Written by Claire Jenns

Thailand, also known as The Land of a Thousand Smiles, is a highly popular destination for tourists across the globe. One million visits are made by British nationals every year, my own family included. We lived in Thailand for eleven years in both the south of the country on an island called Koh Samui, and a city in the North called Chiang Mai. Particularly in the South, there is a spate of tourists (even expats) running into trouble with the law for various offences, proving once again how important it is to be aware of the local laws and customs in whatever country you visit. 

Thailand in particular has some unusual laws, such as the illegal status of e-cigs (or vapes) which carries a sentence of ten years in prison. Thai prisons themselves are known for their harsh conditions, with some detainees dying whilst being held in custody. This stands in stark contrast with the beauty of the country and its people, perhaps explaining why the majority of non-natives do not expect to face such experiences themselves on their travels. 

The stereotype of the uninformed ‘farang’ (foreigner in Thai) is unfortunately a true one in a lot of cases. One particular law: lèse-majesté, which refers to the criminal act of defaming or criticising the royal family (even including their dog), is considered one of the harshest in the world. This is often a pitfall for farangs, as it even extends to stepping on or defacing Thai currency as it bears images of Thai royalty. Laws like these are understandably unfamiliar to unprepared westerners.

Sometimes, however, getting into trouble abroad has nothing to do with ignorance. My parents are careful drivers but were involved in a car accident in Koh Samui, bringing our family into close contact with the Thai police and the lengthy and expensive court system. It took years to be resolved, giving us first-hand insight into the countless issues other foreigners can face abroad. That’s why sources of advice such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guides  and the Travel Aware campaign are such vital tools for any traveller.