Posted: 10/5/2019 | October 5th, 2019
Bangkok can be an overwhelming destination for tourists, and it is depicted in many Western films as seedy, gritty, and intense, with wild nightlife and never-ending traffic.
Most visitors don’t stay there for long, but if you’re patient and begin to peel back the layers, you’ll discover a complex, beautiful city filled with some of the friendliest and most thoughtful people you will ever meet (Thailand is called the Land of Smiles for a reason!) and delicious street food.
But is Bangkok a safe place to visit?
Just like any major city, you must be alert and aware of your surroundings, but it is pretty safe, and the risk of serious danger is very low (unless you are up to something illegal). You are most likely to encounter small scams designed to get a few extra bucks from you (more on that later).
Here are a few ways to stay extra safe in Bangkok:
1. Be alert as a pedestrian.
Traffic in Bangkok is chaotic — many motorbikes will run red lights or even drive on the sidewalks! — so it’s always a good idea to be cautious when crossing the streets and walking around town. Look both ways and stay alert. (And, remember, they drive on the left side of the road (British side) so be sure to look and stay alert!
2. Carry a photocopy of your passport with you.
This is a no-brainer for anyone who travels overseas. Put your real passport away in the lockbox provided by your hotel or hostel, and carry around a photocopy or a digital version on your phone or in your email.
3. Never leave your drink unattended.
This is another universal safety tip. Drinks can be spiked at any moment, so always keep yours close, or hand it to someone you trust if you need to.
4. Do not take or accept any recreational drugs.
Thailand has a strict no-drugs policy; anyone caught using or carrying illegal substances will go to jail, or in rare instances receive the death penalty.
5. Don’t talk about the royal family.
Under the lèse majesté law, you are forbidden to speak negatively of the king and the royal family. If you are caught insulting the monarchy, you will be sentenced to 3–15 years in prison. Other countries may have lèse majesté laws, but Thailand’s enforcement is the world’s harshest. Over the years, people have faced lèse majesté charges over minor offenses: a woman who wore black on the king’s birthday, a man who mocked the king’s dog on the internet, and individuals who have liked Facebook posts regarding the king, to name a few.
It’s crucial you not discuss the king or royal family publicly or with locals, or you will face major consequences that all the travel insurance in the world will not protect you from!
6. Buy travel insurance.
No one wants to think about things going wrong on their trip, but being prepared and buying travel insurance is something I do before every trip. You should have it whenever you travel, but in a country where petty theft and scams are, unfortunately, a little more common, it’s extra important. And of course, it’s also important for covering any medical or other emergency situation you might encounter. Be a smart traveler — buy travel insurance.
How to Avoid Scams in Bangkok
Bangkok is generally safe for travelers and backpackers, but it’s also incredibly hectic. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime you’ll face. Also, some people will try to rip you off, including taxi drivers who refuse to turn on their meters. Avoiding travel scams requires a lot of common sense and a healthy dose of suspicion. (Also read this post on travel scams to avoid.)
Here are the two most common scams to be aware of:
Taxi scams: You hop into a taxi and realize the meter isn’t running. You mention this to the driver and their response is that the meter is “broken,” and he quotes you a price that is outrageously high. Or you might notice that the meter is working but the fare is increasing as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
To avoid this scam, do your research and get an idea of how much a ride should cost from your hostel or hotel staff before hailing a taxi. In my experience, if the cabbie tries to negotiate the rate, I use the one quoted to me though my prior research, and if he refuses, I get out and find someone who will turn the meter on. (Ideally, use only taxis with working meters.)
If the meter looks as though it’s rising unusually fast, ask the driver to pull over and get out immediately.
Another situation you may encounter is your taxi driver “taking the scenic route.” You’ll end up sitting in traffic, and the cabbie will make money at your expense. We live in the age of technology, so if you’re suspicious of your driver’s route, pull your smartphone out and use Google Maps to find the quickest way to your destination. (Better yet, find out the optimum route ahead of time.)
Don’t hesitate to show the phone to your driver and insist on taking this route. Download a map of the city using Google Maps or MAPS.ME so you always have access to it offline.
If you end up with a bad taxi experience, take a photo of the driver’s ID/registration number and report him to Thailand’s tourism board. And always, always use only official taxis.
The tourist site is “closed”/tuk-tuk ride scam: This is probably the most common scam in Bangkok. When visiting tourist attractions, often around Wat Phra Kaew, the Grand Palace, or Wat Arun, someone will randomly come up to you and say that the place is closed for a special ceremony or for lunch hour. Then, this overly helpful individual will offer to take you to places that are open. While touring the attractions, the driver will take you to a gem shop, a souvenir shop, or a tailor where they receive a commission.
