There’s no denying that the press, and the expat population of Thailand, are fascinated with the sheer number of foreigners that die in the country, many under weird, suspect or simply inexplicable conditions.
One man, who prefers to stay anonymous but will confirm that he is a farang, has been tirelessly cataloging each story of foreign death that he can find since October of last year.
The website Farang Deaths is the result of his hard work. The stories that he finds, translates, and posts tell of the dark side of life in a sunny, generally happy, country. It’s a morbid curiosity filled with scorned lovers, empty bank accounts, pills, hangings, suicide notes, desperation, and many, many people falling off balconies.
In the past week alone, the site indexed a Danish man that committed suicide in the forest in Surat Thani, a German man that overdosed in Koh Samui, and a man from New Zealand that fell from a balcony in Bangkok.
And the reports only cover the information that the writer can get hold of. There are plenty of foreign deaths that are never reported in the press at all.
According to the site, the most common causes of farang death are road accidents, drowning and suicide. However, homicide, “unknown” and falling are the three next most frequent ways to go.
The most common places for foreigners to die are Phuket, Chonburi (Pattaya) and Bangkok, in that order.
The site has a surprisingly sleek design and sophisticated archive where users can search deaths by month, year, cause, nationality and province from October 2015 until today. The graphic pictures and reports leave nothing to the imagination. Yet it’s all told with an unbiased voice that relays the facts and lets the reader draw their own conclusion.
The site’s founder was recently contacted by Reuters for an interview, but they pulled the plug on the story when he refused to identify himself.
We have no such qualms. Here, he answers questions for Coconuts:
Why start this site?
Whenever there is a death involving a foreigner, police are certain it was suicide before the body even arrives at the morgue. For some officers, suicide seems to be a convenient cause of death where no uncomfortable questions have to be answered.
I began researching this topic and quickly found that there are absolutely no statistics regarding foreign deaths in Thailand. That’s when I decided to start following these incidents in English and Thai media, translate them and put the information online.
Why is it important to catalog the deaths of foreigners in Thailand?
That fact that foreigners die in Thailand is nothing extraordinary, especially if you take into consideration that a lot of retirees choose to spend their twilight years there.
In February of this year, the Bureau of Prevention and Assistance in Tourist Fraud claimed that in 2015 only 83 tourists died, and 166 were injured. In the same month these numbers were published, I counted 39 deaths. And that only includes cases that made the news or were submitted to Farang Deaths directly. These official statistics don’t even come close to the actual number of foreign deaths in Thailand.
Unfortunately, this is fairly common behavior by officials. About 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP comes from tourism revenue. That’s why headlines about foreigners dying under mysterious circumstances or jumping naked from the 7th floor only appear in Thai language news or are not reported at all, unless, of course, there is simply too much attention from foreign media as was the case with the Koh Tao murders in 2014.
Instead of taking measures to make Thailand safer for tourists, those in charge regularly lie. I think people have the right to know. By translating, publishing and cataloguing them, Farang Deaths provides accurate details to those who are interested and allows them to draw their own conclusions.
How did you come up with the idea?
Strictly speaking, it was not me who came up with this idea in the first place. Some years ago, there was a Tumblr called Farang Exits. The concept was the same, but the case reports were short and the blog lacked a searchable archive. But I found this idea worth keeping and, some months after it had gone offline, I started to program a more advanced version.
What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Overwhelmingly positive feedback, which surprised me. Death is still a sensitive topic and can make people act in irrational ways. There is a lot you can criticize about Farang Deaths, for example, the decision to use full names and pictures of the deceased. That’s why I prepared myself for a lot of harsh criticism before Farang Deaths went online.
But the reality was different. The majority of people who contacted me said they were thankful. Even most relatives of the deceased [listed] on Farang Deaths understand and respect the concept of the website and sometimes even volunteer information.
