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Thai National Park Entrance Fees: Non-Thais pay more!

by Philip D. Round

26 July 26 2000

See also: National Parks - in safe hands or not?

There is a certain irony in the fact that Thailand's autocratic Royal Forest Department Director-General, Dr Plodprasop Surasawasdi, raised the entrance fees for national parks from Bht. 20 to Bht. 200 more or less simultaneously with the appearance of the OBC Bulletin Special Thailand Issue. This new entrance fee does not apply to Thai nationals, you understand, who will continue to pay Bht. 20. It only applies to foreigners.

At currently Bht. 40 per US dollar, Bht. 200 to enter a national park is a cost which most of us can probably bear. However, the principle of discriminating solely on grounds of nationality seems to me to be little more than bare-faced banditry. It is merely the latest example of blatant double-pricing in Thailand, "The Land of Smiles" according to the government tourist blurb, but where it is accepted practice to overcharge foreign tourists on the grounds that "they are richer than us Thais." It seems that the incongruity of allowing a Bangkok businessman to drive his Mercedes Benz into Khao Yai National Park for Bht. 20, while charging a western or (non-Thai) Asian backpacker Bht. 200 to enter on foot hasn't occurred to Plodprasop.

This extra charge will not benefit national parks in any way, since park fees have by law to be returned to the central agency, RFD, which isn't exactly renowned for its probity in administering funds. High-ranking positions in RFD are known, at least on occasion, to be bought and sold for millions of baht. Some RFD bosses put the squeeze on park and sanctuary chiefs who are expected to return part of their protected area budgets to them. The money is then passed up through the system to powerful politicians, so as to buy favours.

Contrast the amount of money in circulation for patronage with the wages received by the temporary workers who usually comprise >90% of the workforce of most protected areas in Thailand. These guys are paid Bht. 180 per day, for 5 days per week. Not only do they receive no allowance for food or expenses when camped out on patrol, deductions are usually made from their salary if they stay in park accommodation, so as to contribute towards electricity and other overheads. Temporary workers are usually the ones in the firing line if there is an armed clash with poachers, yet the widows of those killed receive no benefits. There is virtually zero prospect of advancement for a temporary worker (this spring there were 3,000 applicants among temporary workers nationwide for 29 permanent forest guard posts.)
I would assume that most of us would be happy to pay more for park entry if it could be guaranteed that the extra funds would either help park staff, or support conservation in some other way, but there is literally no prospect of this ever happening under the present system.

If those of you who have visited national parks in Thailand wish to complain about double-pricing in Thai National Parks, I would suggest that you e-mail one of the two English-language newspapers, The Bangkok Post or The Nation. You could also submit a complaint to RFD through opening their web-page, though I don't suppose that will do any good. If enough messages are sent it could helpfully clog their system, though!

And, when you enter a National Park in Thailand, whatever fee you pay, please make sure that you receive a valid entrance ticket/receipt. (I have heard it said that some parks run a nice little scam, creaming off entrance fees without receipts, though to be fair I have never personally experienced this.)

Philip D. Round
Center for Conservation Biology,
Faculty of Science,
Mahidol University,
Rama 6 Road,
Bangkok 10400

Tel./fax 66-2-247-7051

["Thai woman not deemed 'Thai' enough." Letter to Pattaya Mail, issue 404 (2001).]

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