affected? Given that law enforcers certainly have more pressing issues to handle as well, it also remains to be seen how strictly these unworldly new rules will be enforced? We hope common sense will prevail.
25/ Aug/ 2014 No Crackdown on Back-To-Back Tourist Visa Applicants Will the current crackdown on out/in visa runs also affect back-to-back tourist visa applicants and foreign visitors holding valid tourist visas? In slightly sensational manner, AsianCorrespondent.com reported on July 16: "Even those on valid tourist visas may be denied entry if immigration officials suspect feel they are spending too long in the country or working illegally." Ajarn.com even anticipated that "from [August 12th], apparently no one will be allowed to use back-to-back 60-day tourist visas to enter Thailand. You can use one 60-day tourist visa to enter the country [one time], but forget about using a second one." We immediately thought that this interpretation was slightly exaggerated.
Indeed, an immigration official in Chiang Mai has now confirmed "there is no limit to the number of tourist visas you can apply for, nor is there a minimum time limit between each one." He also reaffirmed that a multiple-entry tourist visa will "allow you to exit and enter Thailand however many times you have been granted." In other words, tourist visa holders/applicants will not be affected by the ongoing "crackdown" on visa runners: You can apply for an unlimited number of tourist visas consecutively, and you won't have to stay outside the country for an unspecified period of time before applying for a new one.
In any case, tourist visa applicants should always be prepared to prove that they are in fact tourists and, if necessary, be able to produce a confirmed airline ticket, hotel booking etc. Alternatively, foreigners who plan to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time can also apply for an appropriate long-stay visa.
24/ Aug/ 2014 Tourism in Pattaya 50% Down? Someone told me today a report on Thai television had claimed that the number of tourists in Pattaya was "down 50%" this year. 50%? Unfortunately we haven't seen that report and cannot confirm its veracity. But yes, Pattaya is "quiet" this year (and that's a euphemism); beaches, bars and restaurants are mostly empty; then again, an alleged 50% decrease in tourist numbers isn't very credible. The only recent article citing current tourist numbers in Pattaya is a piece by The Nation published a couple of days ago, and the decrease in tourist numbers is given as considerable less drastic there: "only" 20-25% ...
According to The Nation, tourism has "dropped by 20-25% during the current quarter compared with same period last year"; particularly the number of Chinese tourists had dropped by 70% while "other key markets such as Russia ... have also declined significantly." PDN had reported earlier this month that the number of Russian tourists visiting Pattaya had decreased by 30% this year.
The Nation further reports that in 2014, 9.1 million tourists visited Pattaya; seven million foreign and 2.1 million local tourists: "The top tour markets were Russia (2.3 million visitors), China (389,000), South Korea and India (300,000 each)." These are credible data we think; but the following is simply bizarre: While currently "hotels in Pattaya are running at an average occupancy rate of 45-50% this month, some 25% down on the same period last year", the president of the Pattaya Business and Tourism Association strangely expects the total number of tourists for 2014 to drop by only 5%, with the number of visitors "likely to fall to 8.8 million"; an extremely sanguine forecast.
So where does this leave us? Are tourist numbers down 50% this year or "only" some 20-25%? Whatever the real figure is, an overall decline of just 5% for 2014 certainly sounds like a target hard to achieve ...
23/ Aug/ 2014 Visa Rules To Be Relaxed: Junta Chief Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, in his weekly televised program Friday night, surprisingly also touched on the hot topic of "visa runs" and the ongoing immigration crackdown on "visa runners". While the tangible implications of his words remain unclear for now, Prayuth reportedly told the Immigration Bureau to be "flexible" with visa runners and said that "those going on visa runs can register [?] with the bureau, which will then find a way to resolve the problem."
According to the new visa rules, out/in visa runs are basically a thing of the past and tourists who haven't obtained a visa prior to their visit to Thailand will not be able to re-enter the country. The crackdown on "visa runs" obviously also targets back-to-back tourists visa applicants According to The Nation, Prayuth "admitted that this crackdown had considerably affected certain groups. This is a problem that needs to be resolved, as it can lead to a shortage of English teachers and tour guides."
