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Thailand 2015 Crime and Safety Report: Chiang Mai

East Asia & Pacific > Thailand; East Asia & Pacific > Thailand > Chiang Mai

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: Low

Crime Threats

Most travelers feel relatively safe; however, pickpocketing and petty crimes are occurring with more frequency. Petty theft, purse snatching, and pickpocketing are most common in the areas frequented by foreigners (major hotels, tourist sites, and public parks). Chiang Mai’s Walking Street and Night Bazaar are a particular focus for petty criminals, who are aware that these areas are frequented by tourists who carry cash, cameras, cell phones, passports, and other valuables. Petty crimes (purse snatching and ATM robberies) continue to increase. Many thieves carry knives, and stabbings are becoming more common. On a few occasions, drinks have been altered in order to incapacitate a potential victim.

Thailand is considered “high threat” for credit card and ATM card fraud. 

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

Violent crimes (armed robbery, kidnappings, and murder) against Westerners or tourists remain relatively rare. 

While relatively rare, residential burglaries do occur in areas where Westerners live. In 2011, several burglaries were reported in the Lanna Tara residential compound, where a significant number of Consulate families and other expatriates live.  

RSO is aware of isolated instances of domestic help stealing cash or valuables from their employers.  

There are numerous international and indigenous organized crime elements operating throughout Thailand, but they are mainly concentrated within the major cities. Their activities include drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, document fraud, etc. The Embassy is currently unaware of any U.S. businesses operating in Thailand that are experiencing problems associated with organized crime.

Areas of Concern

The State Department's Country Specific Information Sheet for Thailand advises American citizens to defer all non-emergency travel to Thailand's three southern-most provinces. Americans are also encouraged to use caution and remain vigilant in areas with large public gatherings. 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.

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.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Overall, the road infrastructure in and around Chiang Mai is adequate to good. Roads are left-side oriented, and right-hand-drive vehicles are recommended for safety purposes. Driving can be dangerous due to careless drivers, and extreme caution should be exercised. Traffic laws are not strictly enforced, and driving rules are widely ignored. Traffic hazards include: drivers exceeding the speed limit, drivers under the influence of alcohol, red-light-running, motorcycles and other vehicles changing lanes unexpectedly, motorcycles driving the wrong way in traffic, heavily-laden motorcycles and trucks, underage/unlicensed drivers, etc.

Motorcycle accidents are particularly common and serious since motorcyclists generally have less training than car/truck drivers. The majority of traffic fatalities involve motorcycles. Local law requires a helmet to be worn when on a motorcycle; however, many do not abide by this rule despite the Thai police setting up random checkpoints to ticket offenders.

Pedestrians face hazards as well; many areas lack sidewalks, and pedestrians should not expect drivers to grant them the right of way, even in marked crosswalks. When crossing streets, pedestrians should be cautious for vehicles running red lights or driving the wrong way in traffic.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Air travel remains a relatively safe option. The last accident occurred on September 16, 2007, when One-To-Go flight OG 269 crashed at Phuket International Airport, killing 90 people, including five American citizens.

Other Travel Conditions

Ferries and speedboats used to transport tourists and local nationals to/from the many islands 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. 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.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic 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 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, generally identified as beginning in January 2004, has been a series of incidents in the far southern provinces (Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat). Violence 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 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. Travelers should be aware that Thai authorities have, on occasion, instituted special security measures in affected areas, such as curfews, military patrols, or random searches of train passengers. 2011 also witnessed and escalation of violence with dozens of bombings and shootings in the three southernmost provinces, though no American were involved or injured.

Southern Thailand continues to experience almost daily attacks directed at anything perceived to be associated with the Thai government. Although these groups primarily target government entities (police, military, etc.), some of the recent violence has targeted public places, including areas where tourists may congregate. While there is no information indicating that these groups have targeted Westerners, American citizens have been “wrong place/wrong time” victims of this indiscriminate violence. The Department of State's Consular Information Sheet for Thailand urges U.S. citizens to defer non-emergency travel to the far south of Thailand: 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. 

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 inside Thailand. 

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

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. Terrorist transit routes in the region include the Burmese, Cambodian, and Malaysian borders of Thailand as well. Soft target vulnerabilities exist that could easily be exploited by transnational terrorist elements.

In 2012, the U.S. Embassy issued an Emergency Message to U.S. 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 Consular Messages cautioning travelers against traveling in locations where there are continued threats of terrorist actions and anti-American violence.

One month later, a suspected Iranian terror cell was discovered when an improvised explosive device (IED) they were handling accidentally detonated in the house they were renting in Central Bangkok near Ekamai BTS station. Royal Thai Police responded to the explosion and arrested two Iranian nationals within hours of the explosion. The police continue to investigate the case and have issued five arrest warrants associated with the incident.  

Also in 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.  

