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Country Reports

Thailand Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

The Kingdom of Thailand (population 68 million) has become a popular tourist destination over the past few decades, welcoming nearly 32 million visitors in 2016 (making it the second most popular tourist destination in Asia behind China, and 11th most popular tourist destination worldwide). However, foreign visitors should be aware of the national political context - which has complicated in the past fifteen years - and the security situation in the south (violent separatist insurrections).

AREAS TO AVOID

Most Western governments advise against all travel to the extreme south due to ongoing ethno-religious insurrections in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces. Terrorist attacks occur regularly (e.g. an attack on a Pattani mall on May 9, 2017).

Most Western governments advise against all nonessential travel to the Cambodian and Burmese border regions. Cambodia and Thailand are involved in a decades-long unresolved dispute over two temples located at the border (see: Preah Vihear temple). Armed troops are present and there is a heightened risk of violent clashes. Hostilities in February 2011 resulted in civilian and military fatalities on both sides. The Burmese border experiences armed clashes between military, drug traffickers, and armed militias. Any nonessential travel is therefore not recommended.

The rest of the country is relatively safe.

POLITICS

Thailand plunged into mourning on October 14, 2016, following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the age of 88 on October 13. Bhumibol was the world's longest serving monarch (70 years), loved by his people, and portrayed by the palace as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil, coups, and violent unrest. The nation is observing an official mourning period through October 14, 2017. Bhumibol is succeeded by his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn (age 64) who was crowned the new monarch in December 2016; his popularity and authority remains to be consolidated.  

As of mid-2017, the domestic political environment has calmed somewhat in the past three years after a (non-violent) military coup led by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) took place in 2014. When military junta took power, the 2006 constitution was voided and martial law was instituted. Marital law was later lifted on April 1, 2015, but similar measures replaced it: personal liberties, the right to protest and to assemble, and the right to criticize the ruling authorities remains significantly restricted.

On August 7, 2016, the military regime organized a constitutional referendum after drafting a text that would become Thailand's 20th constitution and replace the one scrapped after the 2014 military coup. The NCPO-written constitution was approved by the population with over 94 percent of the vote (despite unofficial tallies showing only 61 percent) and a turnout that averaged 55 percent (despite a target figure of 80 percent). The low turnout and the forceful repression that preceded the vote (all political protests and demonstrations were banned and media faced severe restrictions) likely undermined the legitimacy of the result for many citizens and may have an impact on the popularity of the junta in the medium-term.

Supporters of the military junta claim the newly approved constitution will usher in a period of political stability and solve almost two decades of political division, while critics argue the charter will cement the military's role in civilian politics and constrain the opposition.

The NCPO is set to hold legislative elections in 2018.

TERRORISM and POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Despite the current calmer social climate and restoration of public order, Thailand is still under the threat of political violence. Although significant unrest or violence was not expected following the referendum, a series of explosions perpetrated by opponents of the military regime occurred on August 11-12, 2016, in several coastal resorts in Thailand's South region. Four people died and dozens were injured in blasts perpetrated in Patong (Phuket Island), Trang, Hua Hin, Surat Thani, Bang Niang, Krabi, and Nakhon Si Thammarat. None of these incidents were linked to Islamic terrorism.

On May 22, 2017, on the third anniversary of General-Prime Minister Prayuth's martial regime, a bomb exploded in a military hospital in Bangkok, resulting in two dozen wounded in the unclaimed attack.

Additionally, several Thai regions remain risky due to an ongoing ethno-religious insurrection led by separatists in the south. As a result, travelers are advised against visiting the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla, where violence, attacks, and assassinations continue to take place daily (more than 5000 deaths since January 2004). These four provinces have been placed in a state of emergency.

The northwest districts that border Myanmar (Mae Fah Luang district in Chiang Rai province, as well as the Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai province) should also be avoided due to ongoing clashes between the Burmese army and Shan armed ethnic groups.

Occasional bomb and grenade attacks take place in Thailand, such as the bomb attack in central Bangkok on the evening of August 17, 2015, that left 20 dead (both Thai and foreign nationals) and over 100 wounded.

CRIME

Crime rates are considered average by most Western governments across Thailand and deemed slightly higher in urban areas.

Foreigners should be vigilant in Bangkok as financially-motivated street crime is a concern. Petty theft, pickpocketing, and tourism fraud are the most reported crimes, especially in Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market, on Khao San Road, and in other crowded areas. Credit card fraud regularly occurs; never lose sight of your bank card when making payments.

More violent crimes, including assault, rape, and murder rarely target foreigners. Nonetheless, if such crimes occur, they tend to take place when the victim has been drinking, especially in tourist areas such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and coastal resorts in southern Thailand, including Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Krabi. The Full Moon Party on Phangan Island, to which hundreds of foreigners take part, is particularly dangerous for individuals finding themselves inadvertently separated from their traveling companions.

NATURAL RISKS

Thailand is prone to natural disasters; the devastating December 2004 tsunami that hit the country resulted in 5400 deaths nationwide. Since then, Thai authorities have introduced warning systems and shelters in the event of a tsunami. Nationwide tsunami drills take place on a regular basis.

The kingdom is also prone to seismic activity. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake (on the Richter scale) with an epicenter in Laos struck on May 16, 2007, and was felt all the way to Bangkok.

The monsoon (rainy) season spans from April to October. Tropical storms and flooding inflict the country on a yearly basis. The country was struck with the most serious flooding seen in half a century between July 2011 and January 2012: 800 people were killed, and 14 million people in 65 out of 77 provinces were affected; Bangkok and its environs were paralyzed for several weeks.

