August 1, 2013
I was recently listening to that old George Carlin routine on the differences between American football and baseball. The gist of his famous standup routine is this; in football you have “bombs” and “blitzes” and in baseball you are “safe at home”.
Since Thailand is my home now it got me to thinking of the many things that I do here to keep safe; things that I might not think too much about and in fact completely overlook back in my old home.
It is not hard staying safe in Thailand. Be aware of your surrounding and follow a few simple rules. I’ve listed a few of the challenges here and some advice on what you can do about them to keep yourself out of harm’s way and “safe at home”.
You’ve caught what?!
I am almost always healthy here in Thailand. I have had one cold in the last 10 years. And since medical care is good and inexpensive, if even the least thing is bothering me I can inexpensively see a specialist almost immediately. But you still need to give your health some thought.
I have had typhoid fever, dengue fever, scabies, various fungi, parasites, food poisoning, and lots and lots of Bangkok Belly while living here. But interestingly enough I had all those problems years ago when I had that indestructible-live-forever-never-take-care-of-yourself mindset of the young. Since getting older I have actively tried to take better care of myself. Why? Because I am curious. I want to see what is going to happen next in this crazy world of ours.
- Be careful what you eat and drink. City water today is mostly treated and safe, but if all there is is well water or water from some unidentified source, go with the bottled water. Wash those veggies before eating them, especially if you’re going to be making a salad or eating them raw. Veggies can have excess insecticides. And diarrhea, typhoid, hepatitis, and amoebic and bacterial dysentery, and all kinds of parasites, can be avoided by taking care what you eat and drink.
- Avoid mosquitoes as much as you can. If you don’t have screens on your windows sleep under a mosquito net (I did for 9 years). Don’t leave containers of water open around your house where mosquitoes can breed. And I just discovered insect repellent with “Deet” that you can get at any pharmacy here. Man that stuff really works. Insect borne diseases endemic here include dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis.
- Don’t eat any raw meats or raw freshwater fish. There are certain parts of the country where these are delicacies. Raw chopped up pork is common, so is trichinosis and tapeworm when you eat it. Raw freshwater fish is often encountered. So is liver fluke, a parasite living in fish that is the chief cause of liver cancer in parts of the country when the fish is eaten raw. Sushi anyone? I also avoid the very popular raw sushi and sashimi, especially the ones sitting out in the warm air at open air markets. Why? I am still really curious to see what is going to happen tomorrow.
- Since this is a family oriented blog we won’t discuss STDs here, but a word to the wise, just in case there is a storm brewing, you should always have a raincoat ready.
Danger On the Road
Right after I started this posting the news came out of a horrific traffic accident involving a head-on collision of a tour bus with a cement truck in the central part of Thailand. The driver of the cement truck fell asleep at the wheel and the results were 19 dead and many injured. That prompted lots of news agencies around the world to write stories about the terrible traffic conditions here in Thailand. But they could have written the same thing about almost anywhere. Today I just read of a train derailment in Spain where at least 78 people lost their lives. And just after writing that last sentence I read about a bus going over a cliff in Italy killing another 38 people, and two Swiss trains colliding head on injuring dozens. Travel can be dangerous wherever you go.
Although the Thai roads can be a very dangerous place you can mitigate the problems here by being aware and being careful. Almost 75% of all road deaths here are from motorcycle accidents. So unless you really know what you are doing on two wheels it is probably best to have some steel surrounding you, be seat belted up, and be on at least 4 wheels when you get on the road.
Thai roads can be particularly dangerous at night. The bus/cement truck accident happened at 4 am.
I avoid most intercity public buses and minibuses when I can and now even the trains as the lines are becoming increasingly run down. I usually rely on air travel – and always during the day – and never when there are thunderstorms brewing. I don’t drive my car or motorcycle at night – there are too many crazies, lots with high blood alcohol levels, roaming around at that time.
Advice: On Thai roads do everything slowly, in daylight, and sober, and expect everyone else to drive like they are crazed zombies.
But what about those other drivers? And what about your own “road rage” that driving here will inevitably bring out of you? What can you do so that the other drivers around you don’t drive you insane (no pun intended)?
Here is a situation that happens about 5 times every time I get on the road.
You are riding down the highway. Somebody comes up from behind and tailgates a foot behind your bumper. Then he swerves around you and cuts you off causing you to brake hard.
Candidate for “road rage”? In California for sure. Here, most people would simply ignore it.
Here is what an “Old Asia Hand” (me) would do in this situation.
Old Asia hand says, “Wow! That was a dangerous move. Guess he is in more of a hurry than I am. Hope we don’t see him sprawled out over the road in a few minutes.” I then take a few deep breaths, say a Zen mantra or two, and I am okay.
Here is what one Newbie Expat did.
He chased the vehicle down. At the next intersection he pulled up alongside him and gave him the finger. The driver, got out, walked over to the Newbie, and shot him in the head.
Think I am making stuff up? This just happened at an intersection right by our house. Dead Newbie Expat; incarcerated Thai driver. Pretty much of a lose, lose situation.
