Is it safe to walk the streets at night?
Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with a modicum of common sense.
More a 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 Buddhist holiday, repairs or a similar reason. The 'helpful' driver will then offer to take the traveler to another site, such as a market or store. Travelers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back to the center of town where they came from. Always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.
Avoid any tuk-tuks in Bangkok. Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address (they get commissions from places). For the same reason, avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions. Don't buy any sightseeing tours at the airport. If you do, they will phone several times to your hotel in order to remind you about the tour. During the tour, you will be shortly taken to a small temple, without a guide, and then one shop after another (they get commission). They might refuse to take you back home until you see all the shops. On your way back, they pressure you to buy more tours.
National security is currently at the top of the agenda of countries around the world and Thailand is no exception. The insurgency in southern Thailand is limited to the country’s three southernmost provinces and has thus showed no signs of having an effect on the capital. Nonetheless, Thailand’s tourist destinations are not entirely unlikely targets as they do host millions of international tourists each year.
Use whatever caution and common sense you would use a tourist destination in your home country.
While the situation has lightened somewhat since the severe crackdown of the infamous ‘war on drugs’ in 2003, Thai authorities still draw a hard-line on drugs and possession of even a small amount of marijuana may result in a hefty fine or even jail time and/or deportation. Foreigners caught trafficking drugs are likely to end up living a hellish existence at the infamous ‘Bangkok Hilton’, Bangkwang prison. Do not be drawn into any suspicious deals, no matter how financially rewarding it may sound to a desperate soul. Furthermore, those offering drugs are not likely to provide guarantees of the content of those drugs and overdoses and adverse reactions to illegal narcotics consumed in Thailand are not uncommon. Be smart and avoid getting involved in illegal drugs in Thailand.
Thais, on the whole, are passive people and manage to maintain a passive environment. However, there is the odd occasion when alcohol fuelled fights break out and the aggressor will stop at nothing with his rage. Thai men are proud and controlled, but some are known to get drunk easily and if their national or self pride is insulted by an insensitive foreigner they can really ‘lose it’! Some men have also reported rather destructive jealousy-fueled tantrums from their Thai female companions which have left their hotel rooms trashed.
Politically motivated violence, an unfortunate consequence in Bangkok, is not directed in any way at foreigners. While standing in between protesters and riot police to get some photos would not be safe idea, it is unlikely that foreigners would otherwise be injured in politically motivated violence.
Thailand is generally a safe country for women to travel alone, but there have been a few cases of rape by taxi drivers or women lured by local men into fatal or fearsome situations, particular late at night on the beaches and islands. As with all strange countries, keep your wits about you and be wary of befriending strangers too quickly.
Hustlers and touts
Pushy touts are likely to be among the first Thai people you meet upon landing in the Bangkok airport and you are likely to meet many more during your stay.
They will all want to cart you off to some destination or other, all the time with an eye on making a bit of extra money from someone unfamiliar with the city.
Relative to other tourist destinations in developing countries the Thai are generally quite polite and, apart from market vendors and tuk tuk or taxi drivers, they respect your privacy. A firm ‘Mai ow krap/ka’ (not interested thanks!) will serve you well in most cases and if it does not simply ignoring the persistent pleas and continuing on your path will cause the tout to move on to the next person.
Many consider motorcycle taxis so dangerous in Bangkok that there used only as a last resort when you need to beat the traffic.
They can be particularly dangerous for those who have much larger body types than Thai people. Remember that a motorcycle driver is accustomed to having a thin-framed Thai person on the back of his bike and may at times not leave too much room to negotiate himself through a tight traffic squeeze, including while riding on sidewalks or into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road. Motorcyclists can also be a hazard to pedestrians.
Be careful when jaywalking as motorbikes drive quickly through lanes between cars and drive on sidewalks and the wrong side of the road. Finally, it is extremely important never to open a taxi door without looking through the rear window to see if a motorbike is about to speed past, even if you are parked near the curb. If you hit a motorbike with the taxi door you will be expected to pay damage to both the bike and the taxi as well as medical costs for the injured bike rider.
Getting off and on the buses in Bangkok is not a simple matter.
You must be sure that it has come to a full stop, and as such it is best to get off with a group of people and be careful about doing so. Numerous terrible injuries occur every year due to people falling off buses.
Bangkok is one big ongoing construction project and much of the work that was abandoned after the 1997 financial crisis is now being finished off. Sidewalks are a particular hazard, full of holes and sometimes loose debris. Safety laws in Thailand are rather loosely applied and falling masonry and collapsing walls and billboards are a hazard from time-to-time, but seldom cause any widespread casualty.
Tuk tuk drivers, especially those who congregate in tourist areas, are notorious for offering ‘tours’, even on occasion bringing you to the famous site of your choice for free, provided you stop off at look at a jeweler or suit shop along the way. These scams are arranged with the owner of the shop and making purchases during such a trip is not a good idea as you will be paying far higher rates than you would normally and quite possibly receiving goods of dubious quality. Also be aware of recommendations from taxi drivers when it comes to jewel shops, suits shops, bars and restaurants.
Gem scams are the most prolific and every week someone lodges a complaint about losing larges sums of money buying what they thought were cheap ‘illegally smuggled’ Burmese gems, only to discover the goods are fake and the shop gone when they return. The solution to this one is simple; don’t be greedy, and imagine you are scoring a bargain illicitly. Furthermore, it is not uncommon in tourist areas for travelers to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cell phone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist's background, family, 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 Bangkok’s infamous gem scam.
Once identified, the wary traveler should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cell phone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveler should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers. Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside 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 are a winner, however the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation.
Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn't get her 30 baht if you don't attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted. Another recurrent scam involves foreigners - sometimes accompanied by small children - who claim to be on the last day of their vacation in Thailand, and having just packed all their belongings into one bag in preparation for their flight home, lost everything when that bag was stolen. Now cash is urgently needed in order to get to the airport in a hurry and arrange a replacement ticket for his/her return flight in a few hours time.