Unfortunately, the emergency services in Thailand are relatively under-developed. And, in congested Bangkok especially, many drivers do not give way to emergency vehicles.
So if you are going to have a heart attack or be involved in a serious accident then try to avoid doing so during the day!
Joking aside, I do know people who’ve had heart attacks or accidents and they’ve been whisked away to the most appropriate hospital (sometimes not always the nearest) and cared for very well.
That is why it is absolutely vital that:
- You register at a convenient-to-get-to hospital where you are happy with the level of service provided; and
- Keep the number of the hospital with you at all times. It’s the hospital that will usually arrange for your collection and emergency treatment, not a generic public service.
It’s also worth knowing where the nearest hospitals are in relation to where you are at any time. In Bangkok, you can just hop into a tax and ask to be taken to the nearest “farang” (private) hospital. All the private hospitals will see you immediately if you go to their Accident & Emergency unit. Public Thai hospitals will also provide excellent treatment, but you may have to wait a little, especially if it’s a non-serious condition. If it’s not an emergency then typical waiting times for a private hospital for is 30 minutes, while at a public Thai hospital, it’s usually about 2-3 hours.
Please also consider signing up for my emergency or urgent helpline service.
|Tourist Police Hotline
|1155 or 1699
|This is usually staffed by expat or English-speaking volunteers. They can usually help you with minor difficulties, but not thefts or emergencies. Note that their main function is to interpret and help you negotiate settlement terms with the police or the complainant. You can sometimes be required to make a settlement even if the other party is to blame.
|They only speak Thai, so get a Thai friend to call
|They only speak Thai. It’s better to find out the number of your local police station and call them directly. Get a Thai friend to call.
|They only speak Thai.
|To make an international call
|Dial 001+country code+rest of number (about 17 baht/min).
Note. If you use the DTAC mobile network then it’s much cheaper to dial 004 (instead of 001).
For True Move dial 00600.
For AIS dial 00500.
The cost is usually only 3 baht/min.
|To call Thailand from USA
|Dial 01166 + rest of number (drop the first 0)
|To call Thailand from UK/Europe
|Dial 0066 + rest of number (drop the first 0)
|American Embassy in Bangkok
|02-205-4000 (24 hrs)
|Canadian Embassy in Bangkok
001-800-156-220-0142 (24 hrs)
|British Embassy in Bangkok
Don’t forget to keep a record of your Visa/Mastercard and other bank cards or telephone banking numbers and account details, as well as your insurance details (usually somewhere separate from your wallet or purse in case that gets lost or stolen).
It’s always helpful to keep a card on you with your next-of-kin contact details, as well as your main contact in Thailand.
Do not carry original papers with you when out and about. Although it is a legal requirement to carry ID with you, you will rarely be asked for it; and a photocopy will usually do. Leave your passport behind in a safe place and carry another form of identification that can be more easily replaced if lost or stolen.
Other Emergency Situations
Bag Snatching. If it’s late at night and you live down a quiet soi (lane) then be aware of your surroundings and who else might be present (particularly motorbike riders who may creep up behind you). Keep you belongings close to your side, between you and the wall.
Mugging. This is extremely rare (not so rare in Phuket). Just like anywhere else in the world, just give them your wallet, bag or camera. Throw your belongs in one direction and run away in the other direction. Muggers want your goods, not your body. Don’t carry lots of cash with you or expensive jewelry. Keep an emergency cash/credit card back at your place of residence in case you need to stop your other cards. Don’t keep your bank savings book and card together.
Pick-pocketing. Although relatively rare, there are professional pick pockets who will take advantage of your confusion and distraction – usually on the skytrain or at a large, noisy public event. Keep your handbag zipped and your wallet in a pocket that closes with a button, or wear a fanny pack.
