Thailand Beware

Problems, risks, dangers, scams and diseases in Thailand

Danger and Violence in Thailand

There are disturbing and frightening aspects of life in Thailand. It’s not a perfect society by any means. Murders happen. Drivers can be reckless. Faulty and ungrounded electrics cause senseless deaths. Lax public safe regulations means that fires in nightclubs kill. Ignorant or incompetent use of insecticides in hotels and guest houses poison people. Prison sentences are draconian. Life is cheap.

Yet we shouldn’t be calling the kettle black. In the 21st century in the US and UK, we still treat mental illness as a crime where you treated as guilty until proven innocent. We still physically restrain psychotics and schizophrenics “for their own good” in prison-like hospital wards (one professor of psychiatry stated that although ‘normal’ people would feel intense fear and dread and shame if involuntarily restrained, psychotics feel ‘safe’ – Elyn Saks would disagree). A disproportionate number of people – particularly women – are in prison in the US and UK, convicted of petty and non-violent crimes, when they should be cared for. Some have died as a result. An unprecedented number of children in the US in particular are medicated against their will, usually for being unruly – not because they have a medical disorder.

And our governments in the West seem to be obsessed with security. Look funny at a policeman and you’ll be taken in for questioning. At the drop of a hat, you could find yourself in court, defending yourself against some hyper-sensitive self-righteous customer, neighbor or parent and waste days and thousands of dollars. You only have to be over-stressed due to a not-uncommon combination of lack of sleep and financial worries and you could be slapped with a Baker Act involuntary psychiatric exam and permanently labelled with a diagnosis from the dubious and unscientific DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual). You may be a Christian, but how many fellow Christians do you know who are genuinely caring, kind and forgiving? And as for medical care, how quickly can you get to see a specialist (assuming you have all the right insurance in place, which not many people do)?

In Thailand, the police may be lazy or corrupt, but they mostly leave you alone. The worst that might happen is you get a spot fine of $30 for smoking in a park or running a red light. The military might have a strong presence in Thailand, but they don’t bother the ordinary man in the street. In fact, in the previous military coup, the Thai people treated it as a kind of holiday and went out in the streets to get their photos taken with the soldiers in front of the tanks – while the Western media bombarded us with images of death and mayhem. In 2010, the political protests were fairly rowdy and some protesters died. In the more recent military coup, Thais were a little less sanguine about it and since one of the popular political parties were banned, there has been growing disillusionment and now protests in the street. So far, thankfully, there hasn’t been the same level of carnage as ten years ago – but key people are secretly being whisked away and even killed.

Nevertheless, violence is far more prevalent in the West, where vandalism and aggression is rife. We have protests and riots too, where people die or get injured. We just have them more often, so it’s not front-page news anymore!

Yes, there is danger and violence in Thailand. But not as much in our western ‘civilized’ world. Nevertheless, it is vitally important that you be aware of all the potential problems that could beset you in Thailand. As a tourist or naïve expat, we become particularly vulnerable to scams and danger. A seasoned New Yorker is ‘battle ready’ and so less likely to be mugged than a tourist. And a long-time resident of London is less likely to be conned by a devious realtor than a newcomer.

Thailand is one of the safest places in the world. Where else in the world can you wander about alone at night, especially if you’re a woman or behaving ostentatiously? And unless the USA has some kind of economic and diplomatic spat with Thailand, Americans will always be welcome and well-treated here. The worst that might happen is that visa privileges could be curtailed. If there are to be any civil wars or ‘revolutions’ then we foreigners won’t really be affected – we’ll be largely ignored.

Thais don’t bare a grudge against foreigners as Americans or Brits do against Mexicans or South Americans or Arabs or “Asians” or Africans. They simply tolerate us, even if they don’t necessarily like us. We’re an important source of revenue, after all… and for many, a convenient ticket out of poverty or drudgery.

And, yes, we do stick out in a way – but not like a “sore thumb”. In Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket and to a slightly lesser degree Chiang Mai, there are so many foreigners that nobody really notices anymore. If you live in or very near the city of Chiang Mai, you’ll be noticeable as a minority but in no way unusual.

Frankly, the Thais are not really that interested in us as a phenomenon – only if they can get to know and befriend one or two of us as individuals. We are not a threat to them in any way, we are perhaps a little envied for our wealth but also pitied for our loneliness and poverty of spirit.

