Thailand - Hazards Page 3
Danger Walking Around
Just walking around in Thailand can seem like an assault course. In most places there is barely 10 meters of continuous, flat pavement (sidewalk if you're an American). There are steps between the different levels (sometimes quite high), open drains and holes large enough to swallow small vehicles. While walking along you have to watch your step continuously and this can be difficult due to other things that are going on around you. At best you could sprain an ankle, at worst you could sustain a serious injury.
As I have mentioned elsewhere there are street vendors everywhere selling food and goods. The stalls they set up to trade from are constructed from metal poles. Because of the average height of the average Thai person the poles that jut out to form the roof of the stall are about eye-level to the average farang. I have had a few close shaves and it has made me judder thinking what might have happened if I'd actually walked into the pole.
As a pedestrian in Thailand you are about the lowest life form. Crossing the road can be a joke even though there are signs to say it is safe to cross at some junctions. Thais wanting to turn left at red traffic lights do so as if the light didn't exist at all. No consideration is given to pedestrians crossing. It's not like America where drivers can turn on a red light if there are no pedestrians crossing. Furthermore, I have frequently seen Thais quite openly running red lights if they think nothing is coming the other way. As a pedestrian you might assume it is safe to cross but this doesn't take into account an idiot Thai driver breaking the law.
In conclusion, just keep your ears and eyes open all the time. Expect the unexpected. Expect to see cars and bikes on the wrong side of the road and driving the wrong way along one-way streets. I live on a one-way street and have very nearly been hit several times by someone on a motorbike going the wrong way. My reaction is to get mad but the motorbike riders just look at me as if to say, "what's the problem?" When I continue the rant and direct it at my Thai girlfriend she also cannot understand why I am upset. "This is Thailand," she tells me. Yes, sometimes I forget.
About a week after writing this I was in the back of a tuk-tuk when suddenly the tuk-tuk screeched to a halt causing me to be thrown forwards. I wasn't hurt but was keen to find out what had caused this sudden stop. Two middle-aged farang women had spotted some black and white stripes painted across the road and had mistakenly thought this was a designated place for pedestrians to cross the road safely. Maybe this is what happens in civilised countries but not in Thailand. Pedestrian crossings mean absolutely nothing to Thai drivers. If they ignore red lights they are hardly likely to stop because of some white paint on the road. The amazing thing was that the women weren't hit but it was quite close. I couldn't believe their stupidity (or maybe it was naivety?).
Thai Disregard For The Law
Thais are notorious for not obeying rules and laws. This is most prevalent, and most noticeable, on the roads. Throughout these pages I make several references to Thai roads and driving techniques but I honestly can't overemphasise how bad Thai drivers are. If you are a passenger don't be surprised by anything you see and as a pedestrian or driver be very careful and expect the unexpected.
It's not only on the roads though. Smoking is another example. In several places - for example trains, lifts and hotels - I have seen 'No Smoking' signs that even include a warning that violators will be prosecuted and fined a certain amount but the Thais puff away complete unbothered. No-one is concerned and no-one is going to say anything to the offenders, let alone fine them. A letter from an American tourist to The Nation newspaper expressed concern that he had been in a 5 Star hotel in Bangkok with his young daughter. There is supposed to be a general smoking ban in all air-conditioned buildings but, as usual, lots of people were smoking. He complained to the manager who did nothing except try to placate him by sending a basket of fruit to his room. "Mai pen rai", as they say here.
Dealing With And Using Drugs
Drugs wreck lives. That is why the majority of countries in the world impose severe penalties for their use. If you use or deal in drugs anywhere in the world you are stupid. If you choose to do so in Thailand you are even more stupid and if you choose to do so under the current Thai government your stupidity is beyond belief.
In March 2004 a 19 year-old boy from Bury in the UK was found guilty of smuggling drugs in Thailand and given a 99 year jail term, in other words he will be in a Thai jail for the rest of his days. Thai jails apparently are not the most pleasant places on earth. His father made some rather weak statements about him being young and naïve and that he was in debt a few hundred pounds so did it to get out of debt. There are no excuses and there is no justification. If you need money find some honest work and anyway, if you have no money why are you in Thailand? I don't believe that anyone coming to Thailand is not aware of the consequences.
In October 2004 two more UK males were arrested for drugs charges on Koh Samui. One was given the death sentence, the other was originally given life imprisonment but this was commuted to thirty-something years. By the way, life means life in Thailand, not 10 years for good behaviour.
Don't even think about it. In addition be wary of suspicious characters. Don't carry anyone else's luggage for them and watch your own bags when coming to and leaving the country.
Don't Come With An Attitude
Thailand and Thais are just so different in so many respects to Westerners. Try to remember this and leave bad attitudes at home. Let me try to give you an example of behaviour that is very different in Thailand to my native England.
