It's a hot Sunday afternoon on tropical Koh Samui and tourists at a luxury beach club are relaxing on white sofas, cooling off in the pool and sipping expensive champagne.
Some are also smoking cannabis joints, right out in the open.
It's a startling sight in Thailand where, until a few months ago, people caught with the drug were often jailed.
But cannabis, or "ganja" as it's known here, is no longer classed as an illegaldrug in Thailand.
In June, the south-east Asian nation took the plant off the banned narcotics list so people could grow, sell and use it for medicinal purposes.
But a law regulating its recreational use has not yet passed the parliament, leaving a legal grey area that many, from tourists to "ganja-preneurs", are now rushing to take advantage of.
"There's a huge demand for cannabis," says thebeach club'sowner, Carl Lamb, a British expat who has lived on Koh Samui for 25 years and owns a number of resorts.
Thailand's resorts were already flickering back to life after the pandemic but, according to Mr Lamb, the decriminalisation of cannabis has been a "game changer".
"The number one call we get, the number one email every day is, 'Is it true? Is it correct that you can sell marijuana and smoke marijuana in Thailand?'" he says.
"I haven't seen this kind of appetite for Koh Samui in 10 years."
Technically, people can be charged with being a nuisance for smoking in public, with a maximum penalty of up tothree months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.
"We did have the police come in and visit us when it first started and we'd already done our research on what the laws were and they just reinforced it and reminded us of the laws," says Mr Lamb.
Thai law currently restricts those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or under 20 from usingcannabis.
"And [the police said] if it bothers anyone then we have to shut it down immediately … We actually welcome some sort of regulation. Wedon't think it's a bad thing."
He says no one has complained hereyet.
"It's like the new Amsterdam," says Carlos Oliver, a British tourist at the resort, as he selects a ready-rolled joint from a black box.
"We came [to Thailand] when marijuana wasn't available, then a month into our trip you could buy weed everywhere – in the bars, in the cafes, on the street. So we smoke it and it's like, how cool is this? It's amazing."
Confusion after rapid decriminalisation
Up in the capital Bangkok, new cannabis businesses are springing up every week.
Kitty Chopaka still cannot believe she is allowed to sell real cannabis alongside the cannabis flavoured lollies in her colourful shop in the upmarket Sukhumvit area.
"Oh my God, I never thought in my lifetime that this would actually happen," the passionate cannabis advocate says.
Ms Chopaka admits there was some initial confusion for new dispensaries and curious customers, after the government insisted cannabis was for medicinal and therapeutic use only.
Cannabis extracts must contain less than 0.2 per cent of the psychoactive chemical THC, but dried flowersare unregulated.
And whilethepublic nuisance law forbids smoking in public, there is no ban on smoking on private property.
"I never thought that Thailand would let something be delisted before they put in rules for it, but then again, Thai politics surprises me all the time," Ms Chopaka says.
She has been advising the parliamentary committee drafting the new law, which has been delayed as stakeholders and politicians debate its scope.
In the meantime, in some parts of Bangkok, a distinct smell wafts through the air and it seems easier to get a joint than a Pad Thai.
Popular night-life strips like the famous Khao San Road now have cannabis shops of all shapes and sizes.
Soranut Masayavanich, or "Beer" as he is known, was an underground grower and dealer, but opened a licensed dispensary in the city's Sukhumvit area on the day the law changed.
When Foreign Correspondent visits his shopthere is a steady stream of customers wanting different strengths, flavours and varieties.
The flowers are displayed in matching glass jars on the counter and Beer's staff speak with the same flair as a sommelier offering advice on a selection of wine.
"It's like living the dream every day, I have to pinch myself," Beer says. "It's been a good ride, success. Business is booming."
Beer started out in an entirely different direction in life as a child actor in one of Thailand's most popular sitcoms, but after being caught with cannabis he says the stigma ended his acting career.
He started selling cannabis illegally, raking in thousands of dollars a month.
"Those were the golden days – good sales, we don't have competitors, we don't have too much rent, we just did it on our phones," Beer says.
"But I love [operating legally] more. This is my dream job. It's not business, it's personal."
They weren't golden days for everyone – Beer avoided jail but thousands caught with cannabis were locked up in Thailand's notoriously crowded prisons.
For centuries, "ganja" used to grow wild in Thailand and was used in traditional medicine.
But in the 1970s, as the US embarked on its global "war on drugs", Thailand classified cannabis as a "Class 5" narcotic and imposed hefty fines and jail terms.
