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Hat Yai | Hazards and Annoyances

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The biggest danger everywhere in Thailand is that posed by crazy drivers

The biggest danger everywhere in Thailand is that posed by crazy drivers


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Hazards and Annoyances in Hat Yai


Hat Yai, like most of Thailand, is changing. I never used to consider the town as being particularly dangerous, but over the years I have heard so many bad stories and now have a different view.

The wealth gap between the haves and have-nots continues to expand and there is more resentment among the poorer classes who desire material goods. The problems in the deep south have also affected Songkhla province.

There is a big difference between daytime and nighttime in Hat Yai with regard to safety. During the day it is safe to walk almost anywhere, but the town takes on a different atmosphere once night falls and the shutters come down.

This is when gangs of young motorbike racers take control of the streets and the muggers appear. It is quite rare to see any police around. The central tourist area around Lee Gardens Plaza is quite safe because tourism brings in a huge amount of money and the Thais are careful not to cook the golden goose, but elsewhere in Hat Yai it can be another matter after dark.

While walking around Hat Yai in the daytime it is hard to imagine people being shot in the street. However, this is exactly what happened shortly after I arrived to live. Before you get too alarmed though, the incident occurred in the very early hours of the morning, it was alcohol related and only involved Thais who had started to argue.

In 2006 a female lecturer from the Prince of Songkla university had been working late and was driving home. She was driving in the vicinity of Big C where two gangs where shooting at each other. She intercepted a stray bullet and died. This kind of story (unfortunately) is only too common throughout Thailand where there are far too many unlicensed firearms and far too many idiots who are stupid enough to use them.

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Click for more details about Preuksa Spa in Hat Yai

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Blocked Pavements (Sidewalks)

Pedestrians do not count in Thailand - Click for larger image

A wheelchair user in Thailand - Click for larger image


There is no consideration for pedestrians in Thailand and walking around is a continual obstacle course. Motorbikes are parked sideways across pavements, as are cars, and all manner of other things are left there to deliberately block access. It is necessary to keep stepping into the road or just to walk in the road all the time where you run the risk of being hit by a car or motorbike. If it's raining and you don't have an umbrella you can't keep dry by walking along the covered sidewalk.

The pavements are full of gaping holes and open drains (I am informed that drain covers get stolen), and it is thus necessary to watch your step very carefully to avoid a sprained ankle, or worse. At the same time you have to look out for dangerous objects higher up sticking out an eye level.

This is one of those things that I just can't understand about Thailand. It's almost as if people do this to claim the territory outside their house or shop.

What was interesting was that there was a big project in central Hat Yai to lay new pavements, the results of which looked very good. This project was organised and paid for by the local municipality and this told me that the pavements outside shops and houses are not privately owned.

However, as soon as the work had been completed everyone started to block the pavements once again. I give up. My brother and his wife in Singapore use a buggy to push their baby daughter around in but this would be impossible in Hat Yai.

Something else you never see are wheelchairs. For exactly the same reasons, wheelchair use would be almost impossible.

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Diseases Of The Night

Hat Yai VD and AIDS control unit - Click for larger image


If participating in what makes up a large part of Hat Yai's nightlife scene don't be complacent about the dangers involved. I am reliably informed that Hat Yai has one of the highest HIV rates in Thailand.

The girls lie because telling the truth wouldn't be very palatable to potential customers. They say they've only just started in the job and that they don't see many men. That kind of statement is very unlikely to be true.

There are bus loads of Malaysian men coming into town week after week after week. Many of them are in Hat Yai for one purpose and one purpose only.If you play around with the girls it's a gamble and the stakes are high.

Apart from the big one, there are lots of other STDs that won't kill you but they are highly contagious and once the virus gets inside your body it's there forever.

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Mosquito Borne Diseases

Mosquito warning, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Dengue fever warning, Hat Yai - Click for larger image


Hat Yai is mainly an urban environment but serious diseases such as Dengue fever are still present. Don't be complacent about mosquito bites. Cover up at dusk and dawn and/or wear repellent.

