Posted by: eureka | June 12, 2007

UK Public Announcement, Thailand Travel Warning

SUMMARY

 

The wave of New Year bombings across the capital of military-ruled Thailand killed three people and injured 30 among whom were nine foreigners including a young female tourist who had her leg blown off.

 

We advise against all but essential travel to, or through, the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. There continue to be frequent attacks, including bombings and shootings, due to insurgency and civil unrest.  Most recently, on 22 May 2007 a British national was among seven people injured in a bomb blast in Yala.

 

There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Thailand. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets in public places including those places frequented by foreigners.  On31 December 2006, eight bombs exploded at various locations in Bangkok, killing three people and injuring 36 others, including six foreigners.  Thai authorities warned that there could be further attacks in Bangkok at any time and strengthened security in the city.

 

The martial law, which was imposed in Thailand following the 19 September 2006 coup, has now been lifted in 41 (of the total of 76) provinces, including Bangkok.  However, there remains a risk of further political instability in Thailand and you should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people.

 

Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs are severe and can include the death penalty.

 

Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Thailand have resulted in a small number of human fatalities. As a precaution, you should avoid live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.  For further information see Health section below and also read Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet.

 

Around 850,000 British nationals visit Thailand every year.  The main types of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Thailand in 2006 were for:  replacing lost or stolen passports (over 750 cases); deaths, mostly from road accidents or related to drink/drugs (over 250 cases); and hospitalisations (over 220 cases).  The majority of consular cases occur in Bangkok, Pattaya and Koh Samui.

 

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

 

SAFETY AND SECURITY

Terrorism/Security

 

There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Thailand. Attacks may be indiscriminate and against civilian targets in public places including areas frequented by foreigners.  You should exercise caution at all times.

 

On 23 February 2007, the Thai authorities warned that there could be further attacks in Bangkok at any time and they have strengthened security in the city. Recent attacks in Bangkok include:

 

On 5 May 2007, a small bomb exploded in a ‘phone box near the entrance of Soi 24, Rajawithee Road.

 

On 9 April 2007, a small explosive device was detonated outside the Major Cineplex on Rajayathin Road in Bangkok’s main shopping district. There were no injuries and only minor property damage.

 

On 30 January 2007, two explosions occurred near the Rama Gardens Hotel in Bangkok.  No casualties were reported.

 

On 31 December 2006, eight bombs exploded in various locations in Bangkok, killing three people and injuring at least 36 others including six foreigners.

 

We advise against all but essential travel to, or through, the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, where there is continuing violence due to insurgency and civil unrest.

 

Since January 2004, there have been almost daily attacks in the far south. These include arson, over 200 bombings and many more shootings, stabbings and some beheadings. Targets have included civilians and members of the security forces, government office, tourist hotels and bars, shops, marketplaces, supermarkets, schools, transport infrastructure and trains.  Over 2,000 people have been killed and several thousand more injured. No British nationals have been killed in these attacks, but some other foreign nationals have been killed and injured. On 22 May 2007, a British nationals was among seven people injured in a bomb blast in Yala while on 18 and 19 February 2007, 21 bombs went off in Yala, Pattani, Songkhla and Narathiwat killing seven and injuring over 50.

 

On 19 July 2005, the Thai Government announced a serious state of emergency in the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, under a new piece of emergency legislation, which gives security authorities significant extra powers, including the power to detain suspects without charge, censor the media, conduct searches and seize documents.  This state of emergency has since been extended. Martial law also remains in place in these three provinces. On 3 November 2005, the Thai Government also announced martial law in the Chana and Thepha districts of Songkhla province. Special security measures have remained in place at all airports since the bombing of Hat Yai International Airport in April 2005.

 

If you are considering travel to, or through, the far southern provinces of Thailand, you should seriously reflect on whether or not your journey is absolutely necessary.  If you do decide to go ahead with your trip you are advised to regularly review your own and your family’s security arrangements.

 

Elsewhere in the region, Westerners were killed and injured following terrorist attacks in Indonesia; in Bali (October 2002 and October 2005) and Jakarta (August 2003 and September 2004). The extremist group Jamaah Islamiyah is thought to be responsible for these bombings.  The Thai authorities have arrested a number of terrorist suspects, most notably a senior leader of Jemaah Islamiyah.

