6 Backpacking Tips for Staying Safe in Thailand

Nomadic Matt shares his top dos and don'ts for travelers in Thailand, to help you avoid trouble and get the most from your visit.


Backpacker in Thailand Photo © iStock/lzf

Thailand is a popular destination for all different types of travelers. It’s especially a common stop for backpackers and round-the-world the travelers because of its cheap and delicious food, beautiful beaches, great diving, and friendly people. It’s an easy place to travel. However, that doesn’t mean nothing can go wrong. In fact, a lot of things can go wrong.

While travel in Thailand is easy and amazing, there are some dangers to avoid.

1. Don’t talk about the King

The king is a revered figure and viewed as a God by many Thais. Talking about him is taboo. Moreover, Thailand has some of the toughest Lese Majeste laws in the world. It’s like fight club: you simply don’t talk about it. Never mention his name or your thoughts about him. Bringing him up can bring about serious consequences. Thais love their king and they may forgive you for not knowing better and asking but try to dig deeper and you will just bring misery and maybe even jail time.

2. Watch your drinks

Be careful when getting drinks at the bar. If you’re in touristy areas or places that seem seedy, watch who makes your drinks. There have been many reports of foreigners getting drugged and robbed in popular destinations. I once got drugged in Thailand but luckily I had friends their to watch me. Not everyone is so lucky. Be careful and don’t accept drinks from strangers.

3. Eat where the locals do

If you want to eat some of the best Thai food in the country, you have to eat on the streets. The best food in Thailand is found there, but to avoid getting sick, eat where the locals do. The food will most likely be better and fresher. I made the mistake of going somewhere else to avoid a line and I paid for it all night.

4. Avoid the red-light areas

Thailand is famous for its red light districts. From Bangkok to Phuket to Pattaya, lots of people come here for the sex and the seediness of these areas.  However, it is in these areas that most of the bad things in Thailand happen. From robberies to drugging to getting ripped off, everything happens here. If you want to avoid these things, avoid these areas. They aren’t worth visiting. I’ve had friends detained in bars by scary men for refusing to pay an overcharged bill.  

5. Don’t do drugs

You can find drugs in Thailand and you can find plenty, especially marijuana, in the country. You’ll get offered it often. Don’t do it. Drugs are illegal in Thailand. You’ve seen the movie “Brokedown Palace”? That happens. Often times, dealers will sell you drugs, report you to the police, and they will come and arrest you. To get out, you might have to pay a large bribe. Avoid the situation and don’t do drugs.

6. Say no to scams

There are a lot of scams in Thailand. If people offer you anything on the street, just say no. Especially avoid the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok. They will take you around to shops of low quality because they get a kick back while overcharging you for the ride. Moreover, if they say a temple is closed, don’t listen. My first trip to Thailand I fell for that scam and only realized it after I was in the car. If you want to buy something, simply ask other travelers or your hotel on where to go.

Traveling Thailand is relatively easy and safe. You rarely hear of anything going wrong. And when you do, it is often because people ended up doing something they shouldn’t have.  However, that doesn’t mean that danger isn’t there. There are many scams and tricks played on the tourists. Keeping your head about you, using some common sense, and the tips above can ensure a safe and fun trip to Thailand.

Behind the Backpack

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, and Yahoo! Finance. For more information, subscribe to his blog.

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  • John said

    I born and live in Thailand. And well, I rather say those things are simply the 'common sense' while traveling to anywhere around the world... And there's no point to make Thailand looks scary to travel... Don't talk about the king.. Yes, you can talk about the king, but in a good way... no one should disrespect the strong culture that belongs the the country...

    Every country got an area so called 'red light district' and in those area you often find scammers, thief, drunk in those area... And 'of course' ! You got to take care of yourself !

    No drugs? It is illegal in almost every country... Of course, you shouldn't do it ! If you do, that's your own risk! That has nothing to do with Thailand..

    Point of writing this is... Even I travel around... And obviously a person should always take a good care of themselves and not doing anything illegal and respect the culture of that place....

    Plz stop making this beautiful country looks bad... Always remember... You can't expect to have 100% of population to be a good man... This is world... We all got good and bad...

    Thank you..

  • Peter said

    I agree with John, these are just common sense the only one i think people majorly need to know is number 1 as its a recently happened.
    This article is really badly laid out as it sais 6 tips for Thailand when 5 of them is things not to do and one thing to do, did you just spend 2 days in Bangkok get absolutely fucked up and do all the wrong things. Maybe do an article of things you did and add some of these things in there.

    Watch your drinks.....I've been spiked more times in England then I have in Thailand, what you don't realise when you buy a bucket it's made with cheap alcohol which makes you paraletic if you drink like a back packer. Common sense anywhere in the world

    Am not going to say anymore just delete this article and start again.....really badly done

  • Neil said

    Absolutely agree with John's response.
    All of these points are applicable common sense for travel in ANY country. These are the same tired points constantly repurposed.
    My several times in Thailand last winter were absolutely amazing and I look forward to returning.
    Very well said John!

  • Unknown said

    Agreed with John, whoever writes this has to do more research. Those things apply to any country, not just Thailand. the REAL travelers need to be open minded, not in a way that would dis-credit a country, I wouldn't call this type of people travelers, but trolls.

  • Local said

    Agree with John.

  • Whitni said

    I agree with John, whole heartedly. I have been traveling SE Asia as a solo female backpacker from the US, & I've never felt safer or more welcomed anywhere. Being from the US, I know very few people that have backpacked SE Asia. I am amazed at how beautiful & safe it has been. I am constantly posting pictures & comments encouraging my friends, family and followers to come to Thailand, and all of SE Asia.

  • Jesse said

    I've traveled for pretty much all central and South America and Europe. All this tips are common sense. "Don't do drugs" really? Unless you are in Amsterdam that's ilegal everywhere and even if they are legal you shouldn't be doing it.
    Just delete the article, totally agree with John

  • Robert said

    Wow! So many snowflakes in this thread. Everyone overreacts to everything now just looking for things to be offended by.

    Nothing in the above article casts a bad light on Thailand because as you all say this is just common sense advice no matter which country you are travelling in, hence it also applies to Thailand (which this article relates to).

    Drugs are prevalent in all countries, also Thailand. Best not to get involved.

    I've talked with Thai people about the royal family whilst in public and the conversation was closed down pretty quickly, not that they acted as if I was being rude but you could tell it wasn't a conversation that was going anywhere. I could walk down a busy street in England singing "The Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen" and I'd get a few odd looks but I wouldn't be at threat from arrest. Yet potentially similar views openly aired towards Thai royalty could land you in trouble. All the author is saying is err on the side of caution regarding that topic of conversation or even respect that it may be an uncomfortable/problematic subject for some Thai nationals.

    At no point does the author say you're more likely to have your drink spiked in Thailand than any other destination or that other countries don't have Red Light Districts. Avoiding these areas and being aware that your drinks could potentially be spiked is also good solid advice for any traveller anywhere.

    "Thailand is famous for its red light districts"

    Well if you're honest it is, much like Holland. But is that representative of the country as a whole? No, not even close. The author doesn't suggest it is. Do you get a concentration of criminal activity in these areas? Yes, so best advice (as given) is to stay clear.

    You're all "open minded" travellers yet here you are wanting an article taken down (censored) because you wrongly assume the author has an ill view of Thailand. This is a sensible list of things to be aware of, not an article relating to the beauty and diversity of Thai culture which I'm sure you'll find this author has covered on his site and in many publications.

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