This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
The mystery of the red boxes…
Waiting behind a long line of cars at a stop sign in Ari, I watched two tandem riding motorcycle cops drive onto the sidewalk. One policeman got off the back of the bike, opened a red box attached to a building, took something out, scribbled on it, and then put it back in. This was repeated at several spots down the road.
These red boxes were not new to me but I’d registered them as mail boxes. You know, like they have all over the UK these days, at times replacing the free standing post boxes.
Khun Pissout was driving at the time so I put the question to him. He came back with one word. Two, actually: กล่อง เเดง /glòng daeng/
Red boxes? Ok. Fine. I can see that they are red boxes, but what are the police doing with them?
Khun Pissout thought for a bit, looked at me in the rearview mirror of his taxi, and said to ask Khun Phairo.
Khun Phairo didn’t know much more, but at least I know a little more than I did then.
Apparently (?) the red boxes are said to be complaint boxes: ตู้ ร้อง เรียน /dtôo róng rian/. Their official name is ตู้ ร้อง ทุกข์ ตำรวจ /dtôo róng túk dtam-rùat/
The basic idea behind the boxes is this (and please please jump in if you know more): When a Thai (or community of Thais) feel the extra need to protect their homes or businesses beyond the traditional sleepy security guards, they make an agreement for the local police to come by every so often. At some point in this process a red box is attached to the side of the building in question. And for as many times as they’ve been paid, the local police stop by, open the box, sign a piece of paper to note they’ve been, and then close the box up again.
So all over Thailand (?) police are riding around in tandem, opening red boxes, signing white pieces of paper, and putting them back in the boxes. And getting paid for the service.
The next time you are running around Thailand, check on the sides of houses, shops, and petrol stations to see what I mean. And if you do see these boxes elsewhere (like, far far from Bangkok) drop me a line.
Btw – Please leave a comment below if you have more knowledge about the boxes as they continue to be a mystery to me. For instance: How much are the police paid, where do they get the boxes, can the police cheat by filling out more than one piece of paper at time, is there a special department set up to handle this sort of thing, do towns outside of Thailand do the same… questions such as that.
38 thoughts on “Thailand’s Mysterious Red Boxes”
“Anyone (Thai or farang) can leave a note inside the box if wanting to report something to the police.”
Thanks Rick, that’s good to know.
The Red Boxes are installed at the request of the owner. I was informed a letter is submitted to the police to have a Red Box installed. In particular, the box I am referring is installed on the front an apartment building. Plenty of houses are also located on the same street/area. Anyone (Thai or farang) can leave a note inside the box if wanting to report something to the police. Also 2 phone numbers are listed on the front of the Red Box in order to call the police. Police check the box once a day and document their visit to the area.
I don’t see the motorcycle taxis on the sidewalks (unless they are parked, waiting for clients) others do force pedestrians out of the way.
Btw – welcome to Bangkok 🙂
That would make more room for the motorcycle taxis! Though in truth, I’ve never seen them ride on the sidewalks, however bad traffic may be. Then again, my time in BKK has been brief. 🙂
Keith, they are supposed to be culling phone booths in Thailand as well. Good thing because a lot are smack in the middle of sidewalks!
Catherine and Jamie,
We would call them “phone booths” here in the U.S. — if there were any of them left. 🙂
“This is also a ตู้แดง” now that’s more like it!
Keith, I ran into a fair about of ตู้ ‘s when I went to compile the vocabulary for my HouseTalk series. Dictionaries weren’t that big of a help for that project – I found that to get the real name for an item I needed to ask Thai friends.
Jamie, please let us know how that works out. I live side-by-side with a police officer. Also, after an incident, I added an alarm system plus cameras inside and out. I didn’t go whole hog and get the alarm hooked to a company though (too expensive and after talking to them, I seriously doubt they’d be of any use in a real crisis).
This is also a ตู้แดง it seems 🙂
We just got ourselves a ตู้แดง. We are in quite a large house down a quiet soi in Chiang Mai with several vacant green lots around us. We clubbed in with or neighbours on either side and got a ตู้แดง on the front of my house, the police said they would keep a close eye on the houses on either side of us as well. The normal rate is 500 B per month for the box around here. We ended up paying 700 B which we are splitting with our neighbours, we pay 350 B they pay 175 B each.
Personally I am more worried about someone poisoning my dogs or hurting my girlfriend in the course of a robbery than the actual loss of property so paying for a minimum level of policing and the deterrent factour of the red box seems like a good deal as compared to paying for house insurance or an alarm system.
I thought it might be interesting to see what constitutes “ตู้-ness” and what is considered “กล่อง-like.” so I did a little search for images using ตู้ and กล่อง.