Dengue is nasty and can kill. The mosquitoes that carry it are the Aedes variety and they are active during daytime. They look distinctive with black and white stripes, and they are very aggressive. I have actually been chased by these mosquitoes.

Big-hearted actor 'Por' dies after long struggle in hospital

The local municipality employs people specifically for pest control and occasionally you see someone spraying DDT into the storm drains but there isn't the same obsession about controlling mosquitoes in Thailand as there is in, for example, Singapore.

I can't categorically state that malaria doesn't exist in Hat Yai, but I have never heard of anyone contracting malaria. Conversely, I have heard about several cases of Dengue, I have seen the warning posters, and several doctors have told me that it is a serious problem in Hat Yai.

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No one in Thailand ever stops at a pedestrian crossing - Click for larger image


I maintain that the biggest single danger to the average person in Hat Yai is being wiped out by a grinning, teenage Thai male riding a motorbike around at breakneck speed with total disregard for his own or anybody else's safety, or any traffic laws. He will probably have a pillion passenger and may or may not be drunk or on amphetamines. This is what a lot of Thai kids do for their evening entertainment.

It doesn't help that the pavements are so blocked that pedestrians cannot walk along them and they are forced to walk in the road. As a pedestrian stay alert constantly. Never assume that just because a traffic light is red anyone will stop, and when crossing one-way streets always look both ways.

Whoever is in charge of road signs in Hat Yai must have a great sense of humour.

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Muggings and Burglaries

Bagsnatching warning from the local police in Hat Yai - Click for larger image


I know a lot of girls in Hat Yai (including my little sister, Iss) who have suffered bag snatching incidents. Iss was fortunate. The first time a good Thai man intervened to save her (she was carrying Bt20,000 at the time) and the second time she fought off the attackers on her own.

It's always the same scenario and I have actually witnessed an incident. What happens is that two young boys ride around on a motorbike and the one riding pillion, with free hands, acts as the bag snatcher.

Sometimes it is just one boy on a motorbike, and sometimes they threaten violence. One of my ex-students was threatened with a large knife and I am told that some of the robbers have guns. I have also been informed by the locals that another method they use is to kick over women riding motorbikes and rob them after they hit the ground.

Their victims are always female - I have never heard of a male victim. They target girls who are walking, or riding motorbikes themselves. As they drive past, the boy on the back snatches the girl's bag and then they ride off at high speed.

I know a farang woman who this happened to as well, so the problem isn't isolated to Thai girls.

When I witnessed a bag snatching incident, a couple of cops were actually close by. They gave chase but two heavy cops have no chance of catching a couple of teenagers who weigh next to nothing and ride like bats out of hell.

Once the thieves have the bag it is very unlikely they will ever be caught. All you can do is take precautions to make sure they don't snatch your bag in the first place.

Thailand is changing. Once upon a time this type of thing was very rare but now it isn't uncommon. A nurse was mugged and killed in Bangkok in 2004 for about Bt14,000 worth of money and jewellery. Also in the capital a few weeks after that incident a young lad was almost stabbed to death for his mobile phone which was worth about Bt10,000.

It's easy to find reasons - the growing wealth gap in Thai society and the use of amphetamines, known locally as Yah Bah (crazy drugs) - but there is little point analysing and justifying. In a country with a population of over 60 million there are always going to be a few bad people in society.


Bag snatching warning from the local police in Hat Yai

Bag snatching warning from the local police in Hat Yai


I honestly wouldn't worry too much about safety in Thailand but people do need to be aware of the dangers and exercise caution, particularly at night in quiet areas. This advice applies particularly to girls travelling alone.

Petty theft and house break-ins are extremely common in Thailand. Private houses resemble prisons because of all the bars and padlocks. I have never seen so many burglar bars, padlocks and chains protecting houses since I was in South Africa.

