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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Thailand 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Bangkok

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Thailand at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Reconsider travel to Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces due to civil unrest.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Thailand website for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Bangkok. Most criminal activity is limited to non-confrontational street crime and crime of opportunity, including purse snatching, pickpocketing, petty theft, jewelry schemes, and tourism fraud. Many travelers have had passports, wallets, and other valuables stolen in Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market, on Khao San Road, and at other crowded areas. Pickpockets and thieves often cut into purses and bags with a razor to remove items surreptitiously. There have been incidents involving drive-by snatch-and-grab robberies from thieves on motorcycles. Travelers on long-distance bus routes may be susceptible to theft as well.

Violent crime, such as murder, rape, and assault, targeting foreigners is relatively rare. When it does occur, such crime typically happens at night, often when victims have been drinking or separated from their companions. These crimes are most common in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and in tourist areas in southern Thailand, including Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Krabi. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Sexually motivated violence is most likely to occur at, or after attending, parties, discos, or beaches (e.g., the Full Moon Party on Phangan Island). There have been reports of criminals using scopolamine or other date rape drugs to spike drinks and sexually assault and/or rob their victims. U.S. citizens have reported robberies after soliciting commercial sex workers.

There are numerous international and indigenous organized crime elements, primarily concentrated in major cities. Their activities include drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, document fraud, and counterfeiting. The Embassy is unaware of any U.S. private-sector organizations that have experienced problems directly associated with organized crime.

The safety and security of guest rooms in quality hotels is adequate. There have been isolated instances of domestic workers stealing cash or other valuables from their employers in private residences.

The risk of credit/debit card fraud and identity fraud is relatively high. There have been instances in which international criminal organizations based in Malaysia, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere have installed sophisticated skimming devices on ATMs in order to steal cardholder information and subsequently withdraw money from accounts. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

An indigenous insurgency continues to direct periodic violence at government interests in the southernmost provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat. Due to the risk of indiscriminate attacks in public places and the potential for collateral injury, defer non-emergency travel to those provinces. The U.S. Embassy requires advance review and approval for all employee travel to far southern regions. Those wishing to travel to border areas should check with Thai Tourist Police and review the most up-to-date travel advisories.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Paved roads, many of them four-lanes wide, connect Thailand's major cities. On the country's numerous two-lane roads, however, slow-moving trucks limit speed and visibility. Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws are common, as is the consumption of alcohol, amphetamines, and other stimulants by drivers. The World Health Organization ranks road safety in Thailand among the worst in the world.

Traffic moves on the left, although motorcycles and motorized carts often drive (illegally) against the flow of traffic and use sidewalks to bypass traffic congestion. Traffic in Bangkok is composed mainly of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks.

Accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles are the greatest safety concern for visitors. Serious bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight routes, sometime resulting in fatalities. Motorcycles drivers have limited proficiency, seldom wear helmets, and tend to weave in and out of traffic. As a result, most accidents involve motorcycles; motorcycle-related deaths in Bangkok are a daily occurrence. The accident rate is particularly high at night and during long holidays, when alcohol use increases and traffic is heavier than normal. During the annual Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday in April, the problem compounds as people throw water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration. Congested roads and the scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention.

It is customary in a traffic accident for the more affluent driver to pay the expenses of the other party, regardless of who is at fault. Authorities determine fault in major accidents and typically bring those involved to the local police station. Senior officers will discuss the accident with drivers, insurance representatives, police, and others to determine fault.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Pedestrians should use elevated walkways and pedestrian bridges whenever possible, especially in metropolitan Bangkok. Pedestrians should look in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green walk light.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Buses and taxis are abundant and generally safe. Streets tend to be very congested; taxi passengers should only exit on the sidewalk-side of the street to avoid opening a door into oncoming traffic. 

Registered taxicab drivers should have a yellow placard with their name written in Latin script and their photograph on the dashboard. If the photograph does not match the driver, be wary of entering the vehicle. Taxis have meters, and their drivers typically use them, but taxis in some tourist areas may not have meters. Taxi drivers often refuse fares, especially during rush hour or to places they do not know well.

In tourist areas, taxi drivers routinely charge fares much higher than those in Bangkok do for comparable distances. Before entering a for-hire vehicle, request that the driver use the meter or reach an agreement on the fare for the trip. Threats of violence may accompany excessive charges. Drivers could interpret the raising of one’s voice and use of aggressive body language as a threat; tourists have received serious injuries during confrontations with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Police will seldom intervene in disputes involving taxi drivers. Local government officials have attempted to introduce standard fares with limited success. Drivers have organized against attempts to provide alternative services. For instance, drivers have blockaded van and bus services during some U.S. Navy ship visits.

