Safety in Phuket, on the whole, needn’t be a concern. Thailand is a peaceful, non-violent place, and there is a good tourist infrastructure. Phuket safety presents few serious risks to the traveller, but there are several minor problems to be aware of. The Tsunami of 2004 brought that into sharp attention. Riptides in the monsoon season also claim a dozen lives or more a year, while motorcycle accidents are another main cause of injuries and fatalities.
Here is a run down of the main safety risks in Phuket, with the most important listed first and lesser problems on page two:
Beach Safety in Phuket
From May to October, water conditions can become hazardous in Phuket as the southwest monsoon rolls in. While there have been some improvements in beach safety, such as the installation of lifeguard towers, these are manned only during the November-April high season, and every year there are drownings along Phuket’s west coast.
Don’t go swimming if you see red flags flying and check conditions carefully if no warning flags are present. Even if the waves look manageable, there may be strong ‘rips’ lurking under the surface. If you do get caught, don’t try to fight against it – swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current and let the waves bring you in. Fortunately the Andaman Sea is generally free of large surf.
Another danger when swimming off most of the main beaches is of the manmade variety, with jet-skis and speedboats ever-present. Even though there are serious accidents every year, few beaches have marked-off ‘swimmers-only’ areas and so it is generally up to each individual to use their own common sense. There is also no regulation on rental - anyone, it seems, can rent a jet-ski, including children, drunks, whoever, so long as they cough up the cash. It’s not only annoying for swimmers to have to share the waters with these fume-spewing machines; it’s dangerous, and sometimes fatal.
Terrorism in Phuket
Aside from the localised violent acts carried out by a group of radical Muslims in the restive south - more than 500kms from Phuket - Thailand has yet to see any terrorist acts upon its soil. Since terrorism has affected many nations around the world, it’s impossible to declare for certain that the Kingdom is risk-free. That said, however, the Thai police have been effective in protecting tourist areas and were successful in finding and apprehending Jamaa Islamiya JI leader, Hambali, who was convicted of masterminding the first Bali bombing in 2003.
In Phuket, measures have been taken to reduce the threat of terrorism through increased checkpoints and in the closing off of the popular bar strip, Bangla Road, to traffic at night. Don’t be surprised to have your bag searched by security guards at the entrance to some nightspots. This is for your own safety.
In the wake of the shameful occupation of Central Bangkok by the ‘Red Shirt’ protestors in May 2010, Thailand’s political woes need a mention. The background of this originates from the coup of 2006, which has created a polarised society and political deadlock that regrettably spills over into the tourism domain. Although a closure of the main airports is unlikely to be repeated, and Phuket remains largely free of any demonstrations, the situation is not entirely unresolved despite the Shinawatras being back in office. Ultimately, the issues are confined to Bangkok, and despite what your foreign office might tell you, much of the country remains safe and unaffected. The only reason not to come is if a full blown travel warning is issued, meaning your travel insurance becomes invalid.
Phuket Road Safety
Driving in Thailand is an undertaking that is not for the faint of heart. The roads are full of aggressive, unskilled and intoxicated drivers, with casualty rates, especially among motorbike riders, exceptionally high. If you choose to drive in Thailand, do so with extra care and attention and always expect the unexpected. In Phuket’s rainy season roads can become especially hazardous, with slick conditions and flooding in some areas. Always wear a helmet when riding a motorbike.
Pickpocketing and Theft
Although not endemic in Phuket, thefts do happen daily. More violent acts of theft, such as muggings, are quite rare and probably less likely to occur here than in your home country. Many hotels provide in-room safes as an additional security measure.
While it’s unnecessary to keep your cash and valuables hidden away in a money belt, it’s best to keep watch of your bags and wallet in busy tourist areas. Thefts seem to happen most often to unsuspecting visitors gaping at the ladyboys on Soi Katoey off Bangla Road in Patong. Bag snatchers occasionally target lone motorbike drivers, so be sure to keep your valuables secure while riding.
This is page 1 of 2. Go to Page 2: More on Safety Concerns in Phuket…