Josh Wong, Regional Operations Assistant (Asia-Pacific) at Healix International comments on the risks involved when visiting Thailand.
Thailand Situation Report
Overall, Healix assesses Thailand as a MODERATE risk country (ranked third-highest on a five-tier scale).
Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is an extremely popular tourist destination, as well as a major international business and transportation hub. Other areas frequented by travellers include Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi. The primary concern for travellers to most areas within Thailand is petty and opportunistic crime. However, with the upcoming Thai general elections scheduled for 24th February 2019, travellers also face a temporarily elevated risk of civil unrest.
Healix separately assesses Thailand’s southern provinces (Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat) as HIGH risk locations due to ongoing separatist activity in these provinces, as well as the persistent likelihood of militant attacks. Travel to these areas should only be conducted with robust journey management plans in place and, preferably, with professional security support.
The main concern for travellers in Thailand is the risk of petty and opportunistic crime; pickpocketing, bag-snatching and petty theft of valuables are the most common manifestations. A typical method employed by criminals involves two individuals riding on a motorcycle, with the pillion rider snatching bags off pedestrians on the pavement. Such opportunistic crimes are more common in areas frequented by tourists and foreign nationals, such as Khao San Road and Chatuchak Market within Bangkok, the Patong area within Phuket, Walking Street within Pattaya, as well as Chiang Mai’s Walking Street and Night Bazaar. Petty scams by street hawkers and taxi drivers have also been reported within areas frequented by tourists.
Violent and serious crimes, such as murder and sexual assault, are comparatively rare; travellers and foreign nationals are not usually specifically targeted. However, travellers who frequent nightclubs and parties, such as the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, should be aware that drink spiking incidents have been reported; victims are drugged by criminals and may subsequently be robbed or sexually assaulted.
Bangkok, as the country’s capital and site of prominent government buildings, tends to experience periodic protests, which are typically scheduled on the anniversaries of important political events. Demonstrations are usually centred on a few key locations, including Government House, the Democracy Monument, Lumphini Park and the Victory Monument. The local security forces are not averse to employing robust measures in dispersing protests, including the use of tear gas and water cannon.
Travellers to Thailand currently face an elevated risk of civil unrest due to the upcoming general election scheduled for 24th February 2019. Election-related unrest, including marches and rallies, may take place in the lead-up to the election; the risk is significantly heightened in the event that the election date is further postponed. Senior military officials have also publicly stated that a military coup may be instituted if the military-aligned political parties are unable to secure victory in the general election. The most recent military coup took place in 2014 and lasted for two days without any casualties. Should a military coup take place, the majority of military action is likely to be centred on Bangkok’s government and communications infrastructure and may include the deployment of military personnel and armoured vehicles. Martial law is likely to be declared under this scenario, and a curfew may be imposed during night-time hours.
The risk of terrorism is significantly higher in the southern provinces, which continues to be impacted by several ongoing separatist insurgencies. However, these separatist groups rarely operate outside of their strongholds in the southern provinces. There is generally a lower risk of terrorism in most urban centres and tourist areas, although there have been infrequent terror-related incidents within Bangkok in recent years. In August 2015, a major bombing took place at the Erawan shrine, which resulted in 20 fatalities and more than 100 others being wounded. In May 2017, the Phramongkutklao military hospital was bombed, resulting in more than 20 casualties. Owing to the presence of major multinational corporations and Western organisations within Bangkok, the country continues to remain a target for transnational terror groups.
Thailand has an extremely strict lèse-majesté law. Under Section 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code, any form of insult or defamation directed against the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. This law applies to both Thai citizens and foreigners, and a lèse-majesté complaint may be made by anyone to the police. It should be noted that the law itself does not provide a clearly-outlined definition of what constitutes lèse-majesté; as such there is a broad scope for interpretation for the Thai authorities. Behaviour that would typically be considered ordinary in a Western context may be considered offensive in Thailand. For example, making jokes about the King or the royal family, or tearing banknotes with the likeness of the King on them, are behaviours that are likely to be met with charges of lèse-majesté.
Driving and Traffic Conditions
Thailand has one of the highest road traffic accident (RTA) rates in the world; based on World Health Organization data, the country has the second highest road traffic fatality rate, following only behind Libya. Driving standards are generally poor; local drivers routinely ignore traffic signals, and hazardous overtaking is commonplace. Motorcyclists may weave in and out of traffic, and motorists rarely yield to the right of way for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings. Other factors, like drink driving and the absence of safety features, including seatbelts, also contribute to the high RTA rate. The rate of RTAs tends to increase significantly in April around Thai New Year, known locally as Songkran.
Civil Unrest: Avoid known protest flashpoints during periods of heightened civil unrest. If caught in the immediate vicinity of a protest, move away from the immediate area towards a safe location. If in a crowd, move at right angles to the fringes of the protest. Avoid police lines, as incidents of violence are most likely to occur in their vicinity. If there are signs of a military coup developing, identify the locations of key flashpoints in relation to the locations of your offices and/or accommodation buildings. If you are located in the vicinity of potential flashpoints, consider moving to a secure stand-fast building located away from affected areas. Ensure that you have supplies (food, water, medication) that can last for 72 hours. Martial law and curfews are likely to be imposed when a coup is ongoing; ensure that you adhere to all directives and timings issued by the authorities.
Crime: Avoid overt displays of wealth while out in public. Refrain from using ATMs located in poorly-lit or secluded areas. The use of such ATMs increases the likelihood that you will be targeted by opportunistic criminals. You should also minimise non-essential pedestrian travel in low-income and crime-prone areas during hours of darkness. If you are accosted by a criminal, comply with their demands in order to minimise the risk of escalation; criminals may be armed with knives or other weaponry, and the risk of them using these weapons increases if the victim resists.
General: Before travel, familiarise yourself with local emergency numbers and the location of your country’s embassy or consulate. The local tourist police number is 1155, while the emergency services number is 191. The Thai tourist police are generally moderately proficient in English and are experienced in handling assistance requests from international travellers.
How Healix can help employers with their duty of care
Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their personnel to in Thailand. Typically, this means breaking down areas of exposure by geographic region and delegating responsibility to specific individuals in accordance with operational and cultural expertise. Alternatively, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, which has dedicated intelligence and operations teams, each with a direct regional focus.
Building on from this, employers should ensure that their employees are briefed on the predominant security risks associated with their operating environment before travel, and advised how best to mitigate these risks. Where necessary, this should encompass a detailed travel security briefing and location-specific security training. Employers should also ensure that their staff have a robust means of communication in order to communicate with their designated point of contact throughout the trip and that there is a robust travel risk management program in place covering all eventualities. Where standard practices are unable to effectively mitigate risks (dependent on traveller profile, asset exposure etc.), employers should also explore consultancy services up to and including evacuation planning.
Healix can provide employers with support in all these areas through our comprehensive range of security services.