Thailand's beaches are legendary. Its party scene is good-heartedly notorious. The friendliness of its people is known all over the world. But despite all the wonderful features of Thailand, and the fantastic adventures you can have there, you still need to be careful. Thailand, after all, is still considered to be a developing nation, with a high rate of poverty, wild jungle regions where malaria lurks, and ongoing political unrest. Here are a few tips that will help you stay safe on your visit to Thailand.
In the west, anti-government protests might lead to rock throwing and name calling; in severe cases, riot police with tear gas might be called in. In Southeast Asia, anti-government protests can mean out-and-out revolution – and people get killed. As recently as this month – February 2010 – a court decision is expected late in the month, and this decision might spark dangerous demonstrations. It wasn't that ago that a military coup overthrew the interim government. In September 2006, the military junta dissolved Parliament, dissolved the Constitutional Court, declared martial law, and put in a new Prime Minister, a counselor of the king. Since then, a power struggle has raged in Thailand as monarchy, democracy, and other political ideologies battle for supremacy. Meanwhile, the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand has had its own series of uprisings, with long-standing ethnic conflicts that date back to the colonial period.
The British government advises citizens to avoid as much as possible the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla, due to recent terrorism. For the latest advice check the Foreign Office's website
If you're planning on a trip to Thailand in the near future, keep in mind that there have been a significant number of confirmed H1N1 / Swine Flu cases there. You should always visit your doctor or a travel clinic prior to departure to check your vaccinations are up to date and to confirm whether you need to take malaria pills, and which type are effective in the region you are visiting.
Besides Swine Flu, malaria and dengue are carried in Thailand by mosquitoes. Day-biting mosquitoes are known to carry dengue fever, while night-biting mosquitoes carry malaria. Unfortunately, a vaccination against these diseases does not exist; therefore you should definitely take steps to avoid being bitten in the first place, as well as regularly taking malaria pills.
There has been a dramatic rise in cases of malaria in the UK, largely fuelled by travellers ignoring basic proportions and getting sick on their return home. Malaria is no joke - a horrible disease to get and some strains can kill you in a matter of days. Worse still, few doctors in the UK are experienced in treating tropical diseases, and misdiagnosis is possible. Best to take your pills as prescribed, cover up + protect yourself and avoid malaria altogether!
DEET-containing bug repellents will protect you for up to 3 hours. Keep in mind that the repellents will easily wash off in swimming or if you've been sweating a lot, such as during a hike or bike ride. You'll need to reapply the repellent fairly regularly. Also bear in mind that the chemical is quite hazardous to fish, so avoid applying before jumping in the sea.
One of the best ways to avoid mosquito bites is simply to cover up. Long sleeves and trousers are essential, particularly in the evening. If your own clothes are too hot, buy some locally made fisherman's trousers and pure cotton or linen shirts. Not only do they help protect you, but longer sleeves and trousers are often more appropriate clothing when off the beach in Thailand. White is a great colour to wear - mosquitos avoid light colours as they are easier to see and kill, but they are drawn to darker colours as they make a great background to hide against.
At night, even though it may be tempting to sleep in less in the tropical environment, wear nightclothes with sleeves and legs. The clothes should be loose-fitting, as mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothes. Check your hotel room for screens on the windows if it is fan assisted, and if it is A/C ensure you shut the window if you have lights on at night. Sleeping under a mosquito net is also a good idea.
While protecting yourself against insect bites, you should also get the following vaccinations. Check with a doctor or visit a specialist travel clinic before going to ensure your vaccinations are up to date - some need boosters every couple of years. Many of the most important vaccinations are available on the NHS, others such as japanese encephalitis and rabies
Prostitution is more common in Thailand than in the West, and it goes without saying that if you should choose to partake you should ensure you are using appropriate contraception to protect your health.
However hundreds of thousands of travellers visit Thailand every year without feeling the need to visit a seedy bar or massage parlour. Yet with Thailand's party atmosphere it is essential you remain sensible.
A combination of hot sun, cheap beer and good times means many people lose their inhibitions and enjoy a holiday romance or two - though enjoyable, these situations are equally if not more risky than visiting a sex worker since most sex workers are more conscious of the risks. Make sure you take adequate protection with you to ensure that if you do meet someone special abroad you do not run the risk of infection.
The British press in typically sensational fashion recently announced that Thailand is the most dangerous place in the world for British tourists, based on the percentage of tourists suffering injury or death while visiting the country. While its true health and safety regulations in Thailand are not as stringent as those in Europe, provided you use your common sense and keep your eyes and ears open you should be safe enough.
However the most serious cause of injury and death in Thailand was due to easily preventable motorbike accidents. Many visitors hire motorbikes as a way to explore the local area around their hotel and resort, yet few have experience in riding bikes at home. Sadly many people forget that drinking and driving don't mix, and a stupid proportion of riders neglect to even wear a helmet.
If you are planning on riding a bike, ensure you have had some experience - if not try to practice on some safe roads before your trip. When riding a motorbike you are a fool if you don't wear a helmet - a minor accident can easily become fatal if you hit your head, even when travelling at slow speeds. You should also remember to wear trousers and long sleeved tops to get more protection should you fall.
Bangkok's red light district has a reputation for seedy, thrilling, and dangerous establishments. On your holiday, you might be tempted to throw caution to the wind for the sake of a few wild nights in Bangkok. However, if your wild night includes illegal drugs, you may be taking your life into your hands. Thailand has extremely strict laws, and it's not unheard of for western tourists to find themselves in a Thai jail for years, or even sentenced to death. Be smart when partying in Thailand; if you're going to play around with illegal drugs, at least have the common sense to do it back home, where getting caught won't lead to your execution.
Don't be scared away from Thailand from all of these precautions. Overall, Thailand is a safe place, and a holiday there is bound to be one you'll remember forever. Of the 812,000 British nationals who visited Thailand in 2008, only 843 required assistance from the British consulate – just a tenth of one percent. However, whenever you take an exotic holiday, be it to Thailand or somewhere else, it never hurts to take the proper precautions to ensure a safe, enjoyable holiday.