If you're looking for a party, Thailand's Patong is the place to be. But here's what you should look out for to have a safe but fun time.
Patong has become a haven for all manner of scam artists, stand-over touts, drunk farangs (foreigners), drink spikers, pickpockets and other individuals conspiring to challenge the safety and wellbeing of any budding Bangla Road adventurer.
To combat the tide of visitor complaints, and a growing criminal presence, the Thai Government has made Patong the flagship of a zero tolerance crime initiative by installing CCTV cameras and introducing police spot-checks to provide a safer Patong visitor experience.
To stay safe, here are the things you should look out for in Patong.
Reports of drink spiking have been reported in bars around Soi Bangla. To avoid this practice:
Read our travel safety article on nightlife in Thailand for more safety tips.
Drinking around Patong can be a surreal experience: there are go-go bars and outrageous entertainment at so-called "ladyboy" cabarets.
A lot of farangs come to Patong to get drunk. The worst behaved tend to be in the sois (streets of bars) surrounding Bangla Road, and often start fights in an effort to avoid scams. Becoming aggressive or violent is a really bad way to get out of a scam in Patong: threaten one tout, Tuk-Tuk driver or ladyboy and you could find yourself in the middle of an angry crowd. Keep your wits about you when encountering drunken or belligerent people; it can get nasty for everybody involved.
Infamous for over-the-top prices, Tuk-Tuk drivers are seasoned pros at separating travelers from their baht. Don't use them.
Our article on dealing with Thailand's Tuk-Tuk drivers is well worth a read to negotiate the hustle of a seasoned Tuk-Tuk operator.
After a few drinks, a lot of the Patong bars start to look the same – "Am I on Soi Eric, Soi Gonzo, or Soi Easy?" If you go out for a few drinks by yourself, make sure you stay close to Soi Bangla, so it's an easy walk back to your accommodation. This should prevent you having to travel by Tuk-Tuk or risk relying on others to get you back safely, making you vulnerable to robbery or assault.
Shock, horror, some Patong bar girls have been known to rip off male travelers. The ploy is to get the unsuspecting bloke roaring drunk or to spike his drink, and then take him back to his hotel where he is robbed. It's a good idea to stay at a guest-friendly guesthouse or hotel which have cameras and require that all guest visitors register their ID on arrival.
Also, it's a good idea to keep your valuables in the hotel safe.
Take the usual precautions, including avoiding walking alone late at night. Pay special attention to your personal effects and listen for any accelerating mopeds. There have been bag-snatching incidents involving female travelers carried out by criminals on bikes, some carrying weapons including screwdrivers and knives. Always be aware of your surroundings.
Avoid back streets and alleys when you are by yourself or late at night. If you wouldn't do it in your hometown, don't do it in Patong. Keep your eyes open and you'll have a good time.
Most ladyboys are very friendly as they peacock around the streets and bars. While you might like the idea of a great photo of you arm-in-arm with one of Patong's best-known residents, once the picture is taken, they often demand money, sometimes very aggressively. This can be a strange and frightening experience, particularly if a throng of angry ladyboys threatens you. See this one coming and try to sidestep it unless you are willing to pay for a photo.
The same approach applies with touts trying to get you to have a photo taken with animals, including iguanas and Javan slow lorises. The animals, which are often drugged and poorly treated, are placed on you for comedic purposes, your picture is taken, and then the handler demands payment. If you take part, you are participating in cruel animal exploitation.
Patong is infamous for its jet ski racket. You rent a jet ski, have a good time, return it to the rental agent who then demands serious cash, claiming you have damaged the jet ski. Think you'll beat them at their own game by taking photos of the craft before you ride - think again. They cover the damage with water-based paint that washes off. We recommend that you don't rent jet skis in Patong.
Some travelers have reported becoming unwell after swimming in the waters around Patong. If the water looks noticeably polluted, stay out of it.
Since November 2017, Thai authorities have cracked down on littering, and smoking is banned on Patong Beach in an effort to reduce marine pollution.
If you aren't a confident swimmer, swim near the 15 lifeguard stations along the beach. Occasionally, people get caught in rips and strong currents.
Monsoon season is between May and October, and the ocean around Patong can get pretty wild. If you see a red warning sign or flag, don't swim. Also, beware of dangerous box jellyfish in the waters off Patong during monsoon season.
Be wary of rife card skimming at EFTPOS machines and ATMs. Never let your card out of your sight.
If you need to withdraw cash, use an ATM in a bank or hotel during daylight hours. Always shield your pin when entering it.
These guys are on your side. A mix of Thai nationals and foreigners living in Thailand, they are there to keep visitors safe.
The phone number of the Patong Tourist Police is 1155. Put it on your phone.
You may also want to read our tips on dealing with other police in Thailand. It can be a sensitive situation.
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