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Thailand 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Bangkok

East Asia & Pacific > Thailand; East Asia & Pacific > Thailand > Bangkok

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Thailand has been assessed as Level 1: Exercise normal precaution. Travelers are advised to reconsider travel to Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces due to civil unrest.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bangkok as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Thailand-specific webpage 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

Most criminal activity is limited to non-confrontational street crimes and crimes of opportunity, including purse snatching, pickpocketing, petty theft, jewelry schemes, and tourism fraud. Many U.S. citizens 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/bags with a razor to remove items surreptitiously. There have been incidents involving drive-by snatchings from thieves on motorcycles. Thieves may also victimize travelers on long-distance bus routes.

Violent crimes, such as murder, rape, and assault, against Americans and other foreigners are relatively rare. When they do occur, such crimes typically happen at night, often when victims have been drinking and/or are 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, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

Sexually-motivated violence is most likely to occur at parties, discos, or beaches (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 been robbed after soliciting commercial sex workers.

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

In general, the safety and security of guest rooms in quality hotels is adequate. There have been isolated instances of domestic workers stealing cash/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 to steal card holder information and subsequently withdraw money from victim accounts. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Other Areas of Concern

Periodic violence directed at government interests by an indigenous insurgency continues to plague 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, U.S. citizens are urged to defer non-emergency travel to those provinces. The U.S. Embassy requires all official travel to far southern regions to be reviewed and approved in advance. Persons wishing to travel to border areas should check with Thai Tourist Police and review State Department guidance for the most up-to-date travel advisories.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please 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.

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 mainly 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, and sometime result in fatalities. Motorcycles drivers have limited proficiency, seldom wear helmets, and tend to weave in/out of traffic. As a result, 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 is exacerbated by people throwing water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration.

Motorists should understand that 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. Congested roads and the scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention.

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

Pedestrians are encouraged to utilize elevated walkways/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 are generally safe. Streets tend to be very congested, so passengers in taxis should only exit on the sidewalk-side of the street to avoid opening a door into an oncoming car or motorcycle. 

Registered taxicab drivers should have a yellow placard with their name in English and their photograph on the dashboard. If this photograph does not match the driver, passengers should 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 that are much higher than those in Bangkok for comparable distances. Before entering a for-hire vehicle, individuals should request that the driver use the meter or reach an agreement on the fare for the trip. Threats of violence may accompany excessive charges; raising one’s voice and using aggressive body language could be seen as a threat, and tourists have been seriously injured during confrontations with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Police will seldom intervene in incidents involving taxi drivers.

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

Local government officials have attempted to introduce standard fares with limited success. Drivers have organized against attempts to provide alternative services. For instance, van and bus services have been blockaded during some U.S. Navy ship visits.

The use of motorcycle taxis is not recommended. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that Embassy staff and family members refrain from using motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis), mopeds, and tuk-tuks in Bangkok.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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

Other Travel Conditions

Ferries and speedboats to/from islands are often overcrowded and rarely carry sufficient safety equipment. U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid travel on overcrowded boats and to ensure that proper safety equipment is available before boarding.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bangkok as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

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 bomb attacks. These incidents are attributed to local armed insurgent groups that seek increased autonomy and ultimately aspire to a separate state. Grievances stem from the partitioning of the Thai/Malaysia border in the early 1900s, and there has been sporadic separatist violence over the last 100 years relating to this struggle.

The latest round of violence, generally identified as beginning in January 2004, has seen a spike in violence. Incidents have included arson attacks directed at schools and buildings associated with the government; the placement of bombs 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. Travelers should be aware that authorities have instituted special security measures, such as curfews, military patrols, and random searches of train passengers, in affected areas. U.S. citizens are advised to defer non-emergency travel to Thailand's southern-most 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 Burma’s border.

Soft target vulnerabilities could easily be exploited by transnational terrorist elements, which have been known to visit and transit Thailand with relative ease. Travelers should be aware of the higher risk of attack associated with places where Americans and other foreigners congregate, including clubs, restaurants, residential areas, places of worship, hotels, schools, business offices, outdoor recreational events, resorts, and beaches.

  • In August 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. The incident occurred near the Erawan Shrine, Central World mall, several major hotels, and the overhead bisection of the two BTS Skytrain lines.

There have also been periodic incidents of a smaller scale throughout the country.

  • In August 2016, bombings occurred at/near tourist locations in several southern provinces, resulting in at least four deaths and more than 20 injuries.

  • On March 7, 2015, a hand grenade exploded in front of the Bangkok Criminal Court Building; no one was injured.

  • In February 2015, two small improvised explosive devices detonated in close proximity to the Siam Paragon Shopping Mall BTS Skytrain entrance, slightly injuring two people.

