More than 17,000 Saudi Arabians holidayed in Thailand last year, despite the Gulf kingdom operating a 20-year old travel ban on its citizens travelling to the south-east Asian hotspot.
The figure, from the Thai immigration agency, was significantly lower than the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok’s own estimate, which put the number of Saudi travellers to Thailand at just 90.
Speaking to the English language Saudi Gazette, the kingdom’s charge d’affaires in Bangkok Abdul Elah Al-Shuaibi said that many tourists to Thailand did not register with the Saudi embassy out of fear authorities would inform on them. “Our job is help tourists if they face any problem here. It’s not for us to report them to Saudi authorities back home,” he said.
The ban on Saudi citizens travelling to Thailand relates to a bizarre incident 20 years ago when a Thai employee allegedly stole jewellery while working at Prince Faisal bin Fahd’s palace. Relations soured further after a series of unsolved murders of Saudi citizens with links to the Gulf kingdom’s Bangkok mission.
Thai nationals are also prohibited from entering Saudi Arabia, but the two countries still maintain diplomatic relations.
Under current rules, Saudis are only permitted to stay in Thailand for three days for transiting purposes, for medical treatment, or if they have a Thai spouse. There are no direct flights between Saudi and Thailand, with most transferring in Doha or Dubai.
Al-Shuabi attributed the spike in Saudi tourists visiting Thailand to the turbulent political situation in Arab countries.