A motorcycle tour without a helmet. Hard-drinking and drug-taking at moonlit parties. Out in the heat despite heart problems. Smoking weed on the beach. Scrawling something on a picture of the king.
These are some of the dangerous “don’t do” things that can get tourists in a lot of trouble in Thailand.
And yet “some tourists seem to hand in their brains once they have arrived at the airport,” says Olivier Meyer. This Swiss native practices medicine in the Thai beach resort city of Pattaya and says he has seen a lot.
Meyer has treated people for a wide range of illnesses – sunstroke, cardiac problems, diarrhoea, injuries from accidents and sexually-transmitted diseases.
A man who already has had some heart problems who then lies around unprotected in the sun’s heat, imbibes alcohol and then maybe invites a “lady” to his hotel room while taking a pill for some added stimulation – that’s inviting trouble, Meyer says.
“Some of these people have ended up in the emergency room,” he says.
Scenes that can be observed while walking around Pattaya tell a similar story. On the beach at Beach Road, two older men are sound asleep in the sun. The skin on their stomachs, thighs and faces have slowly been broiled to a deep pinkish-red. Next to them, empty bottles of cola and whisky.
Then there is the danger of motorbikes, which poses risks to inexperienced riders. Along the Walking Street stretch of bars and discos, just looking at the dozens of machines ranging from 100cc motorbikes all the way to the “heavyweight” motorcycles of up to 1,000cc will make any biker’s heart race.
The daily rental rates are relatively cheap, but no insurance protection is included. As a rule, this is not offered. Helmets come with the deal, but many riders don’t wear them. The rental companies don’t ask riders if they have a motorcycle license.
Meyer is emphatic: “By no means rent a motorcycle. It is much too dangerous.” And in fact, Thailand is one of the world leaders when it comes to serious traffic accidents, with motorcycle riders especially affected.
And it’s not only the driver’s health that is at risk. If a foreigner causes an accident, it can become very expensive, especially if Thais are injured.
Pattaya and the island of Koh Samui are especially dangerous territory for tourist-bikers. Among other examples, on Koh Samui, two German students were killed last year on their motor scooter when they were struck by an all-terrain vehicle.
But self-inflicted dangers are just the tip of the iceberg. Many tourists show their lack of respect for local customs, which, in Thailand, can mean far more than dirty looks.
For example, there is picture of the beloved late King Bhumipol, who died in 2016, on the temple of Wat Chai Mongkon, and a sign saying “No selfies”. And yet, some tourists ignore the sign, but this can mean trouble.
One might even face time in jail for besmirching the reputation of the late king, for example by stepping on a bank note bearing his face or scribbling on pictures of him.
Then there is Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui, where holidaymakers are lying back and relaxing in upholstered sunbeds by the water – passing a joint around. There is a large red-and-white sign saying “Narcotics are illegal in Thailand” and a warning of jail sentences.
The infamous full-moon parties on Koh Phangan are also not without their danger, with authorities cautioning about a number of alcohol and drug-related deaths as well as sexual assaults among partygoers. – dpa/Bernd Kubisch