 

Political Situation

 

On 19 September 2006, there was a coup against the Thai civilian government and martial law was imposed throughout the country.  Martial law has been lifted in 41 provinces, including Bangkok but it remains in 35 other provinces.  An interim Prime Minister was appointed on 1 October 2006. There remains a risk of further political instability in Thailand. You are advised to avoid any demonstrations and large gatherings of people.

 

Crime

 

Ten British nationals have been murdered in Thailand since January 2005.

 

Unlicensed taxis and minibuses often overcharge tourists for airport transfers.  You should ensure that the driver has a working meter or agree a charge for the ride before taking it.  There is a cheap, reliable airport bus service to the centre of Bangkok.

 

Watch out for crimes of opportunity. Theft of passports and credit cards is a problem.  Passport fraud is high and penalties are severe.

 

There has been a number of incidents where tourists have had their drinks drugged (in both tourist areas and red light districts).  You should be careful about taking drinks from strangers and be wary at clubs and parties, particularly in the Koh Samui area and at the Full Moon party on Phangan Island where incidences of date rape have been reported.  A number of British nationals have suffered severe psychiatric problems as a result of drug use, in a small number of cases resulting in suicide.

 

We continue to receive reports of sexual offences committed against foreign women and men. In January 2006, three British women were raped in separate incidents in Thailand, including one who was murdered.  Female travellers in particular should maintain a high state of personal awareness during their time in Thailand.

 

You should beware of being approached by strangers who offer to take you to gem shops. Once in the shop you may be asked to purchase gems on your credit card.  The gems are sent to your home address in the UK. However, they are rarely worth the value you pay for them.  It is very difficult to get your money returned as the shops shut down quickly and re-open somewhere else.

 

You should report any incidents of crime to the Thai police before leaving the country.

 

Local Travel

 

As noted in the Terrorism/Security section of this travel advice, there has been a resurgence of violence in the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. We recommend against all but essential travel to, or through, these four provinces. There have recently been continued attempts to sabotage the railways. On 4 June 2007, insurgents sabotaged a stretch of rail tracks between Yala and Pattani that caused a train to derail. Twenty people were injured.

 

Thai to Burma Border

 

The main towns along the order with Burma are generally safe.  However, if you plan to travel to remoter areas you should exercise particular care.  There is sporadic conflict on the Burmese side between Government soldiers and armed opposition troops, some of whom cross the border into Thailand to seek refuge. There are also occasional clashes between the Thai security forces and armed criminal groups, such as drug traffickers who operate in these areas. Outside the main towns, police and military checkpoints are actively manned and travellers may be asked to produce identification. If you wish to visit border areas outside the main towns you should consult the local authorities for advice on the current situation at:  http://www.tourismthailand.org/.

 

Do not attempt to cross the border into Burma other than at an official border checkpoint and after obtaining any relevant permissions/ visas from the Burmese and Thai authorities.

 

Travelling to Cambodia

 

There are two legal land border crossing points into and out of Cambodia for foreigners: Srakaew Province to Poipet, open daily 07:30 hours to 20:00 hours; and Klong Yai at Had Lek, Trad Province to Koh Kong, open daily 07:00 hours to 20:00 hours.  British nationals need a visa for Cambodia.

 

Crossing to Laos

 

Visas are available at the principal entry points, the Thai to LaoFriendshipBridge, LuangPrabang and VientianeAirports, on payment of 30 American Dollars cash and provision of a passport photograph.  If you intend to enter at any other entry point then you will need to get a visa in advance. You should also be aware that not all entry points are open to foreigners.

 

Road Safety

 

An international or Thai driving licence is required to drive in Thailand.

 

Riding a motorcycle or scooter in Thailand can be dangerous. On average 38 people a day die in motorcycle accidents in Thailand. You should take the same safety precautions as in the UK.  The Thai law that safety helmets must be worn is widely ignored: a contributing factor in many tourist deaths each year.

 

The motorcycles or scooters available for hire in beach resorts are usually mopeds of less than 50cc. They are not registered as a vehicle and cannot, consequently, be used legally on a public road. Motorcycles or scooters of under 50cc are not covered by insurance and if there is an accident, the hirer is responsible for any damage or loss of the vehicle or injury to a third party. When the motorcycle is over 50cc you should check your travel insurance policy carefully to ensure that you are covered.  Before you hire a vehicle check the small print of the lease agreement carefully.

