Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Staying Safe in Thailand

The aim of this post is to help travellers stay safe and healthy by providing them with a useful list of hints and tips.

Thailand is generally a very safe destination, but it's always wise to be aware of any potential problems before you travel.

"Forewarned is forearmed", as the old saying goes.

1) Motorcycles - The number one cause of death and injury among foreign tourists in Thailand is motorbike accidents. Thai drivers are notoriously bad and the country has one of the world's highest accident rates, with more than 13,000 people dying each year!!!

My advice would be NEVER ride a motorbike in Thailand, it's not worth the risk!!!

2) Political unrest - Long-simmering tension between pro- and anti-government groups has come to a head in the last couple of years and a number of protesters have been killed or seriously injured. Although no foreign tourists have been killed yet it pays to be a bit cautious.

My advice would be to keep an eye on the news to help you avoid demonstrations and other political gatherings and keep your travel plans as flexible as possible. I would also suggest you avoid talking about Thai politics, as it is a very sore subject for many people!!!

The only Thai person I would ever discuss politics with is my girlfriend!!!!

3) Crime - Thankfully, violent crime against foreign tourists is relatively low, although there have been a number of high profile rapes and murders over the last few years.

However, if you're involved in any shady activities, dodgy dealings or are linked to the criminal underworld then the risk of something unpleasant happening to you increases dramatically!!!

For most tourists, it's the lower level crimes that you have to watch out for like bag snatching, pickpocketing, deception, robbery and opportunistic thefts.

My advice, to avoid falling victim to petty crime, is as follows:

- Don't wear expensive jewellery. A Thai friend of mine recently had a gold necklace stolen, from around her neck, by 2 hoodlums who pulled up next to her on a motorbike!!!!
- Never leave your belongings unattended.
- Don't leave anything on hotel balconies or terraces.
- Be extremely vigilant when using your mobile phone or laptop computer.
- If you are on public transport such as a train or overnight bus, be aware of who is around you and try not to fall asleep or you may wake up and find all your stuff missing!!!
- Never accept food or drink from someone you don't know, as it may be drugged.
- Make sure you keep your wallet/purse/handbag/rucksack with you at all times and don't put your rucksack or handbag on the back of a chair if you're in a restaurant or bar.
- Don't keep all your travel money and cash cards in one place. I generally have a one wallet which I keep in my pocket, containing a small amount of money, normally about 500 baht. So, if that wallet gets stolen it's not the end of the world. The rest of my money and ATM/credit cards are kept in a small wallet kept somewhere else about my person!!!

4) Scams - Please read the post I wrote 21/10/09 for a comprehensive breakdown of the scams you are likely to encounter.

5) Prostitution - Strictly speaking prostitution is illegal. However, it's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a "bar fine" in a beer bar or go-go bar. Police enforcement is extremely liberal and establishments offering all manner of adult "services" are commonplace.

The age of consent in Thailand is 15, however, for prostitutes the age limit is raised to 18.

Be warned that it's illegal for a foreigner to have sex with anyone under the age of 18 without parental consent!!!

My advice is to find out the age of your prospective partner by checking her ID card, which all adult Thais must carry. The date of birth will expressed using the Buddhist calendar which is the Western, Gregorian calendar, plus 543.

For example, the year 2010 will be written as 2553 (2010 + 543 = 2553). To work out her date of birth simply subtract 543 from the date that you see on her ID card.

E.g If her ID card says she was born 2535, subtract 543 from 2535 and you get 1992 which means that she is 18 and you will be OK.

But, if her ID card says she was born 2537 then subtract 543 from 2537 and you get 1994 which means she is 16 and should you sleep with her then you will be in severe trouble and looking at some jail time!!!!

Please also be advised that if you are going to use the services of a prostitute make sure you wear condoms as you don't want a dose of drippy dick or risk contracting HIV/Aids!!!

6) Drugs - Possession and trafficking can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand, so please, please, please stay away from drugs in Thailand.

For more detailed information read the post I wrote 03/02/10.

7) Civil unrest - About 5 or 6 years ago, the long-held resentment of the Muslim-majority in Thailand's Southern provinces simmered over into violence. The provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala have all experienced bombings and murders. The unrest is largely confined to the South and hasn't really affected the main tourist hotspots but 3 foreign tourists were killed in the city of Hat Yai, in 2006.

For more detailed information please read the post I wrote 12/11/09.

8) Wildlife - If you plan on sticking to the main tourist areas, aside from a few mosquitos and cockroaches you're not likely to encounter anything that presents much of a danger. Please be careful with stray dogs though, as they can be aggressive and many of them have rabies!!!

If you're an eco-traveller and are planning to enjoy Thailand's wilderness, please be aware there are many species of poisonous snakes, scorpions, spiders and other beasties that it would be wise to avoid!!!

My advice is check your shoes every morning to ensure you don't get a nasty surprise when you put them on!!! It is also advisable not to put your hand into any cracks or crevices as you don't know what might be lurking there!!!

9) Inappropriate behaviour - Badly behaved tourists are the bain of my life and I see examples nearly everytime I go Thailand and the list of misdemeanours includes, bad manners, drunkeness, fighting, swearing, not observing social customs and being disrespectful either by word or deed. Even those who think they are being polite and respectful can often be unaware they are being rude or causing offence.

Yes, I enjoy a drink and on occasions I have been so drunk that my good lady has had to help me home!!! But, even when I'm drunk I refrain from acting in way that might be perceived as crass or boorish. The Thais also like a drink but you will never see groups of Thais staggering bare-chested up the street singing football songs, vomiting and pissing in the gutter.

My advice is about how to behave is as follows:

- Always be polite and courteous.

- Learn a few words of Thai. Even simple things like "hello" and "thank you" will be greatly appreciated.

- Smile at everyone. You will immediately see the positive effect this can have and people will be more inclined to help you.

- Never raise your voice or swear even if the situation is causing you great consternation.

- Never get into a fight or physical altercation with a Thai, as you will come off worse. If the other person is a soldier or police officer then you will probably end up dead!!! Just walk away and don't get involved!!!

- Be respectful of local customs and traditions. Dress appropriately at places of worship and other significant cultural sites (the amount of people going into temples wearing beach clothes or other inappropriate attire astounds me), never insult the Royal family, monks or the Buddhist religion, if you do, there is a good chance you will be attacked and seriously hurt, take of your shoes when going into someones house.

A general rule of thumb to avoid any social faux-pas is to watch what the local people are doing and follow suit......

Remember you are a guest in the country and your actions will have consequences for everybody else!!!

10) Health - Thailand has it fair share of nasty tropical diseases including malaria, dengue and yellow fever!!! Although these are only really a risk if you plan to spend time in the more rural areas.

Thailand also experiences high rates of HIV, hepatitis and STD's. So beware!!!

Other common problems you may encounter include insect bites, heat rashes, food poisoning and diarrhoea.

Food hygiene levels in Thailand are generally fairly high, and it's safe to eat at street markets and to drink any water offered to you in restaurants and that goes for the ice cubes too!!!

But, I would caution against drinking tap water, even in the top hotels and stick to bottled water!!! When I'm in Thailand I will brush my teeth using the tap water but I don't drink it!!!

For minor ailments, there is a pharmacy on nearly every street corner and in the event you suffer from something more serious, the facilities and standard of care you receive in clinics and hospitals is very high.

Taking care of your health when travelling in Thailand comes down to be being careful and using your common sense.

I always ask my readers to seek medical advice before travelling and always ensure you have had the appropriate injections and taken any necessary medication.

The only other advice I can offer is to make sure you have a decent level of travel insurance.

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