Health, safety, do’s and don’ts
Some advice on how not to upset the locals, and how to avoid getting upset yourself. Here we give you the inside scoop on fitting in like a local. Samui is probably one of the safest places you could travel to. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few things to keep in mind. Please take our advice to heart, and enjoy your holiday with no mishaps.
Ride scooters on the island, but be smart. Always wear a helmet, you never know when a dog may run out in front of you or other mishap may occur. If you intend having a few drinks, leave the scooter at your hotel, and take a taxi or songthaew; your life is worth more than the extra cost. Be aware of sand on the road, especially in the wet season. Many scooter accidents occur when riders lose control on loose sand.
Remember that in Thailand, we drive on the LEFT side of the road! Be aware of getting a ‘Samui Tattoo’ – that telltale burn on the calf of a leg caused by a hot scooter exhaust.
Samui’s waters may look calm, but underlying rip currents do exist, so don’t venture out if you are not a strong swimmer, particularly in the monsoon season when waves can be higher. When renting a kayak or jet ski, ask for a life jacket. Beware of coral and broken glass when snorkeling.
Sunstroke and Sunburn
Be aware that you are in the tropics, so stay hydrated. Remember that if you stop sweating, you have already dehydrated and the headache is sure to follow. The tropical sun is strong, so use a high SPF sunscreen, especially when you first arrive. Don’t be fooled by cloud cover, it is just as easy to burn. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of the neck and ears when snorkelling. Aloe gel is available at pharmacies and shops, and helps to cool burnt skin.
Should you get a wound, be it a cut or a mosquito bite that becomes infected, go straight to a pharmacy and get an antibacterial cream. In a tropical climate wounds get infected quickly.
It is generally not a good idea to drink the tap water in Thailand, however it is fine for brushing teeth. Bottled water is cheaply available at all shops, restaurants and resorts. Generally speaking, most restaurants and bars have ice delivered that is made from purified water, so ice in drinks should be fine.
Thai food is spicier than what most westerners may be used to. Restaurants in tourist areas cater to the western pallet, so ask for ‘Mai sai pet’ (without chilli) should your stomach not be used to the heat. Wash fruit well before eating. Buy street food from market stands that appear busy, as the food is likely to be fresh and beware of food that looks as though it has been standing awhile. Most street food is generally fine, as it comes straight from the fire or the soup pot. Should you get an upset stomach, go straight to the pharmacy for re-hydrating fluids, as it is easy to dehydrate in the heat.
Don’t be stupid. A few moments of hallucinating bliss are not worth a lifetime in a Thai jail, or worse. Thailand, as with most Asian countries, has strict drug laws and foreigners are treated no differently to locals when it comes to breaking the law. As in most tourist areas, drugs are readily available. Places such as Full Moon Party, are policed by undercover officers. Be aware of the consequences, and make a wise choice. Don’t accept cigarettes or drinks from strangers, and never leave your drink at the bar when dancing at nightclubs, as you stand the risk of having it spiked.
Full Moon Party
Only take the money you intend to spend, and don’t take anything you mind losing. Although it is on the beach, it is best to wear flip flops due to broken glass. Although pick-pocketing on Samui is rare, Full Moon party is mostly attended by foreigners, and drunken revelers are easy targets.
As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. When approached by timeshare representatives, don’t be fooled. Your scratch card will reveal that you have won a prize – BUT, in order for you to claim that prize, you need to attend a presentation first. This presentation is about the current timeshare development, and the staff are experts at convincing holiday makers that this is exactly what they need. Keep an open mind.
ATMs and Money
The Thai ATMs deliver the cash before ejecting the card, which means that absent-minded tourists often forget to take their card from the machine, leaving them later stranded without access to their cash. It costs 150 baht to withdraw from a foreign card – besides what your own bank charges, so it is best to withdraw more at a time, to save on costs. Be sure to leave this extra cash in the safe at your hotel along with any other valuables.
American Express (Bangkok) +66 (0) 2273 0022
Master Card (Bangkok) +66 (0) 2299 1990
Visa (Bangkok) +66 (0) 2299 1990
It is wise to leave your passport and other travel documents in your hotel safe, but keep a copy of your passport on you at all times. Never leave your passport at car or scooter rental agencies as security.
Embassies & Consulates in Thailand www.siamdir.com/embassies_thailand/index.html
When renting any vehicle, be it a car, scooter or jet ski, be sure to look it over well and mark any defects, dents or scratches on the rental agreement. It is even wise to take a photos of such defects. Many an unsuspecting tourist has ended up paying for damages caused by previous customers. Renting directly from your resort is usually a safe option.
Sex: The Other Side of Thailand’s Tourism
Taking home souvenirs is great, but a sexually transmitted disease should not be one of them. Use protection and practice safe sex. Don’t believe that gorgeous bar girl when she tells you that you are her first love. She is paid to sell more drinks, as well as make herself some money on the side – you are not the first and you will not be the last, as sweet as she seems while she flutters her eyes at you. Best to know too, that not all those gorgeous girls are actually girls… but may be one of Thailand’s infamous lady boys.
