Thailand’s national police chief is in Phuket today, leading the investigation in the rape and murder of a Swiss woman whose body was found Thursday at the bottom of a rocky waterfall.
Wichit resident Nattapong Sridum, 31, discovered the partially clothed body of Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, 57, at the rocky base of the Ao Yon Waterfall on Phuket’s eastern coast Aug. 5.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai late Thursday, in a message to the Swiss ambassador, confirmed she had been murdered. Bottomless, with her jean shorts and panties cast aside nearby the body, Sauvain-Weisskopf also is presumed to have been raped, although results of a forensic examination have not been released.
Phuket Gov. Narong Woonciew, in a separate call to the envoy, promised a swift and immediate investigation and Royal Thai Police chief Pol. Gen. Suwat Chaengyodsuk said he would take charge of the probe personally after arriving Friday in Phuket.
Provincial Police Region 8 commander Lt.. Gen Kitrat Panpetch said at a Thursday news conference that Sauvain-Weisskopf had arrived in the Phuket “sandbox” July 13. A frequent visitor Phuket, who last visited in July 19, she stayed two weeks at the Dusit Thani Laguna Hotel before moving to the Mooring Resort July 27.
As part of Thailand’s “sandbox” scheme, vaccinated tourists can arrive in Phuket without having to endure quarantine and are eligible to leave the island after two weeks. She chose to stay.
The last time anyone saw Sauvain-Weisskopf was as she left her hotel Aug. 3, walking toward the beach, around 2 p.m. Her body was found Thursday afternoon, dressed in a pink t-shirt and jacket, with a silver-color coin pendant necklace. Her shorts, panties and mobile phone laid nearby. The body had been covered with a sheet with only her Nike sneakers poking out.
Lt. Gen. Kitrat stated the obvious to reporters, calling the murder “shocking” and saying the incident “may affect the image of the safety of foreign tourists.”
Phuket Sagging ‘Sandbox’
Phuket’s “sandbox” was seen as Thailand’s best chance at jump-starting its moribund tourism industry. The Tourism Authority of Thailand crowed Thursday that Phuket received 14,055 foreign arrivals – including Sauvain-Weisskopf – in July, with Americans, Brits, Germans and French nationals comprising the largest share of arrivals, although many were expats, not tourists, trying to get back to long-separated families.
TAT said it hoped 100,000 foreign tourists would visit Phuket in the July-September period and inject some 8.9 billion baht into the local economy. But Thailand’s raging coronavirus third wave and the increasing amount of restrictions being put on Phuket residents and sandbox tourists are scaring travelers away.
TAT official Siripakorn Cheawsamoot admitted earlier this week that hotel reservations for August have decreased five percent over the week prior.
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, president of the Thai Hotels Association’s southern chapter, said tourists have expressed concerns about meteoric rise in daily coronavirus cases as well as the decreasing number of things they can do in Phuket as a result of Covid-19-control restrictions.
Phuket has sealed itself off from the rest of the country, denying even residents entry if they are not vaccinated against Covid-19. Bars remained closed, restaurants have been prohibited again from selling alcohol and even swimming pools inside private resorts have been ordered closed.
Sandbox tourists arriving now can look forward to doing nothing but eating at their hotels and sitting on beach, with 29 provinces they might want to visit after two weeks now in virtual lockdown.
Add to that sensational international headlines about a solo woman traveler being raped, murdered and dumped in the wild and Phuket’s “sandbox” experiment is facing its greatest challenge yet. After all, six years later, Koh Tao is still being called “death island” after a pair of young British backpackers were killed there with the young woman raped as well.