In some provincial areas of England I have been afraid to look around in a pub because of the local 'hard' men looking for an excuse to beat someone up. Looking at someone else's girlfriend is enough to end up in the local hospital. Nice.
Thankfully, these primitive attitudes don't really exist in Thailand and for many visitors this will be a huge relief. If, on the other hand, you are someone who likes to beat people up and get aggressive think again.
Men in Thailand are very lecherous. They will stare quite openly at an attractive girl as she walks past. The girls realise they are being stared at but ignore it and don't look back. They would certainly never launch into a verbal assault because of such a trivial matter.
If a man is with the girl he will ignore it too. I've been with girls and as we've walked along, groups of Thai men have ogled her as if I wasn't there. At first I thought this was strange and sometimes I got sarcastic, asking them if they thought she was beautiful, "suai mai?" They'd all laugh and say yes so I'd laugh back.
If this happens, just smile and take it as a compliment. Don't start playing the hard man or start to get over protective. Smile and forget it. And it's not just looking at girls. That was only one example. In any situation where you, a foreigner, might be inclined to resort to aggression, just forget it.
It's not unknown for Thais to be armed. The weapons may be owned illegally or possibly the Thai might be a policeman. Thailand is not a good country to antagonise people. Life is cheap, many people have weapons and often alcohol is involved. It's a dangerous combination.
I ate alone at a restaurant one evening and on the next table were four local cops. It looked like they had just finished their shift. They were still in uniform and all had revolvers quite visibly on display. They were drinking Thai whisky and beer with their meal and having a great time.
These guys couldn't have been friendlier. They wanted to talk to me all the time, kept shaking my hand repeatedly and when I left they insisted quite forcibly that they wanted to pay for my meal.
As we all know, drink affects different people in different ways. The guys I met went all silly and couldn't have been nicer. But some people go the other way when they've had a drink and if they have a weapon and someone antagonises them it could turn nasty.
Be tolerant even if behaviour seems strange and smile, smile, smile. It works miracles in Thailand.
Not really a danger (although it can be) but a warning. Thailand has a serious stray dog problem. Most of the dogs are really docile and don't bother you. The dozy mutts just lie around sleeping and scavenging for scraps but I've had a few that took exception to me. Expect to see stray dogs - they are absolutely everywhere.
On the subject of dogs there have been a few attacks recently by dangerous dog breeds - Rottweilers, Pit Bull Terriers and the like. This has been a problem in other countries in the past but Thailand doesn't deal with problems like 'other countries'. The dogs are still there and nothing has been done. One little girl got savaged and the owner of the dog offered her parents Bt500 in compensation (about 10 UK pounds). Another young lad was attacked, needing 70 stitches, and the owner of the dogs wouldn't even pay his hospital bill.
I have walked past chain fences with Rottweilers loose on the other side and it is a frightening experience when they come running to the fence barking and growling. A Rottweiler attempted to attack me while being walked by its owner and the guy had a real job holding it back on the leash. I, and the majority of people, wouldn't stand a chance if attacked by one of these powerful beasts.
Why people keep these kind of dogs is a mystery to me but the government are just as guilty for not having any legislation in place to protect and prevent people from getting attacked.
There are also stray cats which are harmless but cats can carry nasty parasites. Also fairly harmless are the rats but when they run across the pavement in front of me at night they always make me jump. The rats are huge and there are a lot of them. You don't see too many in the day but they come out at night to find food. The local market, where there has been food around all day, is a favourite place.
There is an amazing harmony here between the different animals. The dogs leave the cats alone and both the cats and the dogs leave the rats alone. It's hardly surprising really as the rats are about the same size as the cats.
If you come across monkeys be very careful. Surprisingly I haven't seen too many in Thailand despite seeing thousands of the things in Malaysia just a bit further south down the Peninsular. However, there are a colony at a local park in Songkhla. They may look cute and their antics may be amusing but these are nasty little buggers. They have fearsome teeth and have lost their fear of humans. At Melaka zoo I was urinated on by a monkey in a tree above me, I've had one threaten to attack me in Langkawi and I got bitten quite badly on a small island near Langkawi. At the time I knew there were monkeys around but had no idea there were any that close. I was offered a crisp by a friend and as I put my hand in the bag a monkey jumped out, clamped its teeth on to the bag and into my fingers and ran off.
In Bangkok (and even in Hat Yai) I've seen elephants roaming the streets, poor things. They are brought into the city so their owners can make a few Baht from tourists. The poor creatures are in more danger to themselves than they pose to other people. I read somewhere about one getting its legs stuck in a hole in the road and having to be destroyed while others get hit by cars, especially at night because elephants don't come with lights. I think occasionally elephants go a bit crazy and start to rampage but I haven't heard of this happening in Bangkok.