Rape. It is very rare for a Thai man to attempt to rape a Western woman. You are more likely to be raped by another Westerner! Beware of accepting drinks from strangers or even casual acquaintances, as drugging is not uncommon. Men have apparently been drugged when tongue kissing a ladyboy (who secretly pushes a pill into the man’s mouth) and have had their wallet stolen or even their belongings stolen from their room. Female prostitutes may also sometimes attempt to steal from you while you are asleep (so it’s often helpful to get them to register their ID card at reception before they come up to your room). “Date Rape” is not considered as serious or traumatic an experience as in the West. Most Thai women will be mildly annoyed and will prefer to continue the relationship in public places only, where there is no opportunity for sex.
Traffic Accidents. This is unfortunately quite common in Thailand. Be alert at all times. Don’t jaywalk. Pedestrians do not have right of way, as in the UK or many other countries. Be patient and use the lights and pedestrian bridges. Even when crossing while the green man is showing, be especially careful to check for traffic turning left into the street you are crossing. In Thailand, you can turn left even if the light is red! And many Thai drivers don’t always stop when the light is red at a pedestrian crossing, so always cross with caution.
Also watch out for motorbikes driving against the flow of traffic. Remember the code you learnt as a child. Look both ways. And then look again. And then keep looking while you are crossing. Traffic can come at you from any direction!
This is especially important for Americans, Canadians and Europeans because you are used to traffic driving on the right hand side, so you instinctively look left just before crossing a road. In Thailand (and UK, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, etc.) you must train yourself to look right first.
If you are driving then the reverse is true. Thais tend to jaywalk without even bothering to look. They seem to assume that you will notice them and stop or slow down accordingly. Sometimes, they will wait until you are near and then suddenly dash across, probably thinking that now that you’ve seen them it’s safe to cross! Motorbikes will pass you on both sides, even if there is only half an inch to spare. And you will often see cars coming at you on your side of the road as they overtake a car on their side. They simply assume that you will somehow find room to make way for them. Be particularly careful of bends and hills, where some Thai drivers will overtake regardless of the danger.
Another thing to watch out for is if you slam on the breaks just as the light turns red. Check your rear view mirror first – because no one is expecting you to do this. The driver behind is probably expecting you to speed up and jump the light; and he will be speeding up too to jump the light with you. Of course, when you stop unexpectedly, he’ll crash right into the back of you – at great speed and with great force!
Most Thai drivers are safe and courteous, but it only takes one stupid driver to wreak havoc. And, like the horrid little girl with the curl on her forehead (Longfellow), an impatient Thai driver can be recklessly stupid indeed.
And if you get into a taxi or taxi-van (or bus) where the driver seems erratic or overly impatient or likes to speed dangerously then simply ask to be let out, pay the fare and wait for the next taxi.
Getting into an argument. Don’t! In our culture, we enjoy heated discussions and expressing our point of view. Thais are particularly sensitive to criticism, especially in public. Thai women will feel deeply hurt if you criticize them or treat her with dispresect, especially in public. She will think it quite acceptable to seek to avenger her honor (“face”) in some way. Thai men may knife you or shoot you, or arrange for you to be severely beaten.
Although these situations seldom escalate out of control in this way, it happens often enough to learn to avoid it. We Westerners tend to become beligerent when drunk and if you tend to be a bitter, angry, outspoken person anyway then you are at risk.
The best thing to do when you find yourself in a confrontational situation is to back down and apologize. Be prepared to eat humble pie (“lose face”) – you will actually be respected if you do so, especially if it’s an attempt to save someone else’s “face”.
If it’s a transaction that’s gone wrong (e.g. a contractor botches up a job) then pay what you agreed to pay and get someone else to come and repair it. Factor this into your calculations when you try to “do it on the cheap”. It may cost you more in the end. It’s always worth getting someone you haven’t worked with before to do a small project first to check out how professional and competent they are. Ask the contractor to build your wall first before agreeing to let them build your house! Common sense really…
Finally, don’t letch after another man’s girl. There are plenty of girls to choose from. Make sure the one you are talking to is available, and if the boyfriend turns up then ignore her and talk to him instead. It’s the same in the UK or USA if you think about it!
