You should not travel in the four southern provinces closest to the Malaysian border: Yala, Pattani, Songkhla, and Narathiwat. A low-grade and seemingly endless insurgency there, which began in 2004, has led to the deaths of more than 5,000, with thousands more injured. Although the insurgents originally targeted government institutions and officials, they have also bombed tourist centers, shopping malls, restaurants, trains, and the airport at Hat Yai. Fear permeates both Buddhist and Muslim communities in these southern provinces; often locals have no idea who is attacking or why. Witnesses to drive-bys and bombings are afraid to speak. Residents avoid driving at night, shops close early, and southern towns turn eerily quiet by sundown.
In spring 2010 political demonstrations in Bangkok resulted in the worst outbreaks of violence in decades. At this writing, the political situation remains tenuous, though day-to-day life in Thailand is generally not affected. Stay informed about local developments as best you can, and determine whether the possible dangers make you too uneasy to travel or stay in Thailand. The Bangkok Post (www.bangkokpost.com) and the Nation (www.nationmultimedia.com) are the best sources of local news.
Thailand is generally a safe country, and millions of foreigners visit each year without incident. That said, every year a few tourists are attacked or raped and murdered, generally either in Bangkok or in the southern beaches regions. Be careful at night, particularly in poorly lighted areas or on lonely beaches. Follow other normal precautions: watch your valuables in crowded areas and lock your hotel rooms securely. Thai crooks generally try to relieve you of cash through crimes of convenience or negligence, not violence.
Credit-card scams—from stealing your card to swiping it several times when you use it at stores—are a frequent problem. Don't leave your wallet behind when you go trekking, and make sure you keep an eye on the card when you give it to a salesperson.
A great little invention is the metal doorknob cup that can be found at Thai hardware shops. It covers your doorknob and locks it in place with a padlock, keeping anyone from using a spare key or even twisting the knob to get into your room. A good B300 investment, it's usable anywhere.
Guesthouses also offer commission for customers brought in by drivers, so be wary of anyone telling you that the place where you booked a room has burned down overnight or is suddenly full. Smile and be courteous, but be firm about where you want to go. If the driver doesn't immediately take you where you want to go, get out and get another taxi.
Watch out for scams while shopping. Bait and switch is common, as is trying to pass off reproductions as authentic antiques. True antiques and artifact vendors will gladly help you finish the necessary government paperwork to take your purchase home. Keep in mind that authentic Thai or other Southeast Asian antiques in Thailand are usually stunningly expensive. Thais, Chinese, Malaysians, and Singaporeans are all fanatical collectors themselves, and pay as much as any western buyer. If you think you're getting a super deal on a Thai antique, think twice.
Thailand offers many adventurous ways to spend your days, few of which include the safety provisions demanded in western countries. Motorcycle wrecks are a common way to cut a vacation tragically short.
Thailand's most famous danger comes from the ocean. The Asian tsunami hit the Andaman coast in December 2004 and killed more than 5,300 people in Thailand. Reports from the areas hit show that many people could have been saved if they had known how to recognize the signs of an impending tsunami, or if an evacuation plan had been in place. Tsunamis are rare and very unpredictable. It's highly unlikely you'll experience one, but it pays to be prepared. If you plan to stay in a beach resort, ask if they have a tsunami plan in place, and ask what it is. If you feel an earthquake, leave any waterside area. Pay attention to the ocean: if you see all of the water race off the beach, evacuate immediately and head for high ground. A tsunami could be only minutes away. Remember, a tsunami is a series of waves that could go on for hours. Do not assume it is over after the first wave.
Thai beaches almost never have lifeguards, but that doesn't mean they don't have undertows or other dangers.
Foreign women in Thailand get quite a few stares, and Thai women as often as Thai men will be eager to chat and become your friend. Although there's no doubt that attitudes are changing, traditional Thai women dress and act modestly, so loud or overly confident behavior from a foreign woman can be a shock to both men and women alike. It's also worth noting that Thai men often see foreign women as something exotic. If you're being subjected to unwelcome attention, be firm, but try to stay calm—"losing face" is a big concern among Thai men, and embarrassing them (even if it's deserved) can have ugly repercussions.
U.S. Department of State (www.travel.state.gov.)
Transportation Security Administration (www.tsa.gov.)