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Thailand 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Chiang Mai

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. Consulate in Chiang Mai 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 services provided.

Review OSAC’s Thailand page 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 Chiang Mai. Most travelers to Thailand feel relatively safe. Non-violent crimes, however, appear to be occurring with greater frequency. Petty theft, purse snatching, and pickpocketing are more common in areas foreigners frequent, such as Chiang Mai’s Walking Street and Night Bazaar.

Violent crimes (e.g. murder, armed robbery, and sexual assault) against U.S. citizens and other foreigners are relatively rare. Many thieves carry knives, and stabbings do occur. Violent crimes typically happen at night, often when victims have been drinking or separate from their companions. Besides Chiang Mai, these crimes are most common in Bangkok and Pattaya Mai, and in tourist areas in southern Thailand.

Sexually-motivated violence is most likely to occur at parties, discos, or beaches (e.g., the Full Moon Party on Phangan Island). On a few occasions, assailants have altered drinks in order to incapacitate victims. U.S. citizens have also been robbed after soliciting commercial sex workers.

In 2018, police arrested an Indonesian woman for allegedly drugging and robbing two foreign tourists in Chiang Mai. Authorities found one of the individuals dead in his hotel room; the other required hospitalization. While this type of incident is relatively uncommon, it underscores the risk associated with leaving drinks unattended or accepting drinks from strangers.

Although relatively rare, residential burglaries do occur in areas where Westerners live. In 2016, a group of thieves burglarized more than 100 residences in over 25 neighborhoods in/around Chiang Mai. Many of the homes were occupied at the time of the robbery. There were no reports of significant physical confrontation with residents who were home; however, this rash of burglaries highlights the need to lock doors and windows, and remove keys from unlocked areas.

In 2017, the Royal Thai Police apprehended the suspects responsible for the burglaries, recovering a number of stolen items. This appears to have been an isolated spike in break-ins and there have been no recent reports of related incidents. There have, however, been isolated instances of domestic staff stealing cash or valuables from their employers.

In general, the safety and security of guest rooms in quality hotels is adequate.

Although there are numerous international and indigenous organized crime elements operating throughout Thailand. The activities of these groups, most of which are concentrated in major cities, include drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, and document fraud. The Embassy and Consulate, however, are not aware of any U.S. organizations experiencing problems associated with organized crime.

Crimes involving credit/debit card fraud and identity theft occur occasionally. International criminal organizations based in Malaysia, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere have installed sophisticated skimming devices on ATMs in order to steal cardholder information. Fraudsters later used that information to conduct illicit transactions and withdraw money from accounts. For more information, review the OSAC report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The road infrastructure in and around Chiang Mai is adequate to good. Traffic moves on the left side, with mainly right-side drive vehicles. Roads can be dangerous due to careless drivers. Visitors who decide to drive personal vehicles should exercise extreme caution. Police do not strictly enforce and drivers widely ignore traffic laws. Traffic hazards include drivers exceeding the speed limit, under the influence of alcohol, running red lights, and moving against traffic (especially in motorcycles). Other transportation safety concerns include rapid or unexpected lane changes, heavily-laden motorcycles and trucks, and underage or unlicensed drivers.

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 of commercial vehicles.

Motorcycle and moped accidents are common and serious, since the drivers of these vehicles generally have less training than car or truck drivers. The majority of traffic fatalities involve motorcycles. Local law requires wearing a helmet when riding on a motorcycle; however, many riders continue to avoid helmets, despite random police checkpoints and ticketing.

The accident rate is particularly high at night and during long holidays when alcohol use and traffic are 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.

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

Congested roads and the scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for the victims of vehicle accidents 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; those involved are typically brought to the local police station. Senior officers will discuss the accident with drivers, insurance representatives, police officers, and others to determine fault.

Pedestrian safety is also a serious security concern. Many areas lack sidewalks; pedestrians should not expect drivers to yield the right of way, even in marked crosswalks. When crossing streets, pedestrians should be cautious of vehicles running red lights or driving against traffic.

Public Transportation Conditions

Songthaews (pick-up trucks with two bench seats affixed along either side of the bed) and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis) are abundant and generally safe. Crime involving taxis and or tuk-tuks occur, especially in tourist areas. Songthaews and tuk-tuks typically do not have meters. Motorcycle taxis are not common in Chiang Mai; avoid using them.

Tour buses are widely available for transportation between large cities in northern Thailand, and are generally safe and reliable.

There are a limited number of metered taxis at the airport. Registered taxicab drivers must have a yellow placard with their name in Latin script and their photograph on the dashboard. Be wary of entering any vehicle where the photograph does not match the driver. Police will seldom intervene in incidents involving taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers may attempt to charge excessive fares at airports and near major tourist attractions. Reach an agreement on the fare before entering a for-hire vehicle. Some taxis in Chiang Mai have meters, but drivers may refuse to use them. Drivers will often refuse fares, especially during rush hour or to places they do not know well. Raising one’s voice and using aggressive body language could be seen as a threat to the driver. Ask to be let out of a vehicle if the driver is acting suspiciously or driving erratically.