Elephant update, March 2004 It would appear that after this month the elephants will disappear from the streets of Bangkok. It will be a good thing for their own safety. The authorities have trucks ready and waiting to take the elephants to holding centres in the countryside. The owners will be able to claim their elephant later provided they produce the correct paperwork. There is even a 24 hour hotline number to call - 1326 - if you spot a roaming elephant in the city (this is definitely one of those "only in Thailand" stories).
The little lizards that may appear in your room are not a problem. They are good guys, in fact, as they feed on mosquitoes which are a problem. They won't hurt you so don't hurt them. The big, brown Asian cockroaches are not attractive but are fairly harmless. At night the pavement is full of them in certain places. Ants are also everywhere and the byword there is not to leave food out. In my room there is normally no indication of any ant presence, that is until I leave food out and suddenly there are hundreds of them over the food.
Thailand is home to some very nasty snakes but the chances of getting bitten by one are low. They are only found in rural areas and try to keep out of the way of humans. Be aware of the possible risk if you go out hiking in a jungle area. A king cobra, although not the most venomous of snakes, injects a huge amount of venom - enough to kill several people. Thai hospitals are well equipped to deal with snake bites.
I'm not aware of any nasty insects or spiders, as can be found in Australia, but there are certainly some huge spiders in the woods. There are a few potentially dangerous sea creatures but warnings normally only apply to scuba divers and responsible divemasters should make divers aware. At certain times of the year stinging jellyfish invade beach areas so swimmers should keep a look out.
Credit Card Fraud
I have a credit card with me but it is for emergency purposes only and I generally try to avoid using it, preferring to pay by cash. The reason for this is credit card fraud. A couple of years ago I was in Thailand for three months and adopted the same policy as I was worried about fraud. I managed not to use it for almost the whole trip but when I changed an internal flight over the telephone there was a very small charge involved. As it was over the phone I couldn't pay by cash so had to use my card - reluctantly. This was the only time I used it. About 6 weeks later a Bt20,000 charge appeared on my credit card from someone called Lanna Antiques in Chiang Mai. It was made on Christmas Day and I had already left Thailand and was in Singapore. I honestly don't know where and when the scam occurred. It may have been as a result of me changing the flight if an unscrupulous employee had got hold of the number and sold it on. I'd kept the card about my person almost all of the time apart from when in I left it the safe at hotels and guest houses. I guess that someone could have got hold of it then but I honestly don't know.
My bank refunded the money eventually but I had to fill in a lot of forms and send photocopies of my passport to prove I had left Thailand. If I had still been in the country when it happened, which I could have been, it would have been harder to prove that it was a fraudulent transaction. The rule is not to let your credit card out of sight but this is impractical most of the time. If you give your card to a waiter at a restaurant you expect the waiter to take it away to process. Try to rely on your gut instincts and if you are suspicious about a person or an establishment pay in cash if you can.
About three days after writing this my bank in the UK contacted me urgently asking me to call them back. The news wasn't good. Yet another fraudulent transaction on my card had taken place but this time for a significantly larger amount and the payee was a UK organisation. My bank were very quick to spot that it was a fraud but had to ask me as part of their investigation.
After having credit cards for over 25 years this has only happened to me twice but both times after fairly lengthy stays in Thailand. Ironically, during these stays I have tried to avoid using my cards except when it has been unavoidable. The second time it happened I had only used the card for an on-line transaction for web hosting services, to get cash from an ATM a few times after my ATM card expired, and for a couple of flight tickets with Thai Airways. Last time I got stung it was a similar story. I had used my card very little and been careful. That time I had used the card to change a Thai Airways flight and although it was a small charge I had to use the card as I was making the change by phone. Thai Airways is the only connection I can think of. I don't know what happened, and I probably never will as the credit card companies keep the details close to their chest, but I have a few suspicions.
I'm not sure how serious a problem this really is. I accept that it exists but to what extent I don't know. The guy who runs the Internet café I use is paranoid about it but he is Singaporean and Singaporeans are normally paranoid about anything and everything whenever they are away from the security of their safe, little island. According to Jimmy there is 'spyware' on every computer sending your personal details off to hackers on the Internet who will then use the details to raid your bank account and hack into your e-mail, etc. He has invested in anti-spyware software which he runs every day and every day he says he finds new spyware.
I think that a lot of what he finds are fairly innocent 'cookies' which might track sites a user goes to but that's about it. However, it is something to be aware and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that keystroke recording software has been installed in an Internet café which could be used for unethical purposes. It is something to think about, especially if you are using the Internet to access sensitive data.
