Could tourists get the death penalty for a beach selfie?
Who doesn’t love a good beach selfie? You get yourself in just the perfect pose, wearing your newly bought swimsuit, and try to catch the waves glinting in the sun behind you. It’s a staple summer post on any social media account.
So imagine if by taking that selfie you end up getting sentenced to the death penalty, or life in prison. All because of one simple photo on the beach! Apparently, this is the risk beach-goers face at a certain shoreline in Thailand.
Mai Khao beach, Thailand
At the famous Mai Khao beach in Thailand, there are rumors that such consequences could arise from taking selfies.
This beach is everything tourists search for: yellow sand, turquoise waters, and a shoreline stretching for seven miles. Big green trees line the beach and you can find secluded spots without many people. This is because the surrounding area is relatively undeveloped, thanks to Mai Khao’s location inside Sirinat National Park. The only main constructions are some luxury hotels and resorts nearby.
Mai Khao beach is encompassed by the town of Phuket, which has few tourist attractions other than these resorts – and the amazing beaches, of course. Mostly, tourists come here to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and unwind in the sun.
There is, however, one more thing that makes Mai Khao beach so sought after by visitors. It’s the Phuket International Airport located just steps away from shore.
The proximity of Phuket’s airport means that planes landing and departing fly incredibly close to the ground at Mai Khao. Few other places in the world offer such closeness to these giant aircraft, and word has spread. As you can imagine, this has made Mai Khao beach a go-to destination for tourists looking to take beach selfies underneath soaring Boeings and Airbuses.
It has become so popular that during high season tourists can be seen waiting for passing planes pretty much all day long. Some of them jump on their friend’s shoulders, leap into the air, or wave to pilots. They capture the perfect pose with a huge floating plane in the background and happily upload it to social media.
Okay, so… what’s the big deal?
Well, authorities have become concerned about the safety of pilots and tourists alike, and are searching for ways to close off access to part of Mai Khao beach.
According to this article by the Bangkok Post, certain behaviors by selfie-takers have become dangerous to the individuals flying the planes. Airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam indicated that some onlookers had flashed lights at passing aircraft, or flown drones near the landing strip. These activities, he reported, had already caused disturbances to pilots.
He also said that violators were subject to punishment under the Air Navigation Act, and that “the maximum penalty is the death sentence”.
Yikes! This statement surprised viewers and sent media into something of a frenzy. It seemed that Mr. Wichit was implying something as innocent as a selfie could be grounds for the death penalty. Could it be true? Were tourists risking their lives by tapping a button on their phones?
In June of 2019, CNN Travel set the record straight. While it’s true that authorities have safety concerns and are looking to restrict access to the beach, it’s not quite true that people could be sentenced to death for taking plane selfies.
Director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand Chula Sukmanop said in his interview with CNN that tourists taking photos are not doing anything illegal. Their actions are completely within their rights. Doing things to interfere with the pilots flying the planes, however, is illegal. This includes flying drones in the area, entering the airport’s runway, and flashing lights at aircraft. It is these activities that could be grounds for punishment.
So it seems that Mr. Wichit’s remarks in the Bangkok Post were misinterpreted by readers. Phew! It’s a good thing, too, because as of yet the airplane selfies have not ceased.
Just because you’re allowed to take the pictures, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions before doing so. On the Phuket tourism website, they clearly state that some planes fly very low to the ground, and the loud sounds emitted by jet engines could cause permanent hearing loss. The power of the turbines could also send your belongings whipping away in the wind. In fact, CNN says a lifeguard on the beach once saw a stroller, with a toddler strapped inside, topple to the ground from a plane’s force.
With this information, the authorities’ concerns are much more understandable.
Despite these issues, the Phuket website is still promoting plane-selfies as a tourist attraction; they advertise it as a popular activity and show visitors exactly how to get there. After all, the more tourists the better.
If you’re planning on visiting Thailand and want to see the impressive force of airplanes up close, go ahead and visit Mai Khao beach in Phuket. Just make sure you turn your flash off, that you don’t wander too close to the runway, and that you don’t leave important items lying about as they could go flying into the water. Oh, and maybe consider protecting your ears with ear-plugs.
And finally, if you have kids, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy distance. Everyone wants a cool beach selfie, but it’s not worth putting yourself or your loved ones in danger.