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Holidays from hell?... in Thailand?

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From bus & motorcycle accidents to derailed trains, tourists are worried about safety. Should they be? 


Holidays from hell

Is Thailand becoming a riskier destination for foreign visitors and what can we do to improve matters?


Karnjana Karnjanatawe

When violent, unforeseen events turn your dream vacation into a nightmare, who can you turn to for help and who is ultimately at fault?

During the last two weeks of June, two incidents in popular holiday destinations were serious enough to make headlines.

Three foreigners sustained gunshot injuries in Chiang Mai when a drunken college student opened fire in a restaurant. And in Phuket, a Russian man was slapped around and a fake revolver pressed against his forehead by the jealous boyfriend of a Thai woman with whom the Russian had become friendly.

Sexual assaults are always newsworthy, but few in recent years have been as widely publicised as that by the so-called "Evil Man of Krabi", the title given an angry video clip posted on YouTube last year by the father of a Dutch teenager raped while on holiday here.

Another threat to tourists' safety was again brought to the fore last week by the deadly bus accident in Saraburi in which 19 people lost their lives. Although no foreigners were killed in the collision between a cement truck and a passenger coach, reports in the international media gave the impression that safety standards tend to be poor in Thailand and transport accidents relatively common.

Accounts by foreign TV stations and newspapers mentioned the derailing, earlier this month, of an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai, in which 23 people, including 18 foreign tourists, were injured, and referred to another accident in April when five people, including a Belgian woman, were killed when a tour bus plummeted off a hillside in Phitsanulok after its brakes failed.

The rash of negative reports prompted Deputy Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul to issue a statement assuring the world that tourist safety was one of the government's top priorities. According to statistics compiled by the tourist police, an average of 8.5 complaints are made each day.

"But that doesn't mean that Thailand is unsafe for tourists," said Pol Maj Gen Roy Inkapairoj, commander of the Tourist Police Division. "When something happens to tourists, police make an effort to catch a suspect or suspects as fast as we can."

Last year the tourist police dealt with 3,119 cases, an increase of 26.6% on the figure for 2011. About 82% of those complaints involved the loss of valuables (1,798 reports) or documents (183 cases) or the theft of belongings from public buses (587 incidents). Another 15% of the complaints were from the victims of scams, mostly by jewellers (341 reports), tailors (55) and tour agents (60). The remaining 3% of complaints related to physical assault (85 cases) and tourists being given spiked drinks (seven reports).

However, during the first four months of this year, the number of reports of physical attacks on tourists (87) has already surpassed the total for all of last year. "The situation is tense, but it is still in hand," said Pol Maj Gen Roy. "Although our workforce remains the same, the number of foreign tourists has increased every year. We have managed to keep the ratio down to less than 20 criminal cases per 100,000 tourists.

"Every country has bad guys, otherwise there wouldn't be policemen. If a bad guy sees a chance to deceive someone, he will. Tourists should know how to avoid putting themselves at risk. They shouldn't go walking alone late at night in deserted places, for instance, or go around with total strangers.

"Sometimes a difference in culture might lead to different thinking or misinterpretations, so tourists should be aware of who they are associating with."

When things go as planned, Thailand can be a paradise for people on vacation, but given the large volume of tourist arrivals and the law of averages, accidents and crime are to be expected. But has the risk to our foreign guests become unacceptably high? The World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 ranks Thailand in 10th place in terms of road-accident fatalities. India tops the list; followed by China, Brazil, the US and Indonesia.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia had the worst toll with 31,234 deaths caused by road accident. Thailand came next (13,766 deaths), followed by Vietnam (11,029), the Philippines (6,941), Malaysia (6,872), Myanmar (2,464), Cambodia (1,816), Laos (790), Singapore (193) and Brunei (46). The WHO found that half of the world's road traffic deaths occur among motorcyclists (23%), pedestrians (22%) and cyclists (5%), but in Thailand a staggering 74% of the total fatalities were accounted for by people riding motorbikes or motorised three-wheel vehicles.

While one of the chief causes of road accidents here is still alcohol consumption, another factor, according to research done by a team from Thammasat University, is recklessness on the part of tourists. For a project called "Tourist Satisfaction and Travel Behaviour of Safe Journeys for Foreign Tourists", the researchers polled 800 people (tourists, service providers and officials) in six popular tourist destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. They found that the majority of tourists rode motorbikes without having a driving licence and with little or no driving experience.

"Some tourists have never driven motorcycles in their lives, but they rent motorbikes here to look around on," said Assoc Prof Pawinee Iamtrakul, assistant dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Thammasat.

One of the reasons for this is that motorbike-hire shops take advantage of a loophole in the law and only require tourists to show their passport rather than a driving licence, Dr Pawinee explained. The survey found that 64.5% of tourist drivers did not have international driving licences, 65% were unfamiliar with Thai rules of the road and 70% were unaware of the penalties for breaking traffic laws here.

