Thai customs accused of discriminating against Vietnam tourists

By N.Tran Tam, Thanh Nien News

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A signboard at the Arayaprathet border gate between Thailand and Cambodia. PHOTO: V.L.P
Many Vietnamese tourists have reported Thai customs officers “imperiously” and “rudely” ask them to present cash and pose for an offensive photo before allowing to cross the Poipet or Aranyaprathet border gate connecting Thailand and Cambodia.
The practice has led the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) to step in.
VNAT chief Nguyen Van Tuan told Thanh Nien that his agency is collecting relevant information and will voice objections to Thai authorities to protect the rights and honor of Vietnamese tourists, if the allegations are true.
Phuong, a tour guide at a travel company in Ho Chi Minh City, told Thanh Nien that in order to enter Thailand through the border gate, Vietnamese tourists have to present US$700 or 20,000 baths in cash while Thai customs officers take a photograph them holding the money next to their faces.
Vietnamese travel representatives have quoted Thai customs officers as saying that the regulation came into place because many Vietnamese entered Thailand as tourists to commit crimes and work illegally (particularly in prostitution).
Phuong said when she took a group of 32 tourists on a Cambodia – Thailand tour over the recent holiday (April 30-May 4), most were aware of the regulation and had prepared their cash in advance.
However, a whole group of tourists from the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, led by another HCMC-based travel company, had their entry refused for failing to carry enough cash, Phuong said. In the end, the company had to ask its Thai partner to act as a guarantor for the tourists.
“Many Thai customs officers’ attitude at the border gate was very imperious. They even grabbed money out of the tourists’ hands to count it,” she said.
Nguyen Van My, director of HCMC-based Lua Viet Travel Company who led a caravan of cars from Cambodia to Thailand during the holiday, said he and all of his customers were asked to follow the same protocol.
He said only Vietnamese tourists are subjected to such treatment, adding that Thai officers kept “rudely” shouting at the tourists during the procedures.
Thai authorities have a right to ask Vietnamese tourists to prove their financial capacity before granting them entry, but it is unacceptable and offensive that they ask the tourists to pose with their money for a photo, My said.
Many members of a Vietnamese travel forum also expressed their disappointment about the regulation.
One of them wrote that when his group traveled to Thailand early this year, the rule regarding the cash photo was not announced at the customs counter.
Tourists were not allowed to prove their financial capacity with credit cards, so many ended up returning to Cambodia due to a lack of cash, he wrote.
Chutathip Chareonlar, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in HCMC, denied the discrimination accusations in an interview with Tuoi Tre.
She said the newly-issued regulation, which was aimed to tackle the fact that more and more people enter Thailand as tourists to work there illegally, applies to all foreigners who enter Thailand through Aranyaprathet with tourist visas, not just Vietnamese.
She also said that since more and more Vietnamese were found entering Thailand to work illegally, Thai immigration agencies have been ordered to strictly follow regulations before granting entry to Vietnamese tourists, especially those who travel on their own.
The director explained that Thai officers have asked tourists to hold money up in photos because they need to record the notes’ serial numbers for fear that the tourists would pass the cash to one another to get through the checkpoint.
Everyone goes through the same procedure, she said.
However, Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, told Tuoi Tre that the regulation was offensive and unreasonable.
He said not all tourists carry lots of cash with them when traveling overseas, but international credit cards which are safer and more convenient.
Moreover, those who buy tours from travel companies do not necessarily carry lots of cash because they pay for everything in advance, Binh said.
It is “totally wrong” to require tourists to carry a certain amount of cash when entering Thailand, he said.
Meanwhile, My of Lua Viet said it is unreasonable that Thai authorities group all Vietnamese tourists together because a few violated their laws.
“If Thailand does not cancel this irrational regulation, I will call for a boycott on Thai tours,” he said.
On the other hand, according to My, Vietnamese authorities need to strictly punish those citizens who violate laws while overseas, because they make Vietnamese people lose face in general and create difficulties for law abiding citizens.
Vietnamese citizens can travel to Thailand without visas and remain there for 30 days when entering by air and 15 days by land.
It is estimated that some 500,000 Vietnamese people travel to Thailand every year.

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