Both of the 2015 incidents were in areas popular among tourists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bangkok as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

In May 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 the coup, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has banned political gatherings and placed restrictions on the media, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.

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

Civil Unrest

Political demonstrations are often scheduled on the anniversary of political events; others happen with little/no advanced notice. Demonstrations can attract thousands of participants and cause severe traffic disruptions, especially if they involve processions from one site to another. Protest events, demonstrations, large gatherings, and security operations should be avoided.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Thailand has several earthquake fault lines. Small earthquakes continue throughout the region, most of which cause little/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 were killed, including thousands from Thailand.

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

During roughly 15% of the days in 2016, the air quality in Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Nan, Lampang, Bangkok, and Samut Sakhon exceeded Thai government standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5); official data for 2017 is not available. Annual agricultural burning, which generally occurs in February and March, can lead to poor air quality.

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, please 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. Private enforcement options are available to aggrieved parties.

Thailand protects intellectual property rights 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).

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.

  2. The idea must involve an inventive step. This inventive step cannot be an application obvious to one who works in the field.

  3. The invention or design must have an industrial application.

Excluded from patent protection are naturally occurring organisms, scientific methods, and mathematical equations. Legal action can be taken in criminal or civil proceedings. Criminal proceedings may be conducted by law enforcement agencies to include a raid and seizure of property. The provisions under specific IP statutes and the tort provisions under the Civil and Commercial Code typically governs civil proceedings. From January-November 2017, the Royal Thai Police conducted more than 60 patent cases.

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:

  1. if the creator is an employee hired to create the work; in which case, the employer retains the copyright via prior agreement; or

  2. if the work is commissioned; in which case the commissioner retains the copyright via prior agreement.

Enforcement of intellectual property rights may proceed criminally or civilly. In addition to monies recovered in civil suits, copyright holders may be given 50% of fines levied in criminal enforcement. (Further information can be found 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, must 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

Bangkok is a city of video surveillance and picture-taking citizens and tourists. Several sites, including the international airport and the Siam Paragon mega-mall, are among the most photographed public locations in the world. Most areas that are considered tourist zones are under constant video surveillance, managed by the Royal Thai Police (RTP). These cameras record images at a central Police Center and are used by the RTP to investigate crimes. Many restaurants, bar rooms, and night clubs have video surveillance and will often present footage as evidence when pursuing criminal charges against clientele.

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no known legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Thailand. However, LGBTI groups have reported that police tend to downplay sexual abuse claims from LGBTI victims.

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, but the enforcement of these provisions is not uniform.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug use is an ongoing problem in Thailand, particularly the increasing use of methamphetamine and intravenous drugs. Drug laws and penalties for the possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly enforced. Thailand's enforcement efforts include the death penalty for drug smuggling. Convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions and heavy fines. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested for trafficking illicit drugs, including those who 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 legal defense.

Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers and make each person provide a urine sample for narcotics. Foreigners are not immune from these checks, and anyone who tests positive for illicit drugs will be arrested and charged. Although some civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenges, and individuals can be jailed if they do not cooperate.

The government of Thailand continues to fight drug smuggling along the borders with Burma 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 mega-city. Police officers outside major tourist destinations frequently do not speak English. Tourist Police are stationed in popular tourist areas and are typically multi-lingual. They are generally helpful in assisting tourists with minor crimes, scams, etc.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In the event of police detention or harassment, travelers should 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/Consulate typically do not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses for several days. Please 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 to find an attorney if needed.

Individuals, including foreigners, may be detained for publicly criticizing the NCPO 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 offence. As an example, purposely tearing Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may be considered a lèse majesté offense.

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, are advised to leave the immediate area and contact the police. The Embassy/Consulate staff can assist U.S. citizens in finding medical care, contacting family/friends, and explaining how funds could be transferred.

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

In 2013, Thailand created 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 are rare.

In a medical emergency, an ambulance can typically can be summoned by contacting the police at 191. Individual hospitals have ambulance services; however, in Bangkok, these services may be unreliable due to severe traffic congestion. Taxis are commonly used to transport patients to hospitals. Drivers rarely yield to emergency vehicles traveling with lights and sirens.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For more available medical services, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Helicopter 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

Travelers should ensure that their health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept upfront payments. Travelers are strongly encouraged to consider supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Thailand OSAC Country Council and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) are based 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

Embassy Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy in Bangkok

120 - 122 Wireless Road and 95 Wireless Road

Bangkok, Thailand

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

Embassy Contact Numbers

(If calling from outside Thailand, add the country code for Thailand (66) and drop the first zero)

Switchboard: 02 205-4000

Marine Post 1: 02 205-4108

Website: http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Chiang Mai: https://th.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulate/chiang-mai/

Additional Resources

Thailand Country Information Sheet