Motorbike theft is also quite common. Most parked motorbikes have huge chains and locks securing them. There is a checking-in and checking-out system operated in most car parks, and motorbikes are parked in a secure area where they can only be taken out by the same person who parked them on presentation of a ticket.

One thing that surprises me is why Thais are so reluctant to go to the police. I realise that the chances of catching the thief are extremely remote but if the police are never told of incidents they will never realise the true extent of the problem and therefore can't take action against it, even if they want to.

Unfortunately, the problem with muggers in Hat Yai isn't getting any better and the police have put up signs to warn people. Most locals are aware of the problem anyway but it does no harm to publicise the problem. The police signs illustrate the problem quite well in that the victims are usually always lone women and the assailants are normally two young males on a motorbike.

The advice on the signs is to avoid poorly lit places and alleyways at night and to take care of handbags and mobile phones. The phone numbers to call in case of a problem are 191 or 074 244089. There is also an e-mail address which is

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Guns and Shootings

Hat Yai Shooting Range - Click for larger image


Consider the following. There are an awful lot of licensed and unlicensed guns in Thailand; guns are commonly used in Thailand to 'solve' arguments and disputes; Songkhla is adjacent to the three troubled provinces in which thousands of people have been killed in recent years; Thais are extremely hot-headed and cannot control their anger; Thais are extremely vindictive; life is cheap in Thailand.

Put these things together and the result isn't pretty. In fact, it's quite disturbing. For example, when Western politicians have differences of opinion or conflicts they use political channels to debate and argue. When Thai politicians have conflicts they act very differently in Thailand.

Songkhla mayor slain

This isn't a new problem. Going back several years, I heard one story of how a massage shop owner near Lee Gardens had been shot and killed over a disagreement. Then I heard about a university lecturer who was driving home past Big C and drove straight into a shootout between two gangs. She was shot and killed by a stray bullet.

A doctor was shot and killed as he exercised near the reservoir inside the Prince of Songkla University campus. Another doctor and several of her friends were shot and killed by a rubbertapper who was fed up with the doctor playing Karaoke music late at night.

John Denver karaoke sparks Thai killing spree

There used to be a small restaurant near to where I stayed in an apartment building. One day it closed all of a sudden. I made enquiries as to why and discovered that a guy had gone in with two handguns and shot the place up.

More recently, the son of a teacher at the school where I used to work was shot and killed. He was riding a motorbike and had an altercation with a sawng-thaew driver. The sawng-thaew driver then shot him in the head.

The young cousin of a friend was shot and killed while attending a temple fair in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. He was only in his early teens. Some other kids at the fair took exception to him for some reason and shot him. Nowhere is safe, not even sacred temple grounds.

Driving in Thailand is particularly dangerous and there have been several Thai TV news reports about roadrage incidents involving guns. Thais are very aggressive and hot-headed (jai rawn) drivers. Drivers of certain vehicles are worse than others. Since I have been driving in Thailand I have found the drivers of minivans, pickup trucks and Toyota Fortuners to be the worst.

These guys want to be first all the time, they will use whatever lane has least traffic at traffic lights and then cut other drivers up. They always want to overtake and if they can't get past they will drive very close behind you in an aggresive and intimidating manner. If you respond they go crazy. I got mad with a minivan driver who cut me up badly one day and he made his hand into the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot me.

A Chinese national I know who lives and teaches Buddhism in Thailand was driving his car when a pickup truck driver pointed a gun at him. This was purely an act of intimidation and he didn't fire, but you never know.

This is how some Thais think and if they have a gun - which quite a few Thais do - they won't be afraid to use it. To add to the problem, many crazy Thais drive while drunk or under the influence of yaa-baa. My wife and several other Thais have told me not to respond to aggressive drivers because they may start shooting. This is a very real risk and not hyperbole.

