Safety in Thailand

Overloaded motosai - a common sight in Thailand

Overloaded motosai - a common sight in Thailand

Travelling in Thailand is relatively safe compared to other Western or Asian countries. Thai people are friendly and usually helpful and harmless. In fact, the country is famous for its general lack of aggression and you needn’t be on guard all the time; just adopt some common sense in some areas or situations. Think straight and you won’t get scammed, but there are some hidden hazards such as motor vehicles and poor hygiene.

Naturally, it is much safer in towns than big cities, and the dishonest tend to prey on unsuspecting tourists, or target crowded areas. Provinces that are popular with tourists tend to report more incidences of safety concern, but incident numbers are relatively low considering 15-20 million people visit the country annually without experiencing any consistent problems.

Despite their reputation for lax law-enforcement, the Thai police are particularly helpful in accommodating tourists and the Tourist Police is a dedicated force with officers in all main tourist areas to maintain order. You can also make complaints in English or ask for help at their hotline number 1155.

There are still some common concerns, real and imaginary. Below is an overview of the main problems to be alert to, but there is no need to be overly worried before travelling to Thailand. We have listed all possible concerns below.

Common safety concerns in Thailand

Credit card fraud - ATMs: a general problem in Thailand, where law enforcement is poor in this regard. Paying by card in respectable hotels, restaurants and shops is fine, but cash is safer. ATM tricksters aren’t too prolific.

Drugs: punishment for possession of illegal drugs, even as docile as marijuana, is harsh, and even harsher for trafficking. Don’t get caught up in it; you could end up with a life sentence, or a US$1,000 bribe at the very least.

Gem and jewellery scams: something Thailand is famous for. Inevitably it’s the foolish that fall prey to those believing they can score smuggled Burmese gems for a bargain, and those easily swayed by smooth talking tuk-tuk drivers. Simply ignore it and you’ll be fine.

Hustlers and touts: a minor irritant that’s certainly not on the same scale as Vietnam and the likes. Usually it’s confined to pushy taxi drivers (ripping you off), and those posing as tour guides, claiming something is closed for the day and offering alternatives.

Road safety: perhaps the biggest unsung threat in Thailand. Traffic police aren’t terribly effective and locals have a rather reckless and unmindful way of driving. As a driver, passenger or pedestrian, be alert to flagrant disregard for road rules and safety, especially on windy mountainous roads. Drunk driving is a particular problem (especially around midnight) and many foreigners unfamiliar with their rented bikes fall of or crash them.

Terrorism: something on everyone’s minds in this day and age but only a minor concern for tourists in Thailand. There is, however, a serious problem with Islamic extremists in the far southern provinces, agitating for self determination. Foreigners seldom visit these areas.

Tropical and sexually transmitted diseases: one certain concern in Thailand. Malaria is confined to areas which are off the beaten track, but dengue fever is on the rise. Stomach bugs are the most persistent problem. The risk of STDs and HIV is promoted by the popular sex industry.

White water rafting: needs mention for its extreme risk rating. Fatalities are reported every year and the Mae Tang River in Chiang Mai is particularly rough in August and September. Companies are unaccountable, so pick one with good safety standards.

Women alone: Thailand is generally safe for women travellers who feel a sense of relaxed freedom among the Thais, but they are often admired by local men and instances of rape are reported every year.

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