TRANSPORTATION

Traveling by car can prove a challenge in Thailand, especially in Bangkok. Although vehicles drive on the left side of the road, many motorcyclists drive illegally on the right or use sidewalks to bypass congested traffic. Safety is the primary concern on Bangkok's roads, filled by a mixture of motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and tuk-tuks. Drivers are undisciplined and often do not give way to emergency vehicles, leading to emergency services struggling to reach scenes of accidents on time.

Between April and November, certain rail lines can be interrupted due to seasonal rainfall. The rail network in Thailand is aging in general, and the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route is subject to derailments.

Attention should be paid to the respect recurring danger observed in speedboats. Remember to check to see if there are sufficient life jackets on board. Do not board precarious or overloaded boats.

The bus line between Surat Thani and Bangkok is frequently targeted by pickpockets, and thefts of wallets and passports are regularly reported. Thieves target hand luggage while individuals are asleep. Be vigilant and keep your luggage secure during the entire journey.

The elevated Skytrain and underground subway (MRT, Metropolitan Rapid Transit) are safe to use and recommended by most Western governments to avoid Bangkok's traffic.

The sub-par state of roads outside large cities may pose a risk for travelers. Avoid traveling off national highways and in secluded, rural areas. Criminals may attempt to attract your attention by feigning a need for assistance, or by wearing military uniforms and forcing vehicles to stop at fake checkpoints. Always drive with doors locked, windows rolled up, and all belongings out of sight.

Poor vehicle maintenance, excessive speed, and the small number of cases of traffic violations - by both locals and many foreign tourists - are responsible for a considerable number of accidents, and rates are among the highest in the world (426 deaths in 3327 road accidents between December 29, 2016, and January 3, 2017).

Individuals present in Thailand should avoid hailing a taxi off the street; instead, pre-book it from your hotel. Check that the meter is functioning. Registered taxi drivers have a yellow placard with their name and their photograph on it; verify the photograph matches the driver before entering the vehicle.

LEGAL

Thailand is currently in a period of mourning following the death of King Bhumibol (October 13, 2016). Individuals present in Thailand are advised to not comment on this sensitive topic and to respect the feelings of the Thai people. When possible, wear somber and respectful clothing in public. Major transportation disruptions (service suspensions) are likely. Access to entertainment and leisure venues, including restaurants, bars, and shopping areas, is likely to be restricted in the coming months. For more information regarding the effects of the mourning period on daily life, please visit this website.

The King is highly respected and protected by a vigorously enforced lèse majesté law that makes it a crime to insult the royal family. Individuals present in Thailand are advised to never comment on any member of the royal family, to never deface any representation of the royal family (including bank notes), and to never show disrespect to any representation of Buddha.

Like most Southeast Asian countries, Thailand strictly enforces drugs laws and penalties for consumption, possession, or trafficking of illegal drugs, and may sentence the death penalty for drug convictions. Even foreigners can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions if convicted; diplomatic and consular services are often helpless in the face of drug convictions.

Any foreigner wishing to drive in Thailand must have an international driving license.

HEALTH

Several mosquito-borne diseases are present in Thailand. The risk of malaria exists throughout the year in rural, especially forested and hilly areas of the country, mainly towards international borders, including the southernmost provinces. There is no risk in cities (e.g. Bangkok, Chiang Mai city, Pattaya), on Samui island, or in the main tourist resorts of Phuket island. The P. falciparum strain - resistant to mefloquine and to quinine - is reported in areas near the borders with Cambodia and Myanmar. There is no vaccine but preventive medications are available.

Dengue fever, also a mosquito-borne disease found mostly in urban and semi-urban areas, is endemic in Thailand; 150 cases were fatal out of 140,000 reported in 2015. A limited vaccine for the dengue virus was approved for use nationwide on October 4, 2016, and is now commercially available.

Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease, is present in Thailand, but only isolated cases have been reported as of mid-2017. While the virus is usually relatively benign (and asymptomatic in 80 percent of cases), links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) have been established. The disease is also transmittable via sexual intercourse.

Other mosquito-borne diseases that can be found in Thailand include chikungunya (likely to be present, although no outbreaks have occurred since 2009) and Japanese encephalitis (the disease is frequent in the north but sporadic cases may occur in Bangkok suburbs and is frequent in the Chiang Mai Valley).

There are cases of animal rabies in the country.

Diarrheal diseases are common in Thailand. Cholera outbreaks may occur periodically, as in October 2015, close to the Myanmar border. To reduce the risk of contracting diarrheal diseases, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods.

Leptospirosis is potentially present in the country, and regular outbreaks may occur during the rainy season; due to various risks, travelers are advised not to bathe in fresh waters (lake, rivers) or walk barefoot.

Farmers burning fields, as well as forest fires that break out regularly in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Phayao, Nan, Phrae, Lamphun, and Mae Hong Son provinces, can create difficult breathing conditions for some travelers as haze atmospheric pollution peaks occur in the southern provinces in October and November, and in the northern ones in March and April. This was notably the case in October 2015, when the southern areas of the kingdom saw an unhealthy level of air pollution which was attributed to forest fires in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Borneo.

HIV is highly prevalent; according to UNAIDS, 1 percent of the adult population (15-49) is HIV-positive.

Tuberculosis is present in the country.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is endemic in Thailand; during the first half of the year 2016, more than 20,000 people were affected nationwide (including 1600 in Bangkok). One case was fatal. The northern regions are the most affected.

Climate

Thailand has a tropical climate with a dry and sunny season from November until February. Between March and the end of May, temperatures are very high. The rainy season (monsoon) begins in June and ends in October (with a peak of precipitation in September). During this period brief storms are very common. The north receives more rainfall than the south and tends to be cooler. Typhoons can strike the country in September and October.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +66 Police: 191 Fire Dept.: 191 Tourist Police: 11 55

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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