Motorcycles routinely ride the wrong way down roads all over Thailand and not one policeman will try to stop them. On board these bikes are people of all ages, usually without a helmet and with no fear of losing their bike – even when flouting the law right in front of police officers.
Road safety is almost non-existent. There is no understanding of the signalling procedures that are standard for drivers all over the rest of the world. U-turns on major roads go from single- to multi-lane configuration on exit, meaning a high accident rate is inevitable as vehicles filter into the traffic. This could be easily fixed – one lane in, in one lane out – but no one cares. The indifference is killing drivers by the score every year.
Meanwhile, compulsory insurance is next to useless in saving lives after serious accidents. Hospitals are often forced to treat victims under the Bt30 scheme (now in fact free), which passes the huge bill for road accidents on to the rest of us taxpayers. Thai private hospitals now appear to be exploiting foreigners. I noticed recently that a major hospital on Bangkok’s Rama IX Road has raised its prices 25 per cent for non-Thais. Such discriminatory moves threaten the country’s reputation as a modern and advanced destination.
Foreigners like me, who choose to make Thailand their home, face even greater obstacles. Though I have spent much time and money securing and renewing my visa each year (despite no change in my circumstances), I am not granted permanent residency and can be moved on from Thailand anytime. This despite having bought a home for myself, my Thai wife, and her kids from a previous relationship. If Thai Immigration does decide I have “overstayed” my welcome, a whole household will be threatened with financial ruin.
In a country that was recently ranked the world’s worst for income inequality, poor households need all the support they can get – wherever it comes from. The government could also step in to help out debt-ridden farming families defaulting on their loans and losing their land to Thai banks and large foreign corporations. The resulting devastation of family households is a serious problem that is certainly not raising “happiness” across Thailand.
Like thousands of foreigners, I am grateful to Thailand for providing me a peaceful haven in my later years, at the heart of a loving family. But all of us who live here, whether Thai or not, deserve better from thosewho are responsible for improving our safety and our happiness.