 

You should never hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motor scooter or cycle.  Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the motor scooter or cycle.

 

Air Safety

 

The European Commission has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Union. The list can be found at the following link:  http://europa.eu.int/comm/transport/air/safety/flywell_en.htm.

 

Sea Safety

 

On 24 April 2007, a ferry caught fire and sank in Maya Bay, Phi Phi. Three British nationals were slightly injured.

 

There has been a number of instances of passenger boats sinking, usually due to overloading. In January 2005, four British nationals were among 18 people who died near Koh Samui when a speedboat bringing passengers back from the full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan sank. During the full moon party speedboats to and from Koh Pha Ngan are often severely overloaded. You should exercise care at all times when travelling by passenger ferry or speedboat and avoid travel on vessels that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. You should also ensure that life jackets are available.

 

River Safety

 

You should take care when swimming/diving/kayaking or white water rafting in rivers or close to waterfalls, particularly in the rainy season from May to October. Currents are extremely strong.  In three separate incidents in August 2006, three foreign tourists (including two British nationals) died when their respective white water rafts capsized.

 

Swimming

 

You should take particular care when swimming off coastal areas, especially during monsoon season (November-March in Koh Samui and the south-east of the Thai peninsula and May – October in the remainder of Thailand). Strong riptides have resulted in a number of drownings in several areas including Phuket, Koh Chang, Hua Hin/Cha-am, Rayong and Pattaya and the Samui archipelago. Jellyfish can swim close to the shore, particularly during the rainy season from May to October.  Their sting can be fatal. If in doubt take local advice e.g. from hotel management, dive centres.

 

Water sports and scuba diving

 

The standards maintained by diving schools and rescue services are not always as high and comprehensive as they might be in the UK.  Check a dive operator’s credentials carefully before using them and ensure that your insurance covers you for all of the activities that you undertake. If you are an experienced diver you should purchase dive specific insurance and check that your qualifications and experience fall within the cover provided.  You should contact your issuing authority (ie. PADI or BSAC) if you are in any doubt. If you have had no previous diving experience you should ask your dive operator to explain what coverage they offer before signing up for a course; you should also be satisfied that sufficient safety equipment is available on the boat, particularly oxygen. You should also ask about contingency plans, which should include the ability to call for help whilst at sea and to evacuate divers to the nearest hyperbaric chamber if necessary.

 

LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

Never become involved with drugs of any kind in Thailand.  Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment. If you are found guilty of being in possession of marijuana you are likely to receive a long prison sentence plus a hefty fine.  Amphetamines and Ecstasy are regarded as class A drugs and possession or trafficking of them carries the same penalties as, for example, heroin.  If you are found guilty of being in possession of 20 grams, or more, of a class A drug at a point of exit from Thailand you will most likely be sentenced to death.

 

It is illegal to import more than 200 cigarettes per person into Thailand. The importation of more than 200 cigarettes will be met with a heavy fine and the confiscation of the cigarettes.

 

By law, tourists are expected to carry their passports with them at all times in Thailand. There have been incidents where tourists have been arrested because they were unable to produce their passport.

 

It is a criminal offence to make critical or defamatory comments about the King or other members of the Royal family in Thailand. This offence is punishable by a sentence of three to fifteen years or longer.

 

Thai family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue.

 

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Visas

 

British passport holders may enter Thailand for up to 30 days, without obtaining a visa in advance of arrival.  If you intend to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days, or you intend to work in the country, you must obtain an extension of stay or a valid visa. This visa free entry, of up to 30 days per visit, is limited to a maximum of 90 days in any six month (180-day) period. However, time spent in Thailand on a tourist visa issued by a Thai Embassy or Consulate does not count towards the 90-day limit.

 

Overstaying without the proper authority is a serious matter and you can be held in detention until a fine is paid.  The only legal way of obtaining a new visa, entry permit or extension of stay is from a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate, an Immigration Officer at a point of entry into Thailand or one of the Immigration Offices around the country.

 

Visas issued by visa shops, travel agents or by any other means are likely to be illegal and lead to criminal proceedings, which may result in a large fine or imprisonment.  You would also be prohibited from entering Thailand again.