Avoid the use of motorcycle taxis. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that Embassy staff and family members refrain from using motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis) and mopeds in Bangkok.

The elevated BTS Skytrain and underground MRT subway are generally safe and clean. Both save time and mitigate the challenge of navigating Bangkok's notorious traffic conditions.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed in 2015 that the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) was not compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Thailand’s air carrier operations.

Other Travel Conditions

Ferries and speedboats to and from Thailand’s many islands are often overcrowded and may lack sufficient safety equipment. Ensure that proper safety equipment is available before boarding and avoid travel on overcrowded boats.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Bangkok. The far south provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat frequently experience criminally- and politically-motivated violence in the form of drive-by shootings, ambushes, and small bomb attacks. These incidents involve local armed insurgent groups that have sought increased autonomy for a century, and ultimately aspire to a separate state.

The latest round of violence began in 2004. Incidents have included arson attacks directed at schools and buildings associated with the government; bombings in public areas and near local government offices; the killing of police officers and other officials, including civilians suspected of cooperating with authorities; and the theft of weapons and explosives. Attacks have increasingly targeted commercial areas where foreigners might congregate. Authorities have instituted special security measures, such as curfews, military patrols, and random searches of train passengers in the affected areas. Defer non-emergency travel to Thailand's southernmost provinces.

Thailand has also experienced limited violent incursions along the Burma and Cambodia borders. Heavily armed drug smugglers have had deadly clashes with police near the border with Burma.

Transnational terrorist elements, which visit and transit Thailand with relative ease, could easily exploit soft target vulnerabilities. Travelers should be aware of the higher risk of attack associated with places where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate, including clubs, restaurants, residential areas, places of worship, hotels, schools, business offices, outdoor recreational events, resorts, and beaches.

In 2015, an explosion took place during the evening rush hour at the crowded Rachaprasong intersection in the central commercial district of Bangkok, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others. The incident occurred near the Erawan Shrine, Central World mall, several major hotels, and the overhead intersection of the two BTS Skytrain lines.

Two other 2015 incidents occurred in areas popular among tourists: a hand grenade exploded in front of the Bangkok Criminal Court Building, but no one was injured; and two small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated in close proximity to the Siam Paragon Shopping Mall BTS Skytrain entrance, slightly injuring two people.

There have also been periodic incidents of a smaller scale throughout the country. In 2016, bombings occurred at/near tourist locations in several southern provinces, resulting in at least four deaths and more than 20 injuries.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is moderate risk from political violence in Bangkok. In 2014, citing ongoing instability, the military enacted martial law and seized power, installing an interim government headed by Army Chief-turned Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha. Since then, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has banned political gatherings of five or more people and placed restrictions on the media, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. The 2019 election concluded peacefully.

U.S. citizens may encounter a heightened security presence throughout Thailand. Security forces have additional powers, including the right to control movement and search for weapons. Stay alert, exercise caution, and monitor international and Thai media. Follow any instructions or restrictions issued by local authorities.

Civil Unrest

Political demonstrations often occur on the anniversary of political events; others happen with little or no advanced notice. Demonstrations can attract thousands of participants and cause severe traffic disruptions, especially if they involve processions from one site to another. Avoid protest events, demonstrations, large gatherings, and security operations.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Bangkok has a small, active Muslim population. There have been no mass anti-U.S. demonstrations from Thailand’s local Muslim community commensurate with those that have occurred elsewhere around the world.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Thailand has several earthquake fault lines. Small earthquakes continue throughout the region, most of which cause little to no damage. In 2004, an underwater earthquake off the coast of northern Indonesia caused one of the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history. More than 200,000 people died, including thousands in Thailand.

Thailand experiences serious flooding during the rainy season (June-October). Flooding can last several weeks, severely disrupting daily operations, such as traffic flow and the availability of services.

The air quality in Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Nan, Lampang, Bangkok, and Samut Sakhon have historically exceeded Thai government standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) for a portion of the year. Annual agricultural burning, which generally occurs in February and March, can lead to poor air quality. In Bangkok, metropolitan air pollution accumulates in stagnant air commonly associated with weather patterns during the dry season (approximately December through February), which has little wind or rain.

U.S. Mission Thailand reports the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) for Bangkok and Chiang Mai, calculated using hourly air pollution data from monitors owned and maintained by the Royal Thai government. The U.S. EPA AQI and additional details are available on the Embassy’s website. This AQI reporting can help U.S. citizens in Bangkok make health-related decisions based on air quality. Thailand’s reported AQI is comprised of multiple pollutants, but does not directly correspond to the U.S. EPA AQI used by and familiar to U.S. citizens.

