Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the fifth of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Thailand. Despite the many challenges and issues it has faced in 2016, Thailand remains a popular travel destination.

Authority and freedoms

The death of King Bhumibol and the planned coronation of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has placed extra pressure on the country’s strict lese-majeste laws. Thailand’s police chief said ‘insulting the monarchy would not be tolerated‘. The military junta has cracked down on freedom of speech, including social media posts and internet freedoms. Eight people were charged for a Facebook post mocking the junta’s leader and a country singer was jailed for seven year after insulting the monarchy.

Bombings and terrorism

Earlier this week police arrested three men ‘suspected of planning bomb attacks at tourist suites in the capital, Bangkok, and nearby provinces‘. In early August, 11 bombs exploded across five provinces in one day. There has been a wave of bombings before and after that day – Yala (July), Thani and Yala (August), Pattani (August)Narathiwat (September), and Narathiwat and Pattani (November).

Background risks

In addition to the terror threat, zika has been working its way across the country, and there remain the recurring issues such as crime, road traffic accidents and other accidents.

In light of this, we asked several experts what risks visitors might face and what they can do to mitigate those risks – essential reading if you are heading in that direction!

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Thailand from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Global Rescue

Email: press@globalrescue.com
Website: https://www.globalrescue.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobalRescue
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/global-rescue-llc

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of integrated health, safety and travel risk management services. Since 2004, the firm has pioneered the delivery of medical, rescue and evacuation services to some of the earth’s most difficult places.

How safe is it to visit Thailand?

Most visits to Thailand occur without major security concerns or issues. All travel to Thailand can proceed with a caveat that travel to destinations in southern Thailand, including to the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border, will require closer review and scrutiny of travel plans due to high levels of ongoing violence in these regions. Most Western governments, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and the US, advise against travel to these areas, as bombings and violent attacks by Muslim insurgents fighting for the establishment of a separate state are common. The ongoing unrest, which shows no sign of abating, has resulted in more than 6,000 deaths since 2004.

Additionally, continual political unrest and the recent passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej have resulted in increased security measures and a tightening of government control across the country. In May 2014, a former army chief staged a military coup and established a junta, which has remained in power to date. Since April 2015, Thailand has been placed under Article 44 of the interim constitution, which allows the military government to retain broad powers, including powers to issue executive orders in response to “threats to national security or the monarchy.” Security forces can thus make arrests without court warrant and detain people without charge, among other privileges. These powers have been amplified following recent passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 13 October. Civil unrest is not uncommon in Thailand and security forces have previously used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protesters. Violent clashes and grenade attacks also occurred during some of these events in the past.

 What are the biggest risks?

Petty crime and crimes of opportunity are the most common concerns for travelers in Thailand, particularly in major tourist areas such as Bangkok and Phuket. Petty crime—such as bag slashing and pickpocketing—is common in major tourist areas (such as Khao San Road in Bangkok), crowded markets (such as Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok or the Walking Street and Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai), public transport hubs, and in vehicles such as tuk-tuks (motorized three-wheel vehicles) in Bangkok.

There is a threat from terrorism in Thailand. Bomb and grenade attacks have indiscriminately targeted places visited by foreigners in the past year. Recently, on 11, 12 and 14 August 2016, four people were killed and over 30 were injured following multiple incidents involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), arson, and other suspicious events across Thailand, including in destinations frequented by tourists (Hua Hin, Patong Beach and Loma Park in Phuket, Phang Nga, Trang, and Surat Thani). It remains unclear as to whether the attacks in the various locations were related, or whether they have any connection to the long-running insurgency in Thailand’s deep south. There have also been attacks in the past in the main cities of Thailand, including in Bangkok in 2015 and 2012, in Koh Samui in 2015, and in Chiang Mai in 2010. Although no international terrorist groups are known to operate within the country, transnational terrorist elements have been known to pass through or visit Thailand with relative ease. Several foiled bombings have been reported in recent years.

