After multiple protests that shook the political climate in Bangkok and led the government to declare a 2-month State of Emergency in January 2014, many tourists avoided the city and sometimes the whole country of Thailand.
Once again, foreign press proved to be a nuisance and fed people fears and other nonsense.
While it was true that the city was in the State of Emergency, there was no curfew and life was going on as usual for the residents of Bangkok. I myself, having lived there back then, was rarely bothered by the protests: they were located at specific spots in the city and you could choose to avoid them quite easily. Some protests marches led to traffic jams, but Bangkok was already infamous for its bad traffic, so nothing really changed.
Sure there were a few deaths and injuries since the protests broke out, but have a look at this statistic:
- Number of Deaths linked to protests (3 months period): 10
- Official Death Toll during new year holidays in Thailand (7 days period): 366
There was still more chance to be in a car accident in Thailand than it was to be hurt during those protests, especially if you avoided the few hot spots: and those were usually away from tourist attractions.
So if you’re thinking about cancelling your trip to Thailand, don’t! Bangkok is still very much safe and there are a lot of places in Thailand worth visiting. However, consider the following common problems that tourists run into during their visit to Bangkok, and make sure that you learn from others’ mistakes to avoid similar issues.
Two main forms of transport around the city of Bangkok are tuk-tuks and taxis. Despite tuk-tuks becoming more and more ousted each passing day, they’re still a way of life for some Thai people. Taxis are replacing them as a tourist’s go-to transportation for several reasons, but that doesn’t mean you should drop your guard. Here is a breakdown of both modes of transportation and what to look for (and do) when you get into one:
- Tuk-tuks. The reasons for their slow regression as a number one choice for driving around Bangkok are twofold. First of all, they’re largely unsafe, not just because they’re basically an upgraded motorbike, but also because Thai drivers go really fast and don’t practice safe driving (at all). There were instances of health insurance companies challenging claims for injuries sustained in these vehicles because passengers weren’t wearing helmets. The second reason is that tuk-tuk drivers are often involved in scams such as driving the tourists around town instead of taking them to the agreed-upon destination, dropping them off at stores that pay the drivers a commission for bringing in customers. Not to mention arguing about the fare! If you do decide to get into a tuk-tuk, make sure that you discuss the price before going anywhere. Write it down on a piece of paper and show the number to the driver if their English is horrible. Expect it to cost more than a taxi with a meter on.
- Is it safe to take a taxi in Bangkok?. Be careful when opening the door to a taxi because traffic is simply wild, and any damage to the door will be charged to you, the tourist. Sometimes, taxi drivers refuse to run the meter. If you ask them to, and they still refuse, just leave the vehicle and get another taxi. In some cases, they’ll refuse to start the meter, but will instead give you a fixed price. It’s usually not a scam, but the fixed price will be pretty higher than what you would pay with the meter running.
BONUS TIPS: Know where you’re going. Have a map, show it to the driver. Let them know not to take longer routes, ask them to stop the car if you feel like they’re trying to cheat you. Don’t get into heated debates, you’ll find out soon why. Never give any documents such as passports, you don’t need to no matter what they say! Ultimately, buses are really cheap in Bangkok and you can avoid all of this if you wanted to.
Most Thai people are very kind and helpful, but be careful about one local ‘custom’. They have what they call ‘losing face’. That means that you humiliated a Thai person, often leading to an aggressive response. Avoid confrontation with locals, especially those that seem inebriated. The same goes for drivers – if you can’t get a fair deal and they’re getting angry about it, just find another ride.
If you’re discovering the magic of Bangkok on foot, be very, very careful. The city has an awful reputation for unsafe drivers that don’t really abide by law and regulations. Make sure that you’re paying a lot of attention when crossing the road. In the unfortunate case of an accident, you’ll be in fault as Thai laws are more concerned with drivers rather than pedestrians. It is much better to be safe than sorry, so pay good attention and use your head when you’re about to cross a road. Overpasses are an excellent way to get around safely, so make good use of them.
Read more: Cheapest Way to Travel to Southeast Asia
Bangkok has a certain bad rep when it comes to scams. They come in different forms and variations, from ‘gulible traveller’ scams, all the way to serious offences. We have already mentioned the scams to be aware off when you’re driving around town, but there are others as well.
