Thailand: What No One Tells You About the Land of Smiles

Book Review

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and within the Asia Pacific, it often tops the list in terms of international tourist arrivals. But is it also one of the world’s deadliest destinations as an author claims?


Dramatic karst formation in the waters off the coast of Krabi in Southern Thailand. Photo Credit: Kallerna. .


According to John Stapleton in Thailand: Deadly Destination, the Land of Smiles is one of the world’s most dangerous travel destinations. So why do travelers keeps arriving in ever increasing numbers?

Whether it’s a devastating tsunami or demonstrators closing down the airport or bombs going off across the Nation’s capital, Thailand has an amazing ability to weather the storm.

There have been nearly 20 attempted military coups since the absolute monarchy was ended in 1932, averaging one every 4 and one-half years, meaning they take place almost as often as presidential elections are held in the United States.

And yet, Thailand remains one of the most popular – if not THE most popular – travel destinations in Southeast Asia.

Readers of Travel + Leisure have consistently rated Bangkok as one of the world’s 10 best cities, and it has often topped the list as THE best city in the world.

I’ve always thought that surveys like this tell you as much about readers of the magazine as they does about the city.

Recommened: Guide to the Buddhist Temples of Thailand.

Gorgeous Temples


Temple of the Dawn is one of the many temples, palaces, and shrines that overlook the Chrao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: D. Ramey.

Bangkok does have a spectacular collection of palaces and temples and shrines along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. But overall, the city is pretty nondescript.

Bangkok’s skyline doesn’t hold a candle to the skylines of New York or Hong Kong. Its physical setting is nothing compared to the topographies of Rio de Janeiro or of Sydney.

In terms of architecture, what architecture? Would anyone seriously think that Bangkok could compete with Paris or Vienna or any of the other great cities of Europe?

What Thailand does offer is excellent value. It has fabulous resorts, a world-class cuisine, beautiful beaches, wonderful shopping malls, and sybaritic spas.

And everything does seem to cost a bit less there than anywhere else – except for wine.

Deadly Destination for Tourists?

According to John Stapleton in the controversial book “Thailand: Deadly Destination”, however, Thailand is also one of the world’s most dangerous destinations for tourists.

Thailand-Map“While many foreigners leave the country happy, there are equally thousands of travellers from Europe, America, Australia, India and the Middle East, both short-time tourists and long-term residents, leaving the country impoverished, distressed, frightened and unlikely to ever return,” John writes, referring to Thailand as the “crime capital of Asia”.

It’s quite an indictment of the country that likes to think of itself as “The Land of Smiles”.

John cites murders, muggings, rapes, knifings, and extortion as relatively frequent occurrences when compared to other popular travel destinations.

He says far more Brits visiting Thailand die each year than Brits visiting Spain even though the number of Brits visiting Spain far exceeds the number visiting Thailand. 

Mysterious Accidents


Paragliding at Promthep Cape on the Southern Thai island of Phuket. Photo Credit: Suwat Hannarong.

John details the many questionable suicides, the mysterious accidents, and the bodies that wash up on shore, suggesting that sloppy police work covers up what should be considered “foul play”.

And then there are the numerous scams, such as the defective jet skis that tourists rent.

When they return them, they are accused of damaging them and forced to pay for damages. If they refuse to pay, they get beaten up.

John even claims that passports, identification cards, driver’s licenses, college degrees, and other “official documents” can be forged within walking distance of a police station.

Foreign Gangsters

Because of the country’s porous borders, foreign gangsters have virtual carte blanche to operate in the country, John maintains.

He cities drug trafficking, people trafficking, credit card scams, child prostitution, the list goes on.

The list is so insidious, in fact, that you can’t help but wonder if John doesn’t have an axe to grind. Are the Thais really as racist as he maintains?

Do they really despise foreigners with such a vengeance? Surely some of them do, but do all of them harbour such deep feelings of contempt about the tourists that provide the country with one of its most important sources of revenue?

John admits that many of the foreigners that suffer ill fortune in Thailand have only themselves to blame.

As he repeatedly mentions, many foreign tourists seem to check their brains at the airport when they arrive in the Land of Smiles.

Risky Behaviour

The fact is, many foreign travelers engage in risky behavior that they would never think of doing in their own countries.

Are they lulled into a sense of false security by the easy going nature of the Thai people? And the sunshine, surf, and palm trees can have a hypnotic effect. Does it inhibit common sense?