When it was decriminalised in June, more than 3,000 inmates were released from jail and their cannabis-related criminal records were deleted.
Some even got their stash back.
It was an unbelievable turnaround for a nation known for its aggressive zero tolerance policy.
Tossapon Martmuang and Peerapat Sajjabanyongkij were serving a seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence fortransporting 355 kilogramsof "brick weed"in northern Thailand.
But when the law changed four months into their incarceration, they were let out.
"It feels like winning the lottery, better than the first prize in the lottery," Mr Tossapon says.
At the time of their arrest, police officers had paraded them in front of the media and posed for photographs with the large haul they had seized.
It was an entirely different mood on their release – the media waited outside jails to capture happy family reunions and politicians were there offering congratulations while trying to shore up votes for next year's elections.
A cash crop with politics at its root
Thailand's astonishing 180-degree turn on cannabis is, after all,fundamentally political.
It was the current public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, who changed the game by promising to put the plant back in the hands of the people.
Government-controlled medicinal cannabis had already been legal for four years, but at the last election in 2019 his party's signature policy was that people could grow and use the plant at home as medicine.
For farmers, it would be a new cash crop.
The policy proved a handy vote winner – Mr Anutin's party Bhumjaithai became the second biggest in the ruling coalition.
"I think [cannabis was] the thing that stuck out most, some people even called my party the cannabis party," Mr Anutin says.
"All the studies that we were given clearly stated that if we used cannabis plants in the correct way, it would create lots of opportunities, not only [for] revenue, but also [for] the better health of people."
The medicinal cannabis industry, which began in 2018, has flourished under Anutin and he expects it to be worth billions of dollars to the Thai economy in the years to come.
"You can make revenue out of every part of this tree," he says. "So the first beneficiary will clearly be those farmers and people in the farming business."
Thai farmers are having mixed success with the new cash crop.
Sisters Jomkwan and Jomsuda Nirundorn's farm in north-eastThailand was known for its Japanese melons, then four years ago they pivoted to cannabis.
Extroverted and smiley, the two young "ganja-preneurs"began by supplying plants high in the medicinal chemical CBD to a local hospital, before recently branching out to THC plants for the recreational market.
"It started with 612 seeds and they all failed, then the second [lot] failed," Jomkwan says, rolling her eyes and giggling.
It was a case of third time lucky.
Within a year they had recouped their $80,000 set up costs and had expanded to grow cannabis in 12 greenhouses with the help of 18 full-time staff.
A square metre of melons used to earn them about $20, but cannabis fetches close to $1,000.
"So I think it's better than melons, right?" Jomsuda says with a smile.
Out on the land though, others are finding growing cannabis harder than they expected.
The Thai government handed out one million free cannabis seedlings the week cannabis was decriminalised, but for rice farmer Pongsak Maneethun, the dream was over in no time.
"We tried to grow it, we planted the seedling, then when they grew we put them into the soil, but later they withered and died," Mr Pongsak says.
He adds that neither the hot Thailand weather nor the soil in his province in the country's east are suitable for growing cannabis.
"People who have money will want to join this experiment … but grassroots people like us, we wouldn't dare to invest, to take such a risk," he says.
"And people are still scared of [cannabis] because it was a narcotic drug – they are afraid their children or grandchildren will use it and get addicted."
Fears for young people and 'ganja' culture
Lots of people are worried about children. A national survey found the majority of Thais don't want them getting into "ganja" culture.
The Dean of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine, Dr Chanchai Sittipunt, says there is data suggesting cannabis use among young people can have long-term cognitive effects.
"Even if you are a grown-up man, if you use it long term, I still believe that there might [be] some side effects in the future," Dr Chanchai says.
More than 1,000 Thai doctors have petitioned the government to suspend cannabis decriminalisation until the new law is finalised by the parliament.
They are in favour of doctor-prescribed medicinal cannabis, but not the current situation that has led to unregulated recreational use.
Dr Chanchai says there is no doubt the world is watching how Thailand's experience with cannabis legalisation unfolds and whether it becomes the Amsterdam of Asia.
"I don't want Thailand to be thought of as that destination, we don't want to be the cannabis haven of the world," Dr Chanchai says.
Public health minister Anutin says his policy "doesn't advocate recreational cannabis use" and the existing public health law is strong enough to clamp down on smoking in public.
"Thailand's cannabis policy focuses on medical and health purposes and nothing else," he says.
