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Expat Streets Smarts and personal safety in Bangkok


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Moving to the Land of Smiles naturally causes some concern for the Thailand expat because he is migrating to an entirely different culture along with unfamiliar surroundings. However, you need not worry too much because Thailand has taken many measures to guard your safety and it is probably the most relaxed of all countries in Southeast Asia. Yes, there are scams and dangers in the street but all it takes is a little vigilance and common sense and you will more than likely have no problem. Here are some street smarts that will help you stay safe in Thailand.

Streets Smarts in Entertainment

No doubt, when you first come to Thailand, you will want to partake of some of the nightlife and restaurants that cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya have to offer. Most expats coming to Thailand to work will probably live in Bangkok so consider that the tips that apply to this city are pretty much the same anywhere else in the country.

If your night out takes you to a restaurant or bar, always make sure you know what you are being charged so that there are no surprises when the check comes. There have been instances where checks were artificially inflated unbeknownst to the customer because of an inability to read Thai language or inebriation. Higher class restaurants will probably never do this to you but many like to experience the spirit of Thailand and eat or drink at street restaurants and bars. Stay vigilant and always know what you are getting charged.

Dealing with People

The Thailand expat will find that Thai people are generally easy-going and non-confrontational. You will also find that out in the streets, Thais will be cordial and friendly but will rarely intrude on your personal or business life. Having made this point, if a person (Thai or foreigner) walks up to you on the street trying to befriend you then you should be suspicious and politely bow out as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, folks who walk up to you on the street are trying to set you up for a scam or talk you out of some money. And, whatever you do, try to always avoid confrontation with a Thai because you may either get no reaction or an explosive one and the situation will more than likely turn out worse.

The street beggars in Thailand will oftentimes tug on your heartstrings, especially when there are mothers begging while holding small children. It is better that you keep your money. It is sad but begging scams are common here.

Then, enough cannot be said about your safety and being cautious with whom you drink. While the locals in the neighborhood watering hole might seem jovial and friendly, you may be in for a surprise. All it takes is one person (usually male) to drink too much and you, being a foreigner, will draw his attention. There have been many instances of the Thailand expat being injured or fatally wounded here after a night of drinking with strangers.

Respecting Thai Culture

The Royal Family of Thailand is highly revered and respected in this country. Never, under any circumstances, disrespect any member of the Royal Family. This includes making derogatory comments about them, verbal and written. The country’s Les Majeste laws specify that anyone, to include the Thailand expat, showing this disrespect can be arrested and sentenced to prison.

Also, consider that the King of Thailand’s picture is on all currency. Therefore, if you drop a coin, never trap it with your feet. Thai culture considers the feet a very repulsive part of the body and it is disrespectful to step on icons of Thailand with them.

Transportation Smarts

One of the fascinating features of Thailand is the availability of several modes of transportation, one of them being the tuk-tuk. These are the small three-wheeled covered motorized taxis that have been featured in movies and travel brochures and capture the spirit of Thailand. Unfortunately, many of the drivers are dishonest and overcharge foreigners because the vehicles are not metered. If you absolutely must take a tuk-tuk, negotiate the fee beforehand.

The preferred modes of public transportation for the Thailand expat in Bangkok are taxis, buses, BTS Sky train, and the MRT subway. Taxis are good for safety and reliable but do not forget to tell the driver to turn on the meter. There have been instances where taxi drivers turn off their meter with the unsuspecting tourist in order to craft their own “tip”. They have also been known to take foreigners to their destination by using a longer route but unless you know your way around, you may not detect this is happening.

Then, there are the motorbike taxis. This mode of transportation is probably one of the most noticeable when you arrive in Thailand. The concept is simple; motorbikes can get you easily to your destination because they have the ability to weave through stalled traffic. However, passengers rarely wear helmets and the drivers have been known to be intoxicated at times. If you really want to ride a motorbike taxi, take care of your safety and sit square on the back and do not lean to the left or right. When the motorbike is navigating through tight traffic, keep your arms close to your sides, hold on tightly, don’t spread your legs, and never lean to the left or right to see what is going on. Many have been injured by not keeping a tight profile on the back of these motorbikes.

Protecting Your Money

Obviously, you should never flash your money regardless of the city where you are at. However, there are other ways to be vigilant with your money in Thailand. First on the list is to make sure that you always count your change no matter where you purchase an item. Second, always exercise caution at ATMs. There have been instances where thieves have tampered with ATMs by inserting a device to get an imprint of your card and then someone looks over your shoulder to get your PIN as you punch it in. To protect against this happening, make sure that you always cover your pin with your other hand while entering it and be wary of any strangers studying your movements.

It is important to always trust your instincts just as you would in any of the world’s major cities. And, it is of critical importance to stay sober if you are alone on the streets. By following these basic street smarts for the Thailand expat, you can be sure to guard your safety thus making your stay here much more enjoyable.

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