In addition, people also get shot as a result of pure stupidity. The daughter of an ex-student was celebrating New Year when a moron with a gun began firing bullets into the air. The brainless idiot had abviously never heard of Newton or studied the laws of gravity. A bullet came down and shattered her Achille's tendon. She was lucky to be able to walk again.

Some areas of town are worse than others. I have been told by many people that the area around Hansa Plaza isn't good at night. As a rule I don't go out at night in Hat Yai, but if you do you need to exercise caution. The central tourist area around Lee Gardens should be fine, but other areas may pose a risk.

It isn't necessary to panic if visiting Thailand, but foreigners should at least be aware of the risks - just as Thais themselves are aware of the risks in their own country. Thais see news reports on TV every day and know very well what goes on. Most foreigners can't understand the news as it is in Thai, and only incidents involving foreigners in Thailand make the international press. Many foreigners visiting the 'Land of Smiles' apparently have no awareness at all of the many dangers that are lurking in the country. Whatever you may think, Thailand is not a safe country.

The family and friends of British tourist Stephen Ashton were probably shocked that he was killed by a stray bullet while celebrating the arrival of 2013 on a backpacker island in the so-called 'Land of Smiles'.

Thais themselves, as well as seasoned expats, would not have been at all shocked by this story because these incidents happen all the time. Whether it is a crazy driver with a gun or gangs of rival technical college students having one of their regular running street battles in Bangkok and shooting each other on public buses, innocent bystanders, unfortunately, do get hit.

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Natural Dangers

Damage in Hat Yai from an Indonesian earthquake - Click for larger image

Hat Yai flood, 1962 - Click for larger image

Hat Yai flood, 2000 - Click for larger image

Flood level marker in Hat Yai - Click for larger image


On a map of the region you will see that southern Thailand is very close to earthquake-prone Indonesia.

It was a huge Indonesian earthquake on 26th December 2004 that caused devastating tsunamis in the Indian Ocean - including areas along Thailand's Andaman coast.

That earthquake shook Hat Yai (I was in Singapore at the time) but the locals told me that an earthquake had never been felt in Hat Yai before. A few months later, on 28th March 2005, another big earthquake occurred in Indonesia killing 2,000 more people after the 300,000 people killed by the 26th December 2004 quake.

The second one also shook Hat Yai. I was present for the second earthquake but didn't feel anything. On both occasions Lee Gardens Plaza - Hat Yai's tallest building - was shaken and evacuated. Minor external structural damage occurred (see photo) but, as far as I am aware, no one was killed or injured.

Thailand is not in an earthquake zone and - unlike Japan or San Francisco - buildings are not designed to withstand big earthquakes. There was some paranoia in Bangkok after 26th December 2004 when it was reported that many people (mainly foreigners) decided to leave their rented high-rise apartments and move to low-level buildings.

Personally, it is not something I would lose any sleep over but people have irrational fears. They stop coming to Thailand because of natural disasters and terrorist insurgency when the odds of being affected by such things are tiny. However, they are completely blasé about the real dangers in Thailand, such as travelling by road and dengue fever.

Thailand is also relatively free of risk from most other natural disasters. There are no hurricanes or tornadoes, and even tropical cyclones tend to occur further north and east of the region. A big typhoon far away can still cause very unsettled weather with lots of wind and rain but it is minor compared to actually being in the path of the storm.

Historically, Hat Yai has always suffered from regular (and quite severe) flooding. See The 2005 Flood. Old photos of the town often show people walking around knee-deep in water. In 2000 (Thai year 2543), there was a really bad flood. It reached the second storey of many buildings and several people died.

One of the photos on the left showing Supasarnrungsarn Road during the 2000 flood has been captioned "Supasarn River Resort".

There has been a lot of work carried out on Hat Yai's flood defences in recent years and regular, rainy season flooding in the central area is now a lot rarer than it used to be.

