CityNews Article Archive:
My 11 Top Tips for Staying Alive While Holidaying in Thailand
Its holiday time again! All over the world, and especially Europe and North America, tired, stressed and weary workers are gratefully leaving behind their offices, factories and shops and heading out to the beaches and the sun.
And where will millions of them being heading to? Well, Thailand, of course. 22 million tourists made it here last year and no reason to expect any fewer this time.
Holiday-makers don’t spend loads of their hard-earned money on a trip into danger, they want a trip into ‘paradise’. They want to come back business class, not in a body bag. So Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Central African Republic, Mali, can all forget it. No sensible tourists going to these places this summer.
But how dangerous is Thailand? Well, its not without its risks. Don’t come here thinking its all smiles, temples and sun-soaked beaches. There is real danger in Thailand for the innocent, the gullible, and the unwary.
These are my 11 Top Tips for Staying Alive While On Holiday In Thailand:
1. Never rent a scooter. Thailand’s roads are officially now the most deadly in the world (World Health Organization, 2013). Over 26,000 killed last year; quarter of a million hospitalised. 74% of these deaths were from motor scooter accidents – some of them young Western backpackers who think its fun to speed along a Thai road on a scooter in your shorts and tshirt and no helmet. If you cannot afford to hire a car then go to Spain.
2. Never take a long bus trip. The buses go far too fast for the road and the drivers work long hours and so take stimulants to keep awake. Every year buses crash, usually with very nasty consequences. Its got so bad that the British Foreign Office is now advising UK travellers not to take bus and coach trips in Thailand. In 2011 there was an horrific bus crash near Nan which killed 13 teachers; in 2012 a bus crashed on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai highway killing three young British male backpackers, and a recent coach crash in Southern Thailand killed 10, including six foreigners, and injured 16, eight of them tourists. (You can take the antiquated trains quite safely. OK, they regularly derail, but are never going fast enough to kill any passengers)
3. Don’t go jungle trekking or indeed travelling anywhere in Northern or Eastern Thailand without mosquito repellent and your anti-malaria pills. Apart from malaria, there is, currently, an epidemic of Dengue fever across Thailand which has already hospitalized over 70,000 people, many of them tourists, and killed 73. Dengue fever cases are up 300% on last year.
4. Don’t get into an argument with a Bangkok Tuk-Tuk driver. These drivers may appear friendly and eager for your custom but they always carry weapons in their cabs – usually a machete – not to kill passengers with but to fight off rival drivers and their gangs. That said, last month an unsuspecting American male tourist decided he wouldn’t pay the fare and the Tuk-Tuk driver hacked him to death on the pavement. Caught on camera.
5. If you drive in Thailand while on holiday, just stay calm and remember that the rules of the road you are used to in Europe and the USA do not apply here. And never, ever, make an obscene gesture to a fellow driver out of road rage. Westerners who’ve given the finger to Thai male drivers have been shot dead – German in Chiang Mai in 2010. (Thais are mostly passive but with a rapid response rate).
6. Be careful about swimming off Koh Samui, Phuket, Kao Phangan, Kao Tao, and Koh Chang between June and November (rainy season). The world’s most poisonous creature, the box jellyfish, is now well established in these waters and tourists have been killed, with many injured so badly they are hospitalized for weeks. Though the Thai tourist board has tried to play it down. Phuket beaches are currently setting up ‘vinegar stations’ to treat stings (see photo above) Apparently, the quick application of vinegar to the sting can save your life.
7. Do not stay in cheap guest houses. The standard of cleanliness in some of these establishments is appalling – and deadly. In 2011, a Chiang Mai guest house became known as the ”Death Hotel’ after seven people, six of them tourists, mysteriously died there over the space of a few weeks. Turns out the rooms were being cleaned by a highly toxic pesticide. Three tourists, including two Canadian sisters died from unexplained causes (poisoning?) at a guest house in Phi Phi last year, while two female tourists died also in Phuket guest houses in 2009.
8. Be careful in Pattaya. The fun side of this fun city is now pretty much controlled by Russian mafia gangs – in fact the place is so popular with Russian males (big, shaven-headed, muscular guys, with lots of tattoos; likely ex-army – you can’t miss them) that the massage parlours, hotel signs, and restaurant menus, are all in Russian (true). Many innocent tourists now die each year in Pattaya – muggings gone wrong, shootings, stabbings, or, as too often happens, being sliced up by a manic Jomtien speedboat while swimming. Don’t be one of these casualties.
9. Sex for Sale. Yes, let’s be honest, easy sex is one of the main selling points of Thailand for lots of men. The girls are beautiful and, most important, they are available, Viagra and its much cheaper derivatives are on sale in every supermarket and pharmacy, while beer is a fifth the price back home. But viagra+beer+rigorous sex with a woman half a guy’s age is a killing combination, especially for obese Western men who don’t normally get out much. 150 British tourists died in Thailand in 2012 and most of them from heart attacks while ‘having fun’. My advice? Get yourself fit before you come here.
10. The Thai police are there to protect tourists, well, some are. Many are criminals in uniform. Been numerous instances of innocent Western tourists getting on the wrong side of the Thai law and finding themselves on the business end of a pistol. In 2008, a twenty-something Canadian couple on holiday in Pai thought they’d met a friendly Thai policeman in a bar. Turned out he was not so friendly after-all. Shot the boyfriend dead in the street, and attacked the woman. Despite clear evidence he was the killer, he was given automatic bail. Currently he is in court to face justice – one hopes – albeit five years later.
11. Finally, whatever you do, stay away from Southern Thailand at all costs. Right now an Islamic insurgency is going on which is killing thousands of civilians and soldiers. Little is reported in the Western media but places like Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are killing zones, with over 5000 killed since 2004. The place is knee-deep in Thai military, but that’s not stopped the beheadings, bombings and shootings.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the vast majority of the 22 million tourists visiting Thailand in 2013, their biggest risk is sunburn (actually, melanomas are deadly, but that aside). Nevertheless, there will be hundreds who are going back in coffins; for example, on average, 100 Australians, 150 Britons, lots of Asians and a bunch of north Americans.
Come to this glorious country and enjoy, just don’t imagine it is a free and easy, Eden. Remember, even Eden had a snake or two.