And yet, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that John might have a point. A friend of a friend went to Thailand and didn’t return. He died in a paragliding accident over the azure waters of Pattaya Bay.

A friend of another friend had a motorcycling accident in Phuket and was paralyzed from the neck down. He will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Just a couple of weeks ago, an actual friend – not the friend of a friend – had to cut her trip to Bangkok short because she suffered a lost front tooth and had to return home for urgent dental work.

I’m not sure how it happened. I’m still awaiting the details.

Malfunctioning Brake

I myself went on a mountain biking excursion organized by a resort in Phuket, one of the best places to visit in Thailand. Because of a malfunctioning brake, I was catapulted head over heels unto the pavement. I was in physical therapy for the better part of a year.

If truth be told, I’ve had other accidents while traveling in Asia – most of them on hotel properties.

I suffered mishaps within the confines of luxurious resorts in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. And I threw my back out on a bus trip during a press trip in Sri Lanka.

While these mishaps were relatively minor, they were all painful – especially the experience in Sri Lanka, and most of them required medical attention. My experience in Vietnam didn’t require a trip to the hospital. But it did leave me limping for six months.

And in each of these cases, they seemed to be the result of a somewhat cavalier attitude toward the safety and/or comfort of travelers.

I’ve sometimes wondered if resort hotels in Southeast Asia were accidents waiting to happen.

Aesthetics Over Safety

Trivial lawsuits in the West are often mocked. But you know what? Sometimes that’s what’s necessary to make service providers (and the architects they hire to design their properties) to take safety seriously.

That breathtakingly beautiful water treatment at the foot of the staircase … what if someone with poor eyesight – or a bit too much to drink or lost in conversation – doesn’t notice it because the architect that designed it didn’t think it was necessary to install a rail or to provide adequate lighting because it would ruin the “aesthetic effect”?

Or the staircase that doesn’t have a banister? Or the unexpected step in the path that hasn’t been properly lit after dark? Or the sunken spot in the middle of the floor in a hotel room? Or the gaping holes in the sidewalk without warning (in this case, Indonesia is the worst offender) …

I’ve also become sick while staying at hotels several times in China. Was I going to get sick anyway, or was it something in the room that made me ill? Are hotel rooms properly disinfected between guests?

And I got a serious case of food poisoning in the canteen of a monastery in Macau. Sometimes it makes you think you should just stay home.

Recommended: Guide to Thai Street Food. by David Thompson.

Bangkok as Number One

Bangkok street scenes (8)

Modern boulevards crisscross the Thai capital. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Getting back to Thailand, the country’s tourism industry does seem to be going from strength to strength.

According to the first MasterCard’s Asia Pacific Destinations Index 2015, three cities in Thailand made the top 10 list of the travel destinations in the region with the most overseas travelers staying at least one night.

In terms of where to go in Thailand, three tourist spots top the list: Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya.

Bangkok came in first place, with 21.9 million international overnight visitors, representing a 28.6% increase over the previous year.

Phuket came in fifth place in the Asia Pacific Destinations Index, with 9.3 million international overnight visitors, up 15.5% over the year before.

Pattaya came in eighth place, with 8.1 million international overnight visitors, a 10% increase.

Bangkok also topped the list for the most total nights spent by international tourists in the city. And they also spent the most money, a whopping US$15.2 billion.

Advice for Travelers

Bangkok street scenes (20)

Signs on the streets of Bangkok warn of “snatch thieves”. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

According to the United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the most common crime in Thailand is non-confrontational in nature: street crimes such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, jewelry theft, tourism fraud, and credit card theft.

The department says that “the crime threat in Bangkok and other Thailand tourist spots remains lower than that in many U.S. cities …”

The department urges caution when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites, and bus and train stations.

“Across Thailand, U.S. citizens have been robbed of their valuables and other possessions after soliciting the services of commercial sex workers,” the department’s website says.

“Thieves also victimize travelers on long-distance bus routes.”

Crimes happen everywhere, and so do accidents. I have been a crime victim in other places, and I have had accidents other places.

Is Thailand really one of the world’s deadliest travel destinations? Read the book and decide for yourself if John’s thesis is sound. Whether you agree with him or not, the book makes fascinating reading!

Click here to buy Thailand: Deadly Destination by John Stapleton.


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