U.S. citizens should be aware of the higher risk of attack associated with 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, resorts, and beaches in some southern regions of Thailand.

Terrorism Rating: Medium

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

If a demonstration is expected to pass near the U.S. Embassy or Consulate facilities, Embassy and Consulate entrances and functions may be restricted.  

Civil Unrest 

In May, 2014, citing ongoing instability, the military enacted martial law and seized power, installing an intern government headed by Army Chief-turned Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-ocha. Since the coup, military forces have banned protests and limited freedom of expression. The interim government -- indirectly installed by Thailand’s military leaders – is drafting the country’s Constitution in the lead-up to elections to be held at an unspecified date. Thailand has experienced cyclical domestic political confrontations for the past decade. In 2006, the government was deposed in a bloodless, military coup that was followed by an extended period of political instability, which was violent and debilitated portions of the country. In 2008, protestors closed the international airport. In 2010, protestors occupied central Bangkok, leading to clashes with security forces in which over 90 were killed.

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to monitor events closely, to avoid any large public gatherings including protest sites, and to exercise discretion when traveling. Political demonstrations are frequent in Thailand. Many are scheduled on the anniversary of political events, and others happen with little warning. Demonstrations can attract thousands of participants and often cause severe traffic disruptions, especially if they include processions from one site to another. Demonstrations are unpredictable and can turn violent without warning. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Thailand has a small Muslim population, with the majority residing in the southern provinces. However, both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have small, active Muslim populations. While mass Muslim demonstrations have occurred globally in the past few years resulting in significant violence, Thailand has not experienced the same level of response from the local Muslim community. In fact, local community leaders enjoy a peaceful, cooperative relationship with the Muslim leadership and Muslim population in Chiang Mai. As a result, when local Muslims protested in front of the American Consulate in Chiang Mai in August 2012, they remained relatively peaceful and controlled; however, they did burn an American flag on the ground. Police presence was significant, but there were no arrests.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Thailand has several earthquake fault lines that run through it. In 2004, a major underwater earthquake off the coast of 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 a 10-meter tsunami wave, which devastated the western coast and caused several thousand deaths. Small earthquakes continue throughout the region with little/no damage. 

Thailand can experience serious flooding during the rainy season (usually July-October). In 2011, Thailand suffered disaster-scale flooding as a result of heavy rains that plagued all of Southeast Asia. Chiang Mai experienced severe flooding to much of the downtown area located along the Ping River. This flooding lasted several weeks and severely disrupted normal city operations, traffic flow, and availability of services.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

Thailand protects intellectual property rights via three main statutes: the Patent Act 2522 (1979), Copyright Act 2537 (1994), and Trademark Act 2534 (1991).

The Patent Act grants an inventor/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. Second, the idea must involve an inventive step that cannot be an application obvious to one who works in the field. Third, the invention/design must have an industrial application. Excluded from patent protection are naturally occurring organisms, scientific methods, and mathematical equations. Legal action can be criminal or civil. 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.

The Copyright Act protects the creator of an original artistic/cultural work that must be an original work. The protection vests once the work is published. The creator retains the copyright except in the following situations:
The creator is an employee hired to create the work, in which case the employer retains the copyright via prior agreement, or
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 differs somewhat from the other intellectual property 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:
The national, royal, or official flag of Thailand
Royal names or monograms, or abbreviations thereof
Representations of the monarchy
International flags or emblems, including those of the “Red Cross”
Any mark contrary to the public code of ethics.
Aggrieved parties may pursue criminal and civil enforcement action. However, unlike patent or copyright infringement, the 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 in the Thai stream of commerce. Private enforcement options are available to aggrieved parties.

Privacy Concerns

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 upon by the RTP to investigate crimes. Many restaurants, bar rooms, and night clubs have video surveillance packages and will often present this footage as evidence to the police for a patron’s criminal mischief.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug use is a continuing problem in Thailand, particularly the increasing use of methamphetamine and intravenous drugs. 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. Several Americans in prisons 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.

The government continues to fight drug smuggling along its border with Burma. Heavily-armed drug smugglers have deadly clashes with Border and Narcotics Police. 

The 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 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 civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenge to the practice. Customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate.  

Kidnapping Threat

Given the number of organized crime elements, the potential threat of kidnapping, though small, still exists.

