Thailand 2013 Crime and Safety Report: Bangkok
Stolen items; Theft; Financial Security; Fraud; Hotels; Transportation Security; Insurgencies; Separatist violence; Bombing; Religious Terrorism; Riots/Civil Unrest; Anti-American sentiment; Earthquakes; Tsunamis; Floods; Economic Espionage; Intellectual Property Rights Infringement; Surveillance; Counterfeiting; Travel Health and Safety; Information Security
East Asia & Pacific > Thailand > Bangkok
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Bangkok enjoys a relatively moderate crime rate when compared to urban counterparts. Generally speaking, it is a safe place for conducting business and tourism. Cities outside of Bangkok experience even lower crime rates against visiting tourists.
Although the crime threat in Bangkok remains lower than in many American cities, non-confrontational crimes of opportunity, such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and credit card fraud, occur with frequency. In the past year, American citizens have reported passports, wallets, and other valuables being stolen.
An increasingly common technique is the motorcycle-assisted “snatch-and-grab” wherein the thief rides as a passenger on a motorcycle (or scooter) and grabs a purse as the driver speeds by the victim. While these thefts are generally non-violent, in 2009 a British tourist targeted in such a robbery fell to the ground after a brief struggle with the thief and suffered a fatal head trauma. In June 2012, an Australian tourist was stabbed to death when she attempted to resist a “snatch and grab” robbery in Phuket. While the crime was meant to be non-violent, this episode demonstrates how easily even a non-violent crime can turn deadly.
Although street crime is the most prevalent, violent crimes involving Americans and foreigners do occur. Armed violence is becoming very common. Loose gun laws allow people to acquire arms illegally, with organizations estimating the presence of 10 million privately held firearms, of which only 3.87 million are believed to be registered. Guns are often used by private civilians to settle personal or business disputes; in June 2012, an innocent bystander was killed in gun crossfire in a restaurant. Thailand has a fervent gun culture on par with the United States and has become a world leader in firearms-related homicides.
Hotels that are frequented by business travelers are usually well staffed with security guards, surveillance cameras, fire suppression systems, and senior security coordinators who are experienced. Violence against foreigners in hotels is rare but has occurred. Most notable was the stabbing and strangulation of a Miami-based interior designer in February 2012 in a reputable Bangkok hotel. Surveillance cameras did capture an image of the suspect; he was believed to have left the country prior to identification.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Traffic moves on the left in Thailand, although motorcycles and motorized carts often drive (illegally) against the traffic flow. 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 is common as is the consumption by commercial drivers of alcohol, amphetamines, and other stimulants. Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention.
Traffic in Bangkok is a major safety problem with a mixture of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks. For safety, pedestrians are encouraged to utilize overhead walkways/pedestrian bridges whenever possible, especially in metropolitan Bangkok. Pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green "walk" light illuminated.
Accidents, involving pedestrians and vehicles are the greatest safety/security concern for visitors. The accident rate is particularly high during long holidays when alcohol use and traffic are both heavier than normal. During Songkran (Thai New Year) in April, the problem is further exacerbated by people throwing water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration. It is customary for the more affluent driver, even if not at fault, to pay the expenses of the other party. Thai police authorities determine fault in accidents, and frequently, for major accidents, those involved are brought to the local police station where senior officers will discuss the accident with those involved, including drivers, insurance representatives, and the police officers, in an effort to determine where the fault lies.
Accidents involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. Motorcycles tend to weave in and out of traffic and the skill and proficiency of these drivers is poor. Motorcycle-related deaths in Bangkok are a daily occurrence and the use of motorcycle taxis is not recommended. The Embassy has sent a notice to Embassy staff and family members strongly recommending that they refrain from using motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis), mopeds, and tuk-tuks in Bangkok.
Reports of serious crimes involving taxis or "tuk-tuks" (three-wheeled taxis) are also relatively rare, although attempts to charge excessive fares occur regularly. Americans should not hesitate to ask to be let out of a taxi immediately if the driver is acting suspiciously or driving erratically. When riding in taxis, make sure that the driver turns on the meter. Visitors should exit the taxis immediately if the driver stops to pick up additional passengers. It is recommended that visitors do not enter a taxi that has someone in it besides the driver. When arriving at either of Bangkok's airports, travelers should use only taxis from the airport's official taxi stand, cars from the airport limousine counters, or airport buses. Visitors can have major hotels in Bangkok arrange for a car and driver to meet incoming flights.
