Safety and security

Political situation

The political situation in Thailand is unpredictable and sometimes volatile. Over recent years there have been instances of civil and political unrest resulting in large demonstrations and in some cases violence.

On a number of recent occasions, the Thai Government has activated the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Bangkok in response to political protests including in areas frequented by tourists. The ISA provides law enforcement officials and the military additional powers to address concerns about national security. Actions include the power to impose curfews, operate checkpoints, restrict the movement of demonstrators, search for weapons and use force in the case of violence. On 19 March 2014 the ISA was implemented in all districts of Bangkok and Nonthaburi as well as the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan and the Lat Lum Kaeo district of Pathum Thani to replace the State of Emergency which had been in place in these areas from 22 January until 18 March 2014. It is expected that the ISA will be in place until 30 April 2014.

Crime

Seven British nationals have been murdered in Thailand since January 2009.

Western tourists have been victims of vicious, unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin on Koh Phangan. In January 2013 a British national was killed in a shooting incident while at a beach party in Haad Rin. Violent assaults and robberies have been reported in Chaweng, Koh Samui. Attacks have also occurred in other tourist districts in Thailand including in Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Krabi. Take care, especially at night.

There have been sexual assaults against foreign men and women, especially in the Koh Samui archipelago and Krabi province. Tourists have also been robbed after bringing visitors to their hotel rooms. In some cases their drinks were drugged. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers and at clubs and parties, particularly in Koh Samui, Pattaya and at the Full Moon party on Koh Phangan, where date rapes have been reported.

Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you drink, know your limit. Drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. Some British nationals have suffered severe psychiatric problems because of drug use, resulting in some suicides.

Be aware of the possibility of credit card fraud. Don’t lose sight of your card during transactions. There have been incidents of ATM skimming in Thailand. Where possible use an ATM within a bank and always protect your PIN.

Be careful to observe demarcation lines between shops and stalls, particularly in market areas and at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Taking items from one shop’s area to another may be treated as suspected theft.

Be on your guard against pickpockets and bag snatchers. Foreigners have had items snatched by thieves on motorbikes when walking along busy streets or travelling in open transport like tuk tuks. If you travel by bus, make sure cash and valuables you have are kept securely. There have been incidents where passengers have had items taken from bags while asleep.

Gem scams are common. There have been reports of visitors buying gems for inflated prices from seemingly respectable establishments then later finding out the stones are worth a tiny fraction of the purchase price.

You should report any incidents of crime to the Thai police before leaving the country.

Burma border

There are occasional clashes between the Thai security forces, armed criminal groups and drug traffickers along the Thai/Burma border. Outside the main towns, police and military checkpoints are actively manned and travellers may be asked to produce ID. See the Tourism Thailand website and seek advice locally before you travel to this part of the country.

Only cross into Burma at an official border checkpoint, and after obtaining any relevant permissions/visas from the Burmese and Thai authorities.

Cambodia border

The line of the international border near the Preah Vihear temple is disputed by Cambodia and Thailand. Since 2008 there have been occasional clashes. Hostilities occurred in February 2011 resulting in civilian and military fatalities on both sides. The situation remains tense and further fighting could occur without warning. The FCO advise against all travel to the Preah Vihear (Khaoi Pra Viharn in Thai) temple and surrounding area.

Disputes also exist over control of the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, which lie close to the Thailand/Cambodia border. Fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops at Ta Krabey in April 2011 causing death and injuries on both sides, and further fighting may occur without warning. The FCO advise against all travel to the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temple area.

Some other temples close to the border with Cambodia may be the subject of disputes over ownership.

Remain alert to the local situation when travelling anywhere near to the border with Cambodia, and at land crossings between the two countries.

Laos border

Not all land border crossings into Laos are open to foreigners and you may need to get a Laos visa before you arrive to cross the border.

Air travel

There are two airports in Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the city’s main international airport. Don Muang Airport is the former Bangkok international airport, which now handles mainly domestic flights.

Rail travel

There have been a number of train derailments in Thailand. Some have resulted in deaths and injuries.

Road travel

You can drive in Thailand using an International Driving Permit or Thai driving licence.

124,855 people were killed in road traffic accidents between 2000 and 2010 meaning that on average there were over 12,000 deaths a year during this period. In the UK there have been on average about 3,000 deaths from road traffic accidents each year over the past decade. In any comparison of these statistics, you should also note that there is a difference in the method of calculating statistics for road deaths in Thailand (at the scene of the accident) and the UK (within 30 days of the accident). The risk of death or injury on the road increases if you travel at night.

With motorcycles so widely used in Thailand the majority of road traffic accidents involve motorcycles, contributing to around 70% of all road deaths. If you’re riding a motorcycle in Thailand take extra care. According to Thai law, safety helmets must be worn.

Serious accidents involving other vehicles including cars, coaches and mini-buses also occur. Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards. There have been a number of accidents involving overnight coach travel. In June 2011, 3 British nationals were killed in an accident involving overnight coach travel, in July 2012, 2 British nationals were injured in an overnight coach crash and in February 2013, 3 British nationals were injured in an accident involving overnight coach travel. Seek local advice if you are in any doubt about the safety of your transport provider.

Motorcycles or scooters for hire in beach resorts are often unregistered and can’t be used legally on a public road. Before you hire a vehicle, make sure you’re covered by your travel insurance and check the small print of the lease agreement. Don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motorcycle or scooter. Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the motorcycle or scooter.

Riding ‘Quad-bikes’ can also be dangerous. It is illegal to drive these on the roads in Thailand even though they’re available to hire on the roadside.

Sea travel

There are numerous passenger boat services operating between the mainland and islands in Thailand. There have been some sinkings, usually due to overloading and/or poor maintenance but also due to rough seas. During the Full Moon party, speedboats to and from Koh Phangan are often overloaded. Take care at all times and avoid travelling on vessels that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. Make sure life jackets are available.

Adventurous activities and swimming

Bungee jumping can be dangerous and accidents occur. If you undertake this activity you should satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured.

If you are considering jungle trekking use a reliable, licensed tour guide.

Take particular care when swimming off coastal areas, especially during monsoon season. Strong riptides have drowned people in several areas including Phuket, Koh Chang, Hua Hin, Cha-am, Rayong and Pattaya and the Koh Samui archipelago. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches.

Jellyfish can swim close to the shore, particularly during the rainy season. Their sting can be fatal. If in doubt take local advice from hotel management and dive centres.

Take care when swimming, diving, kayaking or white water rafting in rivers or close to waterfalls, particularly in the rainy season from May to October. Currents can be extremely strong.

If you rent Jet Skis or water sports equipment, satisfy yourself that adequate safety precautions are in place. Rent only from reputable, licensed and insured operators, thoroughly check for damage before use and insist on training. Don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a jet ski. Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the Jet Ski.

The standards maintained by diving schools and rescue services are not always as high as in the UK. Check a dive operator’s credentials carefully before using them and make sure you’re covered by your insurance. If you’ve had no previous diving experience ask your dive operator to explain what cover they offer before signing up for a course. Make sure safety equipment is available on the boat, particularly oxygen.

You should also ask about contingency plans which should include the ability to call for help while at sea and to evacuate divers to the nearest hyperbaric chamber if necessary.

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