The Hangover Part II is a comedy, but the dangers it portrays about Bangkok should not be taken lightly. For as delicious as this Thai capital city’s food is, as much as its hotels impress, and as beautiful as its shrines and temples are, Bangkok has a dark underbelly. It’s home to a thriving sex industry, debaucherous bars and nightclubs, and almost lawless roads where tragedies happen all the time.
So is Bangkok safe for travelers? Most statistics say yes, as the Bangkok crime rate is lower than that of many U.S. cities, and violence against tourists is rare. However, certain parts of Bangkok are essentially a free-for-all, so it’s important to know where you’re going, what to avoid, and how to conduct yourself to make sure that you stay safe in Bangkok.
Tips for Staying Safe in Bangkok
- Thailand has some of the world’s most dangerous roads, and traffic fatalities are common. In Bangkok, travel by boat or on foot (away from traffic) whenever possible. If you must take a tuk-tuk or taxi in Bangkok, make sure that the vehicle is registered, don’t share rides with strangers, and establish the cab’s rate and destination up front.
- Before arriving in Bangkok, get a sense of which districts are safe, and which are the areas to avoid, or at least to be very careful in. Patpong can be a particularly risky place, due to its position as a sex-trafficking capital of the world—if you go, stay well away from anything having to do with the sex industry there, and do not get inebriated or otherwise lose your sense of place. This advice is also true for the Nana Entertainment Plaza and Soi Cowboy districts.
- Be extremely cautious of drugs in Bangkok, as well as drink spiking in Thailand overall. Anyone—including tourists—caught possessing or using drugs in Bangkok faces harsh punishment. And locals or fellow travelers could drug your drink or food in order to rob or rape you. Never leave your beverage or meal unattended, and always travel with a companion.
How to Get Around Safely in Bangkok
Getting around Bangkok safely can be a tricky proposition—the World Health Organization ranks road safety in Thailand among the worst in the world, and the U.S. Department of State warns: “Accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles are the greatest safety concern for visitors.” Serious bus collisions are common, motorcycle drivers often don’t know what they’re doing, and Bangkok’s vehicular accident rate spikes even higher at night and during holidays.
The U.S. Embassy “strongly” recommends against using motorcycle and moped taxis in Bangkok because vehicles like Bangkok’s tuk-tuks are inherently dangerous, and their drivers aren’t always committed to their own safety, much less the safety of the tuk-tuk’s passengers.
Before entering any for-hire vehicle in Bangkok—taxi, tuk-tuk, or otherwise—ask the cab driver to turn on the meter (if there is one) or agree in advance about what the rate for the ride will be. Also, try to get a general sense of what type of working condition the vehicle is in—if it seems rickety or problematic, don’t get in. Taxi drivers in Bangkok have been known to “abandon ship” as soon as their car starts having problems, leaving their passengers stranded outside on the dangerous roads.
Always check to make sure that your taxi driver has a yellow registration placard on the dashboard, and check to make sure that his face matches the photo on this placard.
For safety’s sake, never share taxis with strangers, especially in nightlife districts like Patpong where fellow passengers might be inebriated and potentially violent.
Bus travel in Thailand tends to be unsafe, especially at night; Thailand has one of the world’s highest road fatality rates, according to World Nomads. And though there have been some safety improvements on trains in Thailand, derailment is not uncommon.
You might consider traveling by boat along the Chao Phraya River to avoid Bangkok’s dangerous road traffic—if you do, avoid boating at night, wear a life jacket, and don’t get on any boat that looks too crowded.
In general, other tips for staying safe in Bangkok include maintaining extreme awareness of your surroundings, limiting alcohol consumption, and traveling in couples or groups. If you’re walking around Bangkok, additional ways to stay safe include using elevated walkways and pedestrian bridges wherever possible, and looking both directions before crossing streets—even at crosswalks where the green “walk” light is on.
