Is traveling to Thailand safe? The short answer: absolutely! With a little basic diligence, travel safety in Thailand isn’t an issue.
Over 38 million tourists came to Thailand in 2018. Despite ongoing political instability, international arrivals increase year over year and contribute greatly to GDP. Travelers can’t get enough of the beautiful islands, ancient temples, and world-famous Thai cuisine.
Current State of Affairs
Although Thailand is generally considered stable enough to enjoy, the political situation remains precarious. Elections in Thailand are highly charged, and declarations of martial law are common. The election held in March 2019, the first since a military junta took control, has been widely criticized as skewed and unfair. A retired general from the ruling military regime was elected as the new prime minister and many people feel this was set up by the junta.
Human Rights Watch has warned of internet censorship, among other issues, in Thailand. Numerous people have been arrested for social-media posts about the military regime. Criticizing the royal family is a crime and foreigners are not exempt.
Thailand has suffered from small-scale bombings of public spaces in recent years. Most incidents happen in the South closer to the Malaysian border, however, the crowded Erawan Shrine and several other busy places in Bangkok were targeted in 2015.
Travel Advisories for Thailand
In January 2019, the U.S. Department of State issued a low-level travel advisory for the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla where terrorism threats and public bombings persist.
Political Instability in Thailand
Thailand has a long history of political unrest and coups. More than 17 constitutions have been adopted and dissolved. Many military coups were bloodless, but in 2013 and 2014, clashes turned violent with gunfire exchanged between police and protesters.
Following removal of the prime minister, the army staged a coup on May 22, 2014, and took control of the country
Mitigate some risk by doing the following:
- Register your trip: U.S. citizens can register their trips with the Department of State’s STEP program. The local embassy will know you’re in the country and you will receive updates on any growing political concerns. Also make sure you how to contact your nearest embassy.
- Avoid protests: Don’t get caught in potentially dangerous situations. Avoid public protests and large gatherings that could turn violent.
- What you wear matters: In past protests, wearing a red or yellow shirt declared allegiance to one faction or another. Anti-government protesters wore Thai-flag bracelets and buttons in 2014.
Scams and Petty Theft in Thailand
Violent crime is pleasantly low in Thailand. Someone robbing you in Thailand is more likely to be armed with a friendly smile than a knife. Scams for daily transactions such as market purchases and tuk-tuk rides are common. Even the local police sometimes get in on the action by targeting tourists for steep, paid-on-the-spot “fines.”
Pickpocketing occurs, particularly in tourist-oriented places such as Khao San Road. Don’t walk around with an expensive smartphone sticking out of your back pocket. Avoid putting your smartphone on the table when eating and drinking. Sometimes thieves on motorbikes snatch phones or bags then speed away.
Theft is a real problem on tourist night buses in Thailand. Keep valuables with you at all times on overnight bus journeys.
Some ATMs are fitted with hidden card-skimming devices that capture credentials. Stick to using well-lit ATMs or those attached to bank branches.
Driving Risks in Thailand
According to the World Health Organization, Thailand has one of the highest traffic-related fatality rates in the world. Alcohol is frequently involved.
Many of the annual fatalities occur during the Songkran holiday in April. In 2019, the Thai government reported 386 fatalities and 3,442 injuries during just one week of celebration. These numbers were actually down a bit; there were 418 fatalities in seven days during Songkran 2018.
Scooter rentals are a fun, popular way to explore places in Thailand. You should only attempt driving if you’re experienced and understand the rules of the road in Asia.
Poor Air Quality in Thailand
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.
The particulate matter in the air can cause respiratory issues. If you suffer from asthma, check air quality before traveling to Chiang Mai, Pai, and other areas during the “burning season.”
Drugs in Thailand
All recreational drugs are illegal in Thailand. 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.
Dengue Fever in Thailand
The most dangerous creature in the world isn’t a snake, spider, or shark—it’s the mosquito. Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne infection, is epidemic in all urban and rural areas in Thailand.
Although dengue fever isn’t typically fatal for healthy adults, it can cause bleeding and dangerously high fever followed by fatigue that lasts for weeks. Subsequent infections of the virus become even more dangerous.
The vaccination for dengue fever has issues and isn’t recommended for everyone. Currently, the only good way to reduce risk while traveling in Thailand is to prevent as many mosquito bites as possible.
Drink Druggings in Thailand
As with anywhere in the world, drink druggings are a problem in Thailand. But the bucket drinks popular in the Thai islands complicate the problem. Cocktails mixed in plastic buckets are often shared, giving someone an 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.