So what are the dangers and risks in Thailand?

    • Traffic Accidents. I suspect that, along with everywhere else in the world, traffic-related accidents are the highest cause of injuries and death in Thailand. And of these, 95% involve a motorcycle. Most Thais are good, patient drivers, but there are still many who drive recklessly or while drunk; speeding restrictions are usually not enforced, jumping red lights is not uncommon, tailgating is typical even on the expressways. Overtaking round corners, on hills and where there is already oncoming traffic is common. And pedestrians often jaywalk without bothering to look for oncoming traffic. Motorbike drivers typically weave in and out of traffic recklessly, so it’s almost impossible to avoid bumping into one occasionally; and they often drive too fast and will either crash straight into you or career out of control as they try to avoid you.Many bikers don’t wear helmets and many have extra passengers (including children and babies!) and possessions attached precariously to the bike. But I think probably the worst culprit of all is drink driving. The UK went through a similar crisis in the 80’s when it was fairly typical for people to drive home tipsy or drunk after a night out at the pub. It took 10 years of public campaigning and strict policing and random breath tests for it to be brought under control. The Thai government is taking this seriously too, but so far it’s not yet as comprehensive a campaign as in the UK. Thais like to drink, and they will drive home without a second thought.Frankly, I’m surprised there are not as many accidents as you’d expect. This may be because the majority of Thai drivers are sensible and careful – they apply common sense to their driving. The traffic lights are sequenced so that you can turn left even if the light is red (in Thailand, we drive on the left hand side of the road, as in UK). But this also means that in general red is taken as an advisory signal, while amber is interpreted to mean “go faster in order to jump the light before the other traffic makes a move”. I really don’t know why they bother with green!Read these vital tips on minimizing the risks of driving or riding a motorbike.
    • Food Poisoning. Considering the overwhelmingly hot and muggy weather and lack of outdoor refrigeration, it’s surprising that food prepared and eaten outdoors is safe and hygienic. The Thais take pride in their cleanliness and preparation of food. I personally don’t see how it is possible to keep oil from going rancid, for instance, or seafood sitting on a bed of ice all day not to be teaming with microbes. I think it may be because food is nearly always prepared fresh and cooked thoroughly, combined with the fact that most cooks are scrupulous about cleanliness and hygiene. I did see one consumer report, comparing the quality of food from the street stands to that purchased at the indoor food courts in the large shopping malls. They found the street food to be remarkably germ-free, but the food at the food courts to be alarmingly high. It may be because the stalls at the food courts recycle their food, while the vendors on the street invariably start with a fresh batch each day. Notwithstanding the potential for contamination, food poisoning is very rare! However, we as newcomers will most certainly get a food bug and feel queasy during our first few weeks in Thailand. The bugs we will be exposed to will be different from those that we have become accustomed to back home. I can’t think of an easy remedy for this, except maybe to eat lots of natural yoghurts and having those tummy pills to hand! You might also want to prepare your system a little by eating not-so-fresh food at home before coming to Thailand for the first time. You can’t really avoid it, so just treat it as a mildly irritating initiation that you have to go through in order to become a member of the “Thailand Club” – like joining the Masons…As for the water, it’s perfectly safe to drink. There is no need to be constantly buying bottled water. Nevertheless, it has been said that although the water itself might be safe, some of the pipes are old and leaky, which may introduce contamination into the water. So most people use tap water for washing, brushing their teeth, etc. and drink filtered water. There are UV reverse-osmosis filtered water dispensers on virtually every street corner, costing ½ baht (2 cents) per liter.
    • HIV & AIDS. Thailand is enormously meticulous about HIV and AIDS. In fact, thanks to Mechai Viravaidya (aka “Mr Condom”) Thailand never had a serious HIV epidemic. He is responsible for a number of successful family-planning initiatives and general public awareness about sex and sexual diseases. Nevertheless, many people do have HIV and they pass it on. You could also get HIV if you are not careful. It’s no longer a “gay” issue, although you are far more likely to be exposed to the HIV virus in Thailand if you are gay and promiscuous. And in recent years, the prevalence of HIV has risen dramatically. Women have HIV also, and many won’t know about it. The problem is that men tend not to like using condoms. Some women don’t like them either, saying that it doesn’t feel as pleasurable for the man to be covered up and smelling (and tasting) of rubber. Prostitutes and bar girls will