Scams. If somehow, you’ve fallen foul of a scam (did you read the section where I warned you against renting a jetski? or renting anything in Phuket? etc.) then delay as much as you can. Pretend you don’t have enough money, that you have to get it wired from your bank overseas… and try to get away from the situation. In Pattaya, a jetski operator will accompany you to the ATM machine or to your hotel. Avoid the ATM, say your card is in your room. Get help from the concierge. Call your embassy. Be prepared to lose your passport (if you left it as security) and get a new one. And then leave your hotel and find another place to stay. The police won’t help, except maybe to reduce the charge down from $10,000 to, say, $3,000.
And don’t buy jewelry “on the cheap”. It never is. If a deal seems too good to be true then it is.
Drugs. Don’t do drugs. You may be used to the relatively lax laws concerning drugs in your home country (or at least access to proper representation and the legal process – which isn’t saying much, especially in the USA). And at least you know how to navigate the system in your home country and are less likely to get caught or end up with a serious sentence if you are.
Saying that, weed is now more or less legal in Thailand – there are marijuana tea shops and retail outlets. Nevertheless, one can take weed or CBD products strictly speaking only for “medicinal” purposes. ‘Shrooms are also tolerated in the tourist beach zones and bars. But it’s still illegal and should only be enjoyed on the premises, not outside and certainly not in an open or ostentatious manner.
Vaping is strictly illegal. Many people vape, sometimes quite openly, but you can be arrested and fined or worse if caught. It’s actually an insidiously addictive habit, the marketing is targeted at teenagers and it’s often sweetened to make the experience more pleasant. Several of my friends have found themselves unable to engage with life in general and when they realized this, it usually took a good six months to wean themselves off it and get back to enjoying a “normal” life again.
In Thailand, there are no extenuating circumstances. There is no parole. I am not saying this because I am against drugs in any way – in fact I strongly believe they should be legalized and that the so-called “war against drugs” is either a total failure or a clever scheme to drive up market prices.
Keep your stash at home, or if drugs are that important to you then choose another country to live in. Even if you enjoy weed, do so discretely – at home or in a tea house. You can still be arrested (remember, it’s only technical legal for medicinal use)!
The situation is far more relaxed in Europe (even in the UK) and you can find relatively cheap places to live in France or Spain or Italy or Belgium, where recreational drug use is tolerated, even if it might technically be against the law. In Holland, there are open “tea houses” where you are given a menu of different varieties of marijuana (just like a regular tea or coffee house)! And in fact there have been several moves to legitimize non-Class A drugs in the UK to the extent that the police won’t even bother to arrest you if you are found in possession of recreational drugs such as ecstasy or cannabis (weed). The Chief of Police for Hertfordshire County said so himself publicly on the radio as long ago as 2004. Many of the popular nightclubs will even have a volunteer service at the entrance to test your ecstasy tablets for purity, while handing out leaflets advising you to stay hydrated, as a public safety measure.
However, drug ‘abuse’ is taken seriously in Thailand. So just don’t do it. If you are caught on a drugs-related offence (especially if it’s classed as “dealing” or “trafficking”, which doesn’t require much) then it’s a lengthy 20-30 year prison sentence without any chance of parole. (Technically, the sentence should be the death penalty, but this hasn’t been enacted for years. You are more likely to receive the death penalty in Malaysia or Indonesia.) Your embassy cannot help you and they will not get involved, other than to put you in touch with your family back at home and perhaps assist in you in obtaining a reliable lawyer.
The biggest reason why you should not do drugs in Thailand is because you will almost certainly be snitched on or caught in a sting operation by the drug dealer, your “friend”, even your girlfriend. You can never trust your fellow drug-taking “friends” or anyone who knows that you use drugs. And you cannot trust the dealer. Nearly all the arrests in the past have been made because the police were tipped off, or the “dealer” was engaged by the police specifically to sting you. Entrapment in Thailand is a perfectly legitimate way to obtain an arrest and conviction.
I think I’ve made my point.