The vast majority of images for กล่อง were cardboard boxes, although some tissue, jewelry, and fishing tackle boxes showed up, along with a number of cameras (กล้อง). And it looks like ตู้เดง is something Valentine’s day chocolates might come in. 🙂
ตู้ seems more versatile: bookcases (ตู้หนังสือ), refrigerators (ตู้เย็น), and file cabinets (ตู้เอกสาร or ตู้เก็บแบบฟอร์ม) turned up.
But the most interesting use of ตู้ I have run across so far (in a conversation with one of my teachers) is for an aquarium: ตู้ปลา.
Oops! Typo I meant ตู้แดง
I came across this article when looking for information about the Thai police box scheme. Was looking for how much it costs as I am thinking of getting one for my house. I think it might be just around 400 B a month or something. I am thinking it may well be worth it to deter robbers. The police I think might be slightly more motivated to actually at least go through the motions of appearing to investigate a burglary if the house occupants have paid extra for this special service.
Apparently they are commonly called ตู้เดง and although they are of course red boxes they are not refered to that way ie. กล่องแดง means red box and would not be immediately understood to mean the police box.
Welcome to WLT Rachel 🙂 The help I get where I live is wonderful as well, but we are not supposed to tip the staff. They will refuse to take it. At my previous condo, tipping was expected (the high majority of expats living there had a lot to do with it). This is a Thai neighbourhood and the complex is owned by those living here – majority Thais. Thais do not have the same tipping culture as we do, so I’ve gotten used to it. But while I don’t tip the staff, I do tip those who deliver…
Just wanted to reply to Hugh about having to pay a bribe to get anything done. I absolutely agree with you. I’ve been here almost 8 years and am amazed at how incredibly helpful Thais are without any expectation of reward. I get free motorbike rides from the taxi guys on my soi, the maid cleans my room and I have to practically beg her to take a tip, and the people who own the building I live in bend over backwards to make sure I’m happy and comfortable. You would never get this in the west.
I do find though that the farangs who talk about everything being a ‘bribe’ in Thailand, don’t usually speak much Thai, don’t have Thai friends and make no attempt to learn about Thai culture.
Martyn, no prob. I know you work crazy hours as well as take care of your interesting site. Having to work would muffle me for sure.
I do have something in the wings but in this political climate I’m wondering about going there. But as it’s something I want to know more about… so… hmmm…
Catherine sorry I’m late on this one but when I read it before the mystery was already solved, not that I would have been any help.
I enjoyed reading the comments as much as the post, both were fabulous. More of the same please but next time make it even harder. Kaewmala and Hugh are wily foxes so you had better come up with something damn difficult.
Thailand really fascinates me nowadays. Maybe its because of the similarities to Manila. But this is seriously intriguing this red box thing.
Keith. You are making my head explode 😀
Perhaps there is only one type? Interesting in any case 🙂
Keith, I believe you’ve solved the mystery.
So there are two types of red boxes (at least). One, for Thai police to run around signing pieces of paper saying they’d been. And the other, for complaints/suggestions from the community.
And now I know where ตู้ร้องเรียน came from. Google.
I’ve had fun trying to sort out this mystery. Thanks!
Perhaps they are “complaint boxes” after all:
The article refers to them as “community outreach boxes.”
Talen, Tea money is an interesting use for the red boxes. Logical as well.
Keith, I was also wondering if the police had to have keys to open the boxes. If not, I could sneak up and have a peek (easier than going to the police station to ask).
I was speculating that the locals had asked the police to patrol their area and that the police installed the boxes and then write down the times they passed by as proof of their being there.
Sort of like building security guards, where the guard walks around the building and inserts a key (or more likely an electronic ID badge these days) into special boxes along his route as proof of his making the rounds.
Hugh, I have heard a lot of expats talk of bribes as well but the majority have been business owners and falang business owners often have to smooth the way as it were with a little palm greasing.
Cat, I have seen similar red boxes in bars and beer bar complex’s in both Pattaya and Bangkok…while they might be officially for police logs I have been told from good sources that they are also used for the police tea money pick ups.
Hi Keith, I agree that complaint box sounds far off (but a number of Thai to English translations sound odd to me). So do you mean that the locals put up boxes to petition the police to stop by? But would that work if there is already an agreement in place?
This is just a wild guess from another continent, but could ตู้ร้องทุกข์ตำรวจ mean “police petition box,” rather than “police complaint box”?
And so it would signify the boxes are put up in response to people who suspect criminal activity in their area and request additional police drive-bys?
Thanks Julie. Now I’m seriously wondering where the ตู้ร้องทุกข์ตำรวจ came from…
Interesting story Hugh. And lucky for you that your niece was on that visit with you. Having connections is certainly the way to live right in Thailand (anywhere, but this country seems to demand it more).
As mentioned, I’m right next to a policeman. My neighbours said that if I got into trouble then I only had to call that number on his business card. That’s if there was a fit with the particular trouble I was in, obviously. But I don’t anticipate anything happening because I don’t go out looking for trouble. Ever. But knowing that the option is there does help me sleep better nights.