I was told that the new road between Hat Yai and Songkhla was built across a major flood plain, and that its construction caused further flooding problems. However, I was also told subsequently that further work took place allowing flood water to flow along its natural course.

Despite all this, there was another bad flood in November 2010 (Thai year 2553). In fact, this one was the worst Hat Yai flood in living memory. Local people seemed to be under the impression that a repeat of the 2000 flood could never happen again but this one was worse.

The regular rainy season flooding that used to occur all the time in Hat Yai is a lot better now but when really extreme weather conditions occur - as they did over the South China Sea at the end of October 2010 - Hat Yai is still vulnerable to severe flooding. These severe floods may not occur very often, but when they do they are quite devastating.

This is something that tourists need not worry about too much but if you are planning to live in Hat Yai permanently, you should bear this in mind when choosing where to live or where to set up a business. I got caught out once (in the 2010 flood) but I will do my best not to let it happen again.

There are areas in Hat Yai on high ground that don't flood and a house in such an area is something that I will be looking out for in the future. If your home has never been hit by a severe flood, I can tell that it isn't a very enjoyable experience.

Whether the local municipality decides to invest billions of Baht in setting up flood defences to deal with the really extreme storms that only occur on average once every 10 years remains to be seen.

Webcams in various locations around Hat Yai that monitor water level and flood conditions can be found at the following site:

Hatyai City Climate Change

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Double parking is very common in Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Parking is restricted in central Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Illegally parked cars are clamped - Click for larger image


Thais think nothing of double-parking, that is, parking in the middle lane of a busy road with their hazard lights flashing while they go to the ATM or get something to eat.

They do this in the height of rush hour on the busiest roads in town, thus reducing three lanes to one because the nearside lane is already full of parked cars. It's extremely annoying.

Because of this it is easy to get the impression that you can park wherever you want, but that isn't quite the case. Anything goes outside of the central business district but regulations are a little stricter within the CBD.

The first thing to note is that signs prohibiting parking are all in Thai. When Thais want foreigners to spend money they make sure all the signs are in English, but for warnings like this they can catch more foreigners if the signs are only written in Thai.

On certain roads you can only park on one side of the road on odd-numbered days, and on the other side on even-numbered days.

What's confusing is that even if you can read Thai you will still see a lot of cars parked where they shouldn't be parked. I spoke to a friendly traffic warden about this and she told me that the illegal parkers are people who know policemen and therefore they won't get clamped.

If you park where you shouldn't park and you don't happen to have any friends in the local constabulary, your car will be clamped and you will need to pay Bt500 for the clamp to be removed. Apart from the fine, it can take a long time for the clamp to be removed.

To park legally only costs Bt10. There are no parking ticket machines and what you normally find is that as soon as you park a traffic warden appears to take your money. There are lots of wardens and they walk around continuously looking for cars parking.

Unlike the UK, where traffic wardens are some of the most obnoxious people imaginable, the traffic wardens in Hat Yai are not all malicious and they go out of their way to help you.

While on the subject of parking, it is never easy to park in central Hat Yai. It's always been a busy town and it has got even busier in the last few years. It's a relatively wealthy town and a high proportion of people own cars. When Thais own a car they use it for every journey, even when other methods of transport would be more appropriate.

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Thai boys modify their motorbike exhausts to make more noise - Click for larger image


This isn't a danger, it's an annoyance. Will it affect tourists who are just in Hat Yai for a few days? Probably not, but it might affect you if you plan on staying longer and choose the wrong place to live.

Thais love noise. Noise is fun, right? How does one bar next door to another bar show it is more of a fun place? It plays louder music. If you go for a relaxing massage what does your masseuse do to ensure you enjoy the experience even more? She turns on the TV in the room very loud.

If you are sitting there having a foot massage and already listening to a very loud TV, what can be done to make you even happier? You're a farang. They can play some farang music very loud. And do they switch the TV off? Of course not. Noise is good and the more noise there is the better.