And he has this warning for foreign tourists: "News that it's the land of free cannabis, that you can smoke freely everywhere on our soil, that is fake news and we don't welcome those kind of tourists".
Whether the new legislation should ban recreational use entirely, as opposed to just discouraging it, is the question Thailand's politiciansare still grappling with.
"We can't go back now, they have to regulate it, they can't make it illegal," MsChopaka says.
The genie is out of the bottle, she says.
"That bottle is broken. It's gone."
Watch Foreign Correspondent's 'Thai High' on YouTube and iview.
From 1 October 2022, you will no longer be required to present COVID-19 related document such as certificate of vaccination and COVID-19 test result upon arrival in Thailand.
With epic tropical beauty, ancient temples, amazing food scene and vibrant nightlife, Thailand truly has a chaotic charm to it that attracts people from across the globe. The country, also referred to as the Land of Smiles, never disappoints.What are some of the problems of tourism in Thailand? ›
Noise and air pollution are increasing and the amount of litter is growing. Tourism doesn't just create problems for the local people, it also affects wildlife. Thailand's coastline is home to a wide variety of animals, including turtles and many birds.Is visa free for Thailand in 2022? ›
From July 1st, 2022, foreign travelers no longer need to apply for a Thailand Pass before entering Thailand.Do you have to be vaccinated to go to Thailand 2022? ›
According to the following websites: https://tp.consular.go.th/and Tourism Authority of Thailand's website, from October 1, 2022 onwards, travelers entering Thailand will no longer be required to present COVID-19 related documents such as the certificate of vaccination and COVID-19 test result upon arrival in Thailand.How much does a PCR test cost in Thailand? ›
Screening of COVID-19 using RT-PCR test through nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs with medical certificate. Package of COVID-19 Screening (chest X-ray and RT-PCR test) 4,500 THB. Screening of COVID-19 using RT-PCR test through nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs with medical certificate.What is the best thing about Thailand? ›
Thailand is a fabulous, diverse country that is famous for many things. From white sandy beaches and terrific hotels to historic temples and mouthwatering food, there's simply too much on offer for visitors in this tropical paradise.Is Thailand friendly to tourists? ›
Yes! In fact, Thailand is rated as the least dangerous country in Southeast Asia for travelers. There is a history of social unrest and violent conflicts in parts of the country, but crimes in tourist areas are rare.What is so beautiful about Thailand? ›
As one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, it's no secret Thailand is home to some truly spectacular places. White sand beaches and palm trees are the first images that come to mind for many, but Thailand also encompasses tropical forests, mist-covered mountains and compelling ancient monuments.What are 3 main negative impacts of tourism? ›
Tourism puts enormous stress on local land use, and can lead to soil erosion, increased pollution, natural habitat loss, and more pressure on endangered species. These effects can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which tourism itself depends.
Thailand's environmental pollution is mainly a result of a rapidly increasing population, industrial activities, and a growing economy. Big cities like Bangkok suffer pollution issues such as an increasing volume of improperly disposed of solid waste, bad air quality, and noise pollution.What is the main problem facing tourist? ›
Risk & Security of Tourists
Security has been a major problem as well for the growth of tourism for a number of years.
Bangkok, 2 September, 2022 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is pleased to advise that applications opened on 1 September, 2022, for Thailand's new 'Long-Term Resident (LTR)' visa, which offers multiple benefits for holders, including a 10-year visa (extendable) and permission to work in the kingdom. Mr.Do I need to be vaccinated to go to Thailand? ›
Rules for Vaccinated Travelers:
Passport. Fully vaccinated travelers are no longer required to submit an evidence of negative RT-PCR test result before the departure nor after the arrival. Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate is still required.
The Thai Elite Visa is a 5-year renewable multiple entry visa with an extendable 1-year length of stay per each entry. The Thai Elite visa holder can have an uninterrupted stay in Thailand without the usual need to leave the country every 90 days as with the other visa types.How long do Thailand vaccinations last? ›
Tetanus is contracted through contaminated cuts, bites and breaks in the skin. The vaccination provides cover for approximately 10 years in the majority of patients. It is frequently combined with cover against other diseases such as Poliomyelitis, Diphtheria and/or Pertussis.Do you need health insurance to travel to Thailand? ›
Every tourist must have travel insurance for their trip to Thailand, regardless of the country they are departing from. Thailand requires all travelers have proof of at least $10,000 in medical travel insurance that can cover Covid-19 related medical treatments.Does Thailand require masks? ›
Do I need to wear a face mask in Thailand? Wearing face masks is required in some public places.How long does it take to get PCR test results in Thailand? ›
Yes, you'll receive by email within 48h after the PCR Test: A Covid-19 RT-PCR Test lab result. A Fit-to-Fly Certificate.What happens if you test positive for Covid in Thailand Tourist? ›
If you have tested positive by antigen (self) test or PCR test you need to self-isolate and contact the authorities (if the test is done at Be Well we will do that for you, you will stay at home and await instructions from the Hua Hin hospital for the timing of a re-test).