What are the overlooked risks?

The most overlooked risks of travel to Thailand include scams, corruption, and injury due to accidents. Gem scams are common in Thailand and involve hustlers ushering tourists to “one day only gem sales,” and attempt to persuade the victim that the available gems can be sold for a large profit. Such gems are, in fact, nearly worthless. Often, tuk-tuk drivers do not take tourists to their desired destination but instead to a location where the driver makes commission, such as a suit store. Another more severe scam involves rented vehicles, such as motorcycles or jet-skis, where the scammers claim that the renter is responsible for the theft of or damage to the vehicle (sometimes as a result of a staged “accident”), and if the renter refuses to pay compensation, the scammers intimidate the renter and confiscate their passport.

Travelers should be aware that police corruption is rife in Thailand. It has been reported that officials may expect, request, or demand illegitimate payments from foreigners for real or imaginary violations of local law or for providing routine services.

Additionally, various vehicular accidents present a risk to travelers in Thailand. There is an elevated risk of traffic accidents due to underdeveloped roads and poor driving practices. Accidents involving jet-skis, speedboats, bungee jumping, zip-lining, and other adventure activities are not uncommon due to poor safety standards and little regulation.

How should people mitigate this?

The easiest way to mitigate the risk of becoming the victim of a crime is to do research prior to departure. Spending some time on the internet, contacting your local embassy, and speaking with travelers who have traveled to Thailand previously will give you an idea of the current criminal trends and how to avoid them, as well as identifying areas that should be avoided. Global Rescue members can also contact the Security Operations department for an updated intelligence brief.

Once on the ground, it is important to have a good communications plan in case of emergency or a large scale event. Alternate means of communicating with local authorities and worried parties back home is essential, and will give everyone piece of mind knowing these plans are in place.

Lastly, keeping up to date with local events throughout the trip is important to remember.   Looking at local media each morning or visiting your embassy’s website/twitter feed can alert you to demonstrations, large crowds, or recent acts of violence which should be avoided.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Thailand have in place? What should employees ask for?

To support duty of care responsibilities, organizations must know where their travelers are and understand and disclose the potential travel risks they may encounter. When sending travelers to Thailand, organizations must provide travelers with access to necessary information, resources, and reasonable care to ensure their health, safety, and security. Employers should inform employees of the security and health environment they are entering prior to travel.

Employees should be briefed on their travel locations and should be informed of their organization’s travel risk management and emergency protocols, prior to travel. In the case of a mass causality event, traditional means of communication can become incapacitated. Employers and employees should have a predetermined way to communicate in the event phones and text messaging is unavailable.

Additionally, employers should support their employees by working with a trusted travel risk management provider to ensure all lodging and in-country transportation resources have been properly vetted.

image-thailand-by-harvey-enrile-on-unsplash

Image, Thailand by Harvey Enrile on Unsplash

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Nat Guillou at Stirling Assynt

Email : info@stirlingassynt.com
Website: https://www.stirlingassynt.com/
Twitter: @stirlingassynt

Stirling Assynt is a global business intelligence and country risk management network headquartered in London and run by a team of professionals with significant commercial and government sector expertise in higher-risk countries. Our value is in giving reasoned assessments of threats and explaining the implications of political and terrorist developments. The service we provide allows our clients to be better informed and thus able to address complex challenges in difficult regions, and our predictions are consistently proved to be credible and accurate.

How safe is it to visit Thailand?

Thailand is generally a safe country to visit and most visits are trouble-free.

That said, the country is in the midst of significant political turbulence. On 22 May 2014, the Royal Thai Army, under the leadership of General Prayut Chan-o-Cha – who now serves concurrently as head of the ruling military junta and as Prime Minister – seized power through a coup. A new Constitution, which had been proposed by the junta, was also approved by the public via a referendum on 10 August 2016, despite widespread criticism from political parties. This will allow the junta to appoint all 250 members of the Upper House of Parliament, which will ensure the Army’s control over the appointment of the Prime Minister and over the country’s political system, and consequently political tensions will persist.

