Thailand has a world-wide reputation as a country where things are relaxed. That’s why, some visitors to Thailand are surprised when they do something not acceptable by Thais and get arrested. Yes, it is possible to get arrested in Thailand, a fact the several thousand foreign residents of Thai jails can attest to. Getting arrested in Thailand ranges from getting a minor sentence to the death penalty, and lots more in between. If you would rather not spend time in a Thai jail (they’re horrendous places), simply make sure you don’t do any of these things while in Thailand and you won’t have any problems.
Respect the King of Thailand – While in Thailand, show respect to the Thai King. Don’t make any disrespectful statements, don’t deface photographs of the King or anyone else in the royal family, and don’t write anything that could be construed as disrespectful.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej has devoted more than 60 years of his life to making Thailand a better country for all citizens. Thais hold him in high respect and think of him as the Father of Thailand. On the law books in Thailand, there’s a lese majeste law, which simply means, if you are caught saying or doing anything disrespectful to or about the King or any other member of the royal family, you will be arrested and put in jail.
In the last two years, there have been several prominent cases of westerners arrested in Thailand for lese majeste. An Australian writer wrote a book about a fictitious Thai royal family and was arrested and sentenced to years in a Thai jail for derogatory comments against the Thai prince. (The King eventually pardoned him and he was allowed to go back to Australia). A Swiss man was arrested in Chiang Mai, while drunk, spray painting photos of the Thai King, convicted of lese majeste and sentenced to years in a Thai prison. He too was pardoned by the King, after several months in jail, and allowed to return to Switzerland. While things like this may be acceptable in most western countries, they’re not acceptable or appropriate in Thailand.
So, while in Thailand, don’t make any statements about the Thai King or royal family that could be remotely construed as disrespectful and you’ll be fine.
Don’t Step on Money in Thailand – Similar to the first point, Thai money has the image of the King on it. Thais (and Buddhists in general) equate feet with the dirtiest part of the body. Therefore, putting your foot on money with the King’s image on it is an extreme show of disrespect. If you drop a coin and it’s rolling away, don’t do what we do in the west, stop it with your foot. Instead, bend down and catch it with your hand.
A German man, a few years ago, got into an argument in a bar with some Thais, and threw down a Thai 100 baht note and stomped on it to show his disrespect to the King. Yep. Promptly arrested and thrown in jail. If you accidentally put your foot on Thai money, of course, you’re highly unlikely to be arrested. But, just to be on the safe side, don’t do it.
Don’t Do Drugs of Any Kind – While you may come across westerners and Thais doing drugs in Thailand, particularly in the beach areas and at Full Moon Parties, seriously, it’s not worth it. Long the target of Thai police, in the last year police presence has been beefed up in an effort to stamp out drug use in tourist areas. Westerners are being arrested, even for just a couple of marijuana cigarettes, and put in jail.
While doing drugs in Thailand comes with a relatively light sentence (a few months to a few years), if by any chance you’re caught dealing drugs, that can be a death sentence. If you must do drugs, (only idiots do, in our opinion, but that’s up to you) save your drug use for places like Amsterdam, where it’s legal, and stay drug-free while in Thailand.
Don’t Have an Overstay on Your Passport – Thailand is getting stricter about visas and permission to stay in the Kingdom. When you arrive in Thailand, make sure you check your passport to see what date the immigration official has stamped on it. That is the date you are allowed to stay until. If you stay after this date, you are now illegal in Thailand and, if caught by the Thai police, will be arrested, put in jail and incarcerated until your court date.
Of course, many foreigners are on ‘overstays’ in Thailand and don’t get arrested because, if you make it to the airport or a land border to leave, immigration simply charges you a 500 baht fine per day and lets you go. But…..do you really want to take the chance of being arrested if you don’t make it to the airport or a border?
Either leave on the day you’re supposed to, go to Thai immigration and pay for a legal extension, or do a border run to Cambodia (takes 6 hours and costs 2,100 baht) and then come back to Thailand. Better than being thrown in a Thai jail. Believe me.
Much of not being arrested in Thailand is common sense, but it’s amazing how many westerners who visit Thailand don’t seem to have it. Show some respect, don’t do drugs and follow immigration laws. If you do all these things, your chances of being arrested in Thailand are pretty much nil.