Police Response

The Royal Thai Police actively investigates organized crime syndicates, but due to corruption, resource limitations, and bureaucratic inefficiency, the apprehension rate is extremely low. Police are often under-funded and lack training in a number of areas. While the overall situation is gradually improving, some police have been openly solicitous of compensation, ostensibly to support local police efforts or to facilitate an investigation of a crime.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Any U.S. citizen arrested or detained by the police in the Chiang Mai area should contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at the American Consulate in Chiang Mai. The contact information below can also be obtained at the American Consulate website:  http://chiangmai.usconsulate.gov/ 
American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit
Consulate General of the United States of America
387 Wichanond Road
Chiang Mai 50300 THAILAND
Fax: 053-252-633 (from inside Thailand); +66-53-252-633 (from outside Thailand)
Email: acschn@state.gov

Hours of Operation: The Consulate’s normal business hours are 07:30 to 16:30 Monday through Friday, except Thai and U.S. official holidays.
For U.S. citizen emergencies: To report the death, arrests, or serious injury of a U.S. citizen in northern Thailand, please call:
From inside Thailand: 053-107-777
From outside Thailand: +66-53-107-777
After business hours or on weekends or holidays, call our duty officer directly: 
From inside Thailand: 081-881-1878
From outside Thailand: +66-81-881-1878

Crime Victim Assistance

In the event of an emergency, the police can be contacted by dialing 191 from a local telephone, though few of the operators speak English. Tourist Police can be contacted by dialing 1155, and they are generally either bilingual or accompanied by bilingual auxiliaries.

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

Police/Security Agencies 

Chiang Mai Province has a provincial police department that falls under Region 5 police, which covers the eight provinces of northern Thailand. Under the Chiang Mai Provincial Police are the various city police, such as the city of Chiang Mai, and the Traffic Police. Thailand also has Tourist Police, coordinated and administered through Bangkok. Tourist Police will be the primary law enforcement entity that interacts with foreigners. If a foreigner is arrested, it is generally the Tourist Police who respond initially and hand over the foreigner to the city police for processing and detainment.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities for routine, long-term, and emergency health care are generally adequate. Smaller towns and outlying areas may lack the facilities, expertise, and specialist medical personnel of major metropolitan areas.

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital:  053-224-861
Lanna Hospital:  053-999-777
McCormick Hospital:  053-921-777
Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital:  053-947-000

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 vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/thailand.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

ATM and credit card scams are becoming increasingly more common and sophisticated. 

When out on the street, be as alert as possible to the surroundings. Watch out for distractions: kids surrounding tourists to sell something and then picking their pockets or prostitutes soliciting sex but in reality stealing their watch.

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

All parts of Chiang Mai are considered generally safe; however, travelers should always exercise caution and use common sense, especially at night or if traveling alone. Travelers should be hyper-aware of their valuables and their surroundings, especially at night in high volume tourist areas. Do not leave your drink unattended in bars. Above all, never interfere with a street fight among Thais, even if it involves a woman. Thais can quickly change sides and attack the foreigner, despite his/her best intentions. When going out, take only what is needed and keep valuables in a secure place not easily accessed by a pickpocket. Loose, flimsy, shoulder-strung purses are not recommended since they are easily cut and removed. Waist pouches are a good alternative. Shoulder packs and backpacks should be slung over both shoulders. If confronted by a robber, do not fight back. Quickly give up whatever is demanded and then leave the immediate area and contact the police.  

Credit and ATM cards should only be used inside well-established, reputable hotels, restaurants, banks, and other businesses. Foreigners who are the victims of petty thefts, frauds, or other crimes should contact the Tourist Police at 1155. Tourists are cautioned to be extremely careful to use only bank or hotel ATMs and to avoid using credit cards in small shops or restaurants.

Visitors/residents should never leave possessions unattended, particularly in public areas such as airports, parks, restaurants, hotel lobbies, etc. Thefts of briefcases, luggage, laptop computers, and other items can occur when the owner’s attention is momentarily diverted.

Valuables and important documents (passport, etc.) should be kept inside a safe in the room (provided by many of the better hotels) or in a safety deposit box at the front desk.  If on guided tours, secure your personal bags and, if possible, do not leave them on the tour bus/boat.  If you must leave the bags, remove any valuables.  There have been a number of incidents involving tourists leaving their bags on buses/boats and, upon their return, finding that their bags were stolen or rifled through for valuables.

Individuals planning to lease homes or apartments within the city limits are advised to acquire properties properly outfitted with crime prevention devices, especially against burglaries.  

Additionally, individuals planning to hire domestic help should screen candidates carefully.

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.
Consulate General of the United States of America
387 Wichanond Road
Chiang Mai 50300 THAILAND

Consulate Contact Numbers

If calling from outside of Thailand, use country code “66” and drop the leading “0” (zero) from the numbers below).

U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai switchboard:  053-107-700
Regional Security Officer:  053-107-784; RSOChiangMai@state.gov 
After-hours Duty Officer:  081-881-1878
Website: http://chiangmai.usconsulate.gov/

Nearby Posts

Embassy Bangkok: http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/

OSAC Country Council Information

The Thailand OSAC Country Council is part of the American Chamber of Commerce based in Bangkok. The Council meets on a monthly basis and can be contacted through the Chamber of Commerce at 66-2-254-1041 or http://www.amchamthailand.com. To reach OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team, please email OSACEAP@state.gov.