Buses and taxis are abundant and generally safe. Streets tend to be very congested, so passengers in taxis should only exit on the sidewalk side to avoid opening a door into an oncoming car or motorcycle. Serious bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight trips, sometimes resulting in fatalities. In addition, both the over ground Skytrain and underground subway (MRT) is clean and safe and are recommended to save time and prevent frustration regarding Bangkok's notorious traffic conditions.
Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Although there are no known, active indigenous terrorist or rebel groups directly hostile to the United States in Thailand, periodic violence directed at Thai government interests--and more recently public places--by an indigenous insurgency continues to plague the southernmost provinces. For this reason, American citizens are urged to defer all non-emergency travel to the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat. Recent police investigations have uncovered terrorist cells operating out of Bangkok, and while there have been no external terrorist attacks to date, American citizens are advised to exercise caution, especially in locations where Westerners congregate and remain vigilant with regard to their own personal security. While there is no information indicating that these groups have targeted Westerners, American citizens have been “wrong place/wrong time” victims of indiscriminate violence.
The far south of Thailand experiences frequent incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence, including incidents attributed to armed local separatist and extremist groups. These incidents frequently include drive-by shootings, ambushes, and small bomb attacks of Thai security patrols. These groups seek increased autonomy in furtherance of a separate state related to the partitioning of the Thai/Malaysia border in the early 1900s. There has been sporadic separatist violence over the last 100 years relating to this struggle.
The latest round of violence began in January 2004 and includes arson attacks directed at schools and other buildings associated with the government; the placement of bombs in public areas and near local government offices; killings of police, other officials, and civilians suspected of cooperating with authorities; and the theft of weapons and explosives. Attacks in the area increasingly have targeted commercial areas where foreigners might congregate. In 2005, two American citizens were injured when a bomb detonated in the Hat Yai Regional Airport. On September 17, 2006, a series of bombs detonated in a commercial district of Hat Yai, killing one American citizen and injuring another. 2011 also witnessed and escalation of violence with dozens of bombings and shootings, though no American were involved or injured.
For a number of years, Thailand has also experienced limited violent incursions in the areas bordering Burma and Cambodia. Continued fighting between the Burmese Army and Karen separatist groups has led to numerous incidents of banditry in Thailand. Heavily-armed drug smugglers have also clashed with police in border areas near Burma.
Persons with known transnational terrorist associations transit and visit Thailand with relative ease through legal and illegal means. In 2003, senior Jemaah Islamiyya/al-Qai’da (JI/AQ) leader Hambali was captured just north of Bangkok. These travel routes include the Burmese, Cambodian, and Malaysian borders. Soft target vulnerabilities could easily be exploited by transnational terrorist elements.
In January 2012, Royal Thai Police made a series of arrests and searches that uncovered a hidden cache of more than 4,000 kilograms of explosive materials.
The U.S. Embassy issued an Emergency Message to American Citizens regarding the possibility of foreign terrorist attacks in areas of Bangkok frequented by tourists. All American citizens were warned to keep a low profile and exercise good situational awareness when moving around the city, particularly in heavy tourist areas. The State Department has issued a series of Public Announcements (http://www.travel.state.gov) cautioning travelers against traveling in locations where there are continued threats of terrorist actions and anti-American violence. U.S. citizens should be aware of the higher risk of attack associated with congregating or visiting facilities where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate, as such places may be attractive targets to terrorist groups. This includes clubs, restaurants, and residential areas, places of worship, hotels, schools, business offices, outdoor recreational events, and resorts and beaches in some southern regions of Thailand.
In February 2012, a suspected Iranian terror cell was discovered when an improvised explosive device (IED) they were handling accidentally detonated in their rental house in central Bangkok near Ekamai BTS station. Royal Thai Police responded to the explosion and arrested two Iranian nationals within hours. The police continue to investigate the case and have issued five arrest warrants thus far.
There are numerous international and indigenous organized crime elements operating throughout Thailand, but they are mainly concentrated in the major cities. Their activities include drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, document fraud, etc. The Royal Thai Police actively investigate these crimes, but due to corruption, resource limitations, and bureaucratic inefficiency, the apprehension rate is extremely low. The Embassy is unaware of any U.S. businesses that are experiencing problems associated with organized crime.
From March-May 2010 and into early 2011, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s supporters--known as the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD or “Red Shirts”)--staged large-scale protests in Bangkok and other areas of the country.
