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Travel Guide > Asia > Thailand

Thailand Health & Safety

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The No. 1 cause of death for visitors to Thailand is motorbike accidents, especially on the narrow, mountainous and twisty roads of Phuket and Samui. Drive defensively, wear a helmet, don't drink and avoid travel at night.

Political unrest

Long-simmering tension between pro- and anti-government groups came to head in 2008, with the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) first blockading several airports in the South for a few days in summer and in November taking over both of Bangkok's airports for a week, disrupting tourism and the economy. Several protesters were killed or injured, yet no tourists were harmed.

Following the resignation of the prime minister in December 2008, things have gone back to normal for the time being, but the situation remains unstable. Keep an eye on the news and try to keep your plans flexible. Avoid demonstrations and other political gatherings.

Do not under any circumstances say anything negative about the Thai royal family. This will usually land you in prison and your embassy will have little power in getting you out.

There was bad news again in May 2010 when Red Shirt demonstrators occupied parts of Bangkok for two months. This resulted in much violence, arson and several deaths. This problem is still simmering and although it poses no real threat to tourists, it could easily flare up again.


Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with some common sense.

More nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travelers, telling them that the site is closed for a holiday or repairs. The seemingly helpful driver will then offer to take you to another site, such as a market or store. Travellers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back downtown. Always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.

Some tuk-tuk drivers might demand a much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address (they get commissions if they bring people to sex shows). Avoid drivers who offer their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.

Don't buy sightseeing tours at the airport, as it's been reported that these are ruses to get tourists to spend money in shops.

It's not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut man toting a cellphone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in your background or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or the infamous gem scam. Experienced travelers will have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd, tell-tale signs being well-pressed slacks, a button-down shirt, a conservative haircut and a late-model cellphone. Most obvious of all, they mill around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so.

Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring about their nationality, often with a request along the lines of "please help me to earn 30 baht." The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire (which includes supplying their hotel name and room number) with the incentive that they just might win a prize. The reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they've won. However, the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation.

A more recent serious scam involves being accused of shoplifting in the duty-free shops in Bangkok airport. This may involve accidentally straying across ill defined boundaries between shops with merchandise in hand, or being given a "free gift." Always get a receipt. Those accused are threatened with long prison sentences, then given the opportunity to pay US$10,000 or more as "bail" to make the problem disappear and to be allowed to leave Thailand. If you end up in this pickle, contact your embassy and use their lawyer or translator - not the "helpful" guy who happens to be hanging around, as he's in on the scam, too.

Robbery on overnight buses

Thailand is quite safe for tourists. However, there have been some reports about people getting drugged and robbed while traveling on overnight buses. To avoid this, steer away from cheaper and non-government buses, make sure your valuables are stored safely in a money belt or another hard-to-reach place, and always check your money balance before getting off. Warning your travel companions about this danger is also advised. If you've been robbed, firmly refuse to get off the bus, tell the rest of the people about the situation and immediately call the police. It may not be possible to stay on the bus, as your refusal to disembark may prompt the staff to unload your hold luggage onto the street and then continue driving, forcing you to get off or lose your bags.


Thailand's age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Thai penalties for sex with minors are harsh, and even if your partner is over the age of consent in Thailand, tourists who have sex with minors may be prosecuted by their home country. To ascertain the age of your partner, ask to see his/her identity card. If it states the bearer was born in 2537 or earlier, he/she is over the age of 18 (in the Thai calendar, 2012 AD is the year 2555).

Some prostitutes are freelancers but most are employed by bars. If hiring a prostitute from such a business, you'll have to pay a fee to the establishment called a "bar fine." This entitles you only to take them out of their place of employment; it does not pay for any bedroom gymnastics.

Bar girls and freelancers are all professionals far more likely to be interested in money than in any continuing relationship for its own sake. Cases of visitors falling desperately in love and then being milked out of all they have abound. Thailand has a high rate of STD infection, including HIV/AIDS, both among the general population and among prostitutes. In Thailand, condoms can be bought from convenience stores and pharmacies but may not be as safe as Western ones.

Some aspects of prostitution in Thailand are illegal (e.g. pimping) but enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex per se.


Thailand has extremely strict drug laws and a Western passport isn't enough to get you out of legal hot water. Possession and trafficking offenses that would rate as misdemeanors in other countries can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand. Police frequently raid nightclubs, particularly in Bangkok, with urine tests and full body searches on all patrons. Ko Pha Ngan's notoriously drug-fueled Full Moon Parties also often draw police attention.

Possession of cannabis (ganchaa), while illegal, is treated less harshly. If busted, you may be able to pay an "on the spot fine" to get out of trouble, but this could set you back tens of thousands of baht. It's highly unwise to rely on this. Not indulging is the safest policy.

Civil conflict

In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the Muslim-majority south burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (gateway to Malaysia's east coast) passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.

Hat Yai (Thailand's largest city outside Greater Bangkok) has been hit by related bombings. However, the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth hasn't been affected, and none of the islands or west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, Westerners have not been singled out for attacks.


Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with your visa stamp. Always keep your passport or the photocopy with you (the law requires that you carry your actual passport at all times, but in practice a photocopy usually suffices). Many night clubs insist on a passport (and only a passport) as proof of age. Leaving your passport with a hotel when you check in isn't required.


Carrying your own padlock is a good idea as budget rooms sometimes use them instead of (or as well as) normal door locks. Carry a spare key someplace safe, like your money belt. Also consider some type of cable to lock your bag to a piece of furniture too big to fit through the door or window.


Thailand has a few dangerous animals. The most common menace is stray dogs (or dogs that appear to be stray but are actually owned by naive/irresponsible/uneducated people) which frequent even the streets of Bangkok. The vast majority of which are passive and harmless, but a few of which may carry rabies, so steer clear of them and do not, by any means, feed or pet them. If they try to attack you, don't run as this will encourage them to chase you as if you were prey. Instead, try to walk away slowly.

Monkeys may be cute and friendly, but in any area where unaware tourists have corrupted them, they expect to get food from humans. They can be very sneaky thieves, and they can bite. As with dogs, you won't want to get bitten, whether or not they have rabies. Most urban areas do not have "stray" monkeys, but Lopburi is famous for them.

Poisonous cobras can be found throughout Thailand, hiding in tall brush or along streams. You're unlikely to ever see one, as they shy away from humans, but they may bite if surprised or provoked. The Siamese crocodile, on the other hand, is nearly extinct and found only in a few remote national parks. Monitor lizards are common in jungles, but despite their scary reptilian appearance they're harmless.

If you plan on driving or riding a motorcycle late at night, ask around to see if wild animals on the roads are a problem, as elephants are on the highway between Kanchanaburi and Sangkhlaburi during the dry season.

Adventure tourism

When riding an elephant or bamboo rafting in the countryside, don't take any unnecessary risks. If you do get into trouble, it's unlikely the mahout or raftsman will have any First-Aid training or materials, or the language skills to properly help you.

Racial issues

Thais are normally very tolerant of people and tourists, regardless of skin colour, and you're very unlikely to encounter aggressive racial abuse. However, some dark skinned visitors may encounter some uncomfortable situations related to their race. Usually these situations are limited to stares or unwanted attention in shops. Black tourists can expect to be treated much the same as white tourists from western nations.


Don't get into a fight with a Thai, as you'll soon be outnumbered 15:1. Some Thais not initially involved will take their compatriot's side, and weapons are often involved. Trying to break up someone else's fight is also a bad idea - your intention to help may get you hurt.

Stay healthy

Being a tropical country, Thailand has its fair share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in any of the major tourist destinations, but is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat Province), Laos and Myanmar. As is the case throughout Southeast Asia, dengue fever can be encountered just about anywhere, including modern urban areas. The only prevention is avoiding mosquito bites; wear long pants and long sleeves at dusk in mosquito areas and use repellent (available at any Thai corner shop or pharmacy).

Food hygiene levels in Thailand are reasonably high, and it's generally safe to eat at street markets and to drink any water offered to you in restaurants. Use common sense - avoid vendors who leave raw meat sitting in the sun with flies buzzing around.

There's a pharmacy on every block in Thailand and most are happy to sell you anything you want without a prescription. However, this is technically illegal, and police have been known to occasionally bust tourists for possessing medicines without a prescription — even innocuous stuff like asthma meds. In tourist areas, it isn't difficult to find an English-speaking pharmacist.

Read more:

Clinics in Thailand

Hospital Bangkok Samui Hospital
in Ko Samui
Hospital Samui International Hospital
in Ko Samui
Doctor Counseling Center Pattaya
Help with all forms of addiction, depression, relationship issues, sex problems, eating disorders, anxiety, compulsive disorders etc. See website for details and lots of information and tips related to counseling, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and relationship cou... more
in Pattaya
Doctor Pattaya Royal Beauty Clinic
Pattaya's first Plastic Surgery clinic, which always provides free initial consultation at the clinic. Major procedures are performed at a private hospital that it is outsourcing the facilities. Minor procedures, such as nose-job are performed at the clinic. The... more
in Pattaya
Hospital Bangkok Pattaya Hospital
Emergency: +66 3825 9911. Pattaya's largest hospital (210 beds) and generally regarded as having the best facilities and highest standards; a bit more expensive than the rest, but still much lower prices than in the West. Many travel insurance policies will cove... more
in Pattaya
Hospital Banglamung Hospital
This is the least foreigner-oriented of the major hospitals in Pattaya, and most likely to have the lowest prices.
in Pattaya
Hospital Pattaya International Hospital
in Pattaya
Hospital Pattaya Memorial Hospital
Has the most central location, but not as good a reputation as Bangkok Pattaya Hospital or Pattaya International Hospital.
in Pattaya
Dentist Dentist @ Beach
in Pattaya
Dentist Dental For You
in Pattaya
These are just 10 of 15 Clinics in Thailand. Show more.

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