This guest post was written by Dr Stephen Whitehead, and first published on his website.
It’s holiday time again. All over the world, especially Europe and North America, weary workers are gratefully leaving behind their offices, factories and shops for some time on the beach and in the sun.
And where will millions of them being heading to? Well, Thailand of course. Twenty-two million tourists made it last year and there’s no reason to expect any fewer this time.
Holiday-makers don’t spend their hard-earned money on a trip into danger, they want a trip to ‘paradise’. And while Thailand’s a paradise in many respects, staying alive as a tourist is becoming more of an issue.
11 tips for staying alive as a tourist in Thailand
So how dangerous is Thailand? Well, it’s not without its risks. Don’t come here thinking it’s all smiles, temples and sunny beaches. There’s real danger in Thailand for the innocent, the gullible and the unwary.
So for those of you heading east this summer, read on, digest and stay safe.
Never rent a scooter
1. Thailand’s roads are officially now the most deadly in the world (World Health Organization, 2013). Over 26,000 people were killed last year; quarter of a million hospitalized. Seventy-four percent of these deaths were from motor scooter accidents – some of them young Western backpackers who thought it’d be fun to speed along a Thai road on a scooter in shorts, t-shirt and no helmet. If you can’t afford to hire a car, then don’t bother.
Never take a long bus trip
2. The buses go far too fast for the road and the drivers are under pressure to get to their destination and so take stimulants to keep awake. Every year buses crash, usually with very nasty consequences. The British Foreign Office is now advising UK travelers not to take bus and coach trips in the country.
In 2011 there was a horrific bus crash near Nan which killed 13 teachers; in 2012 a bus crashed on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai road killing three young British male backpackers. Also in southern Thailand, another crash killed 10 people, including six foreigners, and injured 16, eight of them tourists. You can take the antiquated trains quite safely. Word of caution however: they regularly derail, but are never going fast enough to kill any passengers.
Take insect repellent
3. Don’t go jungle trekking or travel anywhere in Northern or Eastern Thailand without mosquito repellent and anti-malaria pills. Apart from malaria, there’s an epidemic of Dengue Fever across Thailand. Over 70,000 people have been in hospital, many of them tourists. Dengue Fever cases are up 300 percent on the previous year.
Don’t argue with the tuk-tuk drivers
4. Don’t get into an argument with a Tuk-Tuk driver in Bangkok. These drivers may appear friendly and eager for your custom but they always carry weapons in their cabs – usually a machete. This isn’t to kill passengers, with but to fight off rival drivers and their gangs. There was a case where an unsuspecting American male tourist decided he wouldn’t pay the fare, and the Tuk-Tuk driver hacked him to death on the pavement.
4 more tips to staying alive as a tourist in Thailand
No rude gestures
5. If you drive in Thailand while on holiday, just stay calm and remember that the rules of the road you’re used to in Europe and the USA do not apply here. And never, ever, make an obscene gesture to a fellow driver out of road rage. Westerners who’ve given the finger to Thai male drivers have been shot dead. Take the case of a German tourist who suffered this fate in Chiang Mai in 2010. Thais are mostly passive but they have a rapid response rate.
Be careful when swimming
6. Be careful about swimming off Koh Samui, Phuket, Kao Tao, and Koh Chang between June and November (rainy season). The world’s most deadly creature, the box jellyfish, is known to inhabit these waters. So much so that tourists have been killed and injured so badly, they’re hospitalised for weeks. The Thai tourist board’s tried to play it down but it’s a growing problem. Phuket beaches are currently setting up ‘vinegar stations’ to treat stings, as apparently, the quick application of vinegar to the sting can save lives.
Don’t stay in cheap guest houses
7. The standards of cleanliness in some of these establishments are appalling – and deadly. In 2011, a Chiang Mai guest house became known as the ‘Death Hotel’ after 7 people, 6 of them tourists, mysteriously died over the space of a few weeks.
They eventually found that staff were cleaning the rooms with a highly toxic pesticide. Three tourists, including 2 Canadian sisters died from unexplained causes at a guest house in Phi Phi last year. And another two female tourists also died in Phuket guest houses in 2009.
Observe and observe some more
8. Keep your wits about you in Pattaya. The fun side of this city’s now pretty much controlled by Russian mafia gangs. In fact, the place is so popular with Russian males (stocky, shaved-headed, muscular guys with lots of tattoos) that the massage parlours, hotel signs, etc are all in Russian.
Dozens of innocent tourists now die each year in Pattaya – muggings gone wrong, shootings and stabbings. Don’t end up one of these casualties.
The final 3
Go easy on the fun…
9. Sex for sale. Yes, let’s be honest, easy sex is one of the main selling points of Thailand for lots of men. The girls are beautiful and, most importantly, they are available. Viagra and its much cheaper derivatives are on sale in every supermarket and pharmacy, while beer is a fifth the price of that in the west.
However, Viagra coupled with beer and rigorous sex with a woman half a guy’s age is a killing combination. This is especially true for obese western men who don’t normally get out much. One hundred and fifty British tourists died in Thailand in 2012, and most of them from heart attacks while ‘having fun’. My advice: get fit before you come here.
Beware the Thai police
10. The Thai police, for the most part, are there to protect tourists, but many are criminals in uniform. There have been numerous instances of innocent western tourists getting on the wrong side of the Thai law. In the worst cases, they find themselves on the business end of a pistol. In 2008, a twenty-something Canadian couple on holiday in Pai thought they’d found a friendly Thai policeman in a bar.
Turned out he wasn’t so friendly, when he shot the boyfriend dead in the street and attacked the woman. Despite substantial evidence he was the killer, he was given automatic bail.
Traveling to southern Thailand
11. Finally, stay away from southern Thailand at all costs. At present, there’s now an Islamic insurgency going on that’s killing thousands of civilians and soldiers. The western media hardly reports it, but places like Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are killing zones. There have been over 5,000 deaths since 2004. The place is knee-deep in Thai military, but that’s not stopped the be-headings, bombings and shootings.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the vast majority of the 22 million tourists visiting Thailand, their biggest risk is sunburn. Nevertheless, there will be hundreds going back home in coffins.
Come to this glorious country and enjoy it, but don’t mistake it for a free and easy Eden. Remember, even Eden had a snake or two.