Before we talk about Safety and some of the risks of a holiday in Thailand let me just say that Thailand is extremely safe for foreigners, a whole area of risks that are common around the world are generally not a risk in Thailand, that risk is attack on the person. Attacks on and muggings of foreigners in Thailand are relatively rare; when they do occur they are usually a result of a combination of a confrontation and alcohol, I have included specific guidance on this later in this chapter.
Oh and then there is that other worry.
For over ten years now I have heard the same rumours circulating about a European baby being kidnapped by a housemaid, babysitter, teacher, shop assistant etc. Take it from me, it’s an ‘Urban Myth’, I have never heard one single confirmation of this rumour, it is always a friend of a friend that says these things. Honestly, a Thai with a foreign baby would be spotted and reported in moments.
That said there are a few dangers and hazards that cannot be ignored.
The Big Numbers
Official Thai Police Statistics for 2005 recorded 12,858 deaths by road accident, but this figure represents only those recorded as ‘dead at the scene of the accident’. It does not record those who died after the accident on the way to hospital or while in hospital. Estimates of the total number of deaths on Thailand’s roads are as high as 25,000 people a year and this figure does not record serious life changing injuries. The numbers of people killed and injured surge during the main holiday periods of New Year, Chinese New Year, Songkhran and Loiy Kratong.
I cannot over state how dangerous Thailand’s roads are.
The following is my minimum best advice (I’m not going to apologise for repeating this later):
Always Wear Seatbelts.
If you plan extensive road travel with young children take child car seats with you and use them.
Do not even dream of taking a child on or allowing your child to ride a motorbike.
Don’t drive or be driven on the roads outside of towns during the hours of darkness. (This is where and when most accidents happen)
If you take a tour keep a close eye on the driver, he may not be drunk when you set off but he might well be drinking during your stops for meals or sight seeing.
For more comprehensive advice on road safety, see the “Transport in Thailand” Page and the Does and Don’ts of driving in the available at the Downloads Page.
Alcohol is a factor in almost all dangerous situations; it clouds judgment and removes inhibitions. This is not just the alcohol you drink but also that drunk by those around you.
I’m not going to tell you not to drink but take a few days to checkout the scene, drink in moderation and be mindful of the drinking of those around you.
If you are with children alcohol becomes more of a problem in those situations where you need to be alert and attentive, in particular driving, on the beach or by the pool.
A few special words of caution here:
What to you might seem like an authentic local bar away from the tourist scene, a real discovery of ‘The Real Thailand’, may to the locals be a respite from those same tourists, including you. The locals may resent your presence.
Be extremely wary of Thais and alcohol. By that I mean, Thai men who are drinking. You may, and indeed often will, be asked to join them.
My advice is; politely decline. I have seen too many occasions when a simple drink and a friendly chat have turned into discussion, into an argument and into a fight. At the very least you are going to be presented with the bill for the food and drink, including all that consumed before you joined the group.
If you think I am being unfair or in someway racist, feel free to ignore my advice.
There are a number of General Hazards that you’ll find at home but are perhaps a little more prevalent in Thailand, they certainly deserve your attention and a few minutes checking when your first arrive at where you are staying.
Electrical wiring ranges from the good to the abysmal, typically you might find loose fittings, sockets and switches close to water taps and, if you had the means of testing the circuits you would find the Line and Neutral are very often crossed.
Tip: I always carry a roll of insulation tape to seal off switches and sockets in our rooms.
Take a close look at flood lighting around swimming pools and table lamps in restaurants. Just be aware that the wiring might be dangerous.
There are seldom any pool guards at any but the top hotel pools. I myself pulled an eight year old child from the water at a hotel pool, his parents having been distracted by its younger brother. Now before I go congratulating myself, on another occasion I was at a party when a Thai waiter pulled a child from the water less than 2 meters behind me.
Drowning is a very quiet way to die.
My advice is do not drink or read if you are at the poolside with a child.
We don’t use swimming pools other than those at the better hotels, swimming pools at small guesthouses or on housing estates are seldom properly maintained or dosed with chemicals. Unclean swimming pools are a common source of eye and ear infections.
Be aware that the tiles around pools may not be of the non slip variety, this is also true of the tiles in bathrooms.
I don’t know what the figures are for accidents in Bathrooms but my guess is they are high. Budget accommodation in Thailand tends to come with a bathroom that comprises toilet, shower and wash area all in one room. Shower curtains or doors are almost unheard of so the room becomes one wet, soapy, slippery surface. Added to which non-slip tiles are seldom used in Thai bathrooms.
So watch those floors and perhaps you might want to consider ‘flip flop’ shoes in the bathroom.
The other hazard is electricity in the bathroom, I have seen several case of 220 Volt switches and sockets in the bathroom area of hotels and guesthouses. You need to be very careful with this and tell your children not to touch the switches. This is exactly where the insulation tape I suggest you bring along should be used to tape over these dangerous switches and sockets.
Railings and Balconies
I have stayed in several hotels and condos where the balconies have been dangerously low. If you have a balcony keep your children away from it and remember stay clear yourself, more than a few foreigners fall over balconies in Thailand so many in fact that the term ‘Death Plunge From Balcony’ has come to be a euphemism for murder of foreigners by Thais. I don’t discount that more than a few people meet their end by being thrown over balconies, but I believe, the vast majority simply fall.
Likewise the hotel stairway railings and hand rail in shopping centres.
In January 2004 a small child fell to her death having squeezed through the railings at a Bangkok shopping centre!
Beaches and the Sea
Make sure your children always wear sandals while on the beach as there is far too often broken glass, either from bear and drink bottles or from washed up light bulbs that have been tossed into the sea by squid fishermen.
There are no really dangerous sea creatures in Thai seas, or rather they are not a significant risk I cannot recall ever hearing of a shark attack and while there will always be the odd jelly fish these are seldom the type that are dangerous.
You will occasionally find the sea full of very tiny jelly fish that have an extremely mild sting but I have been swimming while these are around and found half the people in the water didn’t even notice them.
Do be careful with tides and water currents, there are some beaches that are crossed with rip tides, the worst I have come across being just north of Rayong Resort (on the beach between Rayong Resort and Rayong town). The problem is there are no beach patrols in Thailand so if you do have a problem there will be nobody ready and trained to help.
With the exception of the top hotels you are unlikely to be staying anywhere that has any meaningful fire precautions. Soft furnishings will not be fire proofed. In budget hotels and guest houses there will be no fire escapes, or if there are they will almost certainly be locked. Materials of construction will be flammable and electrical wiring, if you’ll excuse my pun, will be shocking.
I suggest that whenever you check-in anywhere you make it a routine to check the fire escape route. Check the fire door is not locked, (it will be!).
Is there a fire extinguisher? Where is it located?
I suggest that you make this a routine game for your children when you check into new accommodation Locate the fire extinguisher, fire exit, fire alarm and muster points.
Tip: Talking through how you would escape a from the room if there is an emergency with your children is a great way of drilling for a fire. If you do this when you go to bed and the lights are out the darkness will help you all visualise the route you will take.
If there are bars on the windows how are you going to get out if there is a fire? (If the bars keep burglars out, they will keep you in).
It might seem over the top but I always look to see what I would force the window bars open with, usually a chair or some other such heavy object. In our home in Thailand we keep a heavy hammer behind the dressing table for the sole purpose of bashing out window bars in the event of a fire. Well, also in case I stay out too late at night, but we’ll not go into that.
Tip: If you are planning to stay in budget accommodation, take a smoke detector and some blue-tak or a piece of string with which to attach it to your ceiling. I know that sounds silly but remember a whole guesthouse burned down in Australia. A lot of good people died.
Think these things over before you need to. Thinking them out in front of a fire is too late. I know I have been there.
I have provided a list of things that older children might want to see and do during a holiday in Thailand in the attachments; this chapter deals with some of the other issues that can arise when traveling with older children to Thailand.
Let me come clean right up front, our children are only very young, five and eight at the time for writing this, so I have no direct personal experience of what it is like to be the parent of a teenager in Thailand. To get around this I spoke to parents who have children in their teens and are living in Thailand. I say this just to let you know this next bit is a ‘best advice I can find’ section, but it is advice from people who live with these issues.
