Is It Safe in Thailand?

Colorful hot air balloons flying over Wat Huay Pla Kang, Chinese temple in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand

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The jungle-draped, temple-packed Southeast Asian country of Thailand attracts nearly 40 million visitors per year, some eager to embark on the famed Banana Pancake backpacker trail, others in the market for a spiritual awakening or a life-changing bowl of massaman curry. Despite decades of turbulent politics, travelers remain safe in the main tourist hubs of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, and the ever-boozy islands. Of course, there are many less-trodden alternatives, too, that are just as safe to visit. Travelers need only to keep an eye out for scams, petty theft, and the inherent risk of driving on Thailand's notoriously chaotic roads.

Travel Advisories

  • The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 1 Travel Advisory for Thailand, meaning tourists should "exercise normal precautions." Some parts of the country, however, such as the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla, are under a Level 3 ("reconsider travel") due to "periodic violence directed mostly at Thai government interests." The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to Americans in these areas.
  • The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued Level 1 Travel Health Notice for Thailand due to COVID-19. The country's borders remain closed to foreign nationals with few exceptions.

Is Thailand Dangerous?

For the most part, Thailand is not dangerous. Millions of tourists of all ages and levels of travel experience flood the country year after year to witness its grand waterfalls and ornate temples, mingle with the hill tribes on guided excursions, and feast on pad thai and street food. The people are delightful and the infrastructure in most places is accommodating to tourists. However, there are some scams to be aware of. According to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate, common scams include tuk-tuk and bus "sightseeing tours," scooter rental scams (claiming the rental has been damaged and demanding more money upon its return), and the "wrong change" scam. Educate yourself on the common scams and be familiar with the exchange rates before you go.

A greater concern is the danger of driving in Thailand. A 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) report showed that nearly 23,000 people die in traffic accidents every year in this country. That's more than two people per hour. And the ease of renting motorbikes with zero experience puts travelers at a high risk. Always learn to ride a motorbike properly before attempting to drive one and be extremely wary of riding on the back of someone else's. Vet companies well before booking bus trips because there are many safety concerns there, too.

Most travelers should get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and typhoid before going to Thailand. Many will also want to take prescription malaria medication before, during, and after their trip. Dengue fever, another mosquito-borne infection, is an epidemic in all urban and rural areas, so cover up as much as possible to avoid bites.

Is Thailand Safe for Solo Travelers?

Thailand is perfectly safe for solo travel. Even when you're by yourself, you'll never be too far from other travelers. Hostels are great opportunities to socialize and there are more than a thousand of them squeezed into this country, smaller than the state of Texas. Traveling solo, you'll still be faced with the same risk as any group—you're no more likely to catch malaria or get into a motorbike accident when by yourself, but you may be more prone to scamming and pickpocketing, so be extra careful. If you do go off the beaten tourist path in Thailand, do so with a group or a licensed guide.

Is Thailand Safe for Female Travelers?

Likewise, women are no more likely to catch a mosquito-born illness or get into a motorbike accident than men in Thailand. And even though sexual assault is common—a reported one in five Thais have experienced it—tourists are not the primary target of male attention. Female travelers are more likely to be hit on or harassed by fellow travelers than locals, so be extra vigilant on nights out.

Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Thailand has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene, especially in Bangkok, where much of the nightlife centers around Thai trans women. The urban areas are more accepting than rural areas when it comes to homosexuality, but for the most part, Thais are exceedingly welcoming and accepting. The one major safety concern is that Thailand has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, so travelers should practice safe sex.

Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers

There have been reports of discrimination on the basis of skin color in Thailand, but racism rarely leads to violence. There is a widespread cultural obsession with light skin here because darker complexions have historically been associated with rural poverty and working in the fields. You'll see skin whitening creams in every drugstore and Caucasian faces on beauty advertisements throughout the country. That being said, BIPOC travelers for the most part remain safe.

Safety Tips for Travelers

  • U.S. citizens should register their trips with the Department of State’s STEP program. That way, the local embassy will know you’re in Thailand and you'll receive updates on any growing political concerns.
  • Don’t get caught in potentially dangerous situations, like public protests and large gatherings that could turn violent.
  • It's a corrupt country and police officers will sometimes get in on the scams by targeting tourists for steep, paid-on-the-spot “fines.” Though it's common, bribery is illegal throughout Thailand.
  • All recreational drugs are illegal. Despite easy availability in some places, getting caught could result in steep fines and jail time. A handful of tourists overdose each year during the popular Full Moon Parties (and other parties) held on the island of Koh Phangan.
  • As with anywhere in the world, drink druggings are a problem here, perpetuated by the bucket drinks frequently served on the islands. Cocktails mixed in plastic buckets are often shared, giving people the opportunity to drug multiple people at once. In nightlife-oriented places such as Haad Rin, buckets can be bought from shacks on the beach and street. Stick to buying drinks from established bars for a little more accountability.
  • Smoke and haze are an annual problem in Northern Thailand. Intentionally set fires create choking smoke and pollution. The problem persists from late February until the rainy season beings in May. If you suffer from asthma, check air quality before traveling to Chiang Mai, Pai, and other areas during the “burning season.”
  • Some ATMs are fitted with hidden card-skimming devices that capture credentials. Stick to using well-lit ATMs or those attached to bank branches.
  • Pickpocketing occurs, particularly in tourist-oriented places such as Khao San Road. Don’t walk around with expensive smartphones or cameras on show. Avoid putting your phone on the table when eating and carry bags across your body instead of on one shoulder. Sometimes thieves on motorbikes will snatch phones or bags then speed away.
  • Theft is a real problem on night buses. A sleeping bag liner is a great, lightweight investment for keeping valuables close and inaccessible to others while you're sleeping.
Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of State. "Thailand Travel Advisory." November 23, 2020.

  2. U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Thailand. "Common Scams to Avoid."

  3. World Health Organization. "Global status report on road safety 2018." June 17, 2018.

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