Monthly Archives: September 2010

The “Litter Scam” in Bangkok

A few week’s ago, the excellent Spectrum supplement of the Bangkok Post did a big feature on the so-called Bangkok’s ‘cigarette police’. If you haven’t read it already then I suggest you take a look now. For a while there has been a law in Bangkok against littering which has been enforced with a heavy fine. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Like the next person, I don’t like seeing litter around. So, I am happy they are cracking down on people who dump their rubbish on the roadside. But, that is not exactly what is happening. Instead of targeting local people the BMA officials, called “thetsakij”, are going after a softer target – foreign tourists.

After the Bangkok Post article came out there were a lot of comments about it in their letter’s page and also on Internet forums. Many people came out to say that they were fined 2,000 baht by these officials and were never given a receipt. They were hassled and told that if they didn’t pay the fine on the spot then they would have to go to the local police station where they would have to pay more. Interestingly, Manit Techa-apichoke, the deputy director of the City Law Enforcement Department, told the the Bangkok Post a few days later “foreigners who feel they have been unfairly targeted by the thetsakij should refuse to pay the fines”. Really? How many tourists know the difference between a police uniform and the one of the “thetsakij”. Most are too scared and just pay the fine.

The BMA promised a crackdown on officials that were found guilty of extortion. At the weekend I decided to go and take a look for myself. I went to the sky walk in front of the MBK shopping mall where the “thetsakij” have a table. Three of them were at work and as I was approaching them I could see they had just finished fining a female foreign tourists. Two of the officials then went off to the top of the steps to catch another tourist. At the bottom of these steps there is a small sign that says “no smoking”. There are no rubbish bins here so what the tourists are doing is throwing their cigarettes onto the ground. The BMA official then grabs them when they get to the top of the steps. The only sign about the 2,000 baht fine is this one next to the table where the officials are stationed.

I was hanging around here for about 30 minutes before I was well and truly spotted. But, by that time I had witnessed FOUR foreign tourists being fined for littering. So, that is 8,000 baht for 30 minutes work. Not a bad earner for someone. When I came back five minutes later the BMA officials had all gone. I’m not sure why. It was mid-afternoon. Maybe they had gone for tea or just didn’t like me hanging around taking pictures. I’m not saying that people who litter shouldn’t be fined. But, 2,000 baht does seem to be a bit high for dropping a cigarette butt when elsewhere people are dumping bucket fulls of rubbish in the streets with no consequence. In addition, targeting foreign tourists isn’t fair. If a Thai person is caught they just get a warning or told to do push-ups if they are a teenager.


While I was taking pictures I was also posting them live on Twitter on my account @RichardBarrow. I wasn’t able to reply to everyone but here are some of the comments that I got within that 30 minutes I was tweeting:

@gskphoto: Hilarious. did you tell him he can just walk away and not pay?
@gskphoto: I’m going to pay for a billboard in front, saying “you don’t have to pay, just walk away!”
@forestmat: are these guys also stopping and fining Thais?
@dany_k: how did u get that photo!
@freakingcat: I am sure the President of TAT would be happy to hear what a great memory of Thailand tourists get from the cigarette Mafia!
@GlobalMouthful: the questions being whther they really littered, and whom do the fines go to…?
@thaicam:“2,000 baht fines every 5-10 minutes” // wow, i’m in the wrong business…shoulda been a cigarrette monitor cop
@freakingcat: Guess Ratchprasong is for Tourists now more dangerous than it was in April/May 2010
@two10eleven: That’s ridiculous. Illegal as it “may” be (given each circumstance) the law should be a blanket law not just a white skin law
@oldskooldi: And that’s how tourists will want to come to Thailand… a great place to get ripped off!
@oldskooldi: 80% ( a random figure!) of ppl here think foreigners are rich 🙂
@KristoferA: And while is documenting how the police are fleecing tourists in front of MBK, the woman that stabbed an expat to death…
@WomenLearnThai: Follow @RichardBarrow as he documents the Thai Gestapo ripping off tourists at MBK.
@forestmat: they don’t look best pleased with you!
@freakingcat: Police! Your friend when you are in need! Guess they hv special Tourist Cigarette Police. #Amazing Thailand, never come back!
@forestmat: what authority do they have to enforce the law? Do you know if they are legitimately allowed to issue fines?
@gskphoto: are they real police or just security guards in fancy uniform?
@GlobalMouthful: Amazing Thailand: a great place to part ways with your cash.
@Saksith: Don’t they notice you taking pictures of them of the same table in the last 20 minutes? Not that you get a fine as well! 😀
@freakingcat: Do Tourists get “proper” receipts 4 fines or is the money as usually just pocketed by Police? What if they refuse to pay?
@gskphoto: No bins or ashtrays, is there actually a clear and obvious sign in English?
@RobinThailand: I used to put my butts in a pocket of my shorts just for these reasons. And, because it’s rude to ash out on the walk.
@Matt_Jasper: maybe we could organise a camera tweetup at that spot and get a whole bunch of ppl to take their pics all at once.
@freakingcat: Why don’t u light a cigarette,refuse to pay and tweet what’s happening. Happy to pitch in for the fine u hv to pay eventually
@RobinThailand: In SG, first time offense is $150, second time I think $300 or more and after that public service.
@Ithinkimlost: are they a victim if they have committed an offence? There must be a bin somewhere.
@AndersInNon: The three members of the Thai Gestapo in front MBK have fled > A citizen win moment 2 treasure, thanks a lot 🙂
@ahyangyang: When they had enough ,they go drinking and celebrate..
@freakingcat: There should be big signs warning Tourists of the Cigarette Criminals trying to extort money.
@thomaswanhoff: First: using gestapo is just bad. second: would you smoke in Singapore as well? Dont smoke, dont get fined. easy.
@KainerWeissmann: at the main entries have been signs “no smoking” all around mbk.. 4 month ago.
@thomasjojo: that fine is deserved of they throw garbage around. but its a shame no thais around here (around bkk) gets fines too.
@thomasjojo: i have seen signs in Bkk about littering, fines. every intelligent person know that they should not trash around. Smokers too
@Orientix: Friend from Thailand visiting here informs Thailand no fun anymore. Fines fines fines for whatever