mostly insist that you wear a condom, but will sometimes tolerate it if you don’t. Because of this, an alarmingly high number of prostitutes have, or are carriers for, HIV. It’s the ordinary girls, who might not necessarily be promiscuous, who are probably mostly at risk. They are hoping for a long-term relationship leading to marriage, so will most likely abandon the idea of requiring you to use a condom after the first few nights. You (and others) might abuse this trust and dump her not long after. So she will enter into another relationship, hoping that this time it is genuine and will last longer. So it’s the highly promiscuous men (not only the ‘sex tourists’ but also the typical Thai man) who are most likely to be the source of an HIV infection, and the women won’t know she has it, or is a carrier… Men are alarmingly reckless when it comes to Safe Sex. It’s usually so easy to find a partner that one tends to become complacent!This is one of the reasons why ‘good’ girls prefer to wait until marriage before sex. Or they at least want to feel pretty sure that you are genuinely interested in her for the long term before jumping into bed with you. She can’t stop you from sleeping around with prostitutes and bar girls, or having a secret lover (“kik”) on the side – but she will be trusting you to be responsible, use a condom and not bring HIV back home with you to infect her. And she is more likely to trust you as a westerner than she can trust a Thai boyfriend. Be careful and be responsible.
    • Dengue Fever. You can’t avoid the mosquitoes! Some people are more prone than others. I’m a walking magnet for mosquitoes. I get bitten every day, despite the coils and sprays and creams. I personally find that the “deet” cream is most effective and I religiously apply it to my feet and legs and arms early in the evening. The lemongrass and other natural sprays don’t seem to work so well (for me), but the anti-mosquito incense coils are also very effective – except that my Thai wife complains that the smoke affects her breathing. Some studies show that the smoke is hazardous to your health if used extensively, so we no longer use them. I  did get dengue fever – I think while foolishly tramping through a field of Thai herbs at a local botanical garden, wearing shorts and having forgotten to apply any cream. I was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes for nearly an hour. I was certainly asking for it! It didn’t seem at all serious. A few days later, I felt unusually lethargic and had absolutely no appetite. I had no desire to eat for the next 5 days, and that started to concern me a little (partly because I love my food and I love to eat). I was also feeling continuously sleepy, but I couldn’t sleep. So I took a trip down to the hospital down the road from me and asked them what was wrong. They went through the standard sequence of tests, in order of frequency – starting with bird flu and hepatitis (I think) before hitting the jackpot. I was sent immediately to be checked in as a patient and spent the next five days on a drip, with blood tests (to measure my platelet count). Some say it’s a serious disease, with the potential for shock, heart failure or death from internal bleeding. Others say that, so long as you rest and keep up a continuous fluid (and electrolyte) intake then you will recover quickly. It was an incapacitating and very boring disease. I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital until my platelet count had reached acceptable levels. There was nothing that can be done to speed up the process, no special treatment, no drugs. Just rest and wait. Apparently, once you’ve had it you are immune for life. The trouble is that there are several strains of dengue fever, so I could still catch one of the other strains in the future…
    • Electrocution. Thailand is a relatively unregulated country. This means that anyone can install electrical systems in your house, apartment or hotel room. There is no requirement to be a qualified electrician or for the installation to be inspected. There is also typically no ground in electrical systems – most electrical appliances only have the two-prong plugs anyway, even for kettles and refrigerators. The danger spots are hot shower systems and swimming pools. It’s rare, but several people have tragically been electrocuted while having a shower or jumping into a ‘live’ swimming pool. It’s difficult to know if the guesthouse or hotel you are staying in has installed the heating unit properly and safely. A few people have died while taking a shower! It can happen at home or at a hotel. Electrical wiring also hangs precariously along the public streets. So far, there doesn’t seem to have been any reports of electrocutions by falling electrical posts or wires, but there was one tragic report of a cable falling into a swimming pool after getting dislodged by a storm. The next day, a young man was electrocuted when he jumped in. His friends looked on, helpless and unable to fish him out. Another tragic case was when the underwater light was faulty and electrified the water. A young boy died as a result. These incidents are rare and make front-page news, but it is wise to be hyper-cautious of electrical appliances and systems in Thailand.
