A Guide on Safety, Laws & Culture in Thailand

15 Aug 2021

Covid-19 measures can lead to the cancellation of events, temporary or permanent closure of venues, and restrictions on activities and travel. The situation changes regularly, so always check for the latest information.

Thailand is generally safe for travellers. The country is a popular destination for backpacking trips, package tours, luxury breaks, and adventure holidays, and most visits take place without any serious problems. 

Thai people have a reputation for being friendly, while modern facilities for travellers are easy to find, especially in popular tourist areas. 

But as with any country, you should always exercise caution and use your common sense — if something seems wrong, assume it is. Make sure you arrange adequate travel insurance before departure, covering any activities you’re planning, just in case something goes wrong. 

Here’s a rundown on safety, laws, and culture if you’re planning a trip to Thailand. 

 

Theft, fraud, and scams 

While overall travel in the country is relatively save, the crimes you’re most likely to encounter, if any, in Thailand include pickpocketing and snatch thefts, as well as scams. Don’t make things easy for thieves; keep important items like your passport, cash, and credit cards close to you, perhaps in a hidden money belt. 

Don’t leave valuables in your luggage on long-haul buses; even bags that are locked can still be opened. Thefts from sleeping passengers on overnight buses can also occur, while thieves can grab possessions through open windows on public transport. 

Make sure you can see your credit or debit card when you make purchases, to guard against card skimming. 

Be wary of people befriending you and offering to give you a free sightseeing trip — these can end with a visit to a shop, where your new acquaintance will receive commission on any items you’re pressured into buying. Similarly, unscrupulous tuk-tuk drivers may try to take you on unwanted tours rather than drop you at your destination, and this can also lead to unwanted purchases. 

 

Violent crime 

Violent attacks on foreign travellers are rare in Thailand, but they do occur, so always remain alert. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and try to avoid unfamiliar areas at night, especially if you’re on your own. 

Sexual assaults have been reported in popular tourist destinations including Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui, and Phuket. These can take place near bar areas late at night, so avoid getting so drunk that you can’t spot potential dangers. Druggings have been reported at events including full-moon parties, so don’t accept drinks (or drugs) from strangers, and never leave your drinks unattended. 

 

Drugs & smoking 

Thailand has strict laws concerning illegal drugs, and foreigners are not exempt. Conviction for possession can lead to a stay in a Thai prison, and convicted drug traffickers will likely face a long custodial sentence, or even the death penalty. Visitors can take most prescription medications into Thailand, but check before you travel – some are banned and could be confiscated on entry into the country. Take no more than 30 days’ supply with you, and carry them in their original container along with an accompanying doctor’s note. 

Smoking is banned in indoor public places, workplaces, public transport, and many outdoor public sites including many beaches in popular resorts. E-cigarettes are banned in Thailand. 


Cultural sensitivities 

Thai people have a reputation for being friendly and tolerant, but it’s best to be aware of cultural differences so your actions don’t cause any offence. 

In Thailand, the soles of your feet are considered dirty, so never point them towards people. The head is considered a sacred part of the body — don’t touch a person's head, or raise your feet higher than their head. 

The idea of saving face is important to Thais, and arguments — or worse — can occur if you offend or embarrass someone, so always be diplomatic and respectful. 

Dress respectfully away from the beach, especially when visiting temples, where you should wear trousers or a long skirt and cover your arms to your elbows. 


Terrorism & political unrest 

Thailand is not immune from the risk of terrorist attacks, and tourist areas have been targeted in the past, so stay vigilant and keep up to date with news reports. The UK government advises against all travel to the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, plus the south of Songkhla province — bombings and shootings are common, and foreign visitors could be targeted. 

Thailand has lèse-majesté laws, whereby any form of criticism of the country’s monarchy is a crime. This could include something as seemingly trivial as sharing a post on social media. You should avoid political discussions, protests, and civil unrest, as you could risk being arrested or injured. 


Natural dangers 

Thailand’s main rainy season runs from May to October (or October to December in the southern Gulf of Thailand). Heavy rain will often cause flooding and landslides, making rural roads impassable. 

Strong riptides can make swimming in the sea dangerous during rainy season, while strong river currents pose a danger to swimmers, kayakers, and rafters.  

Jellyfish can be a particular problem close to shore in the rainy season, and stings can be fatal. 

Be careful of poisonous snakes, spiders, and scorpions on jungle treks; consider wearing long trousers and sturdy footwear. Monkeys can snatch food and unsecured personal belongings, and sometimes become aggressive; do not feed them. Avoid riding elephants, not only because of the risk of injury, but also because of potential abuse inflicted on them by their handlers. We recommend doing research before you visit any wildlife sanctuary or rehabilitation centre to ensure the animals are not being exploited.  


Transport & activities 

Road-traffic accidents, especially those involving motorbikes, are common in Thailand (it’s compulsory to wear a helmet). Avoid driving at night as roads may not be lit and hazards such as potholes and roadworks can be hard to see. Always check the condition of any vehicle you’re planning to hire, and don’t leave your passport as a guarantee as it might be difficult to get it back if any damage is alleged. It’s always a good idea to choose a major international rental agency if possible — these are common in cities and at airports. 

Overall, it’s easy to find cheap reliable transportation of all kinds in Thailand, so renting your own vehicle isn’t really necessary. 

If you’re visiting an island or are on an island-hopping trip, be aware that ferries and speedboats can get overcrowded during busy periods. Always make sure there’s adequate safety equipment such as life jackets on board before embarking. And if the boat looks very full, find an alternative if possible or try another departure. 

When taking part in activities like whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and scuba diving, check that all hired equipment is in good condition, and that organisers have the relevant safety certificates. It’s worth checking recommendations in popular guidebooks, as their credentials will be verified.  


General 

Before travelling, make a note of the phone numbers you’d need to call to contact the emergency services while you’re in Thailand. The number for the tourist police is 1155, while the number for emergency medical services is 1669. 

For tourist information, visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand website, or call 1672 and press 9 for help in English. 

Always check Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice before you leave and make sure you locate your nearest British embassy, consulate, or high commission.


Further reading

Looking for travel inspiration? Search our collection of holidays to Thailand. For practical information about travelling in Thailand, check out our ultimate Thailand travel guide, and read about travel advice and passport requirements.

Nick Elvin contributed to this post.

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