Free testing for coronavirus (Covid-19) from the NHS has now ended for most people in England. If you still want to get tested and you're not eligible for a free NHS test, you must pay for a Covid-19 test yourself. You can buy a Covid-19 test from some pharmacies and retailers, in person or online.Is Thailand a nice place to live? ›
Thailand is one of the world's most popular locales for good living abroad. And there are lots of reasons why. For pennies on the dollar, you get a year-round tropical climate and access to modern comforts and conveniences, including affordable, high-quality medical care.Which country sends most tourists to Thailand? ›
In 2015, Chinese tourists numbered 7.9 million or 27% of all international tourist arrivals, 29.8 million; 8.75 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2016. In 2017, 27% of the tourists that came to Thailand came from China.Can you drink water in Thailand? ›
Avoid ice and filtered water in Thailand
Clearly, drinking tap water in Thailand is to be avoided. I also steer clear of filtered tap water. The latter is commonly drunk by Thai people, who either fit a filter to their taps at home, or buy filtered water from dispensers found in public spaces.
Violent Crimes: Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare. However, murders, rapes, and assaults do occur. These crimes happen most often at night. Frequently, victims, both male and female, have been drinking and are often alone or separated from traveling companions.What are 5 positive effects of tourism? ›
- Awareness raising and experience.
- Skills and education.
- Conservation activities and biodiversity.
- Endangered species protection.
- Illegal trade prevention.
- Finance & jobs.
- Sustainable practices & legislation.
Promote tourism in different periods (for example out of season) and at different times from the most popular. Create new and different itineraries and tourist attractions. Review and improve regulations, such as closing some overcrowded areas to traffic. Attract more responsible types of travelers.Is Thailand poor or rich? ›
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Over the last four decades, Thailand has made remarkable progress in social and economic development, moving from a low-income to an upper middle-income country in less than a generation. As such, Thailand has been a widely cited development success story, with sustained strong growth and impressive poverty reduction.What is Thailand weakness? ›
WEAKNESSES. Inadequate infrastructure. Ageing population and shortage of skilled labour. Uncertain political situation; antagonism between rural and urban areas. High corruption perception and large informal economy.
Every year travel trends come and go, however, 2021 is set to be one of tourism's most significant years to date. As the world slowly recovers from COVID-19 and borders gradually start to open, we expect travel to look a little different than it did pre-pandemic.What are the benefits and problems of tourism? ›
Conclusion on Tourism Advantages And Disadvantages
The positive effects are that it increases income, helps to spread culture, and creates employment opportunities. On the other hand, there are the negative effects such as environmental damage due to overpopulation, increased crime rates, and loss of resources.
Evidence of adequate finance e.g. Current Bank Solvency and Bank Statement of the last 6 months with satisfactory transaction (at least 20,000 Baht per person and 40,000 Baht per family OR 60,000 Taka per person and 120,000 Taka per family).How many times can I enter Thailand in a year? ›
Entering the Kingdom through land/sea border checkpoints under Tourist Visa Exemption Scheme is permitted only twice in a calendar year, except nationals of Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Singapore who may enter Thailand through such checkpoints more than twice in a calendar year.How many times can I extend my tourist visa in Thailand? ›
There is a 60-day Tourist Visa that can be extended for additional 30 days, and the 90-day Special Tourist Visa (STV), which allows two 90-day visa extensions at the local immigration office.Can you chew gum in Thailand? ›
It's a punishable offense to throw used chewing gum on the road, a law that will result in a fine of around $500 USD. What happens if you don't have the cash on the spot? You'll be thrown in jail. A strange law, yes, but one that is taken seriously in Thailand.Do I need a PCR test to travel to Thailand? ›
From 1 October 2022, you will no longer be required to present COVID-19 related document such as certificate of vaccination and COVID-19 test result upon arrival in Thailand.How much money do you need to enter Thailand? ›
Tourist visa or visa exemption
If you are entering Thailand on the visa exemption scheme or are in possession of a tourist visa, you need be able to show you have funds on you equivalent to at least 20,000 Baht per person or 40,000 Baht per family.