    • Bag Snatching. Many a Thai woman, back from a hard day’s work and walking from the bus stop to her home down a relatively quiet lane, has had her bag snatched. This is how it’s done. Two thieves will sneak up behind you on a motorbike. The engine will be idling to reduce the chance that you will hear them. The rider at the back will lunge out and grab your handbag from behind. You will probably be so shocked that they will snatch the bag easily. If you instinctively tighten your grip on your bag one of the men will punch you in the face, and the sheer surprise will cause you to lose your grip. They will then zoom away and be out of sight before you have a chance to realize what’s happened! It can happen to anybody. It happened to my daughter. It happened to several of our Thai neighbors. The police can’t do anything about it. There are no surveillance cameras (especially down the tiny residential lanes), the thieves will ‘work’ a few streets in one neighborhood and then go to a completely different district the next, and there are too many bikes and it happens too quickly to be able to make an identification. After all, they look for the opportunity where there is a sole woman walking down a deserted street, who is tired and not paying attention. There are never any witnesses. Here’s what you can do to minimize the risk of having your bag (or camera) snatched.
        • Make a habit of being aware of your surroundings. See who is around you and what they are doing.
        • Keep your valuables inside your clothing and out of site. Don’t be ostentatious.
        • Make a habit of walking next to a wall and keeping your bag or camera on the side of your body closest to the wall.
        • If possible, take self-defense classes for no other reason than to develop protective instincts. Most people become victims of theft because they are caught by surprise. Developing protective habits means that you are more likely to have a good reflexive response if someone tries to attack you. Also, don’t carry huge amounts of cash with you, keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place (carry a photocopy if you are asked to identify yourself) and, if the worst comes to the worst, let the thieves have what they want. If you are confronted then throw your wallet/bag in one direction, so that they have to go after it, and then run away in the opposite direction towards where the are lights and people.
  • Burglary and Theft. Burglary is fairly common in Thailand. There are many poor, unscrupulous people and plenty of relatively wealthy people who live in unsecure houses. It’s easy pickings. In one neighborhood, four houses were burgled in a week – one of them belonging to a policeman! Thais are arguably overly neurotic about burglaries and theft – primarily because, on the whole, Thailand is a relatively safe place and people are mostly honest. You are unlikely to have your bag stolen while you are in a restaurant (unlike London, where teams of bag snatchers regularly ‘work’ the pubs and restaurants – one to monitor you, another to distract you or engage you in conversation, and someone to casually walk past to pick up your bag).In Thailand, you can leave your helmet unattended on your motorbike and it’ll still be there the next day. You can probably leave your car unlocked or unattended and it’ll still be there, including the radio/CD player inside. You could also leave an old, cheap bicycle outside without bothering to lock it.But that’s no reason to be complacent. I’ve had a nicer, newer, sportier bicycle stolen outside a train station in Bangkok, despite being locked. Granted, I did leave it there overnight, so the temptation might have been too great. And there are still professional pickpockets who travel on the skytrain and in the metro, looking for open handbags and fat wallets stuffed into baggy back pockets. And it’s become a well-known problem on buses to have a thief – in cahoots with the bus driver – rifle through your baggage in the baggage compartment during your journey. Some of the better bus companies have clamped down on this practice to bolster their reputation as a safe & reliable organization. But, it’s still wise to keep your valuables with you at all times.You can also choose to live in a condo or “moo baan” (private, gated community) where security guards guard the entrance 24/7 and where access is restricted (e.g. electronic keycards). Burglaries happen here also, especially if the guards are complacent (or even in on the act), but it’s rarer. It’s quite easy to break into a standalone house, so it’s also wise to install burglar bars and keep your house locked, at least to deter the casual opportunistic burglar.It’s probably not really necessary to be so cautious; but old habits die hard. I’m from London and I lock everything routinely.
