The island of Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s also an over-priced, mafia-run hell hole.

One of the worst problems there is with transport. To get from the airport to your hotel or guesthouse you must use one of the mafia-controlled taxis – some licensed, others not, which charge an arm and a leg for a short trip (approximately six times what you’d pay in Bangkok). Then at your destination you’ll probably need to use a tuk-tuk if you want to explore, and that’ll be extortionate too. Hotels can’t provide a shuttle service and nobody is willing to incur the mafia’s displeasure by running a public bus service to and from the airport, or minivans between the different beaches. Not so long ago drivers blockaded the port so that ship passengers couldn’t be taken on private tours and had to use the mafia taxi service. They’ve also blockaded US warships for similar reasons. Curiously enough, taxis in Phuket have a special sticker, which is believed to show that they’ve paid their under-the-table dues to the local police.

Then there are the scams, the most popular of which is the jet ski scam. A tourist hires a jet ski without noticing that it is slightly damaged. Upon return he (or she) is charged a ridiculous amount to fix the “damage” the he is alleged to have caused. Going to the police does no good – they’re in on the scam, too. They’ll just tell you to pay up. And if you don’t, physical violence will be used, or guns drawn.

Then there are the dirty beaches, degraded natural areas, ugly, uncontrolled development and building upon supposedly protected land.

Add in the handbag snatchers and all the murders and rapes as well as the rather strange propensity for foreigners to go flying from their balconies and the police always deciding it’s suicide however much evidence there may be to the contrary, well Phuket isn’t a very pleasant place.

However, the Royal Thai Police have just come up with a brilliant scheme to improve Phuket’s image: a media blackout. Because of the blackout nobody is going to hear about the young Australian woman who was attacked outside her hotel a few days ago by a taxi driver who intended to drag her into his nearby cab and rape her. Thankfully a Japanese man saw what was happening and came to her aid, but we’re not supposed to know that either. On the plus side, the police have already arrested the would be rapist and he has confessed. The woman, it appears, is OK. The Japanese hero, however, needed 15 stitches to his face.


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