Although Thailand is not a dangerous country to visit, it is smart to exercise caution, especially when it comes to dealing with strangers (both Thai and foreigners) and travelling alone. In reality you are more likely to be ripped off or have a personal possession surreptitiously stolen than you are to be physically harmed. Motorcycle accidents are another common injury.
Assault of travellers is relatively rare in Thailand, but it does happen. Causing a Thai to ‘lose face’ (feel public embarrassment or humiliation) can sometimes elicit an inexplicably strong and violent reaction. Often alcohol is the number-one contributor to bad choices and worse outcomes.
Women, especially solo travellers, need to be smart and somewhat sober when interacting with the opposite sex, be they Thai or fa·ràng (foreigners). Opportunists pounce when too many whisky buckets are involved. Also be aware that an innocent flirtation might convey firmer intentions to a recipient who does not share your culture’s sexual norms.
Border Issues & Hot Spots
Thailand now enjoys much better relations with its neighbours, and most land borders are fully functional passages for goods and people. However, the ongoing violence in the Deep South has made the crossing at Sungai Kolok into Malaysia dangerous and the entire Muslim-majority provinces (Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat) should be avoided by casual visitors.
Cross-border relations between Thailand and Myanmar have normalised with unprecedented open land access. The long-contested area at Khao Phra Wihan (known as ‘Preah Vihear’ in Cambodia), along the Thai–Cambodian border, is still a source of military clashes and should be avoided until a lasting peace is found.
Check with your government’s foreign ministry for current travel warnings.
Druggings & Drug Possession
Belying Thailand’s anything-goes atmosphere are severely strict punishments for possession and trafficking that are not relaxed for foreigners. It is illegal to buy, sell or possess opium, heroin, amphetamines, hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana in Thailand. Possession of drugs can result in a year or more of prison time. Drug smuggling – defined as attempting to cross a border with drugs in your possession – carries considerably higher penalties, including execution.
Thais can be so friendly and laid-back that some visitors are lulled into a false sense of security, making them vulnerable to scams of all kinds. Bangkok is especially good at long-involved frauds that dupe travellers into thinking they’ve made a friend and are getting a bargain, when in fact they are getting ripped off.
Follow Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) number-one suggestion to tourists: Disregard all offers of free shopping or sightseeing help from strangers. These invariably take a commission from your purchases.
Theft & Fraud
Exercise diligence when it comes to your personal belongings. Ensure your room is securely locked and carry your most important effects (passport, money, credit cards) on your person. Take care when leaving valuables in hotel safes.
Follow the same practice when you’re travelling. A locked bag will not prevent theft on a long-haul bus.
When using a credit card, don’t let vendors take your card out of your sight to run it through the machine. Unscrupulous merchants have been known to rub off four or more receipts with one purchase. Sometimes they wait several weeks – even months – between submitting each charge receipt to the bank, so that you can’t remember whether you’d been billed by the same vendor more than once.
To avoid losing all of your travel money in an instant, use a credit card that is not directly linked to your bank account so that the operator doesn’t have access to immediate funds.
Contact the tourist police (1155) if you have any problems with consumer fraud.
Touts & Commissions
Touting is a long-time tradition in Asia, and while Thailand doesn’t have as many touts as, say, India, it has its share. In Bangkok, túk-túk drivers and other new ‘friends’ often take new arrivals on city tours. These almost always end up in high-pressure sales situations at silk, jewellery or handicraft shops.
Touts also steer customers to certain guesthouses that pay a commission. Travel agencies are notorious for talking newly arrived tourists into staying at inconveniently located, overpriced hotels.
Some travel agencies masquerade as TAT, the government-funded tourist information office. They might put up agents wearing fake TAT badges, or have signs that read TAT in big letters to entice travellers into their offices where they can sell them bus and train tickets for a commission. Be aware that the official TAT offices do not make hotel or transport bookings. If such a place offers to do this for you then they are a travel agent, not a tourist information office.