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

8 responses to “The “Litter Scam” in Bangkok