  • Beatings and Murder. This is very rare in Thailand – unless you are “asking for it”. Life is cheap in Thailand, partly because of the Buddhist upbringing: you will come back in a new life, the quality of which depends on how well you lived your previous life. So Thais are not as obsessed with death as we are. They don’t really care about why or how someone died, and whether it was accidental or deliberate. You died. That’s all the matters. This also means that some people aren’t as hesitant to kill someone as we might be. A slight provocation is all that it might take.And that’s where the risk is. We as westerners tend to be argumentative and stand on our rights and principles. This is a dangerous recipe in Thailand where keeping “face” is paramount. In Japan it’s even worse – the Japanese think nothing of committing suicide as an “honorable” exit from an embarrassing or untenable situation. In Thailand, if you insult someone then (like the American Wild West) it’s perfectly acceptable to exact revenge by arranging to have you beating up, or if it’s a ‘serious’ provocation (and what they call serious might be petty to us) then you it sometimes happens that you will be killed in retaliation, then and there. Here are a few tips that may save your life:
    • Don’t get into a heated argument with other people (Thais or foreigners) in Thailand.
    • If you are a highly-principled or verbally aggressive person then learn to bite your tongue!
    • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If the technician or contractor didn’t do a proper job, pay for it and get someone else to fix it.
    • Don’t insult anyone. If you insult or belittle someone, especially in public, your are risking your life!
    • Don’t letch after another man’s girl. Thais can be insanely possessive (as can we) and they will act stupidly if he thinks she might leave him.
    • Don’t brawl, even if you are a boxer or karate expert. You can’t fight knives so easily and you can’t dodge bullets.The basic rule is to remain courteous and respectful at all times. It is better to lose face yourself (actually you will be respected for doing so deliberately) rather than allow someone else to lose face. And be careful about treating a girl so badly that she feels sordid and degraded. There have been incidents of name-calling or public humiliation where a gang will ambush a foreigner several days later, outside his home, and beat him or kill him. Keep in mind that professional assassinations are cheap.Don’t be put off Thailand because of this. You are far more likely to be robbed, mugged or murdered in the USA or UK. So long as you remain respectful and avoid the kind of aggressive confrontations you may be accustomed to at home then you will have nothing to fear.If, however, you choose to get involved with criminal networks – which so many naïve foreigners seem to be drawn to – then you are asking for trouble. Keep away from drugs and pimping and other illegal activities. If you don’t get into life-threatening trouble with the criminal gangs, you will end up in prison for many years (30 years for drug trafficking) without the chance of parole. Don’t trust anyone. If the deal is too good to be true then it is. Walk away from it. Many people have been deliberately set up, offered a chance to carry a package (risk free) to another country, only to find the police waiting for them on the other side of passport control at the airport.
    • Jetski and Car/bike Rental Scams. This is so common that it amazes me that it still happens regularly. Surely, tourists will have read up on reports before coming to Thailand – or at least seen the youtube video posted that shows a jetski scam in action!? And yet, every day, people find that they have to pay over the odds for what seemed like a cheap and enjoyable rental. This is how it works. You rent a jetski or car or motorbike – usually leaving your passport as security. Everything looks in order, nothing seems to be damaged. You come back after an hour (for the jetski) or the next day and the operator discovers cracks or damage in the vehicle. The damage was already there, usually temporarily painted over until the wear and tear of the water or after a bit of heavy driving around causes the previous damage to be revealed. God forbid you do have even a minor accident, because then you actually feel fully responsible. You are then asked to pay, not only to repair the damage but also for the loss of earnings while the vehicle is being repaired. Firstly, it’s usually quite cheap to repair vehicles in Thailand. A day at a garage might cost $30 at most. I’ve had my own motorbike completely rebuilt after being mangled by a truck and it (only) cost me $300. So when you get a repair bill for several thousands of dollars, you are being scammed! You might call in the police, but they won’t be all that helpful (some police in the holiday spots like Pattaya and Phuket are actually in on the scam anyway). It’s a civil matter anyway, so they can’t get involved. The policeman might negotiate a lower price, but it will still be exorbitant. You usually don’t have a choice, because they have your passport as security (ransom). With the jetski scam, there is also the threat of violence – and a real risk of getting knifed.The only way to avoid this is:
      • DON’T rent a jetski. I’m sorry for the legitimate operators, but a jetski is too expensive and vulnerable a machine to enjoy safely.
      • Always check if there is insurance included in the rental price – don’t be a Cheap Charlie: pay the extra for the insurance. And check what the excess amount is.
      • Only rent from a reputable firm with a reputation to uphold (e.g. a national brand name, or with reviews on the internet).
