Travel agents say the recent decriminalization of marijuana use and the upcoming move to allow same-sex civil unions or marriage make Thailand the most liberal tourist destination in Southeast Asia. Global Travel executive Colin Holmes said: “Progress on these fronts is the last thing we expected from a government led by a military junta, but there is even talk now of allowing casinos as well.
British travel agencies Dream Travel and Luxury Hols say the main factor limiting travel to Thailand at the moment is a lack of flights rather than an unwillingness to take to the skies. They also point out that extending visa stays in Thailand, without leaving the country, is much easier than in other competing countries. For example, Vietnam makes it difficult to stay longer than 30 days, while the Philippines has yet to dismantle its anti-Covid entry bureaucracy like Thailand has.
As early as 2018, the junta-appointed parliament approved the medical use of marijuana, citing health reasons, but a broader push has resulted in the drug no longer being listed as a prohibited substance under the law. on narcotics last June. Although the detailed legal situation remains controversial, smoking pot in private is ignored, although public use may be prosecuted under public nuisance legislation. Government propaganda maintains that the aim is not to create a smoker’s paradise but to provide a retreat for well-to-do tourists seeking medical treatment here.
There are currently two gay rights bills in the Thai parliament awaiting their second and third readings. One would allow full same-sex marriage and the other a slightly diluted civil union. The Bangkok-based Rainbow Alliance says it’s even possible for both to be adopted to allow maximum choice. But the slim majority in the military-backed coalition government means a formal announcement could take place until mid-2023 after the next scheduled general election. The only country in Asia that has currently legitimized same-sex marriage is Taiwan, although there are exclusions. For example, a Taiwanese LBGTQ+ national cannot marry a foreigner.
Thailand is currently a land of contradictions, a combination of strict rules on the one hand and freewheeling on the other. The monarchy is considered a spiritual pillar and any criticism is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Liquor laws are archaic and it is still illegal to buy alcohol from a store outside the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Asian sex trade is alive and well (albeit with occasional police raids and a strict policy on minors) even though prostitution in Thailand has been illegal since 1960.
Nevertheless, Thailand is today a pioneer for Asian tourism. While countries like Singapore and Malaysia maintain the death penalty for cannabis trafficking, Thailand’s liberal agenda is proving both attractive and money-saving. As Anutin Charnvirakul, construction tycoon and Minister of Health, puts it, “We want Thai people to grow cannabis as a cash crop and at the same time promote quality tourism.” Casinos will not be far behind.