And this is the second policeman’s card I’ve been given. The other time it was due to noisy neighbours. I had western models partying until 4am in the condo above me – that thump thump thumb deep in the stomach noise. It went on for several months with me complaining and the condo doing nothing at all. As the condo management was too เกรงใจ /greng jai/ to put their foot down, they finally gave me a card and told me to call their policeman friend the next time it happened.
The apartment where I lived in Nong Khai had one of these boxes. I once asked the police what they were doing, and they said it was just a “checkup”, neighborhood watch type thing.
Okay, here is a story.
We were trying to build a house and needed to get a permit from the land department and we were getting a serious run around from the official there. He said it would take at least 6 weeks before anything could be done (possibly asking for a little incentive from us to speed things up). My wife’s niece was with us and she asked the official to wait just one minute while she made a call.
It just so happens our nieces’ father was a member of parliament at the time and she knew just everyone in the government. She connected, said a few words, and then passed the phone over to the land official. I don’t know what was said over the phone; the official basically listened with many a “khrup phom” thrown in. We found out later he was talking to the Minister of Lands (or something like that). He hung up the phone, got out some papers, stamped and signed them, and we had our permit.
Sometimes the wheels of bureaucracy need a little greasing, one way or the other.
Hugh, Do you know the head man/women of your compound well enough to ask? K. P. mentioned that it’s up to those who pay how many times the police stop by. So (just guessing) you seem to be in a well protected area.
I’m also curious about the history of the red boxes: When did they come into being and such.
For the bribes, I haven’t had to pay police but there have been a number of times when extra money has been insisted upon. No money, no action. And this for services already paid for.
These red boxes are police check points. Inside the box is usually a notebook where a patrolling policeman will sign in. I have one in front of my house in fact. Two policemen drive by on a motorcycle every 2 hours to sign in. Now, I don’t know if our compound pays them extra for this but I kind of like having them come around. I don’t think they are complaint boxes. If I have a complaint I wait until the police come by again and talk to them personally.
The sign on the box says “Check Point – Bangsue Police Station”
BTW, I make sure that I say hi to them if I am out in the garden so that they will get to know me. It would be a good idea to give them some kanom too if you have any around, or a cold drink on a hot day. They are probably too busy to hang around though.
Re Bribes: Lots of Expats think that the only way you can get anything done here is to pay a bribe. Sorry to be a contrarian but in the 41 years I have been coming and going here I have never once had to pay a bribe – except for maybe a piece of kanom or a cold drink.
Thanks for asking your Thai friend Stuart. And I love the explanation of maid sign-in sheets as that’s what the police were doing (and not much else).
We had planned to stop by the police station to ask, but I chickened out. My next door condo neighbour is a policeman so I’ll ask him the next time we bump into each other. Please don’t hold your breath as I’ve run into him just the one time in three years!
And I’ll have to ask K. P. where she got name from. If anyone is interested, here’s the breakdown from thai-language.com: ตู้ร้องทุกข์ตำรวจ
I had no idea about this either, so I asked my Thai friend and his response backs up what Kaewmala said. It’s not a complaint box — no one puts anything in it. But it’s just a “check point” (jut truat) that the police sign to show that they are doing their job and patrolling the area.
Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there are no bribes involved 🙂
According to my friend, this is similar to the sign-in sheets you see in the public bathrooms showing that the maid has been there to clean that day.
Thanks for another great Thai culture lesson, Cat!
Thanks Kaewmala. I also questioned the complaint part of the equation, but nothing else was forthcoming from Khun Phairo so I went with it. The boxes actually say checkpoint… so police check points? I like your idea of a neighbourhood watch, police style.
I was wondering about the scheduled times as well. And I even intended on staking out my street to see how punctual they are (my street is loaded down with red boxes). But… best intentions and all that…
I saw the police in action again last weekend when coming back on the 304 from Kabin Buri. Instead of taking a photo with my Canon, I tried to get my iPhone’s camera ready to take a shot instead. What a waste, as the update to the iPhone has slowed it down considerably. So I was still pointing a dead black box in their direction when they drove off.
Cat, I am no authority on Red Boxes but I don’t think these “Red Boxes” are precisely “complaint boxes” because I don’t believe they are for people to put complaints in them (there are no Thai words to that effect on the boxes). I think they’re probably more for police logs for the neighborhood “watch” – which officers came by at what time, etc.
I’ve seen them around in and outside of BKK. IMO the appropriate term for the service is more like “police neighborhood drive by”. Why, they just drive (or ride) by and scribble something on the note and put it in the box and drive/ride out. They’re also actually more or less punctual in their drive/ride by routine. I’d guess, mildly discerning robbers and thieves with a watch can pretty much time their break-ins around the schedule. 🙂 🙂
.-= kaewmala´s last blog ..“Play” in Thai Idioms – Part 3- Erotic Play =-.