Ride-sharing services operate in Chiang Mai, though these services remain under government review. While travelers often use rideshare services without incident, there have been isolated instances in which other public transportation providers (e.g., taxi and tuk-tuk drivers) have reacted negatively to lost fares. Travelers who find themselves in such situations should not overreact; try to resolve the situation in a safe and expeditious manner.

Streets tend to be very congested, especially in the downtown area around the moat. Exit vehicles toward the sidewalk to avoid opening a door into an oncoming car or motorcycle.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Air travel remains a relatively safe option. The last significant accident occurred in 2007, when a low-cost carrier crashed at Phuket International Airport, killing 90 people, including five U.S. citizens; the carrier ceased operations in 2010.

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

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Chiang Mai. The far south provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat frequently experience criminally- and politically-motivated violence, which comes in the form of drive-by shootings, ambushes, and small bombings. These incidents do not extend into Northern Thailand.

Transnational terrorist elements could easily exploit soft-target vulnerabilities by. Terrorists have visited and transited Thailand with relative ease. Travelers should be aware of the higher risk of attack associated with places where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate, such as clubs, restaurants, residential areas, places of worship, hotels, schools, business offices, outdoor recreational events, resorts, beaches. Two such attacks occurred in Bangkok in 2015, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Chiang Mai. 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.

General elections will occur on March 24, 2019. In the lead up to the election, the government has relaxed restrictions on political activities. Although there are currently no indicators suggesting political violence or widespread unrest, exercise caution when confronted by large gatherings, including those that appear to be peaceful.

Civil Unrest

Some political demonstrations are scheduled on the anniversary of political events, while others happen with little warning. Demonstrations can attract thousands of participants and often cause severe traffic disruptions, especially if they include processions. Monitor events closely, avoid any large public gatherings (including anticipated protest sites), and exercise discretion when traveling in the country. Demonstrations are unpredictable and can turn violent without warning. Avoid protest events, demonstrations, large gatherings, and security operations, and follow any instructions and restrictions issued by local authorities.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have small, active Muslim populations. 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. Local community leaders generally enjoy a peaceful, cooperative relationship with local Muslim leadership and the Muslim population in Chiang Mai.

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:

  1. 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 commissioned; 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 be 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, so criminal proceedings can be initiated by Thailand’s enforcement agencies or the trademark owners.

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 may 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 Concerns

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. Some U.S. citizens have been duped 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. Police effectiveness and their ability to conduct follow-up criminal investigations are hampered by a lack of funding, inadequate training, corruption, and 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 there are many English speaking volunteers in Chiang Mai who 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 typically do 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 American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai.

Crime Victim Assistance

In the event of an emergency, contact police at 191 or Tourist Police at 1155 from any local telephone. Reach Chiang Mai local police for routine, non-emergency issues at 05-327-6040.

The police lack training in dealing with sexual assault cases. 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.

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

U.S. Embassy and Consulate staff can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family and friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Consular officers can help arrested U.S. citizens understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

Police/Security Agencies

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

 

Medical Emergencies

Most healthcare services in Thailand are on par with Western standards; many doctors have received training in the U.S. or other Western countries. Many private hospitals employ interpreters. Most public and private hospitals have medical centers with doctors practicing a wide variety of specialties. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya, good facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care. Hospitals outside of the capital and major cities may not have a wide range of English-language capabilities.

Contact the police (191) in a medical emergency; they will summon an ambulance to your location. Alternatively, contact Thai EMS directly (1646 or 1669). Individual hospitals have ambulance services; however, these services may not be reliable due to severe traffic congestion. Drivers rarely yield to emergency vehicles traveling with lights and sirens.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

A list of medical establishments, laboratories, and professionals in Thailand is available on the U.S. Mission in Thailand’s Medical Emergencies webpage.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Most official and private U.S. citizens in Thailand receive in-country care. Helicopter medical evacuation (medevac) service is available on a very limited basis. Bangkok Hospital (02-310-3102) advertises that it can assist in medevac situations throughout Thailand.

Insurance Guidance

Ensure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept up-front payments. Consider supplemental insurance to cover 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.

Environmental Hazards

Thailand sits on several earthquake fault lines. Small earthquakes continue throughout the region, most of which cause only limited damage.

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

In 2018, U.S. Mission Thailand began reporting the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Those ratings are calculated from hourly air pollution data captured by monitors owned and maintained by the Royal Thai Government. Thailand’s reported AQI is composed of multiple pollutants, but does not directly correspond to the U.S. EPA AQI used by, and familiar to, U.S. citizens. Thailand measures a variety of air pollutants, including PM2.5, and recently incorporated PM2.5 into its AQI formula for most, but not all, monitoring sites.

In Chiang Mai, annual agricultural burning (February-March) causes periods of poor air quality. Chiang Mai had the highest levels of smog of any city in the world several times in the March-April 2018 timeframe.

OSAC Country Council Information

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

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai is located along the Mae Ping River, near the northeast corner of the old city moat, at 387 Wichayanond Road, Chang Moi, Muang Chiang Mai 50300.

Hours: Monday-Friday, 0730-1630 (except U.S. and Thai holidays)

Consulate Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +66 (0) 53-107-700

After-hours Duty Officer: +66 (0) 81-881-1878

Website: https://th.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulate/chiang-mai/

Nearby Post: Embassy Bangkok

Additional Resources

Thailand Country Information Sheet

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