The visa fee is 10,000 Baht (or local currency equivalent if applying outside Thailand). (b) Applicants must have money deposited in Thai bank located in Thailand with the amount of not less than 1.8 million Baht and have income with the amount of not less than 1.2 million Baht per year.How much is a 1 year retirement visa in Thailand? ›
For a 1-Year Thai Retirement Visa (Single-Entry): 2,000 Thai Baht. For a 1-Year Thai Retirement Visa (Multiple-Entry): 5,000 Thai Baht. For a 5-Year Thai Retirement Visa: 10,000 Thai Baht.
Thailand's official retirement age is 60 years at government agencies and many companies. Under the new pension program, both employers and employees will contribute, with minimum inputs ranging from 3%-10% of salaries depending on employment tenure.› More to Explore › Essentials ›
Visa Requirements For Thailand
Thailand Tourist Visa - Application and Requirements
Thailand International Travel Information
Rules for Vaccinated Travelers:
Passport. Fully vaccinated travelers are no longer required to submit an evidence of negative RT-PCR test result before the departure nor after the arrival. Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate is still required.
When applying for a re-entry permit you will need to submit the following:
- A completed TM-8 form.
- The correct fee.
- Colored photo (4cm x 6cm)
- Photocopy of passport (main page and latest entry stamp)
Visa Exempt Entry
Upon entry, Thai immigration officials will place an immigration stamp in the passport permitting a 30-day stay in Thailand if arriving by air or land.
The Certificate of Entry or COE is a letter issued by the Thai Embassy or Consulate to allow a foreign visa holder to enter Thailand onboard a special repatriation flight, chartered flight, or semi-commercial flight.Can you drink the tap water in Thailand? ›
Tap water in Bangkok is as safe in theory as the tap water in any developed city worldwide. This means that there's no need to boil or treat it before drinking. Bangkok's tap water is certified safe for brushing teeth, showering or making a cup of coffee etc.Can you chew gum in Thailand? ›
It's a punishable offense to throw used chewing gum on the road, a law that will result in a fine of around $500 USD. What happens if you don't have the cash on the spot? You'll be thrown in jail. A strange law, yes, but one that is taken seriously in Thailand.How much bank balance is required for Thailand visa? ›
Evidence of adequate finance e.g. Current Bank Solvency and Bank Statement of the last 6 months with satisfactory transaction (at least 20,000 Baht per person and 40,000 Baht per family OR 60,000 Taka per person and 120,000 Taka per family).How long does Thai Pass Approval take? ›
How long does it take to Process the Thailand Pass. The processing time for the application is up to 2 hours depending on the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Disease Control office. There are instances when the registration will take a couple of minutes to a couple of hours.
Proof of onward travel and funds
Immigration officials in Thailand may ask you for proof of onward travel (eg a return or onward air ticket). You should make all reservations before travelling to Thailand. Some airlines have refused to board passengers without evidence of onward travel.
If entering Thailand by land or sea, eligible travelers holding normal passports will be granted visa-free travel to Thailand twice per calendar year. There is no limitation when entering by air. For Malaysians entering by land border, there is no limitation in issuing the 30-day visa exemption stamp.Can I leave Thailand and come back? ›
You need a Re-Entry Permit for Thailand if you have a Single-Entry Visa and want to leave Thailand without your visa becoming void. You can get a Re-Entry Permit for both Tourist Visas and Non-Immigrant Visas.How much money can I carry to Thailand? ›
Any person who brings or takes an aggregate amount of foreign currency exceeding USD20,000 or its equivalent out of or into Thailand shall declare such amount of foreign currency to a Customs Officer.Will Thailand pass be scrapped? ›
The country's main Covid-19 task force approved the proposal to scrap the so-called Thailand Pass requirement for overseas tourists, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn told reporters Friday.Can we enter Thailand without visa? ›
Visiting Thailand as Tourist
Many nationalities can visit the Land of Smiles without a visa under the Visa on Arrival rule or Visa Exemption scheme. These options allow visitors to stay for up to 30 or 45 days. Tourists are travelers who visit the country for leisure.
Travelers traveling by land or sea still need the Certificate of Entry or COE, not the Thailand Pass. Thailand Pass is exclusive for those travelers traveling by air. If you are traveling by land or sea, you might want to contact the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulates located in your country and apply for a COE.