A little while ago a friend of mine, who was interested in moving his wife and two kids abroad for a year and who was considering Thailand asked me, “Is it safe?”
I didn’t quite know how to answer that fairly over a few quick messages and I think he may have changed his mind about coming but I did give it some thought and here is my response…
Should I Worry About Crime?
I have never gotten myself into trouble in Thailand that wasn’t of my own creation. I have never been robbed. I have never been assaulted. I have never been in a situation where either of those events were even a concern of mine. I have never been in a position or place that I felt I could not handle or should not be.
Being the victim of crime is not a huge worry of mine; it happens of course but Thailand also sees over 30 million visitors a year and a lot of the crime against foreigners tends to happen in areas where (primarily foreign) criminal mafias congregate; Pattaya in Chonburi, Patong in Phuket and the red light districts of Bangkok. Stay away from criminals and it’s amazing how little crime you have to deal with.
The biggest concern I had regarding safety for my friend and his family would be on the roads; they take some adjusting to when coming from Canada. The number of fatalities per 100,000 people due to road accidents in Canada is 6/100,000. In Thailand that number jumps to 36/100,000. Now, that doesn’t seem like a huge slice of the pie until you consider all the possible ways there are for people to die. It’s a big percentage, usually in the top 5 in the world.
But once I adapted to the driving style I was fine. I haven’t crashed in two and a half years and that was a small one really. The first one was a doozie though; 6 fractured vertebrae and a snapped right clavicle. The key to that accident was that, not only was I adjusting to a very different driving style than I was used to, but I was doing so on a vehicle of a type I had never driven before – a motorbike
I would advise against learning to drive a bike here if you’ve never been on one before. Motorbikes are the absolute best way to get around and I’m definitely not discouraging people from driving them when they’re here. But, if you plan to, just rent one in your city and drive around an empty parking lot for an hour or two. Learn with a passenger on the back if you’re planning on doubling up to get used to the way the weight handles differently. It will be one less adjustment to make once you’re here.
Take the Train
In terms of long distance travel, Thailand is well serviced by rail so you don’t even have to go on the roads if you don’t want to. The train is a bit slower than the bus usually but it’s a good, inexpensive and very safe way of getting around Thailand. You also get to see the countryside and meet local people. The train is the best way to get around in Thailand.
Thailand is also serviced by several inexpensive airlines with extremely good coverage if you want to stay off the roads but get around the country quickly. A flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok costs roughly $49USD and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes, while the bus or train will take 10-12 hours.
In the south boats tend to be the source of a lot of consternation among westerners as there is always a story of a speedboat crashing or a tour boat sinking off Phuket or in the Gulf. Yes these accidents do occur but the volume of boats on the water is incredibly high – accidents are bound to occur.
But I’ve been out on the water many times in vessels of all shapes and sizes with pilots from kids to frail old men and have never worried once for my safety. If you are concerned about safety on the water I would avoid speedboats as they tend to have the highest amounts of crashes and when they do crash it’s obviously at very high speed. The large ferries that operate the Gulf and Andaman Sea are ideal to get around on.
The big thing is that people have different tolerances for risk and different factors to consider when assessing that risk. Advising someone who is traveling alone as to what is safe versus someone who would be bringing their family with them is a tricky business. I have done things in Thailand that I would have done differently or not at all with my nieces in tow. But, if I can advise one thing when it comes to personal safety abroad is, trust your gut; don’t operate out of fear – the world really isn’t out to get you and danger isn’t necessarily lurking behind every corner – but if you feel as though you are in a situation that you can’t handle or don’t understand, walk away.
Like I said, in Thailand the only trouble I’ve ever gotten into has been of my own creation. Stay within your comfort zone and if something doesn’t feel right, back away; if the guy driving the boat is going too fast, ask him to slow down. Stay off the roads if it’s a concern; take the train or fly and take the large ferries when getting around on the water with your family. Thai people are gracious hosts. I wouldn’t live here if they weren’t or if I felt as though I was in danger in any way.