Thailand is generally a safe country to visit, but it's smart to exercise caution, especially when it comes to dealing with strangers (both Thai and foreigners) and travelling alone.
Assault of travellers is relatively rare in Thailand, but it does happen. Causing a Thai to ‘lose face’ (feel public embarrassment or humiliation) can sometimes elicit an inexplicably strong and violent reaction. Often alcohol is the number-one contributor to bad choices and worse outcomes.
Thailand now enjoys friendly relations with its neighbours, and most land borders are fully functional passages for goods and people. However, the ongoing violence in the Deep South has made the crossing at Sungai Kolok into Malaysia dangerous, and most Muslim-majority provinces (Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla) should be avoided by casual visitors.
Check with your government’s foreign ministry for current travel warnings.
Belying Thailand's anything-goes atmosphere are strict punishments for possession and trafficking of drugs, which are not relaxed for foreigners. It is illegal to buy, sell or possess opium, heroin, amphetamines, hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana. Possession of drugs can result in at least one year or more of prison time. Drug smuggling – defined as attempting to cross a border with drugs in your possession – carries considerably higher sanctions, including the death penalty.
Thais can be so friendly and laid-back that some visitors are lulled into a false sense of security, making them vulnerable to scams of all kinds. Bangkok is especially good at long, involved frauds that dupe travellers into thinking they’ve made a friend and are getting a bargain, when in fact they are getting ripped off.
All offers of free shopping or sightseeing help from strangers should be ignored. They will invariably take a commission from your purchases.
Exercise diligence when it comes to your personal belongings. Ensure your room is securely locked and carry your most important effects (passport, money, credit cards) on your person. Take care when leaving valuables in hotel safes.
Follow the same practice when you’re travelling. A locked bag will not prevent theft on a long-haul bus.
To avoid losing all of your travel money in an instant, use a credit card that is not directly linked to your bank account so that the operator doesn’t have access to immediate funds.
Touting is a long tradition in Asia, and while Thailand doesn’t have as many touts as, say, India, it has its share. In Bangkok, túk-túk drivers and other new 'friends' often take new arrivals on city tours. These almost always end up in high-pressure sales situations at silk, jewellery or handicraft shops.
Touts also steer customers to certain guesthouses that pay a commission. Travel agencies are notorious for talking newly arrived tourists into staying at inconveniently located, overpriced hotels thanks to commissions.
Some travel agencies masquerade as TAT, the government-funded tourist information office.
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
US State Department (www.travel.state.gov/traveladvisories)