However, the death of the highly popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej in mid-October means that there is unlikely to be any widespread civil unrest during the year-long national mourning period that commenced upon his death.

Separately, a series of bomb blasts and fires on 11-12 August killed at least four people and injured more than 35 across eight popular holiday destinations in southern Thailand including Phuket, Krabi and Hua Hin. The likely culprits were Muslim separatists and further sporadic attacks on tourist destinations are likely.

Nonetheless, Thailand remains a generally safe destination for tourists. The main risk to visitors is from pretty crime, such as opportunistic thefts of wallets, valuables and passports.

What are the biggest risks?

The main risk affecting most tourists is petty crime.

However, there is also potential for visitors to become victims of more serious violence.

The August blasts were likely carried out by Muslim separatists, who have fought an insurgency in the country’s South for many years. Prior to these bombings, separatists had almost entirely restricted their activities to the southernmost provinces of Nrarthiwat, Pattani and Yala, with a small number of attacks in Songkhla. Martial law has been imposed in these areas since 2006 and non-essential travel is strongly inadvisable. These recent attacks may therefore represent a step-change in the tactics of separatist militants, who could mount larger and more sophisticated attacks in areas popular with tourists.

The country’s political environment also remains fluid, and while significant unrest is unlikely it is possible that some spontaneous protests may arise, which could result in clashes with the security forces. Travellers should therefore avoid all protests. In addition, visitors to Thailand should be aware that criticising the coup is illegal, and it is therefore extremely unwise to make any public statements regarding the matter or to engage in any overt political discussions. Lèse-majesté – the crime of insulting the Monarchy or the Royal Family – is also illegal. This is especially significant during the current period of national mourning. Breaching this law can lead to a jail sentence of up to fifteen years. Additionally, it is possible that any comments perceived as insulting to the Royal Family could trigger hostile reactions from locals.

Along with the possibility of low-level activity such as pickpocketing and ATM fraud, there have also been incidents of tourists becoming victims of assault and sexual violence, as shown by the killings of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014. Such risks are particularly heightened in and around tourist-orientated bars and at full moon parties, where recurrent incidents of drink-spiking are also reported to have taken place. Harsh penalties for possession of drugs are also in effect despite the widespread availability of such substances in tourist areas, and foreign visitors caught with such banned substances run the risk of substantial prison sentences.

Transport safety is a particular issue, with the World Health Organisation reporting 14,059 confirmed deaths in road traffic accidents in 2012. There are laws against speeding and drink-driving, as well as a requirement to wear seatbelts and helmets if riding a motorcycle, but such rules are flouted routinely. There are also less frequent and isolated incidents involving sea transport, sometimes involving the sinking of vessels.

How should people mitigate this?

Militant attacks are inherently hard to predict, and the authorities will issue periodic warnings regarding any shifts in the level of threat and so visitors in the country should be aware of security announcements by local authorities. Travellers are also strongly advised to check the advice of their national foreign ministry which should explain the nature of any risks and the areas to avoid. Regular media monitoring, including on social media sites, is also recommended as well as vigilance when in any crowded areas.

Furthermore, it is strongly advised that foreign visitors avoid any public demonstrations and distance themselves immediately from any civil unrest that arises. Discussions of potentially sensitive political topics should be avoided. Respectful behavior towards the monarchy, the authorities and Buddhist sites, practices and symbols is advised at all times. The Thai Tourist Authority has also given advice regarding appropriate public conduct during the year of mourning which is set out here, and this should be closely followed.

Caution is also advised when visiting nightspots, and care should be taken not to leave drinks unattended.