Greetings The Wai When and How?
Thai people use the wai in the same way that westerners shake hands. The main differences are that there are many degrees of wais, and there are certain groups of people you do not wai first, and others you do not wai at all.
The degree of wai depends upon the degree of respect – the higher the respect, the higher the hands go. Normally, you do not wai someone your junior unless the social class dictates. However, you should receive the wai by placing your hands at chest level, or simply nod your head.
Certain gestures are considered rude to the Thais. Examples are sitting on tables, sitting cross-legged in front of those your senior (in terms of age and social status), and handling things with your left hand. Make sure that your feet never point directly at someone’s head, for example when sitting cross-legged.
It is rude to point with one finger at a person, so indicate with open flat hand. Also, when beckoning someone to come or follow, do it with the fingers pointing downwards. Upwards can be considered a rude gesture, similar to ‘flipping the bird’! Hail a taxi or Songthaew with this same hand downward motion.
Traditionally, Thai people of different sexes feel uneasy if they are physically close to one another. Although this has been changing in larger centers such as Bangkok, it is best to consider it while in the South, so don’t touch a person, even on the arm when talking to them.
Many traditional cultural taboos are changing in Thailand (more so, in the larger cities and tourist areas), but it is still worth adhering to them if possible, rather than offending, particularly older Thais. Avoid touching children on the head, especially if they have a Buddha image around their neck. Not such a big issue with small children, but definitely don’t touch a Thai adolescent’s or adult’s head. Don’t use your feet to move things or to point at something.
Here are a couple of reminders when visiting temple grounds: Dress conservatively with no midriffs or shoulders showing ladies, guys please leave the shirts on. Remove your shoes when entering temples. Don’t pose on the statues. Take photos by all means, but use your discretion – don’t take a close up of people at prayer, and when in doubt, ask. Ladies, never touch a monk.
At government offices (immigration, for example): Dress respectfully. Smile and try not to become aggressive or confrontational. Always try to say “Mai pen rai” (No problem!). Just about everywhere:
Watch out for the protocol whenever you enter a building or room. Has everyone else taken their shoes off? If so, follow suit.
Creatures on Samui
Although Samui may not have much to offer in the way of large wildlife, that’s not to say you won’t see a few creatures while visiting the island. Most are quite harmless, and the birdlife, fish and reptiles can be quite colourful, making good photo opportunities. However, some wildlife, although intriguing, can be moderately dangerous and should be avoided. Here’s what to look out for and what to do if you have an encounter with one:
When speaking of dangerous creatures, most people fear snakes the most. But in Thailand, the really poisonous species, such as king cobras, usually live deep in the jungle and avoid people as much as possible. Snakes that you’re most likely to come across crossing the road or climbing from palm to palm are harmless. But in the unlikely event that you do get bitten, there’re several hospitals on Samui, all within a short drive no matter where you are on the island, and all carrying the necessary antidotes. If you’ve rented a villa and you come across and unwelcome visitor, Samui Snake Rescue and Relocation is on 24-hour call – 0 896 635 085.
Aside from snakes, land creatures to watch out for include scorpions or giant centipedes, both of which can have nasty effects. You’re unlikely to come across them, but just to be on the safe side, give shoes a shake before putting them on and leave indoors overnight to avoid the temptation of them being a nesting place. Although not fatal, doctors recommend a trip to hospital anyway for a scorpion sting, in case of an allergic reaction to the venom. Interestingly, black scorpions are apparently attracted to the smell of stale beer, so don’t leave empties lying around.
When it comes to the water, the only dangerous creature is the box jellyfish. Although these jellies do occur in the Gulf of Thailand, they are rare, and only a few cases of stings have been recorded. If you do get stung, get medical assistance immediately and put vinegar on the sting to relieve the pain.
Without a doubt, the creatures you’ll see the most on Samui are geckos. The common house gecko is known locally as the ‘chingchook’, and is only a few centimeters long. They’re harmless and help to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The largest of the geckos is the Tookay, which can be as long as your hand, excluding the tail. These beautiful, prehistoric looking creatures are known for their loud call, which sounds similar to their name. They’ll prefer to keep out of your way, but if provoked – don’t try grab one – they will bite. And when they bite, they don’t let go. As they are protected, don’t hurt them to get them to release. Rather submerge your hand in water and he’ll let go. Geckos have the amazing ability to climb walls and can often be seen hanging upside down on ceilings. They’ll hover around lights, where they hope to catch insects attracted by the light.
The creature most likely to cause admission to hospital, is one of the smallest – the mosquito. Malaria is not found on Samui, but Dengue Fever is. Symptoms are treatable, and the hospitals on Samui are geared to diagnose and treat it right away. Prevention is better than cure as they say, so close up windows as dusk arrives and use a good quality insect repellent both at night, as well as in the day if you’re in the forest or dark places – it’s not true that they only bite at night. If you think that you may have Dengue Fever, with symptoms including severe headache, high fever, vomiting and muscle and joint pain, then you should go the hospital immediately.