22/ Aug/ 2014 DSI Announces Crackdown on "Thai Nominee Shareholding" The Department of Special Investigations (DSI), i.e. Thailand's equivalent to the FBI, on Thursday held a meeting at Pattaya's Nong Nooch Tropical Garden to "discuss plans to begin a crackdown on foreign business people who use Thai nominee shareholders to effectively control Thai companies." Pattaya One reports: "At the meeting were over 100 delegates from the DSI, the Ministry of Commerce, Tourism Authority of Thailand, and representatives from the public and private sector. They gathered to discuss how some foreign business operators have exploited the Thai nominee shareholding loophole for many years, despite it being illegal under the Foreign Business Act of 1999. The DSI would now like to see this loophole closed and investigations started on companies which use Thai shareholders [on paper] but are effectively controlled by foreign nationals. They are particularly concerned with businesses associated with tourism ..." Thailand After The Coup - Latest Updates In brief (for updates please scroll down) >>> - It's over three months since army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, on May 22, seized power from the elected government in the country’s 12th successful coup since 1932. The constitution was suspended and, in late July, replaced with an interim constitution, which grants amnesty to the coup makers and gives the junta, aka the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), sweeping powers. On July 31, Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), whose 200 members were all appointed by the junta. A clear majority is dominated by active and retired military officers. On August 21, the NLA unanimously appointed junta/army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new prime minister of Thailand. The coup has drawn widespread criticism from the international community, which has urged a quick return to electoral democracy.
- A nationwide night-time curfew imposed following the military intervention on May 22 was lifted on June 13. Martial law, imposed two days before the coup, however remains in force until further notice. Protests against the coup and political gatherings of five people or more are strictly illegal under martial law. Criticism of the NCPO and the coup are also deemed illegal. Tourists and expats are strongly advised to stay away from anti-coup protests. Foreigners have also been advised against criticizing the junta and the coup, including on social media, and making dissident political statements. Aside from the curfew, the coup has had no relevant impact on tourism. Airports, land border checkpoints etc. have continued to operate as usual and the country remains safe for tourists.
- The interim constitution has been heavily criticized for being undemocratic and further strengthening the military's powers. In particular, the interim constitution puts NCPO/army chief Prayuth "in charge of national security, allowing him to suppress any action ... that could be considered a threat to national peace, security, economy or the monarchy ... all orders from the junta chief ... on those matters are final." The constitution further stipulates that all of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)'s members would be appointed by the junta. While the interim constitution fails to precisely specify a time frame for the country's promised return to democracy following the implementation of vaguely defined political "reforms", a new general election is scheduled to be held not before October 2015; provided the situation is sufficiently "stable" and the junta-appointed government has accomplished its self-proclaimed task of achieving "reconciliation". When a new permanent charter is in place (likely not before summer 2015 and without a referendum) the junta hopes that its attempts at reforming the politically divided nation would ultimately lead to a government "all people can accept".
- On July 31, Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), whose 200 members were all appointed by the NCPO. A clear majority is dominated by active and retired military officers. The rest mostly consists of businesspeople, academics, technocrats and former appointed senators who opposed the ousted government and are known for their anti-Thaksin stance. Junta chief Prayuth responded to "criticism that the NLA was not democratically set up", by saying that under the new government, there would be "temporary Thai-style democracy".
- On August 21, the junta-appointed NLA unanimously appointed junta/army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new prime minister of Thailand. No other candidate was nominated for the post, and no lawmaker voted against Prayuth's appointment. Despite the formation of a semi-civilian interim government and Prayuth's appointment as new prime minister, the junta has reaffirmed that it would not revoke martial law any time soon.
- The junta explained the military takeover by telling the foreign media it had to launch the coup because political divisions had put the country at risk of "civil war". The NCPO said it sought to "return happiness" to the people and establish reconciliation and national unity; aims they were determined to achieve by stamping out "colour-coded" (red/yellow) socio-political divisions and by depoliticizing Thai society.
- Following the military's power seizure, the media were strictly advised to self-censor themselves and prohibited from disseminating "content prohibited by the junta". All TV stations, including foreign news channels, were banned on the day of the coup (most were allowed to resume operating later). A total of 14 partisan TV channels with links to political parties and groups were only allowed to resume broadcasting weeks after the military takeover and on the condition that they strictly follow the rules set by NCPO, i.e. refrain from disseminating "prohibited content" and criticizing the junta and its operations.