Concerns regarding transport are best addressed by using reputable service providers and booking any journeys in advance.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Thailand have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employers should ensure that staff are provided with pre-travel briefings, particularly regarding the current political situation. It is additionally prudent for employers to make staff aware of the harsh penalties for those who overstay their visa period in Thailand, as even inadvertent oversights in this regard can see individuals deported and banned from returning to the country for extended periods. Employees should request information regarding company procedures in the event that they are the victim of a crime or an attack occurs, and should ensure that the company is aware of their travel itineraries and contact details in case of an emergency. Employees should also make travellers aware of the threat of crime, including those associated with the country’s nightlife.

thailand-by-paul-morris-on-unsplash

Thailand by Paul Morris on Unsplash

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Travel Operative

Email: editor@traveloperative.com
Website: www.traveloperative.com
Twitter: @travel_ops

The Travel Operative is a website produced by people who have spent many years working behind the scenes in the security domain. Together with their extensive travel experiences, they provide free detailed analysis of location-specific threats and security insights for travellers.

How safe is it to visit Thailand?

Thailand is a diverse country and travel risk varies significantly with location. Northern provinces, including Chiang Mai are generally safe for leisure and business travellers. In contrast, the southern provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat are extremely volatile due to the ongoing insurgency. Southern separatists have recently stepped up efforts to destabilise the government and threaten security across the nation.

Bangkok is generally safe for most travellers and safety varies with traveller risk profile. Those visiting night-time entertainment zones in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket may be targeted by organised criminals who are known to target tourists through various means such as drink-spiking. More adventurous tourists may be at risk due to the lower safety standards. Thailand is experiencing ongoing transmission of the Zika virus which will impact visitors who are pregnant or considering to have a baby.

A trip to Thailand can be safe and enjoyable if major risks are considered and addressed through adequate travel planning.

What are the biggest risks?

The coordinated series of bombings in August revealed the extensive reach of terror groups operating in Thailand. While the number of casualties was small, the relative ease of sourcing explosives, distributing and planting devices at tourist hot spots undetected is of significant concern. In late November 2016 Thai police arrested three men suspected of planning bomb attacks at tourist sites in Bangkok. The suspects had ties to the insurgency in the south of the country.

We fear that police do not have the capability to deter further attacks and protect tourists. The August bombings and subsequent lack of progress with the police investigation showed that local authorities were on the back foot. As a result, we believe the biggest single threat is terrorism and random acts of violence towards tourists. Bangkok and popular resorts in Hua Hin, Pattaya and Phuket are likely to be targeted by insurgent threat groups in future.

(For more information please read Threat to Thailand which covers the August attacks in more detail.)

What are the overlooked risks?

Thailand is a maritime nation and many travellers will probably require sea transportation during their stay. Safety standards are often inadequate due to lack of regular maintenance, limited or no safety equipment and passenger overloading. There have been reports of passenger overloading on ferries servicing the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. In September 2016, an overloaded ferry capsized resulting in 13 deaths. Similarly, vessels operating in  southern island archipelagos, such as the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, are often overloaded and not fitted with proper lifesaving equipment.

How should people mitigate this?

We encourage all travellers to maintain their awareness through news outlets and government travel services prior to travel. If possible, avoid public gatherings and there seems to be a correlation between days of national significance and attacks. Consider purchasing flexible tickets to allow for last minute itinerary changes. Use trusted and reputable sea and land transport providers.

Successful targeting of large hotel chains is probably beyond the capability of local terrorist groups. However, you may reduce your exposure to the terror threat, by selecting a less popular accommodation option. Outlying beachside resorts and boutique hotels in Khao Lak and Krabi are good examples. Minimise time spent at popular tourist markets, stalls and bars particularly at night. Trust your instincts if something does not feel right and always remember to take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers terrorism events.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Thailand have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employees should always confirm that their employer has taken out comprehensive travel insurance. Destinations such as Thailand warrant a complete travel management package which should include pre-travel briefings, itinerary advice, documented traveller profile with emergency contact details and medical history. Employees should be provided with 24/7 on call support during travel. Finally, ensure that your travel management company has established arrangements with leading security and medical providers that can be called upon in the event of an incident.

