I don’t usually write such long posts on Facebook but the terrible experience at Suvarnabhumi Airport during my recent trip over the weekend has prompted me to do so. What I want to achieve is to raise awareness and to prevent more people from being caught in the same situation.
I was travelling with 13 other Singaporeans and we landed in Bangkok around 9.40am on 18th May. Everything seemed fine, as per my previous trips to Bangkok – we went through customs, collected our luggage from the baggage claim area, and then proceeded to walk through ‘nothing to declare’.
When we were about to exit the airport to head over to our AOT transport (to be clear, we were already out of transit area, about to exit the airport, so that’s where the public is free to walk around), we got stopped by Thai officers, and they asked me “how many of you?” and I replied “14”. I saw the change in expression followed by “oh, can you follow me to office?”
With nothing to hide, we followed them to the Excise Department office. They told us they were going to search our luggage. Again, with nothing to hide, we agreed. Some of us came out relatively quickly but we soon realised 2-3 of us were asked to stay in the office with their passports confiscated.
Background info: 14 of us walked out together in a group, carrying 6 bottles of Balvenie 16 which we got from Changi Airport Duty Free. Each bottle was packed individually in sealed bags to be carried on board the plane, and each bottle came with an individual receipt. However, 3 of such sealed bags were placed in 1 plastic bag at Changi Duty Free, which meant 2 of us were carrying the 2 plastic bags (containing 3 sealed bags each).
So, we are all aware that the alcohol allowance for hard liquor to be brought into Bangkok is 1L per pax. Were we well within our alcohol limit/allowance? You would think so, but NO. They told us we could be charged with tax evasion because only 2 people were carrying the alcohol (even though all of us said we were travelling as a group of 14), and that we LITERALLY were allowed to only CARRY 1 per person. They wanted to fine us up to THB 75,000 (~SGD3,160) BUT we were told they will lower the fine to THB49,000 (~SGD2,065) IF we paid IMMEDIATELY. Note: CASH ONLY, no cards allowed – they told us to get cash from our credit cards OR change our SGD and told us where the ATMs and money changers were. They even threatened to take all of us to the police station if we do not agree to pay the fine.
Allow me to emphasize one more time – 14 of us bought 6 bottles of hard liquor.
We managed to get them to lower the fine to THB 33,000 (~SGD1,390), not that I’m complaining we got a lower fine but isn’t it weird they could adjust the fine amount? We eventually paid the fine because we were in a foreign country afterall and it was extremely difficult to reason with them when they were threatening ‘jail’ in no time. They were definitely rushing us to pay up. Despite paying the fine, they only returned 2 bottles (out of 6) to us. We also realise that one of the officers was ‘stationed’ at the baggage claim area while we were there and was probably eyeing us the entire time but waited till we have gone through customs before stopping us. To highlight, the officer eyeing us at the baggage claim area eventually ended up at the airport exit, SUSPICIOUS MUCH??? That officer’s area of duty comprise of both INSIDE and OUTSIDE, and they could switch their duties as and when?
While we were stuck there (the longest 90mins ever…), we saw a number of people being escorted to the Excise Department office too, comprising of a group of 10 (bringing in 8 bottles which is still within the allowance!!!), a couple (well, apparently it is not okay for the guy to carry the bottle on behalf of his girlfriend/wife), and another smaller group before us. Think about the amount of THB collected over that 90mins.
By the way, there was a man from the Taiwan embassy who came up to me 20mins into this incident, asking me if I was Taiwanese. Apparently he snapped a few photos of us standing OUTSIDE the Excise Department office and perhaps he was going to help us if we were Taiwanese. However, he got called out by the Thai officers and they demanded him to delete the photos he took in a PUBLIC SPACE. They even took down his details and demanded to take a photo of his pass.
After the episode, we found out from some of our (Thai/Singaporean) friends that they do this to both locals and tourists, that the officers in the airport will go out of the way to find reasons (even the 200 cig allowance) to justify the fines they impose on you. In my opinion, it was absolutely unfair. To my surprise, nothing came up when I tried searching on google for people with similar experiences, which means many people out there could still be unaware since we can’t be the first.