If I have to use someone else's PC I feel happier going to a place like Jimmy's where I know he is an honest guy and he maintains his machines well. I am in a slightly different position to many travellers in that I connect using my own laptop PC. This arrangement is best for me but won't suit everyone. If you are carrying a laptop I have found that it is generally quite easy going into an Internet café and connecting it to their network.
After two years of apparently doing the wrong thing a Thai friend gave me some advice.
Elsewhere in these pages I have mentioned how Thai bureaucracy requires people to make copious copies of their passport and other documents. It is then necessary to sign every copy to validate the authenticity.
I used to just sign on the white border but have now been advised to sign on top of the copy and also to write what purpose the copy is being used for, for example, "To be used for a work permit application."
The reason for this is that there have been instances in Thailand of unscrupulous staff taking copies and using someone else's identity to make fraudulent purchases. My view is that it would be very difficult for a Thai to try to steal a foreigner's identity but some Thais are very crafty and Bangkok is one of the world capitals for forged documents.
In future I will follow my friend's advice on the premise it is better to be safe than sorry.
Even though I have my own computer in Thailand which I try to keep free of viruses, I still have to use the services of computer and Internet shops occasionally. I don't have a scanner so I might want a shop to scan something for me. I don't have a printer and sometimes I need to get documents printed.
Some shops manage their equipment very well, applying Windows updates and installing anti-virus software, but many don't. Some of the PCs I have used in Internet shops have been riddled with viruses.
If you are just checking e-mail or surfing the web it probably doesn't affect you much. However, if you are using removable media such as floppy discs or USB thumb drives it is possible that you could transfer a virus to your own computer.
I have experienced quite a few problems like this. One Word file was made completely unusable and turned into a virus (fortunately I made a copy). On another occasion, when I had a newspaper cutting scanned in and the resulting JPG image written to my USB thumb drive, it came with three additional (and unwanted) files - all viruses.
If you overstay your visa you will be fined when you eventually leave for every day you have overstayed. The fine at the time of writing is Bt200 per day but from 15th March 2006 it is set to rise to Bt500 per day. When it was Bt200 a day there was a maximum limit of Bt20,000 but I'm not sure if the maximum fine will increase to Bt50,000 when the daily fine increases.
So, it's simple, eh? Well, not quite that simple. If it were just a case of paying the fine when you leave the country that wouldn't be too bad but that is not the whole story. If you are in Thailand beyond the date your visa allows you to be in the country you are there illegally and as such you may be detained in a detention centre if caught. So what are the chances of getting caught? They are actually quite slim but it can happen and do remember the law of Sod.
It might be something quite unexpected that happens but you get involved with the police, let's say a minor traffic accident in which you are a passenger and aren't hurt. You might have to give a statement as a witness - this is just an example. The point I am trying to make is that you never know what might happen but if you do get involved with the authorities they will want to see your passport. If they see that you have overstayed you will then have another issue to deal with besides the original one.
I have given a hypothetical situation above but Thai police are quite entitled just to stop you in the street and ask to see your passport as they might a Thai asking to see the Thai's ID card that they carry at all times. Technically you should carry your passport with you all the time in Thailand but I don't for fear of losing it. Instead I carry one sheet of paper with the important pages from my passport photocopied - my personal details page, the page with my current entry visa and the page with my entry stamp and visa extension.
After a visit I made to Ranong you should also read what I have to say about visas and overstays there - My Travels. If you have overstayed in Thailand, the odds of you getting caught before making it to the border may not be quite as long as you had imagined.
The detention centres are reputedly hell holes and you could be put in one for several days awaiting trial. The Thai authorities have the right to deport you from the country and not allow you back in again ... ever. So, is it really worth it?
Something else springs to mind on the subject of visas. By the way, this all from hearsay, not personal experience. Apparently some less than reputable companies have been known to offer a service where you can get a renewed visa without actually leaving the country. When I first heard about this I was a horrified. My passport is one of the most valuable things I carry with me and to lose it would be a serious matter. There is no way I'd give it to someone so they could take it across the border for a new stamp. It is obviously an illegal practice and my opinion is that the passport holder is just as guilty as the person carrying out the 'service'. This was bad enough but I started to read about companies who started doing this and then decided they could save some money (and thus increase their profit margin) by not actually doing the border run. Forging the new visa would be just as good, wouldn't it? So now you have a forged stamp in your passport. I'm sure you have noticed that as you enter and exit the country your details are transmitted to a central computer and so it would be very easy to identify a forged stamp.
If your visa needs renewing, depending on the type of visa, it may be possible to get an extension while in Thailand from the local immigration department. If you can't though, and you want to remain in Thailand, a visa run will be necessary. For more information the Thai Visa web site might be a useful resource.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand