Thailand – Jaime Moo-Young (2006)

Jaime Moo-Young studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University. Jaime is spending a year in Bangkok, Thailand studying barriers to health care services among the poor. Jaime received a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Jaime’s travel safety tips:

Transportation Safety

  • In Bangkok, the easiest and most convenient modes of transportation are the Sky Train (BTS), the subway (MRT), and taxis. These are all very safe.
  • For taxis, make sure to choose cabs that say “Taxi-Meter” on the top. Although crimes involving taxi drivers and passengers are uncommon, females should be wary of taking taxis home alone late at night. Since some cab drivers do not speak any English, it’s a good idea to have the address/phone number of your destination available, written out in both Thai and English, in order to avoid getting lost in an unfamiliar area.
  • Tuk-tuks are like mini, open-sided taxis that can take you shorter distances and bypass some of the heavier traffic. They’re reasonably safe if taken on a side road for a short distance, but I’d advise against taking them on the highway or picking one up in a very congested area, as the exhaust fumes from heavy traffic are very unpleasant and unhealthy.
  • In all parts of Thailand, motorcycle taxis are a very common way to travel, especially for short distances and during heavy traffic. Try to avoid these whenever possible, as motorcycle accidents are still the leading cause of injury-induced morbidity and mortality in Thailand. If you are in a rural area where motorcycle is the only legitimate means of transportation, make sure to wear a helmet, agree on a price beforehand, and don’t be afraid to tell the driver to stop if you feel unsafe and want to get off. Travelers may also rent motorcycles themselves in certain areas, especially the more touristy ones. Use your discretion when doing this, as motorcycle injuries among Thais and foreigners alike remain very common.
  • As a pedestrian, be very careful when crossing the street, especially in very busy areas such as Bangkok. Whenever possible, use the elevated crossing bridges (“flyovers”) that are available along most busy roads. Crossing at a designated crosswalk is not a guarantee of safety; look both ways thoroughly before venturing across, even if you supposedly have the right of way. When looking out for oncoming traffic, remember that Thais drive on the left side of the road.
  • Unlike in the US , traffic lights and traffic signals are not taken as an absolute in Thailand. It’s not uncommon for vehicles to run red lights or switch lanes erratically, especially when traffic is the most congested. Keep this in mind, especially when crossing intersections.
  • In Bangkok, public buses are the cheapest and most common form of commuter transportation among Thais. They are quite safe, and foreigners may use them as well if they can become acquainted with the various routes and can speak some basic Thai in order to clarify directions/destination.
  • For travel between provinces, there are several private and government coach bus companies that provide safe, reliable transportation. If you purchase your ticket at one of the recognized provincial bus stations, you can feel safe knowing that you’re using a legitimate company. In the past, there were reports of drivers of nighttime buses taking drugs in order to stay awake overnight. Nowadays, this practice is less common, and most companies require 2 drivers per overnight shift who can take turns, thus eliminating the need for drivers to pull all-nighters. If you feel uneasy about this, it never hurts to double-check that there are 2 drivers on your particular tour bus. Or, you can opt to take a daytime bus instead of an overnight one. Be careful of overcrowding and overbooking during the most travel-heavy times of year, such as New Year’s and the Songkran Festival (in mid-April); it’s not a bad idea to avoid road travel altogether during these holidays anyway.

Personal Safety

  • Overall, Thailand is a very safe country, but you should always exercise the same precautions that you would in any large city. Especially in large cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, keep your money and passport on your body or in a securely-closed bag that you can keep your eye on, and watch out for pickpockets.
  • Especially in touristy areas (like the Grand Palace in Bangkok), be wary of “tuk-tuk/taxi scams,” where a driver offers to take you to a tourist site for a certain price. They often will stop off at a jewelry store, even if you insist you are not interested, and pressure you to buy something there. This is because they have received a commission from the store for taking you there. While personal safety is not typically at risk in these scams, you may get ripped off or feel harassed. In general, always have a specific destination in mind when hailing a tuk-tuk or cab, and feel free to get out if you feel the driver is giving you the runaround.
  • Especially if you are female, don’t walk around alone at night, avoid dark/deserted areas, and try to tell a friend where you are going and when to expect you back home.
  • Lock your doors and windows, especially at night and when leaving your apartment or guesthouse, as robberies are not uncommon. If staying in a reputable guesthouse or hotel, inquire whether there is a safety box at the front desk for valuables. If you feel uncertain about the legitimacy of the guesthouse, it’s better to keep your valuables on your person or locked up and within your sight at all times.
  • Since the government coup in September 2006, violence has been kept to a minimum, but there have been occasional bombings around Bangkok and other provinces since January 2007. Try to stay clear of any political protests or crowded/touristy areas that may be at risk for bombing during festive occasions.
  • Deadly bombings by Muslim insurgents in the southernmost provinces (Yala, Songkla, Patani, and Narathiwat), have become almost a daily occurrence in the past couple of years. Avoid traveling to these areas whenever possible, and be aware of travel advisories.