Thailand draws thousands of Australian travellers of all ages – Bangkok is bustling, Phuket is partying (and has some beautiful beaches), the north offers amazing scenery and throughout the country you can experience a culture very different to Australia and experience some awesome food.
But many Australian travellers will ask: is Thailand safe? Is it safe to get a taxi in Phuket or to go out for an evening in Bangkok? Do I need to be on guard when I’m at a bar, talking to strangers or considering street food?
There are great experiences to have in Thailand, but there are also risks which can lead to the worst overseas travel stories – a drunken walk down an unsafe street, getting scammed on a taxi fare, getting injured in a motorcycle collision or getting caught in a rip in the ocean. In short: Thailand is not always a ‘safe’ destination; no travel destination is. There are always risks to be aware of, but there are things you can do to ensure you have a great holiday, rather than experience an emergency.
Our guide covers some of the essentials you need to know before travelling to Thailand.
10 Safety Risks in Thailand
- Motorcycling accidents
- Food poisoning
- Drink spiking
- Petty theft
- Penalty for drug offences
- Sexual assault
- Swimming at unpatrolled beaches
- Injuries from adventure activities
- Faulty rental vehicles and hire operator scams
- Diseases including malaria, rabies, STIs and Zika virus
How to stay safe while travelling in Thailand
Families, couples and solo travellers can holiday in Thailand safely, but it’s important to know the risks of travelling in the country so you can take precautionary measures and avoid high-risk situations.
When in Thailand, ask yourself – would I do this in Australia?
Sometimes the greatest way to avoid high-risk situations in Thailand is to make sure you use your common sense. You may be on holiday, but that doesn’t mean you should take unnecessary risks.
In Australia, would you:
- Walk around an area you don’t know at night after having a few drinks?
- Argue with taxi drivers, or strangers who speak primarily Thai?
- Hand over your important documents, like your passport, to a dodgy looking rental equipment store?
- Ride a motorbike through busy streets without a licence?
If you wouldn’t do it in Australia, there’s a high chance you shouldn’t do it in Thailand either. It isn’t less risky to do these activities overseas and when you’re in Thailand, you’re less likely to know your way around or be able to communicate as easily. Also keep in mind that if you get sick, injured or in trouble with the Thai authorities, the Australian government isn’t going to pay for your medical treatment or legal fees.
Here are five of the most common safety risks for Australian travellers in Thailand:
1) Motorcycling accidents in Thailand
Thailand’s streets can be overcrowded and in various places, not up to the standard you’re probably used to in Australia. If you’re a first-time motorcyclist, the busy streets of Bangkok are probably not the best time to give motorcycling a try.
The road rules are also much more relaxed across Thailand. Generally, the bigger vehicles get right of way, which can be a scary experience for any motorcyclist!
Remember that if you’re riding or driving illegally in Thailand, your travel insurance will most likely not provide you with cover if you’re involved in an accident - you would be considered to be not acting in a responsible way, and this would probably be a general exclusion in your travel insurance policy. There may also be exclusions for illegal activities.
2) Thailand’s risk of petty crime – from bag-snatching to pickpocketing
Unfortunately in Thailand, foreigners can be easy-pickings for opportunistic thieves. Pickpocketing can occur as can bag-snatching – where a person or two people on motorbikes drive by you and snatch your bag.
There’s a few ways you can reduce the risks of petty theft, or the negative consequences of having your valuables stolen:
- Keep your most valuables belongings (passport, money and a bank card) on your person with a money belt or lock these items in a safe at your hotel, resort, hostel or backpacker accommodation.
- Leave your precious jewellery, designer and valuable items at home.
- Walk on the side of the street furthest from the cars and motorcycles, and keep your bag on the side of your body that’s away from the traffic and carry your bag in front of you.
- Keep your camera, GoPro or phone on your person, out of sight and not in your bag.
- If someone tries to rob you, don’t fight them. Your bag and belongings are not as valuable as your personal safety. Numerous tourists have been known to suffer injury trying to fight off bag-snatchers.
3) Spiked drinks in Thai bars and food poisoning from street carts
A cocktail at a Full moon party in Phuket or at a rooftop bar in Chiang Mai is all part of the fun of travelling in Thailand. The same can be said for a Pad Thai or mango sticky rice made on the streets of Bangkok. However, you need to be aware that drink spiking can occur and that differences in hygiene standards can mean you could get sick from eating street food. The key to both of these issues is to be mindful of what you consume.
Tips to avoid becoming a drink-spiking victim:
- Keep an eye on your drinks at all times and never leave them unattended.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers or even your new friends.
- Be mindful of spirits. Research the area you’re travelling to and if there’s a risk of poisoning (such as methanol poisoning), opt for drinks that are sealed when they’re sold, such as bottled beer.
- Drink in moderation so you can keep your wits about your and make clear choices.
- If you do leave your drink unattended or are concerned about your drink for any reason, simply buy a new one. For the sake of a couple of dollars, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Tips for safe Thai street food eating:
- Don’t eat fruit and vegetables which have been rinsed in the local water. Local water can carry bacteria that could make you sick. Fruits that can be peeled, such as bananas and oranges are the best option.