Demonstrations in Bangkok drew as many as 100,000 persons in March; the government invoked an Emergency Decree on April 7 after protestors invaded Parliament.
In April 2010, the demonstrators occupied the Ratchaprasong intersection, located at the heart of Bangkok's commercial district. Later that month, violent clashes occurred between UDD protestors and government security forces on Ratchadamnoen Road near Phan Fah Bridge; live ammunition and war-grade weaponry was used by both sides, according to eyewitness reports and the media. By the following morning, 25 persons--including 10 protestors, nine civilians, one foreign journalist, and five members of the security forces--had been killed.
The protest became violent, with armed clashes between UDD protestors and government security forces again in May. Arsonist burned a portion of Central World, and security forces dispersed the protestors, with casualties reported on both sides totaling 92 killed and over 1,800 injured, along with a foreign journalist. The circumstances surrounding the 92 deaths have never been fully explained.
The UDD continued to hold large protests throughout the rest of 2010 and into 2011, though no further clashes took part between authorities and protestors. In national elections in July 2011, Abhisit was ousted by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra—the first female PM in the country’s history—who represented Puea Thai and the UDD faction. Since the election of Prime Minster Yingluck, the UDD has not gathered in large numbers although UDD leaders have threatened wider protests and have held occasional small protests to free imprisoned UDD leader’s police and government buildings. While her Puea Thai-led coalition has governed with a strong mandate, significant underlying social tensions remain. With political reconciliation unlikely in the near-term, these tensions could lead to open conflict, particularly if former PM Thaksin returns.
While Bangkok remained peaceful in early 2012, the underlying causes of the 2010 and 2011 protests have not been resolved. Whether political and societal conflict reaches the street again or if it can be managed through an orderly reconciliation process remains an open question.
During the summer of 2012, there was a steady uptick of protests directed toward the U.S. Embassy. Most of the protests were organized, peaceful, and well controlled by the Royal Thai Police. August produced four protests involving the “Yellow Shirt” and the “Red Shirt” factions, protesting and delivering letters to the Ambassador. One particular demonstration by local Muslim groups protested the Internet movie “Innocence of Muslims.” This protest was anti-American and was the first time in 10 years that the Royal Thai Police had to restrain protestors physically from approaching the embassy perimeter walls.
In the fall of 2012, “Pheu Thai” members called for large-scale demonstrations against the administration. The government was well prepared and used their police and military forces to control the protests, which were nowhere near as large as predicted. There were several violent clashes around the government centers of Bangkok, but government forces used modern crowd control techniques, reducing the level of violence and ultimately controlling the crowds.
Thailand has several earthquake fault lines. In December 2004, a major underwater earthquake near northern Indonesia caused one of the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history, resulting in over 200,000 deaths. Thailand's popular Andaman Sea coastline, including the tourist island of Phuket, was affected by up to a 10-meter tsunami wave, which devastated the western coast and caused several thousand deaths of citizens and tourists. Small earthquakes continue throughout the region, all of which cause little to no damage.
Thailand can experience serious flooding during the rainy season (usually July-October) both in major cities and in the rural countryside. In October 2011, Thailand suffered disaster-scale flooding as a result of heavy rains that plagued all of Southeast Asia. The historic province of Ayudhya, site of many ancient ruins and temples, along with surrounding central provinces was submerged in three meters of water. Much of Bangkok’s northern and western neighborhoods experienced at least a meter of flooding. Central Bangkok, with its tourist and commercial-heavy districts, remained relatively dry due to a series of canals and civic flood-control measures.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Ferries and speedboats used to transport tourists and local nationals to and from the many islands off the mainland are often overcrowded and carry insufficient safety equipment. In January 2005, three U.S. citizens died when their over-crowded speedboat capsized and sank off the coast of Koh Samui.
Air travel remains a relatively safe option. The last accident occurred on September 16, 2007; One-To-Go flight OG 269 crashed at Phuket International Airport, killing 90 people, including five American citizens.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
Thailand protects intellectual property rights via three main statutes. These statutes include the Patent Act 2522 (1979), Copyright Act 2537 (1994), and Trademark Act 2534 (1991).
The Patent Act 2522: The Patent Act grants an inventor or designer exclusive domain over their work product. Applicable patents must satisfy three conditions. First, the invention must be new. It must not exist in another country. Next, the idea must involve an inventive step. This inventive step cannot be an application obvious to one who works in the field. Finally, 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 take either criminal or civil form. Criminal proceedings may be prosecuted by law enforcement agencies and begin with a raid and seizure of property. The tort clause of the Commercial and Civil Code typically governs civil proceedings. In reality, few patent cases arise in Thailand.
