disasters in thailandLiving 

Disaster? Shh! Mai pen rai! – Why Thailand remains quiet about disasters

What’s the last news you heard from Thailand? If you don’t live in a cave (ba dum tss) it’s probably been the story of the football team trapped in said cave, right? And while we all agree that that’s a tragedy (especially with one diver dying) it still is, somewhat, a feel good story. An event that brought Thailand (and the world) together in the pursuit of freeing those trapped by mother nature.

Now is there any other event, disaster, incident that you know of? If you’re actively following the news (or live here) you probably think of the coup a few years ago that led to the current military led government and the fact that we’re still waiting for elections to happen. Next year. For sure. Definitely. Promised. Maybe.

Alright. What else? Probably not much, right? Land of Smile, holidays, yay. At the same time the cave incident happened two boats off the coast of Phuket capsized and 40+ people drowned in the sea. Tourists and Thais alike but nobody really hears or talks about it. The reasoning behind why the boats went out even though a weather warning had been issued are, right now, mainly based on speculation. Maybe the captains wanted to be tough, cool or not disappoint the tourists. Maybe the owners forced them to go out. Who knows. What we know however is that barely anyone talks about such incidents when they happen.

Why we don’t talk about disasters

The loss of those 40+ wasn’t the first time such a disaster happened. It is the worst to date, but people lost their lives before. To disasters and crime (who remembers the killings on Koh Tao island? Ah right, forgot them already!) alike but its barely talked about in local media. There is a rather simple reason to that. Fear. Fear of being singled out. Being the one who talks ‘bad’ about the own country and fear of being the one responsible for less tourists coming to the country. After all Thailand relies on its image of being super friendly, cheap, and easy to travel and if you publish and spread news about murder or disasters that could have been prevented and show how local authorities and / or companies are at fault you are part of the problem that will keep tourists away from Thailand and hence their valuable money out.

The money aspect here probably the most obvious one but one shouldn’t forget the culture aspect that certainly plays an important part here as well. In Thailand, a very high-context culture, simply admitting wrong doing is not as easy done as said. “Keeping face” is incredibly important and you will barely see someone plainly admitting that they’ve been wrong or made a mistake. There usually are excuses being made up that go along with why something went wrong or didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to be. This also applies to those accidents / disasters. In the case mentioned above the boat crews say the weather was nice when they left the harbour (so why were 13 other boats then stranded?) and the weather turned while being out on the open sea so it couldn’t have been their fault. This just as an example rather than judgement though. I hope that is not understood in a wrong way. Simply trying to highlight the way behind the actions that are being taken (or not). In order to understand why certain things are happening one has to understand the culture.

Nevertheless, even with taking the cultural background into consideration, when it comes to lives lost we do have to talk about it in order to ensure those lives have not been lost for nothing. Change needs to happen and that rather sooner than later before more innocent tourists and locals are going to pay the heaviest price of them all.

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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