May 2024

Is Thailand safe for foreign tourists? Absolutely yes – unless you’re a Russian gangster

One of the many attractions of holidaying in Thailand is the incredibly low (almost non-existent) level of crime against foreign tourists. In Thailand you really can relax, whereas in many holiday destinations (especially the hell-holes of South America, the Carribean and Africa) you can’t walk more than 200 metres from your hotel without being robbed at least once. Occasionally in Thailand a backpacker will claim to have been robbed. But often this is just an attempt to get their insurance company to pay for their world trip or else the thief is actually another Westerner who has “befriended” them with the intention of relieving them of their possessions. And some sex tourists used to get drugged and robbed (often by ladyboys). But as most hotels now check visitors’ ID cards, this has largely been stamped out.

But now there is a new phenomenon causing a little concern. As anyone who takes summer or winter holidays will know, most holiday resorts are now over-run by Russian tourists. Many of these are young couples and ordinary families with kids. But amongst the Russian tourists are also quite a few heavy-set, muscular men accompanied by slim, well-appointed trophy WAGs. If these man have necks at all, they are usually wider than their heads. Now, of course, some of this solid-looking men may be teachers, accountants, university professors and social workers. But some may make their living from old-fashioned occupations like protection, smuggling, extortion and acting as henchmen to help the next generation of Roman Abramoviches to become hugely and unaccountably wealthy.

The problem with these fine people is that they like to show that they have money. So they and their WAGs tend to be dripping with ostentatious bling. But this is the real thing – gold, diamonds etc – not the plastic and glass crap so favoured by British hairdressers and secretaries. Moreover, many of these men may not have a regular salary being paid into a bank – in fact the only time some may visit a bank is to rob it – and this means they and their WAGs tend to carry considerable amounts of cash.

This influx of cashed-up and blinged-up Russian gangsters has proved irresistable to a few enterprising young Thai men, usually riding motorbikes when they make their smash-and-grab robberies. So we had the wonderful spectacle last week of the Russian consul in Bangkok complaining to the Thai authorities about the rising level of crime against Russian criminals. There must be a satisfying irony in there somewhere.

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