Why You Shouldn’t Fear Violence In Thailand

Back in July 2013, at the end of my soi, American Troy Lee Pilkington was hacked to death by a taxi driver with a machete.

According to newspaper reports at the time, a disagreement over the unpaid ฿51 fare had resulted in Pilkington getting out without paying and throwing a cup of coffee through the window and over the driver’s face. Grisly CCTV footage of that Saturday night shows what happened next. The driver armed himself with a machete – most taxi drivers across the world carry some type of weapon in their cars, the machete is the weapon sometimes favored in Bangkok – and barbarically settled the dispute outside the 7-Eleven.

A few months prior to this, the same year, a policeman fired off three rounds from his Glock outside our house while in hapless pursuit of a suspected drug-dealer.

Episodes of violence and violent crime are a daily occurrence.

Mostly this street-level violent crime is between two or more Thai nationals, and usually occurs after hours. The combatants have often had more than their fair share of alcohol or drugs or combinations thereof. Somebody has normally lost face, be it through matters of the heart or the wallet.

Despite witnessing several acts of violence in Thailand, however, I’ve never felt unsafe to tread the Thai streets after dark.

That surge of anxiety while being followed or approached through an inner-city housing district in London or Manchester is thankfully a thing of the past.

I’ve always assumed that with the right words and the right mannerisms one can avoid violent situations in most South East Asian countries. Be calm, don’t lose your temper, don’t shout, don’t hit out, don’t throw, don’t spit, keep it together and generally you will be safe here in the streets after dark.

Glancing at the recent shocking footage from Hua Hin is a sobering reminder of all this. An elderly couple and their middle-aged son are knocked out cold on the streets outside a nightclub by a group of Thai men. The video footage of the incident has been solidly doing the rounds on social media and has been picked up by several of the UK’s newspapers.

The outrage by the local foreign community here is to be expected. An elderly woman, her husband and middle aged son were punched to the ground and kicked while down by drunken thugs.

Spinning by some media outlets could lead us to believe that the Thais, once gentle and hospitable as a nation, are now turning on foreigners in cold blood and lashing out left, right and center. Thailand, according to some over-excited commentators, is no longer a safe place (not like back in the good old days), and holiday-makers should go elsewhere instead, they say.

But, if we examine the Hua Hin events in their correct order it shows that, while being a gruesome attack on three foreigners, it is far from being unprovoked. The son, the mother and the father all appear to act first, attacking the locals with a shove, a slap and a punch respectively.

The retaliation is horrendously harsh, such as the case with Mr. Pilkington and the taxi driver, but it was not a random attack targeting foreigners as the current splurge of media will have us believe.

Be careful out there. Thailand streets don’t observe Queensberry rules.

Any reaction to a loss of face could well be undertaken by a gang – if one loses face, the group loses face and so must respond in order to restore face. It doesn’t matter if the victims are female, male, transgender, from Bogner or Bogata. If you are a foreigner, it isn’t wise to hit a local man or woman in public because there will always be a reaction.

This can be said for Hua Hin, London, Leeds or Newcastle.

Punch a local outside a bar on New Year’s Eve in, say, Cardiff, and chances are you will be spending New Year’s Day in a Welsh hospital.

Most astute visitors to the Kingdom will probably observe that the non-confrontational nature of the Thais is the reason that they enjoy traveling and living here. We must keep in mind that there are certain cultural rules that should be observed when visiting this or any other new country.

Now, nobody condones the atrocious behavior of the local thugs who have been arrested and charged for their brutal reactions. But can we please perhaps take a lesson from this incident, a lesson that should keep us safer.

Thailand is by and large a nation with a long history of friendliness towards tourists. We have many repeat visitors here in the Kingdom. The vast majority of local people are welcoming and patient but this is no reason to turn off the radar that we would normally use in the streets of our Western cities.

Stay safe folks, but most of all, as famous writer, traveler and visitor Joseph Conrad once said, “In the tropics one must before everything keep calm”.


Featured image is by DeeMakMak and used under a Creative Commons licence

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About Author

A writer of several stories and film scripts, James is currently experiencing a midlife crisis and producing an acid folk concept album to prove it. He's also the author of crime noir book Fun City Punch. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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