Only a small amount reacts aggressively and demands that I take entire reports down. Even though I try to respect the wishes of relatives by exchanging certain pictures or rephrasing a paragraph, scrapping a whole article is exactly the kind of censorship that prompted me to start this website.
Why do you stay anonymous?
Even though Farang Deaths is not doing anything illegal, it is still a website that some people, especially those that fear it might damage their business, would like to see gone. And under this military regime, anything is possible. The only thing I can tell you is that I am not Thai.
What is the most common cause of death for farangs in Thailand?
In the now almost nine months of 2016, I collected a total of 201 cases. Twenty-two of those were suicides. However, because it is tricky to determine whether somebody intended to die, most cases that involve jumpers are listed under “falling.” If you combine those two, you get a total of 47 cases that most likely were suicides.
Are you contacted by many conspiracy theorists?
I would not call them “conspiracy theorists,” but there are some who suspect ulterior motives when it comes to suicides. I am quite sure not all of them are wrong. It’s no secret that the Thai police are doing an awful job when it comes to solving crimes. Sometimes, as in the case of Stephen Drewett, police are not investigating at all. Questioning this is more than legitimate.
Why do you think it is that some deaths get massive amounts of media attention while others are hardly mentioned?
Thai media publishes a lot of foreign deaths whereas most English-language media tends to be reluctant. Maybe Bangkok Post and other English language media follow different ethical standards when it comes to reporting about deaths. In some countries in the West, it is very common not to report them unless there is a distinctive value in the news.
A different, more trivial reason could be that some deaths are simply not newsworthy. Whenever there is a motorbike accident with fatalities, you can be sure Thairath, Manager Online, and others send someone to take pictures.
In addition to that, news about tourists getting killed in Thailand is not exactly boosting the tourism industry, especially when the reports are written in a language that most tourists understand and read.
Where do you get the reports and pictures? it looks like you might grab some stuff from social media as well as police reports?
If the case isn’t high-profile, I can’t be choosy when it comes to sources. I take whatever I can find and try to get the most information out of it.
Mostly, Farang Deaths reports are based on news published in Thai media. We also get submissions from individuals who decide to share the details with us. Some send documentation including autopsy reports and photographs, others submit a link to a forum, website or Facebook post that has no media coverage.
Official police documents are, unfortunately, a rare good. Police are reluctant to share these details, especially with a foreigner. If I get my hands on these, it’s usually through rescue volunteers who decide to forward us information. I’m still working on expanding this network and highly welcome any information I get.
How quickly do you usually get the reports onto the site?
Most of the time, Farang Deaths is the first English language website that reports a death. Sometimes ThaiVisa is faster, sometimes Pattaya One. I’m not so much focused on being first but on publishing as much information as possible. I don’t mind being a few hours late and using the time to ask for confirmation, search for background information or simply have someone proofread the report.
How much time do you put into this project?
Building the site from scratch took maybe two weeks. Maintaining it is not much work, most of the time, there is no more than one death per day. But I keep checking my channels for new information every hour.
What’s the toughest message you’ve received from a reader?
Sometimes, relatives of those that are being covered on Farang Deaths contact me and ask for additional details. In one case, it was the mother of a relatively young man who died after falling or jumping from a building. She told me how difficult it was for her to get information from officials. The police seemed uninterested in helping her. She knew even less than I [did]. Losing a child is awful enough. Not allowing a mother to know what happened to her son is just cruel.
However, the toughest are uncensored photographs. I’m used to graphic content, but seeing a person who just fell 18 stories and smashed his skull upon impact, or who lost some of his limbs in a motorbike crash, is something I don’t enjoy looking at.
Have you been in touch with the families or loved ones of any high-profile cases?
No. I never contact families or friends of those I report about. When they email me, I try to keep conversation [short]. I’m not saying I know how they feel, because I don’t. But I’m very sure they’re going through the toughest time of their life. They don’t need another guy asking questions about the death of their loved one.