The Copyright Act 2537: The Copyright Act protects the creator of an original artistic or cultural work. The copyrighted work must be an original work. The protection vests once the work is published. The creator retains the copyright except in the following situations:
1. The creator is an employee hired to create the work, in which case the employer retains the copyright via prior agreement
2. The work is commissioned in which case the commissioner retains the copyright via prior agreement.
Copyright infringement is a significant issue. Pirated music and movies are sold on any street corner. Therefore, litigation and enforcement is common. Enforcement may proceed criminally or civilly. In addition to monies recovered in civil suits, copyright holders may be given 50 percent of fines levied in criminal enforcement.
The Trademark Act 2534: The Trademark Act differs somewhat from the other statutes. To be registered, a trademark must be distinctive, must not be prohibited by the act, and not be identical or confusingly similar to another registered trademark. This may include any picture, textual image, or color combination. The following may not be trademarked:
1. The national, royal, or official flag of Thailand.
2. Royal names or monograms or abbreviations thereof.
3. Representations of the monarchy.
4. International flags or emblems including those of the “Red Cross”.
5. Any mark contrary to the public code of ethics.
Aggrieved parties may pursue criminal and civil enforcement action. However, unlike patent or copyright infringement, Thai law views trademark infringement as a crime against the state. Therefore, proceeds from criminal fines remain with the government.
In recent years, Thailand has enacted several statutes intended to curb issues regarding intellectual property. Despite their efforts, counterfeit goods remain. Fortunately, private enforcement options are available to aggrieved parties.
Bangkok is a city of video surveillance and picture taking tourists. Most areas that are considered tourist zones are under constant video surveillance managed by the Royal Thai Police. These cameras are recording images to a central police center and are heavily depended on by the RTP to investigate crimes. Many restaurants, bar rooms, and night clubs have robust video surveillance packages and will often present this footage as evidence to the police for a patron’s criminal mischief.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
The State Department's Country Specific Information Sheet for Thailand advises American citizens to defer all non-emergency travel to the three southern-most provinces. Embassy Bangkok requires all official travel to the southern regions of Thailand to be approved in advance by the Regional Security Officer and Deputy Chief of Mission.
Authorities have, on occasion, instituted special security measures in affected areas, such as curfews, military patrols, or random searches of train passengers.
For a number of years, Thailand has also experienced limited violent incursions near the borders with Burma and Cambodia. Continued fighting between the Burmese Army and Karen separatist groups has led to numerous incidents of banditry in Thailand. Heavily-armed drug smugglers have clashed with police near Burma. Persons wishing to travel to the Burmese border areas should check with Thai Tourist Police or visit http://www.travel.state.gov for the most up-to-date travel warnings for U.S. citizens traveling to the region.
Thailand strictly enforces drug laws and penalties for the possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs. Thailand's enforcement efforts include the death penalty for drug smuggling. Convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions and often-heavy fines as well. Several imprisoned Americans were arrested for trafficking illicit drugs. Some Americans 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 in the establishment and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. Although some Thai civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any challenge to the practice, and customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate.
The government continues to fight drug smuggling along its border with Burma. Heavily armed drug smugglers routinely have deadly clashes with Thai Border and Narcotics Police in these areas.
Given the number of organized crime elements, the potential threat of kidnapping, albeit small, still exists.
The local police are generally effective in assisting with minor crimes, but a lack of funding, inadequate training, and frequent leadership shake-ups prevent them from operating with the effectiveness or professionalism one typically associates with a modern mega-city.
Response to calls for service will be better in larger cities than in smaller towns and provinces. Police effectiveness and their ability to conduct follow-up criminal investigations are hampered by both a lack of funding and limited training.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Remain calm and ask for an English-speaking officer. Tourist Police generally speak English with many metropolitan police having some English-speaking ability. Police officers outside the major tourist destinations frequently do not speak English.
Since Thailand is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident. Please ask to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General for assistance if detained or arrested by police.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Consular officers can help arrested American citizens understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
In the event of any type of theft, travelers should report the loss to the police. The general police emergency number is 191.