Eating Thai Street Food in Thailand

Recently I decided to have a go at The Thai Street Food Challenge. Basically, I have to eat nothing but street food for every meal for 30 days. In theory it doesn’t sound much of a challenge as street food in Thailand is both delicious and plentiful. However, I have some strict rules that I have to adhere to. For a start I am not allowed to repeat any of the meals. This means that this month I have to eat at least 90 different meals! I also cannot eat in any restaurant or food court. Basically anywhere that has a front door or is air-conditioned. This leaves me open-fronted food shops, food stalls, carts and wandering hawkers.

I have just completed my first ten days of the challenge which has already seen me eating thirty different dishes. That is quite an achievement but I still have 20 days to go! At this moment in time, I still have no idea whether I will be able to find enough different dishes on the streets of Paknam in Samut Prakan. But, I am trying really hard. As many of you know, I prefer to cook food myself and usually only eat street food when I am out and about or when I am too tired to cook. For most people eating out is a convenience as they can stop for food on the way to or back from work. But, for me it is easier to cook or prepare my own food as I work in the vicinity of where I live.

When I first started a number of people said that I would find it cheaper eating out all the time compared to cooking at home. That certainly hasn’t been an exaggeration. In my first week I spent only 608 baht on my meals ($19.50). That works out at less than $1 per meal! When I cook I have the advantage of choosing only the best ingredients. It is also easier for me to avoid the Thai cook’s habit of putting too much sugar and even MSG into the food. However, that comes at a price. So far I have spent less on street food than I do during my weekly supermarket visits. I think the main difference is that when I cook myself I use more meat and probably better quality. Another saving that I think I will see this month is on electricity as I am not using the electric cooker or oven.

When I am eating out I also take advantage of the free drinks that they offer at most food shops and stalls. This is usually boiled water which is safe on most occasions. I usually say that if you see a lot of Thais at a food stall then you shouldn’t have any a problems with bad food. However, if you are a tourist then it might be advisable to ask for bottled water. This usually costs 10 baht. Some food shops will charge 1 or 2 baht for ice. They often sell other drinks which are also worth exploring.

When I told people about the street food challenge for one month they likened it to the “Super Size Me” movie where the film-maker ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 28 days. He said that as a result of this he gained 11 kilos in weight and suffered from high cholesterol and mood swings. I guess I was a little concerned about my own experiment. Mainly because of hazards like MSG. I know I am getting variety but I am not having the usual vegetables and fruit that I normally eat most days. There is also a lot of deep fried street food that I am eating. However, so far I am not experiencing any ill-effect and I have also lost 1.5 kiols in weight without even trying!

It hasn’t been easy, but I have been doing my best to pace myself for the 30 day challenge. The temptation is to eat all my favourite food straight away but that would leave a very boring last two weeks! So, I am trying to mix it up a lot. It hasn’t always been easy as there is a lot of food out there that I don’t normally try. Like many people, I often just stick to my core favourites which I keep repeating. However, at least I am exploring and finding some new dishes that I will probably try again after the challenge has finished. Another good thing is that I have been exploring my city a lot and have found places that I didn’t know existed before!

The biggest challenge for me has been breakfast. There aren’t that many stalls open near where I live in the morning. And anyway, there are probably only 3 or 4 good dishes to have for breakfast. For example, johk, khao tom, salapao and pathongko. I am still trying to get used to having spicy food so early. For Thai people they often just eat what was left over from the night before. So, taking a page from their book, I have started to buy food down the market the night before to eat for breakfast.

You can follow my Thai Street Food Challenge live on Twitter by going to @EnjoyThaiFood. I am also posting a daily summary over at In addition, you can follow my challenge on a photo map.