How safe is travel in Thailand? It depends on whom you ask, what you plan to do when you get there and the kinds of precautions you’re willing to take while you travel. Some of the advice that you would give to a friend traveling in any U.S. city (including yours) would be the same advice you would follow when traveling around Thailand. And, as is so often the case, some of your biggest fears – the threat of terrorism, for instance, or street crime – might be greater than your fear of crossing the road when the latter, statistically, would be a much more realistic threat.
The Department of State is one of the best and most thorough sources of information on how safe it is to travel to Thailand. It issues Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings for the parts of the world that pose any perceived threat to citizens traveling there. Travel Alerts are meant for short term threats such as demonstrations or health-related events; Travel Warnings are for more serious threats such as terrorist attacks or civil wars.
Since October 7, 2014, there have been no Travel Alerts or Warnings issued for Thailand. However, on August 11 and 12, 2016, multiple bombing incidents occurred in a number of Thai locations, including Hua Hin, Phang Nga, Trang, Surat Thani, and Phuket. Thai authorities reported at least four deaths and 37 injuries. Click here for the U.S. Embassy and Consulate's warning. Its advice for residents and travelers: "Regularly monitor the State Department’s website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Thailand." For further in-country help: "The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok, and can be reached by calling +66-2-205-4049, or by e-mailing email@example.com. The Embassy’s after-hours emergency telephone number is +66-2-205-4000. You can also follow us on Twitter @acsbkk."
The last bad incident, described on to the State Department’s website on Thailand, was an August 2015 explosion that took place at a crowded intersection in Bangkok that killed 20 people and injured more than 20, prompting the Department to post that it “is concerned that there is a continued risk of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand.”
The same post says that the U.S. Embassy “prohibits its personnel from traveling to the far south of Thailand – specifically, Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala Provinces –without prior approval, and Embassy personnel may go there only on work-essential travel.”
Some First-Hand Observations
Amy Rinehart, a 28-year-old American who lived and worked in Bangkok for two years and returned home just last month, says that she felt absolutely safe on the streets of that country wherever she went – “to the mountains in the north, the beautiful beaches in the south and even in the organized chaos that is the capital city of Bangkok.”
Just after Rinehart arrived, the military staged a coup in Thailand. She says that she hardly noticed: “In one part of Bangkok, there were military police everywhere; two stops away on the Skytrain you wouldn’t know anything was going on. The Thais are used to coups.”
And that’s not just the opinion of young travelers. Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living, knows the older market, specifically folks who are considering retiring in Thailand. According to Stevens, “We feel very comfortable sending our readers to the parts of Thailand we recommend for retirement living. Places like Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Koh Samui and Phuket, for instance, we feel are quite safe. Thousands of expats living in Thailand are at once very happy there and indifferent to the political situation.” The advice she’d give to travelers to Thailand, she says, is the same she would give to someone going to Rome: Don’t stay out late in seedy parts of town, don’t carry all your money and your passport on your person, etc.
Some of the more likely dangers of traveling in Thailand are the traffic, local laws that are difficult for U.S. travelers to understand and the risks inherent in the country’s many outdoor activities.
“Pedestrians don’t have the right of way in Thailand,” says Rinehart, “and motorcycles, the most popular means of transport, weave in and out of traffic at a dizzying rate.” According to information passed on to us by Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, the combination of heavy traffic and inebriated drivers in some areas, like Phuket, poses a real threat. And, “from a foreigner’s perspective," she says, “the main ‘danger’ is being overcharged by tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motor-powered bikes); metered taxis are a safer alternative.
From zip-lining to hiking, mountain biking, swimming and diving – visitors to Thailand can choose from a dizzying array of outdoor sports. Which they should, says Rinehart – but not without exercising some caution. Some of the safety features of the sponsored adventures may not be quite up to the standards that U.S. folks are used to – equipment may not be as safe, first aid capabilities may not be all that great. “Just do a little digging before you sign on,” she says.
Watch What You Say About the Royal Family
For travelers from the U.S. who are used to the First Amendment guarantees of this country, it is difficult to comprehend how dire the results can be if you are accused by a Thai court of saying something that insults the royal family. Not long ago, a man was sentenced by the military junta to 30 years in prison for insulting the King’s dog.
The Bottom Line
Be especially alert and careful now, but odds are that your trip to Thailand will be safe as long as you exercise the kinds of cautions that are necessary anywhere in the world. Heed the warnings of the U.S. Department of State. Sign up with the Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that the Embassy or nearest consulate knows where to send you up-to-the-minute safety reports for Thailand, how to contact you if necessary and so that it can help your family and friends get in touch with you in case of an emergency.