Many travelers also wonder whether it’s safe to drink the tap water in Bangkok. While the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority of Bangkok maintains that the tap water in Bangkok is potable, many people who live in Bangkok choose not to consume the tap water because they’re concerned about possible contamination from leaking or aging pipes. Visitors may want to choose bottled water instead.
Safe Places—and Areas to Avoid—in Bangkok
In Patpong, Bangkok’s tourist-oriented red light district, it’s not difficult to unwittingly (or wittingly) get yourself involved with the illicit sex trade that’s pervasive in Thailand. Walk along the Patpong bar scene, and you’re sure to be accosted by strippers, prostitutes, or people promising to take you to them. It can be quite shocking to the naive traveler, and even seasoned patrons of red light districts are likely to feel dismay at this brazen exploitation of women and children.
Though it can be fun to party in Patpong, stay well away from anyone resembling a sex worker—not only to avoid contributing to human trafficking and slavery, but also to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases. Keep in mind, too, that prostitution is illegal in Thailand.
Similar to Patpong, you’ll also want to exercise lots of caution near Nana Entertainment Plaza, as well as in Soi Cowboy, other areas of Bangkok that are known for sex tourism. Aside from steering clear of prostitution and Patpong’s “massage” parlors, be on high alert for other elements that elevate Bangkok’s crime rate, like pickpocketing—especially at the Siam Paragon Mall, where pickpocketing teams roam.
If you’re intent on enjoying non-sex-related nightlife in Patpong, beware that some of Patpong’s bars scam travelers by charging them exorbitant prices for cocktails.
When taking into consideration the areas to avoid in Bangkok, many travelers want to understand whether the Patpong bars and nightlife are safe. Aside from the problems mentioned above, the area is patrolled by Tourist Police and has many CCTV cameras—this level of monitoring and policing makes Patpong safer, by some measures, than many large Western cities.
Bangkok crime is elevated in crowded tourist destinations like Khao San Road, where pickpocketing and petty theft are common. However, police are attempting to crack down on such crimes, according to the Bangkok Post.
There are some safer neighborhoods and areas in Bangkok for travelers to enjoy, according to SafeAround. Upscale Sukhumvit boasts fine-dining restaurants, upscale shops, hotels that target well-heeled travelers, and a low crime rate for Bangkok (with the notable exception of its more dangerous areas of Nana Entertainment Plaza and Soi Cowboy).
Siam Square is also quite safe—and a great place to shop for affordable souvenirs, fashions, and electronics. Another safe area in Bangkok, Rattanakosin, has bustling street markets and upscale hotels, as well as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (home of one of the world’s largest Buddha statues), fascinating museums, and worthwhile monasteries.
Drugs and Druggings in Bangkok
One other factor to consider in terms of Bangkok safety is the fact that drugs—especially methamphetamine and intravenous drugs—are pervasive in Bangkok, despite the notoriously severe laws and penalties for possessing or using drugs in Thailand.
Drug traffickers have been known to trick U.S. citizens into being drug mules by promising a “free” vacation to Thailand. When these unwitting importers are caught, they face some serious prison time, since it’s not a valid legal defense in Thailand to claim you didn’t know a package you were carrying contained drugs.
If you’re partying in Bangkok, keep in mind that Thai police occasionally raid bars and nightclubs to catch drug users and underage drinkers. Anyone who tests positive for drugs, tourists included, is arrested, charged, and often jailed. (If you’ve ever seen Return to Paradise, you know that you do not want to end up in this situation.)
There’s another form of drugs to be wary of in Bangkok, and those are the drugs that “friendly” strangers might use to spike your drink. Spiked drinks in Thailand are reported frequently, with reports of bar employees or fellow patrons slipping sedatives like scopolamine into victims’ drinks (or even food), with the intention of robbing or raping them once they’re sedated. This happens on overnight trains and buses as well, so beware. Never leave your drink or meal unattended, and always travel with at least one trusted companion.