      • Avoid leaving something as valuable as a passport if you can help it. If there is a dispute then you might have to leave it behind – which means the hassle of reporting the incident to your embassy and getting an emergency travel document (which won’t be any good for onward travel – you’ll probably have to go home first in order to obtain a new passport).
      • If the worst comes to the worst and you have to pay damages then delay it as much as you can – say that you have to report it to your insurance company first – and they will probably want to see a written quotation for the cost of repairs, etc. If you are living in Thailand then you can probably find your own mechanic to repair the damage for a fraction of the cost, so you could agree to do the repairs yourself rather than pay cash. If it’s a scam then the operator will obviously try to avoid this. In which case, find some excuse to get away – you have to go to the bank to get cash (you might be ‘accompanied’, so be prepared for having to order cash from overseas which might take a few days). Don’t have your credit card or ATM card (or passport) to hand.
      • Pretend to be willing to pay, but find whatever excuse you can to delay it or pay only a little amount as a gesture of good faith. And then get away and seek reputable help if you need to.
  • Rental Deposits. This is such a common scam that you may as well as factor it into your budget. You are normally required to pay 2-3 months’ rental as a security deposit on a house or apartment. Invariably, there will be damage to the property that will require extensive repairs costing at least as much as the deposit if not more. The furnishing and fittings included in the rental is likely to be of inferior quality, so will probably need to be completely replaced just as result of normal wear and tear. And you will be expected to pay for that. Read your rental contract very, very carefully. Thai courts rule on the basis that the contract is the law. So make sure that you will be liable for any damages not to exceed the security deposit. That way, you will only lose the deposit and not be scammed for a much larger amount, particularly if your landlord is unscrupulous.
  • Date Rape. Also very common. The typical situation is where a sleeping drug is slipped into your drink and then you are accompanied back to your room where you are either raped (if you are woman) or robbed or both. How true this is I don’t know, but there have been stories of ladyboys slipping in a sleeping pill while tongue-kissing you. It looks to everyone else that you’ve had too much to drink and found a sexy partner for the night who is helping you back to your room. Perhaps it’s impossible to completely avoid this situation – we are naïve, drunk, horny and inexperienced. So we’re fair game. Just don’t keep your valuables in your room and don’t carry a lot of cash or expensive items with you when you’re dating. If you’re living in Thailand then be wary about who you invite back to your house or apartment – spend the first few nights at a hotel until you get to know her (or him) better.
  • Dating Scams. It’s very difficult to know when you are being scammed. Many women fall foul to this kind of scam as well (including Thai women who believe they’ve found a perfect partner online).Typically, you start to date a sexy, loving girl who’s super attentive and fantastic in bed. Then she moves in with you. You start to buy her gifts (sometimes subtly or not so subtly prompted by her, “I’d really love to have one of those new iPhones, my phone is so old and ordinary”…) and then you fall in love. If she’s only in it for the short term then invariably there will be the sick aunt or the indebted mother or an important trip that she needs to take or the rent on her room that hasn’t been paid for three months) – and she’d like you to help (or perhaps just lend her the money).You might also find yourself paying for meals and drinks for all the friends she invites out with you. But if she’s clever (which is hard to tell, because she might be genuine), you will fall in love with her (and she with you, of course) and you will plan on getting married. She might wait until you are married (the “sinsod” or dowry might turn out to be quite expensive) or it might happen earlier that you buy property – in her name, because foreigners can’t have more than 49% ownership in Thailand.And that’s when the trouble might start. It might start innocently (even in a genuine relationship), where she misunderstands your need for ‘space’ and independence and you misunderstand her desire to care for her family and for you to be generous with your money…But inevitably, the relationship will go downhill, she might disappear for days at a time (to visit her mother) and you won’t know whether it’s true or whether she’s gone back to her old (Thai) boyfriend or whether she’s found another foreigner or two who she is grooming to be the next ‘husband’ after you.There may be a divorce, or she may simply walk away – the deeds of the property and/or business and car and motorbike all in her name. She might also have joint access to your bank account, which of course will be emptied at the right moment.When you find yourself at the stage where you are considering a serious relationship with a Thai woman (or man), please talk to me first. We can at least reduce the likelihood that you will be scammed and if you are then we can help minimize the amount of money you will lose.