Critical Infrastructure

In Bangkok, the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority certifies the drinking water as potable. However, many residents do not consume municipal tap water due to concerns over possible contamination from leaky or old pipes. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Economic Concerns

In recent years, Thailand has enacted several statutes intended to curb issues regarding intellectual property rights (IPR). Thailand protects IPR under several statutes, including the Patent Act B.E. 2522 (1979), Copyright Act B.E. 2537 (1994), Trademark Act B.E. 2534 (1991), Protection of Layout-Designs of Integrated Circuits Act, B.E. 2543 (2000), Trade Secret Act B.E. 2545 (2002), Protection of Geographical Indications Act B.E. 2546 (2003) and Plant Varieties Protection Act B.E. 2542 (1999). Private enforcement options are available to aggrieved parties.

The Patent Act grants an inventor/designer exclusive rights over their invention/design. Applicable patents must satisfy three conditions:

  • The invention must be new. It must not exist in another country.
  1. The idea must involve an inventive step. This inventive step cannot be an application obvious to one who works in the field.
  2. The invention or design must have an industrial application.

 

Excluded from patent protection are naturally occurring organisms, scientific methods, and mathematical equations. Legal action may be criminal or civil. Law enforcement agencies may conduct criminal proceedings to include raid and seizure of property. The provisions under specific IPR statutes and tort provisions under the Civil and Commercial Code typically govern civil proceedings. In 2017, the Royal Thai Police conducted more than 60 patent case investigations.

The Copyright Act protects the creator of an original artistic/cultural work. The copyrighted work must be an original work. The protection vests once the work is created. The creator retains the copyright except in the following situations:

  • If the creator is an employee hired to create the work, in which case the employer retains the copyright via prior agreement; or
  1. If the work is a commissioned piece, in which case the commissioner retains the copyright via prior agreement.

 

In addition to monies recovered in civil suits, copyright holders may receive 50% of fines levied in criminal enforcement. (Find further information in Results of Special 301 Out-of-Cycle Review of Thailand and 2017 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets)

The Trademark Act differs somewhat from the other statutes. A trademark must be distinctive, not prohibited by the act, and not be identical or confusingly similar to a registered trademark. Aggrieved parties may pursue criminal and civil enforcement action. Thai law views trademark infringement as a crime against the state; either Thailand’s enforcement agencies or the trademark owners can initiate criminal proceedings.

Privacy Concerns

Most areas considered tourist zones are under constant video surveillance, managed by the Royal Thai Police (RTP). Cameras record images to computers at a central Police Center, and RTP may use footage to investigate crimes. Many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs have video surveillance, and will often present footage as evidence when pursuing criminal charges against clientele. At crime scenes, RTP often take photographs of ID documents and crime scenes and share them – without regards to personally identifiable information – with other government officials and non-government personnel via Line, a social media communication platform and smartphone application.

Personal Identity Concerns

Many sidewalks and street crossings are not suitable for disabled travelers. Newly constructed buildings, facilities, and transportation equipment should be accessible for persons with disabilities. However, enforcement of these provisions is not uniform.

LGBTI advocacy groups have reported that police tend to downplay sexual abuse claims from LGBTI victims. The UN and NGOs have reported that LGBTI persons experience discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The UN also reported that local media might have represented LGBTI persons in stereotypical and harmful ways that resulted in discrimination. Transgender individuals face discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and in schools, where strict policies require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender; if students do not follow school uniform rules, schools may deny graduation documents and/or dock grades.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug use, particularly the increasing use of methamphetamine and intravenous drugs, continues to be a problem in Thailand. Thailand strictly enforces drug laws and penalties for the possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs. Convicted offenders can expect heavy fines and long prison sentences under harsh conditions. Thailand's enforcement efforts include the death penalty for drug smuggling. Authorities have arrested several U.S. citizens for trafficking or using illicit drugs. Traffickers have duped some U.S. citizens into carrying a package with illegal drugs by the promise of a vacation to Thailand. Lack of knowledge of the contents of a package is not a valid legal defense.

Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. Police typically check the IDs of all customers and make each person provide a urine sample for narcotics. Foreigners are not immune from these checks; police will arrest and charge anyone who tests positive for illicit drugs. Although some civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced tests, the Embassy and Consulate are not aware of any successful challenges to the practice; authorities can jail patrons who do not cooperate.