phang-nga-thailand-by-yap-chin-kuan-on-unsplash

Phang-nga, Thailand by Yap Chin Kuan on Unsplash

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Stuart Birch, Director at Griffin Birch

Email: stuart@griffinbirch.com
Website: www.griffinbirch.com
Twitter: @Griffin_Birch

Griffin Birch helps organisations with their employee safety overseas, focusing on the medical, security, and consular risks for business travel and assignment. In this changing world, Griffin Birch can help your organisation to assess and quantify the risks you and your people face, strategically plan to mitigate them, evaluate how existing services and insurances can be used more effectively, and dovetail this into your existing contractual structure.

How safe is it to visit Thailand?

Once the paradise destination for Western tourists, Thailand has had some troubled years recently, with political instability, public bombings, civil unrest, the threat of medical epidemic, and now a regime change through the sad death of their King back in October of 2016.

It is important for those with historical views on Thailand to understand that it is now considered a risky place to visit, and careful preparation should be employed before committing to travel.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against travel within the region bordering Malaysia, but with any diplomatic content it’s important to seek more specific guidance from global assistance providers, that can be tailored to your objectives and itinerary.

What are the biggest risks?

There is a high risk of terrorism and security threat, not only in the southern provinces due to religious tension, but across all tourist locations. There have been explosions across the country, targeting tourists, for many months, and so travellers to the area for the purposes of tourism should carefully consider their desire/risk equation.

This is exacerbated by the recent death of the Thai King, the subsequent mourning period of one year, and the ascension of the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Some of the historically-tolerated behaviours shown by Western tourists may now be considered with far less tolerance during the next twelve months, and a more wary and respectful attitude seems a sensible approach, in order to avoid causing offense, or worse.

The cultural preparedness requirements for the region have dramatically increased in the past year, as the small but material tide of anti-tourist sentiment grows. Whilst this may be limited to the religious fervour of the few, it is impossible to predict the whereabouts of its effect, and so vigilance is required.

What are the overlooked risks?

Thailand has been classified as a high risk for the Zika virus. Stringent use of anti-bite precautions should be employed. Of course, where Zika is a threat, so too are the other mosquito-borne illnesses such as Malaria, and the entire country is considered a risk.

A further risk to consider is the strict lese-majeste rule within Thailand, which deems illegal any criticism of the royal family. Whilst it would be an unfortunate occurrence indeed for a tourist or business traveller to the region to be considered in breach of this rule, nevertheless travellers should show cultural empathy and consider this before sharing any political views, including their posts on social media.

As is often the case, travellers should also consider the risks of access to clean water and of road-traffic accidents. Both are material risks across all of the country.

How should people mitigate this?

The default position on travel to Thailand should be to consider postponing or cancelling it, unless absolutely necessary.

Like all travel, much risk can be mitigated by keen local and regional knowledge. So if the risk/reward equation of your travel plans impels you to travel to Thailand, consider using the services of a global assistance provider for both preparation and ‘in-situ’ support.

I believe the cultural-awareness element of travel to Thailand is not to be underestimated, as the attitude towards foreign travellers “on-the-ground” has changed considerably in only a few years. We are yet to see the nation’s direction under its new ruling authority, and until the effects are understood a higher awareness towards the feelings of the local populace is imperative. Many services are available to improve your cultural awareness level.

What Duty of Care provisions should employers have in place? What should employees ask for?

Before travel:

  • Correct vaccinations and anti-bite precautions.
  • Cultural awareness training.
  • Security alerts, tailored to your itinerary and risk profile.
  • Booking and vetting of all hotels, taxis, meeting facilities, etc. to a suitable standard.

In-country:

  • Details of airport car driver to be provided to employee beforehand.
  • Access to a global assistance service.
  • Travel tracking – consider providing employees with a method of ‘checking in’ if a crisis arises.
  • Standard of medical care varies throughout the country. Employees should be provided with intelligence on, and access to, the international-standard hospitals within some of the cities.
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