Specially converted sawng-thaews with huge speakers mounted on the back crawl around the streets blasting out advertisements.

The motorbikes I wrote about above are noisy too. They needn't be. If they are driven normally they're fine but when young lads start racing around, getting as much out of every gear as they can, the decibel level goes up considerably. Young Thai lads also install exhaust pipes on their vehicles purely to make a big sound.

I moved from one very noisy room which overlooked a busy street and suffered from young motorbike racers. When I first looked at the next place I moved to it seemed perfect. What I didn't realise at the time was how many dogs lived in the neighbourhood. They were allowed to bark all the time and at night they howled. The strays joined in too.

Some of the big old Thai diesel trucks are as loud as aircraft taking off when they accelerate under a load; they even drown the noise of the motorbikes.

Thais just love noise. It's a national addiction.

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Rip Offs and Scams

Sunny Tours, Hat Yai - Click for larger image


Thais from other parts of the country do not move to Hat Yai specifically to make a living by ripping off farang tourists, as some Thais do when they move to Bangkok and Phuket. There are no organised begging rings, no gem shop scams, no con-artists wanting to be your guide for the day, no Bt10 special tuk-tuk tours, and there isn't a tuk-tuk mafia as there is in Phuket.

If you've suffered any of these things - as most tourists have in Thailand - Hat Yai will seem quite refreshing. However, there are still plenty of Thais around who believe that every single farang has unlimited wealth and their eyes light up with flashing Baht signs when they see a foreigner.

As a farang in Hat Yai I get very little hassle. I sometimes forget what it's like in other areas of Thailand until I visit those places where suddenly I find myself being hassled all the time by devious Thais. A few words in Thai is normally enough to make them back off.

Their intended victims are those poor souls who don't understand a word of the local language and are like fish out of water in Thailand. The newbies are easy to scam because the scammers know their lies won't work with foreigners who have been in the country for a while.

Back to Hat Yai. Motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will sometimes ask for more money from a foreigner than a Thai. How much you pay then depends on your Thai language and negotiating skills. It also helps to know what the standard fare is.

Normally, the farang price is only a little more than the local price. I was once asked for Bt150 by a tuk-tuk driver to go from Tesco Lotus to Makro. It should have been about Bt20. I laughed and got the next sawng-thaew which, at the time, was Bt7.

Some tuk-tuk drivers are only interested in serving tourists because they know they can charge them more than locals. These guys hang around outside hotels and department stores in the centre of town. A piece of advice is not to hail tuk-tuks in these busy areas. Walk two minutes in any direction and find a driver who isn't as greedy.

Travel agents aren't generally a problem either but on one occasion I felt obliged to assist a couple of backpackers who were having problems.

They had just arrived in Hat Yai from somewhere in Thailand and wanted to continue down the peninsula to Kuala Lumpur. They went into a travel agent and told the guy what they wanted. He tried to convince them to privately charter one of his minivans for Bt13,000.

They didn't want an expensive minivan to themselves; they just wanted to get to KL for as cheaply as possible. The travel agent knew this but instead of telling them where to get a coach, he just tried to charter his own van so he could make a fat profit.

They didn't fall for it but left the shop angrily not knowing where to go next. I spoke to them outside, hailed a tuk-tuk, and told the driver where to take them so they could buy a Bt600 ticket each to KL.

This type of thing is fairly unusual in Hat Yai but it does happen occasionally when greedy Thais are involved. They will also try to rip off Malaysians and Singaporeans, not just farangs.

Here's part of an e-mail I received from a Malaysian visitor who had an unfortunate experience being ripped off getting a taxi to the airport. Some comments were a bit concerning. If you are old or not used to travelling, you need to be a little careful. Most bad things happen in the centre of the tourist district. If you get away from the centre you will have fewer problems. If you can speak some Thai - even just a few words - this also helps to keep bad Thais away.