Thai authorities continue to fight drug smuggling along the country’s borders with Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. Heavily armed drug smugglers have engaged in deadly clashes with Thai Border and Narcotics Police in these areas.

Police Response

Police response is generally better in larger cities than in smaller towns and provinces. A lack of funding, inadequate training, and corruption hamper police effectiveness and their ability to conduct follow-up criminal investigations, as do frequent rotations that prevent them from operating with the effectiveness or professionalism one typically associates with a modern police force.

Police officers outside major tourist destinations frequently do not speak English. Tourist Police, stationed in popular tourist areas, generally speak English, and many English-speaking volunteers in Bangkok assist the Tourist Police with translation. Tourist Police are generally helpful in assisting tourists. Several Tourist Courts deal with petty crime and complaints involving foreigners.

Due to martial law, travelers may encounter a heightened military presence throughout Thailand. Security forces have additional powers, including the right to control movement and search for weapons.

Authorities may detain individuals, including foreigners, for publicly criticizing the ruling government or the monarchy. Thais hold the monarchy in the highest regard. Making a critical or defamatory comment about the royal family is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years per offense. As an example, authorities consider purposely tearing Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, a lèse majesté (or royal insult) offense.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In the event of police detention or harassment, remain calm and ask for an English-speaking officer. Since Thailand is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate may not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens until several days after the incident. U.S. citizens detained or arrested in northern Thailand should ask authorities to contact the American Citizen Services (ACS) section at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or Consulate in Chiang Mai. Consular officers can help arrested U.S. citizens understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney (if needed).

Crime Victim Assistance

Police: 191 (though few of the operators speak English)

Tourist Police: 1155 (generally bilingual or accompanied by bilingual auxiliaries)

Bangkok: Police (routine): 02-280-5060; Fire/Emergency: 199; U.S. Embassy: 02-205-4000

Phuket: Police (routine): 07-621-2115

Travelers involved in a traffic accident, altercation, or other situation that draws a crowd, should leave the immediate area and contact the police.

Some victims of sexually motivated crimes have found that authorities do not handle their cases with as much sensitivity or consideration for privacy as they would expect in the U.S.

Police/Security Agencies

Thailand has several Tourist Courts to deal with petty crime and complaints involving foreigners.

The Royal Thai Police and the Department of Special Investigations actively investigate organized crime syndicates, but due to corruption, resource limitations, and bureaucratic inefficiency, arrest rates are extremely low; prosecution rates are even lower.

Medical Emergencies

Medical treatment is generally adequate in Thailand’s urban areas. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya, good facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care. Basic medical care is available in rural areas, but English-speaking providers may be rare.

In the event of a medical emergency in Bangkok, ambulances often arrive delayed due to severe traffic congestion. Drivers rarely yield to emergency vehicles traveling with lights and sirens. Consider using taxis to transport patients to hospitals.

Reach the BDMS emergency response center, a service provided by a group of private hospitals (i.e. Bangkok Hospital, BNH Hospital, and Samitivej Hospital) from anywhere in Thailand by calling 1724. The BDMS response team has English-speaking operators, doctors, and nurses available 24/7. If necessary, this call center will locate the caller via GPS signal from their mobile phone and send the nearest ambulance to retrieve the patient.

Bumrungrad Hospital, a very large hospital in Bangkok not in the BDMS, has an emergency center/ambulance service you can reach at 02 011 5222.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For a list of available medical services, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Helicopter Medevac service is available through Bangkok Hospital BDMS Emergency Response Center. Call 1724 for assistance throughout Thailand.

Insurance Guidance

Ensure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most international care providers only accept up-front payments. Strongly consider supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation (medevac).

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Thailand.

Post-specific Concerns

Although U.S. citizen tourists entering Thailand for fewer than 30 days do not require a visa, business travelers, U.S. government employees traveling on official business, teachers, retirees, and those planning to stay longer than 30 days should check with the Thai Embassy about visa requirements. Overstaying a visa will result in fines. Depending on the length of overstay, it may also result in arrest, detention, deportation at your own expense, and a ban from re-entering Thailand.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Thailand OSAC Country Council and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) are in Bangkok. The AmCham meets on a monthly basis. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia-Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, 120 - 122 Wireless Road and 95 Wireless Road, Bangkok

Hours: Monday through Friday, 0700-1600 (except U.S. and Thai holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers: Switchboard: +66 (02) 205-4000; Marine Post 1: +66 (02) 205-4108

Website: http://th.usembassy.gov

Nearby Post: Consulate Chiang Mai

Additional Resource: Thailand Country Information Sheet

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