You’ll hear some Expats say that Thais are the “worst drivers in the world”. That only tells us that these Expats probably haven’t traveled very much. I know they aren’t the worst. I’ve lived in the Middle East, and I have visited Los Angeles. As for the Expats who say things like this, I have seen them drive. I wouldn’t throw stones if I were them. The only people I honk my horn at are non-thinking Expats driving down the highway the wrong way. In LA someone would take out Their gun and shoot Them in the head.
Advice: It is best to leave your road ego in your garage back home when you plan to get on the Thai road. Can’t do that? As long as it doesn’t impair your driving ability, take a Xanax, or a Valium before leaving the house and maybe learn a Zen mantra or two.
Violence After Midnight
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang down. – Eric Clapton
If you follow the 2 Stay-Safe rules listed below you will probably be safer here than you were back in your home country.
There are certain parts of Thailand where one can encounter the country’s violent underbelly; bars, nightclubs, red light districts, and the shadier parts of town. These are dangerous places in any country. Of course if you read the sensationalist news accounts, especially on Expat forums here, you would think that Thailand was one of the more violent countries in the world.
In fact, the opposite is probably more true (U.S. government travel advisory: “Although the crime threat in Bangkok and other Thai cities remains lower than that in many U.S. cities, crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and burglary are not unusual. ”). Like just about anyplace you’ll visit (Boy those pickpockets in Rome are really good!), Thailand has its share of crime so always be aware of what is going on around you (Your best self-defense weapon is not a gun or a knife or a can of mace. It’s your brain. Use it.) On the whole, this is mostly a very quiet and peaceful place.
But there is the occasional Thai on Expat violence, and sometimes the Expat on Thai violence. And what a lot of people aren’t prepared for, the frequent Expat on Expat violence. Violent confrontations can run the gamut from a ridiculous bar brawl over the affections of a lady of the night, to an embarrassing transvestite mugging.
One thing that an Expat must be aware of is that if there is a violent physical encounter with a Thai it usually doesn’t just end in a bit of fisticuffs. Most Thais are extremely passive, until they aren’t anymore. And once they have been brought to the point of a physical encounter the results can often be guns drawn and mobs invoked. And then the end results are detailed in those stories that get published in “sensationalist news accounts.”
Advice: Never start the violence. Smile and back away. And maybe practice one of those Zen mantras you prepared for the road.
There are also problems with Expat women being sexually assaulted. I am not sure this happens here anymore than anywhere else, but it happens. No matter what country you are in, a female, traveling alone, is in more danger than one who is with a friend or group. No Thai woman, None, will travel anywhere in the country by herself.
Advice: If Thai women don’t go anywhere alone, no matter how liberated you think you are, maybe you shouldn’t either (When in Rome…).
It is also a good idea to read the government travel advisories and avoid places like the Deep South that are having internal strife. I avoid the popular but sleazy tourist destination of Pattaya and only go to the equally sleazy Phuket in order to link up with other transportation to get me to the nicer islands.
I would stay away from the “Full Moon Parties”, unless of course you enjoy being surrounded by tens of thousands of puking drunk westerners .
If someone wants your wallet or tries to snatch your purse, just give it to them. All your important stuff, like your passport or your money should be stuffed somewhere safe, like maybe in your underwear (Mine are in a pouch I hang around my neck under my shirt.)
And if I ever get overcharged for anything, for a beer, or a taxi ride, or an entrance fee, I simply pay the price and take it as a lesson learned. And by no accounts will I ever rent a jet ski in Thailand. Be sure to read this Google search for “jet ski scams in Thailand” .
I have lived here for a long time and only once did I ever have a violent confrontation with a Thai (or Expat for that matter). And it was when I broke BOTH of the 2 Stay-Safe Rules below. Follow these rules and you will be able to avoid almost all violent situations here. I myself am not ashamed to run away from violence or confrontations. That is one of the things I learned in getting my black belt in karate.
Stay Safe Rule
- Never get so drunk that you aren’t in control, both physically and mentally, especially if you are alone. When you are too drunk to see a violent situation occurring, you won’t be able to take actions to avoid it and bad things can happen (That great defensive weapon you posses, your brain, doesn’t work too well on alcohol.) Many sexual assaults happen to women who are intoxicated and alone. Many muggings happen to people who are intoxicated and alone.
- Do whatever you have to do before midnight. The quote from Eric Clapton above says that everything is “goona hang down” at that time. And it often does. If you read those “sensationalist news accounts” they always seem to start out by saying “Pattaya, 2 am …”, or “Patong Beach, Phuket, 4:30 am …” Very few people ever seem to get beat up, mugged, or raped before midnight.
Advice: if you are intoxicated, don’t be alone. And if you are alone, don’t get intoxicated. Party early. Logic would have it that if you are home, in your bed like I am after midnight, then you will probably be quite safe and tomorrow will be a really good day (And an added bonus is that you probably won’t be hung over either.)
As I mentioned above, night time can be a dangerous time on Thai roads. After the sun goes down my car and my motorcycle are tucked away safely in my garage.
Is this advice only for those living in Thailand? No, this is probably good advice for those living and wanting to stay safe just about anywhere.
In the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of the great TV show Hill Street Blues:
“Let’s be careful out there .”