Quite naturally older children may want a measure of independence, for this reason alone they do need some special consideration.
French parents of two teenagers in Thailand offered this insight:
Thailand is a remarkably complex place, on the one hand very liberal and on the other draconian. This dichotomy exhibits itself as myriad conflicting images; to an adolescent these can be extremely confusing.
If you are enjoying a cultural holiday of temples and hill tribes or relaxing on the beaches, then I think older children can and will have a wonderful time. Try a trip up north to Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son, visit the temples of Ayutthaya and Bangkok and perhaps follow this by relaxing on an island.
Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok have a huge amount to offer as destinations for family holidays, but it is perhaps the best advice to stay well away from the nightlife in these places.
Of course wherever you go there will be varying degrees of nightlife. The nightlife you will come across during a short holiday will most likely be mainstream but will fall into two categories: That for family entertainment and that for adults. Be aware that all but a very few Thai discotheques and nightclubs are also the working places of prostitutes and drug dealers.
I have to mention drugs here because of the special risks relating to drugs in Thailand, I also advise that we must all of us take note of these warnings.
Be absolutely aware of this: Drugs are illegal in Thailand. Carrying drugs is punishable by death or at the very least a long spell in prison and for foreigners, extreme expense.
If you have even the slightest suspicion that your child is using any drugs then you need to address this before you go to Thailand. My advice would be don’t take a child to Thailand if you even suspect they are taking drugs.
I'll also add that the Thai police frequently raid clubs and nightspots and then conducting urine tests on everyone inside, including foreigners.
In addition to the real health risks from drug usage, there are two common and particular problems with drug usage in Thailand; one arises from the draconian laws and the other from Thailand’s place in European youth culture.
Because the law prescribes drugs and allows for such extremely severe penalties, there arises an opportunity to make money by extortion. It works along the lines of; a foreigner is sold or given drugs (sometimes by another foreigner) and then is arrested by a plainclothes police officer; who just happens to have been watching the deal. Now the negotiation starts and the longer its lasts the more it costs.
Full Moon Parties (The FMP)
Full moon parties have become a must for a section of European youth, I have had the dubious pleasure of photographing one such party for a travel magazine. They say ‘youth is wasted on the young’ and it’s not for me to say how they should go about wasting it. But as a parent be aware that full moon parties are a huge venue for illegal drugs.
The main Full Moon Party beach is at Haad Rin Koh Phangnan, on Kho Samuii, so keep this in mind if you are on Samuii or one of the near by islands and your children suddenly develop an interest in going on a lone or unsupervised adventure.
Because my children are too young for them to want to go to Full Moon Parties I asked several expat parents of teenagers living in Thailand, they all agreed that they would not even consider letting their children go to the Full Moon Party.
I’m not saying don’t allow your older children to go to the Full Moon Party, that’s a matter you and your children need to agree on, but do be aware of the issues, and the very real risks.
Alcohol and Cigarettes
Thailand has laws in that prohibit the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18 and likewise cigarettes to people under the age of 16, but I have seen children as young as ten buying beer and cigarettes, just bear in mind that no one but you is going to question your child buying these things.
I have mentioned that the seedier side of life can be embarrassing for young people; more than that it be fatal.
Here’s an observation, I work for an international company who employ a large number of Thais, the vast majority of who are middle class and well educated. Most speak pretty midding English, or should I say, their technical English is excellent their colloquial English is a little lacking. Those who speak good colloquial English, not more than half a dozen out of several hundreds, speak with American or English accents because they were educated overseas.
Outside of work, if I meet a Thai (male or female) who speaks good colloquial English but who has never lived and studied in an English speaking country I assume they are either an “Operator” or a prostitute. I am seldom wrong. Believe me, some of these people look and behave like butter would not melt in their mouths.
The couple that proof read this guide for me made the following comment.
One third of Thai males have their first sexual experience with a prostitute, very few take the precaution of using condoms.
I can only add, let’s not just point at the Thais, a worrying number of young westerners get involved with the local prostitutes too, they perhaps might not be aware that they have done so.
The reason I mention these things is, a holiday romance with a Thai or another foreigner may be far more dangerous that it would seem.