"When I was at airport, i met 4 aunty from S'pore, age about 60+, but i can't remember which hotel they stay, should be somewhere in Lee Garden, they have been threaten by their hotel security guard and was forced to take the taxi at Baht700 and they are so frighten. They told me will not be coming to Hat Yai anymore, very scary, not the flood is the people. I ask for their contact number, if next round i am going to Hat Yai, may be we can go together.

Frankly speaking, to travel in any part of the world including Thailand, you cannot behave very timid, if not they will come after you, or panic, must always stand firm and calm."

To summarise, you don't need to be constantly on your guard from con-artists as you do in Bangkok whenever you are out on the streets. You can relax in Hat Yai because people won't be targeting you all the time, but there are a few bad Thais that will try to take advantage.

If you end up paying Bt10 more than the normal fare for a tuk-tuk ride, then no big deal. However, if something doesn't seem right - such as Bt13,000 for two people to get down to KL - walk away and talk to someone else.

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Road Accidents

Yet another road accident in Thailand - Click for larger image

Yet another road accident in Thailand - Click for larger image

Yet another road accident in Thailand - Click for larger image

Yet another road accident in Thailand - Click for larger image


I'm sure that anyone who has read through my Thailand pages on this site probably thinks I am paranoid about road accidents in Thailand. Maybe I am but there is good reason.

In 40-odd years of living in England I maybe knew a couple of people who had been affected by road deaths in their families. In the time I've spent in Thailand I have met many people who have lost friends and close relatives in road accidents. It has gone far beyond being a coincidence.

On a daily basis I see the worst examples of driving I have ever seen and I have been at the scene of many a motorbike accident that has just happened. I know many Thais who bear the scars from previous motorbike accidents.

It is a serious problem in Thailand and no real measures are being taken to improve the situation. Politicians pay lip service when the annual figures for road deaths are announced and occasionally the police take an interest in what's happening on the roads but most of the time it's a case of anything goes.

Young males in Thailand are like young males anywhere else in the world (I used to be one before I got old) and given a motorbike they will want to ride it as fast as they can.

The difference in Thailand compared to developed countries is that they get away with it here and no-one does anything. They race their bikes around the streets just for fun, completely oblivious to other road users and pedestrians.

As a pedestrian, a driver or a passenger be very careful on the roads.

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Asian rat - Click for larger image


The only part of Southeast Asia in which I haven't seen rats running around everywhere is Singapore ... but Singapore is completely unlike the rest of Southeast Asia.

If you are familiar with this region, then seeing large rats running around won't surprise you. However, I remember coming to Thailand as a fresh Western tourist and I was a little shocked. They're everywhere and they have no fear of humans, cats or dogs.

There have been many occasions when I have been eating in a typical Thai restaurant and a rat appears looking for scraps to eat. You know you've been in Thailand for too long when you no longer pay any attention to them.

In the evenings they forage among garbage looking for food. As you walk along you will sometimes startle rats, and as they run off they will probably startle you.

They're not really a problem unless they come into contact with food. Rats aren't aggressive but food or drink that has been contaminated with rat droppings or urine can be very dangerous. One restaurant I used to eat at had a serious rat infestation in the kitchen.

The eating area looked clean but on one occasion when I walked past the kitchen it was running alive with rats. There were about 15 and they were climbing all over the surfaces where food is prepared. I told the staff but they obviously knew of the problem and weren't bothered. After that experience I never went back.

Hat Yai, of course, has thousands of stray (or semi-stray) dogs just like the rest of Thailand. People put collars on them and they kind of have a home but they are just left to wander the streets. Again, they aren't really a problem.

Muslims regard dogs as unclean animals and one Muslim Malaysian visitor was very worried about stray dogs. They bark at anyone they don't know but I have never been bitten. Most are cowardly and will back off if you shout at them.

Also, don't be surprised to see huge Asian cockroaches everywhere. I can't stand them but they are a common sight in this part of the world.

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