Almost half of those polled said they would drink and drive and would have no compunction about exceeding the speed limit. About 59% of them said they do not use seatbelts and 58% do not wear helmets. About one-fifth of tourists polled did not have travel insurance. About 33% of tour agents were found not to pay travel insurance for tourists in their charge.

In addition, one-third of local service providers do not carry out regular maintenance on vehicles used for ferrying tourists around. More than half of the tourists polled felt that road-safety standards in Thailand were lower than in their home countries for every mode of land transportation. Other concerns were that traffic-law enforcement here is far from stringent and that when tourists have an accident, they do not know whom or how to ask for help.

"Visitors do not know what number to ring in an emergency," Dr Pawinee said, adding that the police 191 call-centre number is often hard to get through to, anyway. It might be useful if there was one centre to take care of road-safety issues for tourists while road-safety policy should be made part of any national tourism policy, she added. Tourists should be given safety guidelines and emergency numbers when they do online searches for travel information about Thailand, she said, adding that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) should consider putting such information on the front page of its website.

According to Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak, tourist safety is one of his top priorities since it affects the confidence of foreign visitors in travelling freely around this country.

"The principal thing is not to have any crime. But if there is wrongdoing, assistance should be offered as quickly as possible," he said, making the point that taking care of tourists involved in unfortunate incidents was as important as preventing such incidents in the first place; his reasoning was that while physical injuries can usually be healed, mental trauma is harder to recover from. The minister cited the case of a speedboat crash in Pattaya in which three Korean visitors, including a child, were injured. One of the victims, who worked as a taxi driver in his home town, lost a leg as a result of the accident.

"His wife cried hopelessly when I went to visit them. It was truly our fault so, as a representative of the Thai government, I went to the hospital [in Pattaya] to make an official apology," he said.

"A lesson has been learned and we must not let this sort of thing happen again. It is unacceptable that those offering speed boats for hire in such a well-known tourist destination as Pattaya do not have to adhere to any safety standards," Somsak said, adding this was just one among many issues related to tourist safety that need to be addressed.

A memorandum of understanding is soon to be signed, opening the way for the establishment of a special court of law to try offences involving tourists, he noted, adding: "We will try to tighten up all the judicial processes."

As Thailand's economic growth depends on the growth of its tourism industry, the minister said, it is an absolute must for all parties concerned to make the security issue a national priority. A recent spate of accidents in the Kingdom has brought the issue of traveller safety to the fore.

Learn from listening

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assault: attacking someone violently - การทำร้ายร่างกาย

assault: to attack someone violently - ทำร้ายร่างกาย

associate with: to spend time with somebody, often a person or people that somebody else does not approve of - ร่วมกับ

aware: to know that something exists, or to have knowledge or experience of a particular thing - ทราบ

belongings: the things you own - ข้าวของเครื่องใช้

brought to the fore: become visible so that everyone sees it -

case: a matter that is being officially investigated, especially by the police - คดี

cement: a grey powder made by burning clay and lime that sets hard when it is mixed with water. Cement is used in building to stick bricks together and to make very hard surfaces - ปูนซีเมนต์

coach: a large closed vehicle with four wheels, pulled by horses, used in the past for carrying passengers - รถม้าสี่ล้อขนาดใหญ่

collision: an accident in which a vehicle or person that is moving crashes into something - การชนประสานงา

complaint: when someone says that something is wrong or not satisfactory - การบ่น, ข้อที่ไม่พอใจ

derail: (of a train) to come off the railway tracks - ตกราง

deserted: empty - ที่ถูกทิ้งให้ว่างเปล่า  ร้างไป

destination: the place where someone or something is going - จุดหมายปลายทาง

document: a piece of paper or a set of papers containing official information - เอกสาร

drunken: showing the effects of too much alcohol; involving people who are drunk - ซึ่งมึนเมา, ซึ่งดื่มเหล้ามากเกินไป

effort: an attempt to do something - ความพยายาม

evil: very bad or cruel - ชั่วร้าย

fake: made to look like something real in order to trick people - ที่ทำปลอม

fault: being the one to blame; blameworthy; the person who caused something bad to happen - ความผิด

for instance: for example - ตัวอย่างเช่น

forehead: the top part of the head above the eyes but under the scalp - หน้าผาก

headline: the title of a newspaper story that is printed in large letters - ข่าวพาดหัว

impression: an opinion or feeling that you have about someone or something - ความรู้สึก,ความประทับใจ

in hand: in control - the situation is still in hand

incident: something that happens, usually something bad - เหตุการณ์

injured: hurt in an accident or attack - ได้รับบาดเจ็บ

injury: physical damage done to a person or a part of their body - อาการบาดเจ็บ

international: connected with or involving two or more countries - นานาชาติ, สากล, ระหว่างประเทศ

