Stairway to haven: Phuket villa steps draw curious visitors after Swiss man kicks Thai doctor

A stairway in Phuket where a Swiss businessman allegedly hit a Thai doctor has become an unlikely tourist attraction following the incident that sparked protests from angry locals who denounced the expatriate and demanded his expulsion from the resort island.

Urs David Fehr was charged with assault after he kicked Thandao Chandam and her friend in their backs as they sat and relaxed on the steps outside a villa rented by him at Yamu beach in Thalang district late last month.

Fehr accused the two of trespassing on his property but a police investigation revealed the structure was built on public land, prompting the building’s owner to demolish a part of the staircase.

Fehr said that he believed Thandao and her companion were Chinese tourists, who had previously intruded into his property.

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His Thai wife reportedly berated the duo and Fehr also called the duo “local people” and his perceived slight of Chinese people caused an outrage.

Last Sunday, more than 500 people rallied against Fehr on Yamu beach, urging authorities to eject him from Phuket and restore public access to the stairway, Thai PBS World reported.

Dozens of residents flocked to the site after the episode went viral on social media, resting on the steps and posing for photos.

The couple, who run the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park in Phuket, expressed their regret over the incident.

“I am quite sad. I had not anticipated the situation escalating to this point. We apologise to all Thais for our actions,” Fehr said.

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Thandao rebuked Fehr, saying he should not discriminate against anyone just because he was wealthy.

“He is a foreigner who lives in Thailand, earns his living with Thais and works in Thailand. Even if he helps elephants, does that mean he can harm a woman?” she asked.

Phuket deputy governor Adul Chuthong said Fehr had a business visa which expires next week, adding officials were looking into the legality of his commercial interests.

“Immigration will review Mr Fehr’s visa status and decide whether or not to extend the visa when it expires,” he said.

The row between Fehr and Thandao has also galvanised residents living close to Laem Nga beach in Ratsada, near Phuket, who launched a campaign to reclaim the path to the seaboard that had been blocked by a property developer.

“The company does not have the authority to close the entrance to the beach and the rural road nearby, as it is a public property,” read a poster put up next to a “no trespassing sign”.

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