Safety Concerns for Expats
Most travel guides about most countries will give you the same generic advice, which is really nothing more than common sense: Don’t walk alone at night, particularly if you are a female, keep your room locked and so on. While this is certainly good advice, it is in no way unique and probably no different from how you would behave in your own country. This section will not focus on such advice, but instead on the unique dangers that exist in Thailand.
Thailand is, in general, a very safe country in which to live, if you follow certain guidelines and try to understand some of the cultural traits of Thailand and its people. Violent crime such as assault, rape and robbery is rare in Thailand, particularly for foreigners. While the murder rates are actually quite high, foreigners are very unlikely to encounter such situations as they are usually crime and drug related and very few foreigners will ever come into contact with the environment where such things happen.
As a newcomer to Thailand, though, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Thailand has been named ‘The Land of Smiles’ and though it may be that, the Thai smile is not always a sign of happiness or peace, though it may seem so at the surface. Instead the Thai smile can take many different forms. Thai’s have at least 9 words for smile which indicates that there are many complexities to what may seem, to an outsider, a straight-forward expression. Never assume that just because someone smiles at you, it means they are actually friendly. This may sound harsh, but when the smiles go away in Thailand, this is when you should be worried.
In general, though, Thais are peaceful people, who place much importance on getting along and most foreigners will never encounter a threatening situation as long as they behave politely and with respect for others. In fact, Bangkok is one of few places were you can walk safely in most parts of the city, at most times of the day and night.
That being said there are a number of culture specific issues to know about:
Thailand has a very large number of traffic-related casualties every year. This is because of several factors. First of all is the lack of proper driving instruction. Thai drivers licenses are very easy to come by and some people even drive their entire lives without one. Add to that, that Thais are not very observant drivers to say the least. If you are going to drive in Thailand, NEVER assume that a Thai has his or hers eyes at the traffic. Always be proactive and drive defensively.
Drunk driving is also a very serious problem especially on the weekends and at night, when bars and clubs close. Driving a motorbike poses even bigger risks and should only be attempted by skilled riders.
Though the sensationalism in Western media does not represent the situation in Thailand, there are real tensions below the surface. If you hear that there will be demonstrations in an area, it is best to stay away or risk being caught in an angry mob, that will perhaps be drunk and unruly.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of unrest in 2010. Demonstrations and violence between the two political factions, the ‘red shirts’ and ‘yellow shirts’ culminated with several bomb attacks in Silom. While the situation is, at the of writing, quiet, the underlying socio-economic factors which trigger the unrest are still present, which means that there is a real risk of tension rising once again and violent clashes can’t be ruled out in the future. It’s therefore advisable to be aware of any news about political gatherings and stay away from those areas when they take place.
It’s also best to avoid political discussions with Thais.
Alcohol and Violence
This warning is applicable to both men and women. Thais like to drink and, most of the time, just have a good time. However, some Thais tolerate alcohol badly which can lead to potentially dangerous situations. Thais are very conscious about putting on a public face and controlling their emotions in everyday life, so it’s perhaps no surprise that alcohol can have the very opposite effect. Women should be careful about drinking with Thai men on their own, particularly in tourist areas. It’s not normal for Thai women to do so unless they know the men well. While Thai men may seem polite, almost shy when sober, that is quick to change if they think no one will find out. Thai men are known to handle rejection badly, because it constitutes a huge loss of face. This is mostly a problem with uneducated, lower class Thais, such as those found in tourist areas. Rape is a serious risk in deserted areas and on beaches at night.
Men should likewise be careful when drinking with Thai males. Don’t join in at the local hole-in-the-wall bar or karaoke club even if invited. You may be expected to foot the bill or worse, you could commit some social faux pas, that won’t go over well. Stay away from drinking in cheap bars with Thais. Also be careful about hitting on Thai women in the company of Thai men. Thai men may seem less aggressive than Western men, but they are very protective of women friends or girlfriends and will go to great lengths to keep you away. This includes getting violent. Always ask a group of men and women how they know each other before you try to put the charms on one of the women. This will also often work in your favor, as if you make friends with the guys, they are likely to introduce you to a single woman in the group!
Another piece advice is to never get in a fight with a Thai. In the West, in some cultures, fighting and bar brawls are not uncommon. Usually they end up with nothing worse than a few bruises or a bloody nose. This is not so in Thailand. Thais have a much higher level of ‘breaking’ than Westerners. When a Thai snaps, they really snap. The result is often very bad for the involved parties. There is no concept of a fair fight in Thailand. Prepare for friends and bystanders to join in the fight if you are a foreigner. Avoid situations like that at all costs.
Many beaches in Thailand have strong currents that can be dangerous to swim in. Never go swimming on your own or when under the influence of alcohol. Take the usual precautions about bad weather.
Scams and Frauds
Thais are generally honest, hardworking people, but as with all other countries, there will always be bad apples who may try to take advantage of foreigners who are not in-the-know. The most common scams are overcharging in tuk tuks and taxis. Other scams involve the same taxis and tuk tuks attempting to make you buy jewelry or tailored clothes at hugely inflated rates. Another known ‘scam’ consists of the Anti-Littering police stationed strategically at places where tourists go, such as outside the MBK. These officers, who are not actually policemen, are known to follow smokers looking to see if they drop a cigarette butt at the ground. ‘Violators’ are then faced with the threat of fines up to 10,000 baht, but the goal is a ‘cash settlement’ ranging anywhere from 500 baht to several thousand baht. Other smaller scams involve overcharging in restaurants and bars.
Be wary of other sociable foreigners who may approach you with tales of woe or exceptional investment opportunities. There are, unfortunately, a few professional con-men who frequent the expat hangouts in Bangkok.