interpretation: an explanation of the meaning or importance of something - การตีความ

issue: officially announced - ออกประกาศ

jealous: unhappy and angry because someone has something or someone you want - หึงหวง, หึง

jeweller: a person who owns a jewellery store and sells jewellery -

jewellery: objects such as rings and necklaces that people wear as decoration - เพชรพลอย,อัญมณี

law of averages: "The law of averages is a lay term used to express a belief that outcomes of a random event will "even out" within a small sample. As invoked in everyday life, the "law" usually reflects bad statistics or wishful thinking rather than any mathematical principle. While there is a real theorem that a random variable will reflect its underlying probability over a very large sample, the law of averages typically assumes that unnatural short-term "balance" must occur. Typical applications of the law also generally assume no bias in the underlying probability distribution, which is frequently at odds with the empirical evidence." (Source: Wikipedia) -

media: newspapers, television, radio, etc. - สื่อ

mention: to refer to someone or something in speech or writing - กล่าวถึ, เอ่ยถึง, พูดถึง

misinterpretation: the wrong interpretation for something; the wrong understanding, explanation or meaning of some event -

negative: bad - ที่เป็นด้านลบ

newsworthy: interesting and important enough to be reported as news - น่าสนใจหรือสำคัญเพียงพอที่จะนำมาเป็นรายงานข่าว

nightmare: an extremely unpleasant event or experience or possible event or experience; a very upsetting or frightening dream - ฝันร้าย

paradise: a place that is extremely beautiful and that seems perfect, like heaven - สวรรค์,แดนสุขาวดี

passenger: someone who travels in a motor vehicle, aircraft, train, or ship but is not the driver or one of the people who works on it - ผู้โดยสาร

plummet: to fall suddenly; to suddenly become much lower - ตกฮวบลง

popular: a situation in which someone or something is liked by many people - เป็นที่นิยม, เป็นที่ชื่นชอบ

prompt: to cause someone to take action - กระตุ้น

publicise: to make information about something generally available - เผยแพร่, ประกาศ

rape: the crime of forcefully having sex with someone against their wish - การข่มขืน

rash: a lot of something; a series of unpleasant things that happen over a short period of time - การระบาด,ความแพร่หลาย

recent: happening or starting a short time ago - เร็วๆ นี้

refer: to mention someone or something - อ้างถึง, อ้างอิง

revolver: a type of small gun held in one hand that can be fired several times without putting more bullets in it - ปืนพกลูกโม่

scam: a dishonest plan, especially for getting money - กลโกง, แผนร้าย

situation: all the circumstances and things that are happening at a particular time and in a particular place - สถานการณ์

slap: a quick hit with the flat part of the hand - ตบ

spate: a large number of things of the same type, usually bad things, that suddenly happen in a very short period of time - ปริมาณมากมาย,จำนวนมากมาย

spike: to put something in a person's drink such as a drug or just some alcohol too -

standard: a (high) level of quality - มาตรฐาน

statement: something that you say or write that gives information or an opinion - แถลงการณ์, คำแถลง

stranger: a person that you do not know - คนแปลกหน้า

surpass: to do or be better than somebody/something - เหนือกว่า, เก่งกว่า, ดีกว่า, เกินกว่า

suspect: a person who is thought to have committed a crime - ผู้ต้องสงสัย

sustain: to experience, injury, damage, loss, etc. - ประสบกับ (ความสูญเสีย การเจ็บป่วย)

tailor: a person whose job is to make men's clothes, especially somebody who makes suits, etc. for individual customers - ช่างตัดเสื้อ

teenager: a person who is between the ages of 13-19 - บุคคลที่มีอายุระหว่าง 13-19 ปี, คนรุ่นหนุ่มรุ่นสาว, วัยรุ่น

tense: making you feel nervous or worried - ทำให้เครียด

threat: a danger - อันตราย

transport: moving people or things from one place to another - การขนส่ง

ultimately: finally, after a series of things have happened - ท้ายที่สุด, ตอนสุดท้าย, ในที่สุด

unforeseen: unexpected, people did not think or expect something to happen - ที่ผิดคาด, ซึ่งไม่ได้คิดไว้ล่วงหน้า, ซึ่งทำนายล่วงหน้าไม่ได้

vacation: holiday; a period of time spent travelling or resting away from home - ลาพักผ่อน, ลาพักร้อน

valuables: small possessions that are worth a lot of money, for example jewellery - ของล้ำค่า

victim: someone who has been harmed, injured or killed as the result of a crime - เหยื่อผู้เคราะห์ร้าย

video clip: a short piece of video, in YouTube, for example - คลิปวีดีโอ

violent: involving or caused by physical force that is intended to hurt or kill somebody - รุนแรง, ร้ายแรง, สาหัส

workforce: all the people who work for a particular company, organization, etc. - แรงงาน, คนทำงาน

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