POLICE EMERGENCY (METRO): 191
POLICE ROUTINE (METRO): 02-280-5060
TOURIST POLICE: 1155
FIRE EMERGENCY: 199
AMERICAN EMBASSY: 02-205-4000
POLICE EMERGENCY (LOCAL): 191
POLICE ROUTINE (LOCAL): 05-327-6040
TOURIST POLICE: 1155
AMERICAN CONSULATE GENERAL: 05-325-2629
POLICE EMERGENCY (LOCAL): 191
POLICE ROUTINE (LOCAL): 07-621-2115
TOURIST POLICE (LOCAL): 1155
Various Police/Security Agencies
Thailand has an attentive Tourist Police Division comprised of English-speaking personnel specifically to address crimes committed against foreigners. Tourist Police are stationed in popular tourist areas and are typically multi-lingual. They are generally very helpful in assisting tourists with minor crimes, scams, or other problems. The Tourist Police Division of the Royal Thai Police can be reached by dialing 1155.
Contact the police in a medical emergency, and they will summon an ambulance to your location. Individual hospitals have ambulance services; however, in Bangkok, these services should not be relied upon due to severe traffic congestion. Taxis are commonly used to transport patients to hospitals.
Medical treatment is generally adequate. In Bangkok, excellent facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care. Smaller towns and outlying facilities lack the facilities, expertise, and medical personnel resident in major metropolitan areas.
Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics
Bumrungrad Hospital - 02-667-1000
BNH Hospital - 02-686-2700
Samitivej Hospital - 02-711-8000
Bangkok Hospital - 02-310-3102
Phuket-Bangkok Hospital - 07-625-4425
Recommended 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.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/thailand.htm
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Visitors should be aware of several commercial and merchant-based scams. These scams involve precious gems, tours, and entertainment events. Travelers should be wary of any implausible sale featuring precious gems and/or jewelry. Oftentimes, kickbacks or commissions are involved, or the stone are fake. Some unscrupulous merchants may drive up the prices of goods or services because they are dealing with Americans or foreigners. These merchants often have accomplices who work at the major tourist sites (i.e. Grand Palace, Wat Phro, etc.) whose job it is to convince marks that the site is closed and then offer their accomplice’s business as an alternative. They will sometimes wear lanyards with laminated IDs to look more “official.” The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) receives over 1,000 complaints each year from visitors who have been cheated on purchases.
Areas to be Avoided
The Department of State's Consular Information Sheet for Thailand urges U.S. citizens to defer non-emergency travel to the far south: Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala provinces. If U.S. citizens must travel to these areas, they should exercise special caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.
Best Security Practices
Personal security measures and common sense should be exercised at all times. Travelers should be especially wary when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites, and bus or train stations (including the Skytrain and underground subway lines). At night, travel with someone and avoid walking on poorly lit streets and alleys. The most common crimes are purse snatching, pick pocketing, and petty theft. Credit card fraud and identity theft schemes are also active. Travelers should be careful to safeguard their valuables at all times. Purses, wallets, and back/fanny packs should be worn to the front in crowded areas.
Visitors should remain vigilant regarding so-called "non-confrontational" crimes or being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Americans are also encouraged to use caution and remain vigilant in areas with large public gatherings. All demonstrations are unpredictable, and any demonstration can turn violent without warning. For this reason, the Embassy encourages all Americans to monitor local media for announcements of possible demonstrations and to avoid the areas where demonstrations might occur. If a demonstration is expected to pass near U.S. Embassy facilities, Embassy entrances and functions may be restricted. Travelers should carefully review the Safety And Security sections of the State Department's Country Specific Information sheet for Thailand available at www.travel.state.gov for additional information.
The Department of State encourages U.S. citizens to avoid travel on overcrowded boats and to ensure that proper safety equipment is available before boarding any boat or ferry.
U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
The U.S. Embassy Bangkok is located at 120 - 122 Wireless Road and 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok.
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, 7:00am to 4:00pm.
Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers
Regional Security Officer: 02 205-4333;
Embassy operator: 02 205-4000;
Medical Unit: 02 205-5508;
American Citizen Services Duty Officer: 081 173 0144;
Marine Post 1: 02 205-4108.
NOTE: If calling from outside Thailand, add the country code for Thailand (66) and drop the first zero in the number being called.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Thailand Country Council and the American Chamber of Commerce are based in Bangkok. The AmCham meets on a monthly basis and can be contacted through the Chamber of Commerce at 66-2-254-1041 or http://www.amchamthailand.com.