But, by no means do we mean to scare you off and wildlife wise, Samui is a relatively safe place to visit. Enjoy the natural environment but use common sense when coming across local creatures.
Even though it’s a relatively small island, Samui is home to some of Thailand’s best hospitals outside of Bangkok. As much as we hope you won’t need it, if you do require hospital treatment during your stay on the island then you will certainly be in safe hands.
Samui’s private hospitals are equipped with modern facilities and equipment, the doctors are well trained, and many of them have even studied abroad. Staff speak good English, and some even speak other languages too. Some of the hospitals have translators (Russian or German), and comparatively speaking, private rooms are affordable and some even resemble a resort (Samui International Hospital has a large swimming pool for convalescent patients.) The private hospitals all have dedicated offices that assist you in processing medical aid or travel insurance claims.
The Bandon International Hospital offers excellent facilities and service via its modern and well-equipped medical facility in Bophut. The hospital has both a surgery and a trauma centre and even has an international clinic on the neighbouring island of Koh Phangan. You’ll find Bandon near Big C Shopping Centre.
Bandon International Hospital www.bandonhospitalsamui.com +66 (0) 7724 5236
The Bangkok Hospital Samui offers a wide range of services and the staff and doctors have a high level of English. The standards at this hospital rival the best Western hospitals. A discount is offered to expat residents. Bangkok Hospital is located on the ring-road in Chaweng, shortly before Chaweng Noi.
Bangkok Hospital Samui www.samuihospital.com +66 (0) 7742 9500
Samui International Hospital is one of the island’s newest hospitals and offers a wide range of services including cosmetic and dental procedures for both inpatients and outpatients. The hospital is even equipped with its own swimming pool for convalescent patients, and staff can speak a number of languages including English, French and German to a high standard. The hospital is located at the northern end of Chaweng Beach Road.
Samui International Hospital www.sih.co.th +66 (0) 7723 0781/2
Thai International Hospital offers a wide range of services including a 24-hour accident and emergency centre, and its own resident plastic surgeon. The hospital is located in opposite Tesco Lotus, Chaweng.
Thai International Hospital www.thaiinterhospital.com +66 (0) 7724 5721
Samui Government Hospital is located on the outskirts of Nathon, Samui’s Government Hospital will probably be a last resort for foreign tourists who will normally choose one of the island’s private hospitals. The government hospital is reasonably well equipped but not to the same extent as other hospitals on the island, and the level of English is generally lower. It is of course cheaper than the private hospitals. Turn down the road by immigration, when exiting Nathon travelling anti-clockwise.
Samui Government Hospital +66 (0) 7742 1230
A growing number of people are now travelling to Samui to take advantage of the island’s excellent medical facilities, where you will find not only a number of modern, international standard hospitals but also a selection of very good dentists.
Almost all of the dentists on Samui have trained overseas and can speak English to a good standard. Generally speaking, dentistry is much cheaper in Thailand than it is in other, more developed countries, and a basic check up is available at a fraction of the cost in the West.
Add to that dental surgeries using the latest technology and equipment and offering many services of a high standard, and it has become popular for tourists to have dental work done while on the island – both medical and cosmetic. Popular procedures included various methods of tooth whitening and also dental crowns. The money saved on this procedure may even cover the cost of the airfare – a nice incentive to tie a trip to the dentist in with your holiday!
Chaweng Dental Care +66 (0) 7796 0807
For a comprehensive list of dentists, visit the Siam Directory
You won’t have to travel far to find a pharmacy on Samui. In fact, there are nearly as many as there are Seven-Elevens. You’ll find most pharmacists speak good English and many are open 24 hours a day or at least until late at night, so you’ll always be able to pick up a tube of after sun lotion or rehydration fluid after a long day in the sun. Pharmacists also keep a book on hand to match up local brand names with international brands, so there’s no worry about being prescribed the wrong drug or dosage. Boots Pharmacies can be found inside the major shopping centres, and as well as local chain Morya’s many branches, you’ll also find independent pharmacies as well as those located within all the hospitals.
For a comprehensive list of pharmacies, visit the Siam Directory www.siamdir.com/health/pharmacies/index.html
Police and Tourist Police
With the growth of tourism in Thailand over the last 30 years, a special unit has been set up by the Royal Thai Police force, specifically to come to the aid of tourists. The officers of the Tourist Police wear a distinctive badge on their uniforms, and police officers that speak English well are selected for this force. Some speak other European languages, and The Samui Tourist Police have volunteers on call who speak other languages, who can come in to translate if necessary. They can be called upon in all kinds of situations, such as road traffic accidents, theft, or disputes with hotels or shopkeepers where a foreign tourist is involved. They will act as arbitrators on disputes, and in our experience they do so in an unbiased fashion. Should you find yourself in trouble on Samui, the fast-dial number of the local Tourist Police is 1155. Their station is located in the Samui Town Center in Bophut. Of course, regular police are also there to help, and you’ll find a large police station in Chaweng near the Laem Din market.
Samui Tourist Police www.samui-tourist-police.com
Samui Tourist Police fast-dial phone number 1155
For a full list of police stations on the island, visit Siam Directory