- Fake jewelries. Bangkok is not the right place to get your significant other a piece of jewellery. In the sea of scammers, finding genuine precious stones is very difficult, if not impossible. The safest path is to not buy anything of the sort. You’ll be overpaying for a fake.
- Overly friendly people. You shouldn’t buy this for a second. Of course, you should be kind and polite towards your hosts, but don’t believe an overly pleasant Thai that would like to take you places. We’re not saying you should be paranoid for the entirety of your trip, just be aware and make reasonable choices.
- Free drinks. Don’t take free drinks from anyone, because they are most likely laced with something, and you don’t want to risk it. When you’re unconscious, you’re so much easier to rob of everything you’ve got.
- Sightseeing. Among other things, people trying to scam you will offer sightseeing tours and excursions. Take none of that, as they will probably lead you into a trap, or to places that seem free at first, but then you get charged exorbitant prices for drinks that you’re coerced into paying.
- Pen Scam. Or any variation on the topic. If a stranger approaches you and asks you for anything in Bangkok, even something as simple as a pen, you should be suspicious. Oftentimes, they’ll take the opportunity while you’re distracted to steal from you.
Among other things, Bangkok is a paradise of local cuisine. So many dishes to try, so many drinks to have. Street food vendors are great in number and a lot of them offer amazing food that tastes incredible. However, focus on those places that prepare the dishes in front of you because that is the only way to know that it’s fresh. Another great piece of advice is to eat where local people go to eat.
Don’t spend too much time in fancy restaurants if you’re bent on discovering the true charm of Bangkok cuisine. Street vendors are where you should be, but just make sure that you’re served fresh food. Avoid tap water at all costs and buy bottles instead, your stomach will thank you for it.
Pickpockets in Bangkok
Pickpockets are the most common group of thieves in Bangkok, but they’re easily avoidable. All it takes is a little precaution – don’t take your expensive smartphone out of your pocket to avoid unnecessary attraction. Keep your items secure and never ever put anything in your back pocket because it is as good as gone. The same goes for your cash or documents. We’ve mentioned before how drivers sometimes ask for your passport. They’ll rationalise it as having a sort of security deposit for your ride – don’t do it. Pickpockets often try and take their victim’s documents as well for purposes of identity theft.
Keep your documents and cash safely tucked away in a bag that can be zipped up, otherwise, it may be gone in a blink of an eye. Another tactic they use to distract tourists is to have a ladyboy approach you and ask for a picture. When that happens either refuse or be very, very careful about where your things are.
Especially be mindful about your belongings in high-traffic areas, because this is where most pickpockets simply blend in with all the hustle and bustle of markets and passing crowds.
You can find whatever you like in Bangkok, and that includes drugs more than anything. They’re readily and easily available, attracting young tourists from all over the world who want to experience Thailand from a whole different perspective. Bear in mind though, that drugs are completely illegal in Thailand and don’t let their availability trick you into thinking anything other than that. You could spend a year in Thai prison for it, or face a death sentence in case you were trying to smuggle it across the border.
Another spicy attraction in Bangkok, red-light district houses prostitutes with very little regard for health and safe sex. These areas do have attractions of their own, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that no one comes to Thailand because of them. In fact, they’re well visited by young and old tourists alike, but it doesn’t mean that you should go in there unprotected.
At the moment, Thailand is entirely safe and there are no political instabilities in the country. There aren’t any riots or protests like the one from 2014, their relations with other neighbouring countries are just fine, with the exception of the deep south. More precisely, provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat suffer from constant violence. Most governments recommend that you refrain from travelling to Malaysia by land and that you should instead go by plane if you want to visit Malaysia.
Conclusion: Is Bangkok safe for travel now
So, is it safe to travel to Bangkok right now? Yes, it is completely safe to visit Bangkok now. Like in any major tourist destination, there are certain people that would take advantage of you given the opportunity. However, if you don’t give them this chance, if you take certain precautions you’ll most likely have no problems whatsoever. Many visitors to this amazing city have only the best things to say about Bangkok, going as far as calling it safer than their own hometowns. Of course, you shouldn’t take their testimonies for granted, as your experience may vary from theirs. With just a bit of self-restraint and responsible behaviour, you ensure that the overall quality of your trip remains high.