Tourist safety in Thailand has been getting a fair bit of attention this year, with EU Ambassadors and the Thai Tourism Minister joining the debate on the treatment of tourists and their safety while on holiday in Thailand, particularly in Phuket.
The minister, newly appointed to the office in April, began his stint by promising to set up special tourists courts, so tourist victims of crime can have their case dealt with swiftly.
This at least suggests to me that the Thai government acknowledges that a problem exists and that they would like to do something about tourist safety in Thailand.
How safe is Thailand as a destination for tourists?
Well if you based your answer to this question on a selection of the news stories from this last week in the national and international press plus the latest British Foreign Office(FCO) report on Brits abroad, the answer would be that Thailand is far from safe for tourists.
The news stories I refer to include a train derailment injuring over 30 people many of them foreign tourists, a tourist bus crashing into a low bridge seriously injuring several tourists and a scathing, but fairly accurate report, delivered by Fox News under the headline, “Thailand urged to tackle the dark side of the Land of Smiles.”
The FCO’s annual report on Brits abroad lists Thailand as 2nd in its league tables for UK citizens requiring assistance in foreign lands. The report is slightly distorted from a “tourist safety in Thailand” perspective since it includes assistance given to some of the 50,000 UK citizens who actually live in Thailand.
But the 389 deaths and 285 hospitalizations of UK citizens still makes pretty chilling reading even if you take into account those older folk dying from natural causes. Also remember the report only reflects cases that the UK embassy/consular staff were involved in.
Tourist Safety in Thailand-Awareness
While most tourists are unaware of the tourist safety and other issues Thailand suffers from, those of us who have spent a few years living in Thailand are only too aware of these problems.
We know about the corruption that riddles Thai society. That a lot of the money that is earmarked for infrastructure projects and maintenance never gets spent where its needed.
We know that trains frequently derail because of poor maintence of tracks and rolling stock, that Thailand’s roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, where drivers charged with the safety of their passengers in buses and mini-vans are frequently found wanting or not found since they often flee the scene if involved in an accident!
We know of some corrupt government employees who we encounter from time to time when we get stopped by the police or want something from Immigration.
We also know about the numberous scams that are practiced on tourists here, ranging from jet ski’s opertors claiming compensation for “damage” to dishonest taxi and tuk-tuk drivers charging ridiculous fares and taking customer to unscupolous business premises.
Of course we chose to live here, accepting these risks and annoyances as part of everyday life, trying to mitigate them as much as we can, whilst still enjoying the many positive aspects of life in the Kingdom.
But what of the tourists? How well informed are they of what potential hazards await them in the Land of Smiles?
Some countries, like my own, do make an effort to make visitors aware of some of the dangers and other hazards they may face in Thailand. But seriously, who, if they are planning their annual two weeks in the sun, would trawl the Internet looking at the negative reports of their intended destination. Not many I suspect. So as for being aware goes, although it is pure conjecture on my part, I fancy most tourist are fairly oblivious to the potential problems they could encounter in Thailand.
But what about the future, ASEAN membership and all that it entails? Will tourist safety in Thailand improve? Personally I think not, simply because many of the things mentioned in this article would require change, a change in thinking and culture.
Will tourists wake up and smell the coffee, regarding their safety and the way some are treated in Thailand, perhaps even choosing a different destination? I’m not sure, but I fancy the answer is that they will continue to come here, although the country of origin of future tourists might well change.
Finally a word to potential tourists. Thailand is great place to visit if you accept that you cannot expect much protection from the authorities when things go wrong. Also accept that health and safety is a concept yet to be discovered by Thailand and its people who accept corruption as a part of daily life.
Take your time, plan things out a little and apply some common sense. Take out adequate travel insurance because you may well find that if something goes wrong, like an accident, the operator, does not have third party insurance to cover your medical bills.
Recent reports of accidents involving tourists to Thailnd.
FCO Brits Abroad