- Don’t eat meat which has been sitting in the sun for hours.
- Choose the restaurants and street carts where the locals eat. They know what’s best!
4) Diseases common to tropical Thailand
Around six weeks before travelling to Thailand, make sure you visit a doctor and get the vaccinations you may require for travelling to Thailand. This can protect you from getting sick with some common ailments foreigners can experience while travelling, including tetanus, diphtheria, measles, typhoid and hepatitis A.
However, there are some diseases you can’t get vaccinations for, particularly mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, zika virus and dengue fever. The best way to avoid getting these diseases is to avoid getting mosquito bites:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Wear dark coloured clothing as they doesn’t attract mosquitos the way colourful clothing can.
- Wear DEET mosquito repellent.
- Be aware of where you are in Thailand and the time of day. Mosquitos are typically most active around sunset, so remember to wear insect repellent to your sunset dinner or drinks!
5) Serious crime in Thailand
Whilst unlikely, aggravated assault is the most likely of serious crimes that could occur.
There are a few ways you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim:
- Travelling at night is always riskier than during the day, so try to plan your arrivals before it gets dark.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol. If you do, you may be too intoxicated to get yourself back to your accommodation or become unaware of your surroundings. Thailand’s streets can be confusing for new arrivals - navigating them after a few too many drinks can be more confusing and frightening and you could end up in the wrong part of town.
- Ensure you let your friends or people at your accommodation know where you are if you go out by yourself to a new part of a Thai city or bar.
- Be polite, nice and friendly at all times.
- If you find yourself in a situation that doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and get yourself out of there. Keep to yourself and don’t engage with anyone.
5 Thai travel scams travellers should remember
There’s a couple of scams travellers need to be aware of in Thailand.
- Taxi or tuk tuk drivers may demand higher payment than what you have agreed on.
- Taxi or tuk tuk drivers may also say your hotel or hostel is closed and try to convince you to try another one – one which may pay them commission.
- Motorcycle and jet-ski lenders may say they require your passport and keep it until you pay for ‘damage’ to the vehicle when you return it.
- You may be offered free or cheap drinks when on a bar street and end up with a bill costing thousands of baht more than expected.
- Someone may try to sell you bus, train, tour or plane tickets. You should always buy your tickets straight from the business operator – otherwise you may be buying invalid tickets.
Be wary when you travel in Thailand and if someone offers a deal that sounds too good to be true – be sceptical. It may be a scam.
If you experience a scam contact the local Tourist Police (See ‘Know Your Emergency Contacts In Thailand’ section below).
If you need to file a police report, they can assist you by contacting the regular Thai Police force.
Learn the Thai laws which will apply to travellers
Drinking alcohol in some public spaces is prohibited and insulting the king is strictly illegal. You can learn more of the Thai laws that apply to travellers on Smartraveller.
If you want to ride a motorbike or moped in Thailand, make sure you apply for a Thailand or international motorbike license.
Remember: Thailand is not lenient when it comes to drugs!
Thailand has a death penalty in place for buying, using, transporting and selling drugs. Small quantities can lead to lengthy jail sentences at a minimum – whether you’re a foreigner or not. Avoid drugs while you’re in Thailand to ensure you avoid the potential penalties. If you find yourself in a situation where drugs are present it’s best to remove yourself from the area immediately so you don’t get caught up if the police arrive.
Beach Safety in Phuket
Safety is essential when you’re swimming, surfing, snorkelling or diving anywhere in Thailand, including popular spots like Patong beach. Always swim between the flags and check to see if a lifeguard is on duty. If there isn’t, reconsider going into the water.
Don’t try to swim, surf or snorkel while intoxicated as you may be more likely to get injured or drown.
Know your emergency contacts in Thailand
The person you need to contact will vary depending on the emergency you experience.
Have the contact details of your travel insurer on you so you can update them in an emergency. For example, if you’re taken to hospital after a motorcycling accident in Bangkok, you should let them know what has happened so they can advise you on the medical attention you’ll need, and how to pay for hospital fees.
Embassy and consular assistance
You can call the Australian Embassy from within Thailand on 02 344 6300 and select option one to be transferred to the 24 hour Consular Emergency Centre in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, Australia. Other contact details for the Australian consulate in Thailand can be found here.
The Tourist police aren’t law enforcement officers in a traditional sense, but they do ‘police’ the tourist industry. They’re made up of a mix of Thai locals and ex-pats, speak English well and are capable of acting as intermediaries and translators when you’re talking with the real police, or having difficulties with scammers.
The police phone numbers throughout Thailand are:
- Tourist police: 1155
- Police: 191
Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles – and for good reason!
Millions of travellers have gone to Thailand to enjoy the culture, history and climate and many have travelled there more than once.
However, wherever you travel, it’s important to be aware of the safety risks that a new place can pose, particularly as you won’t be as familiar with your surroundings and the culture.