THAILAND’s reputation as a dangerous destination for holidaymakers has been reinforced by a recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), which ranked the kingdom as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for travellers and tourists.
The report highlighted Thailand’s high rates of crime, violence and the low reliability of the country’s police services as reasons for the country’s poor ranking, which placed it in 118th place among 136 countries.
After the WEF report made headlines in Thailand’s national media, the country’s Foreign Ministry moved quickly to criticise the report.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Busadee Santipitaks said the information used by WEF’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report was outdated and biased, and did not reflect the recently improved situation.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister added, “The WEF admitted that some information was outdated, some information was biased as it was collected using questionnaires. The WEF promised to improve its ranking methodology by using more statistics from reliable international sources and reducing the use of questionnaire surveys.”
However, these statements have yet to be confirmed by the United Nations or the WEF.
It is of little surprise, however, that the military backed government were eager to negate the unflattering Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. After all, this government came to power through the May 2014 coup, and by creating he National Council for Peace and Order, they used national safety and stability to legitimise their authority.
Unfortunately, recent bombings, violence, cross-border smuggling and sporadic acts of terrorism, clearly indicate the council has yet to achieve their primary objectives.
While criticising WEF’s report, the foreign minister argued that Thailand had received positive rankings in reports by Master Card, Expat Insider and US News & World Report, which had all named Thailand one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
However, there is weakness in the argument; a tourist center can be considered a top travel destination while at the same time being dangerous – the two are not incompatible, as the example of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, would confirm.
While the Foreign Ministry seems perplexed by Thailand’s poor ranking in WEF report, the prevalence of gun crime, road deaths, violent crime, sexual assault, rival college violence, motorcycle gang culture, road rage confrontations, tourist scams, drunken assaults and psychotic net-idols are no secret to most of the country’s residents. Simply watch one of Thailand’s morning TV news shows on any given day, and you’ll see enough to shatter the idyllic imagery projected by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Furthermore, the report from the WEF is not the first time Thailand’s poor safety records have been revealed by international data. In recent years there have been documentaries and international reports highlighting a range of factors that make the country a dangerous destination.
According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health and Metric Evaluation, Thailand has among the highest rates of gun-related deaths in Asia. With 7.48 registered violent gun deaths per 100,000 people, the rate in Thailand is actually twice as high as that of the US, which had 3.55 deaths per 100,000 people. US State Department’s Bureau for Diplomatic Security wrote in its safety report for overseas staff:
“Thailand has a fervent gun culture on par with the United States and has become a world leader in firearms-related homicides.”
This “fervent gun culture” has even been confirmed by Thailand’s Interior Ministry, which says that there are more than six million registered guns in the country, meaning that about one in 10 people in Thailand legally own a gun. It is also worth remembering there are thousands more firearms across Thailand which are not registered.
The rate of sexual assaults in Thailand is another statistic that confirms the country is a destination where travellers should be wary. According to the Social Development and Human Security Ministry and Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP), an average of 87 cases of sexual violence are reported in Thailand each day.
Thailand’s official rate of rape is about 0.95 rapes per 1,000 women, above rates in most European nations. Furthermore, attitudes to rape often include victim blaming, which discourages victims from coming forward and suggests the actually number of sexual assaults is far higher that that reported. Furthermore, callous attitudes towards sexual assaults are made worse by Thailand’s television dramas, which use sexual assault as a common plot device.
The number of sexual assaults against foreigners in Thailand have prompted the British Foreign Office to offer the following advice to travellers:
“Violent sexual assaults and unprovoked attacks have been reported in popular tourist destinations, including in the Koh Samui archipelago and Krabi province. These are particularly common during the monthly Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars. Drink spiking has been reported in tourist destinations around Thailand, with both male and female victims.’
The Samui archipelago of Koh Samui includes the notorious island resort Koh Tao, where Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were bludgeoned to death in 2014. Although the authorities arrested and convicted two Burmese workers for the violent crime, mishandling of the case and accusations of scapegoating led many to believe the actual culprits were influential residents of the island.
Following this gruesome double homicide, the island of Koh Tao gained infamy worldwide, with reports in TIME, The Guardian, New York Times, and Daily Mail describing the island as notoriously dangerous and run by mafia families.
Despite these condemning reports, Koh Tao remains popular, and as dangerous as ever, with enough deaths and suspicious disappearances to warrant the island its own CSI franchise.
Among the most suspicious deaths was that of Nick Pearson, 25, who police concluded had died from falling from a high place and then drowning. However, the parents of Pearson, who were also holidaying in Koh Tao, were outspoken in their belief that the police investigation was a cover-up for murder.
Another tourist death that made headlines in the UK was that of Luke Miller, 24, from the Isle of Wight, who was found dead floating in a hotel swimming pool. Friends of Luke suspected foul play in his death. In January 2015, French tourist Dimitri Povse, 29, was found hanged outside his bungalow. After finding a note in the hotel room, local police concluded that Povse’s death was a suicide. However, that was widespread speculation that the suicide had been staged, after images surfaced on the Internet which showed him hanging with his hands tied behind his back.
The most recent disappearance on Koh Tao has been that of Russian tourist Valentina Novozhyonova, 23, who vanished from her hostel mid-February 2017. Police on the island launched a search for her but it was called off after three weeks.
Unfortunately, disappearances in Thailand are shockingly common, with three people reported missing every day in Thailand. Police have been urged to tackle this issue with greater resources, as the Mirror Foundation explained:
“Serious efforts must be made to provide tangible solutions. The National Police Office can start by setting up a task force to handle reports directly on missing children and to conduct efficient and thorough investigations based on such reports.”
The weakness of the nation’s police force to take criminals off the streets is also highlighted by the statistics for fugitive criminals, with over 170,000 outstanding arrest warrants from around the country, many of which are for serious and violent crimes.
Lastly, one of the most dangerous aspects of life in Thailand is travelling on its lethal roads, which are now ranked the second most dangerous in the world. The only country in the world to have more dangerous roads is war-torn Libya. On average, there are 24,000 deaths on Thailand’s roads every year, 73 per cent of those killed are motorcyclists.
Despite all these worrying statistics, many still consider Thailand an amazing country, though it is important to realise its realities are far removed from the TAT’s postcard-perfect imagery.
Thailand is undergoing dramatic social and economic upheavals, and there are vast inequalities which tend to spur crime.
And while tourists should not be discouraged from visiting the country, there is the sentiment that it is also irresponsible of authorities to whitewash its dangers. Travellers who are prepared and well-informed are, after all, more likely to have a safe and memorable stay.