  • Property & Business Investments. As with any business venture or investment anywhere in the world, it is wise to do as much due diligence research into the venture as possible. Perhaps we become too trusting of the mostly honest and agreeable nature of Thai people when we come to live here, but our normal caution and common sense seems to fly out the window when it comes to doing business or buying property in Thailand. In my humble opinion, you are almost certainly likely to be swindled by a fellow expat / business partner than a Thai partner.There may be several reasons for this. One is that Thais prefer to build a long-term trusting relationship with you, so they tend not to want to scam you for the short term gain… unless they already disrespect you and think you aren’t particularly scrupulous yourself. Most Thai women you will meet are not so sophisticated that they set out to deceive you. So if you enter into a business partnership (usually where you buy a business for her to be the self-employed owner) then it’ll be a huge learning curve for both of you, with plenty of opportunities for mistakes and misunderstandings and recriminations.When it comes to property and business, you need a good lawyer who you know to be reliable and honest. (Do they exist!?) The best way is to ask someone who has already had dealings with business and property deals, especially if they’ve gone wrong and they then got helped out of the mess by a good, competent lawyer.If you can at all avoid litigation then do so! It’s not much different from the US, where the party with the most money and influence wins. You’re in a foreign land, with a legal system based on the German model that you will not understand, and where judgements are as typically (but not always) decided by a bribe or a Buddhist or cultural precept than any based on written law.There are two secrets to success in business and property investments:1. Keep control of the money, the deeds, the contracts, the equipment, the client list, etc.2. Don’t invest (or gamble) more than you can afford to lose.If you are seriously considering buying property or starting a small business in Thailand then please check with me before making any final decisions that involve money or contracts.
  • Insurance. Most insurance companies will scam you, particularly those in Thailand, but also the overseas companies offering “cheap” travel insurance plans. Never buy insurance from a bank – they’re simply (unhelpful) agents for the larger insurance companies and the plans are riddled with exclusions and misleading information.The problem with Thai insurance in particular is that the cover advertised is not what you get if you make a claim. For instance, you might have ฿100,000 cover on a policy, but if you read the fine print, it’ll usually be that you can only claim up to ฿5,000 for each incident, and the total number of claims over the course of the year may not exceed ฿100,000. Or the ฿300,000 that policy that will only pay out up to ฿10,000 for an MRI (when a typical MRI plus X-rays will typically cost ฿14,000), ฿60,000 for the surgeon’s fee (when it’s usually ฿80,000-฿100,000), ฿20,000 for ICU (when it’s ฿14,000 per day) – and only if you’re admitted to hospital within 24 hours of the incident. If you have a not-so-serious accident and hobble over to the hospital the next day, you’re not covered. Or if your treatment can be done as an outpatient, you’re also not covered.The list of possible traps and exclusions embedded in the small print are endless. They’re also often somewhat vague, so your interpretation of the policy will very often not be the one that they say they intended when it comes to making a claim.The trouble is that the insurance policies that do cover the entire treatment are almost as expensive as the typical treatment itself. Most treatments in Thailand will cost around ฿30,000 – ฿100,000 at a private hospital (about a quarter of this if you go to a public hospital). Serious accidents or illnesses may cost around ฿200,000 – ฿500,000. To get the necessary cover, the premium will usually start at about ฿40,000 if you’re under 50 and go up to ฿120,000 if you’re in your 60s or older (assuming a small deductible of around ฿20,000). If you have one minor accident during the year then you’ve probably paid more in premiums than if you paid for the treatment yourself. If you have a serious accident on average once a year then maybe you’ll save money. Either way, the insurance companies rake in a fortune because only a small percentage of people claim, and the medical costs aren’t always so high anyway.What’s the answer? Frankly, I don’t know. I’ve researched this problem for several years now and I haven’t found a product that isn’t either riddled with obscure exclusions or super expensive. Nevertheless, there are plenty of stories of people who aren’t insured or who are under-insured having to crowdfund their medical costs.Maybe a community approach is needed. A group of expats who commit to crowdfunding anyone else in the group who needs urgent treatment? It’s open to abuse of course, but maybe it’s preferable to paying out unnecessary premiums and still be under-insured.

Please also read the section on emergencies for more tips on how to live in or visit Thailand safely.