A few hours later, the driver will drop you off at your original location once it’s “reopened,” and by that time you’ve realized that the site was open the entire time — you were just in the wrong part of the building.
This is where your good sense and confidence come into play. Avoid talking to these locals, or firmly say “no thanks” and walk away. Or find the main entrance or ticket counter and see for yourself!
Another thing to note is that most attractions don’t close for lunch — they close for the day. Look up the hours of operation before you go, so you know what to expect — opening and closing times are almost always available online.
FAQ on Bangkok Safety
Below is a list of some of the common questions I get on safety in Bangkok, so you can be better prepared for your trip!
Is street food safe?
Yes, absolutely! Bangkok is considered the street food capital of the world, and you will not find a shortage of stalls selling delicious local dishes on every corner. With that said, if there is something that doesn’t smell or look “kosher,” then it might be best to avoid. If a street vendor has local customers, you can usually trust that it’s safe. (If you are overwhelmed with where to start, I’d recommend reading this blog post on how to tackle the street food culture in Bangkok.)
Is the tap water safe?
According to the Bangkok Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, it follows the World Health Organization standards for providing safe drinking water for the population. However, although the water is treated in plants, the pipes it travels through can be very old and dirty, which can lead to contamination. Locals usually boil the tap water first before drinking it, or they will purchase bottled water. Use a Steripen or Lifestraw to ensure that your water is safe to drink. Also, bring a reusable water bottle to cut down on your plastic consumption.
Are taxis safe?
Taxis are safe and affordable and my preferred way to get around town. However, you will come across the occasional meter or “scenic route” scam. When you get into a cab, always check that it has a working meter and agree on a route prior to the start of your journey. (If you’ve read the section on taxi scams above, you will be well prepared for this type of situation.)
Is Bangkok safe for solo travelers?
Bangkok is safe for solo travelers, and a great first city to solo-travel in. I’ve been going there for the past 15 years and have rarely encountered any problems.
However, there are areas of Bangkok that are all about partying and drinking, and the biggest incidents happen when people are drunk and stupid. Don’t get too drunk. Also avoid illegal substances at all cost — Thailand is very, very strict on drugs, and you’re going to be screwed if you get caught. Always trust your gut instinct; if you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Bangkok.
Is Bangkok safe for solo female travelers?
Solo female travelers should feel safe touring the city. It’s very easy to meet other travelers, especially female ones, in Bangkok. Some precautions and planning are in order, though: Always have a downloaded map and translation app so you can find your way home or ask for help if you need it. Don’t flaunt any valuables, and avoid taking taxis alone at night. If you’re still nervous about heading somewhere, ask to join a group at your hostel; groups are less likely to be victims of scammers or theft, and you’ll feel safer that way.
Here are a few helpful posts on safety written by our solo female travel experts:
Bangkok has an electric energy to it, and with its endless supply of things to see and do, you will never be bored. I finally began to love the city when I got know it beyond the temples and the typical tourist sites. Once I found hidden markets and amazing street stalls frequented only by locals, became friends with residents, and understood how Bangkok operated, I understood why people loved it so much.
Like any major city, Bangkok comes with its fair share of scammers and unruly drivers. If you are smart and alert, trust your instincts, and follow this safety guide, you’ll have an unforgettable experience while staying safe.
Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Bangkok!
My detailed, 80-page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while in Bangkok, a city I used to call home (so I know it really well!). You’ll find suggested itineraries and budgets, ways to save money, on- and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more! Click here to learn more and get started!
Book Your Trip to Bangkok: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Get Your Guide
Check out my detailed guide to planning a visit to Bangkok with suggested itineraries and information on places to stay, things to do, where to eat, and how to get around. Just click here to get the guide and continue planning today!
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use it all the time. My favorite hostels in Bangkok are:
- Lub d Bangkok Silom – Lub d Silom is more of a European-style hostel than a traditional Asian guesthouse. It’s in a popular spot for backpackers looking to stay somewhere other than Khao San Road, is safe (they use electronic key locks), and the staff speaks fluent English.
- Golden Mountain Hostel – This small, family-run hostel is one of the newest and nicest hostels in the city. The dorm beds are actually cubbies built into the wall for added privacy, and each room sleeps eight people. This is a great hostel if you want some peace and quiet.
- Mad Monkey – Mad Monkey is a backpacker institution near Khao San Road. It’s is probably the best hostel in Bangkok if you want to party. It has a restaurant, pool, and tour desk with some of the cheapest and most competitive prices in town.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money — and I think they will help you too!