- On June 25, the NCPO announced they had set up five panels to monitor all kinds of media, including radio broadcasts, television, print, online and social media, and foreign media, for content that is considered to be "inciting hatred towards the monarchy" or providing "false information". As the junta seeks to muzzle all kind of dissent, any media found to be spreading "inappropriate content" will face criminal charges. On July 18, the NCPO issued another announcement reiterating its restrictions on freedom of speech, in which it threatened to shut down and take legal actions against any media, including social media, that criticize the NCPO and disseminate "content prohibited by the junta". Social media users, blogs and websites have been explicitly warned not to post any content and comments that could "incite unrest". A temporary Facebook outage on May 28 prompted a swift outcry among Thai Internet users but was officially blamed on a "technical glitch". An "online content monitoring committee" has since reportedly been set up to monitor and block "inappropriate content" on the web. The junta has openly acknowledged they were seeking tighter censorship of the Internet and especially social media.
- Since May 22, the ruling military junta has launched a wide crackdown on dissent aimed principally at elements aligned with controversial ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. More than 500 former government politicians, protest leaders and dissident voices, mostly with links to the "red shirt" movement, have been summoned to report to the NCPO and detained since May 22. Opponents of the coup are reportedly to undergo an "attitude re-adjustment" process while in detention. Most of the detainees have been released after 3-7 days but have been barred from political activism and expressing dissident political opinions.
- In a wider crackdown on dissidents and political opponents, at least 155 political figures and activists have been banned from leaving the country or face arrests. Dozens of prominent academics and activists have been summoned to report to the junta; those who defy the order also face fines or arrest. As the coup leaders seek to prevent a possible fightback against the coup, an unknown number of regional "red shirt" leaders and activists in Northern and Northeast Thailand have been detained; several "red shirt" militants have also been arrested. On June 1, 38 political figures, many of them left-leaning activists and critics of the lese majeste law, were summoned to report to the junta. Another 21 activists and academics, many of them lese majeste suspects living in exile, were summoned by the junta on June 4. A number of academics and activists have decided to stay in hiding rather than report to the junta. The NCPO has also announced that violators of the controversial lese majeste law and junta orders, as well as violators of internal security laws, will face court-martial proceedings. More than a dozen new lese majeste cases have reportedly been filed since the military takeover. Arrest warrants have also been issued for several lese majeste suspects living in self-imposed exile and their passports have been revoked. The NCPO has also revoked the passport of a noted Japan-based academic who has been highly critical of the coup from abroad and failed to heed a summons issued by the junta. Dozens of state officials, provincial governors etc., aligned with the deposed government have been transferred to inactive posts since the coup. The purge is expected to continue in the coming months.
- Following a week of small anti-coup protests mainly in Bangkok immediately after the coup, no larger coordinated protest activities have been reported since. As criticism of the junta is virtually illegal and the NCPO has explicitly warned people against joining anti-coup protests or face arrest and detention, all dissent has been effectively silenced for now and/or forced to "go underground". Latest updates >>> August 30 - Speaking in his weekly TV program, army/junta chief/prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha for the first time confirmed that at least a third or 12 of his 36-member cabinet would be retired or active military officers and members of the junta/NCPO. The Bangkok Post has the prospective cabinet line-up here. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the National Reform Council (NRC) will likely also be dominated by conservative/pro-military forces, royalist "yellow shirts" and supporters of the former anti-government movement, while the "red shirts" and supporters of the ousted government will likely just stand on the sidelines. As Prayuth recently pointed out in a meeting with European investors, this is clearly no military dictatorship ... August 22 - Despite the formation of a semi-civilian interim government and the appointment of junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as new prime minister, the junta reaffirms that it will "not revoke nationwide martial law any time soon". Khaosod English quotes a junta spokesperson as saying that martial law "has not dramatically affected public life" [sic] and "needs to [be maintained] to ensure peace and order."
August 21 - The iLaw project has posted some interesting data on arrests, detentions etc. since the coup on May 22. According to iLaw, a total of 571 people were summoned by the NCPO since the military takeover; 257 were arrested, most of them in Bangkok, the North and North-East. Out of the individuals summoned or arrested, 395 were affiliated with the "red shirts" and the ousted government; 142 were academics, journalists, activists etc. 89 people were arrested at peaceful anti-coup demonstrations. Only 59 of those summoned or arrested by the junta were affiliated with the Democrat Party or the PDRC, the former anti-government protest movement which effectively called for a coup. Out of the 86 individuals facing criminal prosecution after being summoned/arrested, 61 will be tried before a military court.