 

Passport validity

 

Entry to Thailand is normally refused if you have a passport with less than six months’ validity.

 

Employment in Thailand

 

You need a work permit, which is difficult to obtain and time consuming, in order to work legally in Thailand. If you enter Thailand on a tourist visa you are not allowed to take up employment.  Failure to observe this rule can lead to arrest and deportation.  Advertisements, for example, for sales staff or currency trading advisers offering free flights and five star accommodation in Bangkok should be treated with scepticism.

 

Airport Tax

 

With effect from 1 February 2007, airport tax of 700 Baht per person will be incorporated into the cost of tickets. Airport tax for domestic flights is also included in tickets. The exception is Koh Samui where there is a domestic departure tax of 400 Baht per person.

 

Travelling with children

 

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country. Thai authorities do not require such evidence, but if you have any concerns please check with Thai representation in the UK.

 

HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. Please see:  Travel Insurance.

 

There are excellent international hospitals in Bangkok but they can be expensive.  Ordinary hospitals and clinics in Thailand are not always up to UK standards. This applies particularly to the coastal islands and many mainland districts outside of Bangkok, where hospitals and clinics are not equipped to deal with major trauma.  Many hospitals require the authorisation of next of kin to perform operations on patients and guarantee of payment for the hospital bills from immediate next of kin.  You should complete next of kin details in the back of your passports.

 

Since January 2005 the number of reported cases of Dengue Fever in Thailand, and in particular Southern Thailand has increased sharply.  There have been several thousand cases and some deaths. Press reports state that on 5 June 160 villagers in the Mae Chan district of Chiang Rai province were hospitalised with confirmed dengue fever. The rainy season, which is the peak season for dengue fever, is May to October.  You should take adequate precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. Detailed information about dengue fever is available on the WHO website:  http://www.who.int/topics/dengue/en/ and the National Travel Health Network and Centre website: http://www.nathnac.org/pro/factsheets/dengue.htm

 

Thailand has a significant level of HIV infection and AIDS.  Heterosexual transmission accounts for most HIV infections and HIV is common among prostitutes of both sexes.

 

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at: http://www.dh.gov.uk.

 

Avian Influenza

 

There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in domestic poultry and wild birds in Thailand.  This has led to a small number of human fatalities believed to have arisen through close contact with infected poultry. On 26 September 2006, the Thai authorities announced that the most recent fatality occurred in Nong Bua Lumphu Province (north eastern Thailand) on 10 August 2006. Since the end of 2003, a number of human deaths have also occurred in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Nigeria, Turkey and Vietnam.

 

The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low.  However, as a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the possibility that the Avian Influenza outbreaks could lead at some point to a human flu pandemic, if a virus mutates to a form which is easily transmissible between people.

 

British nationals living longer term in an Avian-Influenza affected region should take personal responsibility for their own safety in the event of a future pandemic, including considering their access to adequate healthcare and ensuring travel documents are up to date.

 

NATURAL DISASTERS

Tidal waves/Earthquake – 26 December 2004:

 

In common with a number of other countries in the region, Thailand was hit by a series of tidal waves (tsunamis) on 26 December 2004, following a major earthquake in the Indian Ocean.  Almost the whole length of Thailand’s west coast was adversely affected, together with the many islands off the coast in the Andaman Sea.

 

Services and facilities in most areas of Thailand affected by the tsunami, including Phuket, are now operating normally.  But on the coast of Khao Lak and on Phi Phi some services may still not be back to pre-tsunami standards.  You should check with your tour operator before travelling to affected areas.

 

If you are a relative or friend of a British citizen killed, injured or missing as a result of the tsunami in December 2004, and are planning to visit Thailand, you may wish to contact the British Embassy in Bangkok.

 

Monsoon Season

 

The rainy season in much of Thailand commences in May with September and October being the height of the monsoon season (November to March in Koh Samui and the south east of the Thai peninsula). Widespread flooding in the north, north eastern and central regions is routine, often resulting in flash floods and mud slides. You are advised to check local weather reports or with your tour operator before travelling to affected areas.  If considering jungle trekking ensure that you use reliable licensed tour guides and check local weather reports before travelling.


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