Health and safety in Koh Samui

Many Thai doctors speak English

Many Thai doctors speak English

Thailand is a relatively safe destination, and on Samui you can relax and feel comfortable with your surroundings. Of course, those new to the environment should be a little wary of health and safety in Thailand until they have become more familiar with their situation.

Most Thai people are very friendly and willing to help. Although there are scams waiting for the greedy or naïve, there is very little duress or violence to contend with. Apart from hustlers at tourist stalls, pushy girls in bars, or irritating taxi drivers, you can enjoy a hassle-free holiday on Samui.

Health in Samui isn't a high-risk problem. The local health care system is quite advanced for a small island. Tropical diseases exist, but their incidence is small. Similarly, personal safety is not a major concern as theft is the only real risk. Incidences of petty stealing are naturally greater in tourist areas, and you should take care of your personal belongings at all times. The Tourist Police are on duty on the busiest beaches.

If you do have to visit a hospital, be aware that they charge considerably more than public ones, overcharging on imported medicines on the assumption that you're covered by  travel insurance. Often you can get an equally professional service at decent government hospitals, who are more ethical.

Risks to consider for health and safety in Thailand include: scams, reckless driving (a particular problem on Samui), irresponsibility towards risky activities, poor hygiene during food preparation, and sexually transmitted diseases. So far the Thai police have done a commendable job minimising the risk of terrorist activity.

Although there is sectarian violence in the south of the country, this is limited to three provinces that attract little tourism. However, if travelling into Malaysia it's wise to take heed of local advice first. More on safety in Samui.

Health Issues

Avian influenza (bird flu): was most dangerous when receiving adverse negative-hype coverage in the press (particularly affecting the tourism industry) and is no longer a threat - chicken products across Thailand are considered safe to eat. The only reported human cases have been from farms where the infected were in close contact with livestock and although a few new cases have been reported, they are isolated. However, the situation across Asia remains a big concern for the world health community as a whole and we suggest you keep an eye on the press for news of new outbreaks and strains.

Yes, this is a hospital, not a spa!

Yes, this is a hospital, not a spa!

Dehydration: during the months of March, April and May, Thailand becomes extremely hot, with temperatures reaching 40°C/105°F. Those who are not used to such temperatures will certainly feel uncomfortable and should drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially if out in the direct sun and engaging in activity. Symptoms include: fever, fatigue, breathing difficulty and a dry mouth. Rehydration salts/drinks, or a trip to the nearest hospital, are recommended.

Dengue Fever: has similar symptoms to malaria and is spread by mosquitoes that inhabit stagnant pools of water in urban areas. In the last few years there has been a scattering of incidents on the island, with people being admitted to hospital, but no fatal cases. There is no prophylactic available yet, and if untreated, the hemorrhagic form of the disease can sometimes be fatal.

Drinking water: tap water is not potable in Thailand, although bottled water is widely available and cheap. Be aware that mountain streams may be contaminated as discharging waste into waterways is common. Reverse-osmosis water purification systems are generally used; therefore, ice and free water offered at restaurant tables is safe for drinking.

Diarrhoea: is common among non-Asians and a mild bout of the infamous 'Bangkok belly' at least once during your trip is common. This often results from eating unhygienically prepared food (roadside noodle shops are often the culprit), but is more a case of too much chilli in your food or unfamiliar spices and herbs.

Anti-diarrhoeal medication is widely available in Thailand. If you have been vomiting or suffer a severe case, then report immediately to the hospital. Be sure to keep well rested and rehydrate yourself. The runs usually pass within 24 hours.

HIV: Thailand has generally been successful in its campaign to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS in a country that has a reputation for its sex industry. Realistic estimates put the infection level at roughly five per cent of the populace; however, those mingling in the go-go scene are obviously among a higher risk group. Condom usage is essential. Other methods of transmission are deemed to be low-risk in Thailand, with the exception of sharing a syringe.

Malaria: Samui is largely malaria-free, although there have been isolated cases, and Surat Thani province as a whole is often affected during the rainy season, especially in July. Malarial strains here are considered immune to Western prophylactics, such as Larium. Soxycycline is recommended as an impromptu preventative medicine.

Rabies: there are many 'beach dogs' in Samui and travellers complain of bites fairly regularly. Rabies is rife in Thailand although a vaccine is available (five jabs). If you have not had this treatment before coming to Thailand and are subsequently bitten, it is advisable to report to a hospital for injections. The rabies infection can be fatal and is carried in the saliva, so even a dog licking an open wound can be dangerous.

Immediately clean the wound with iodine if you are worried. Dogs infected with rabies usually display symptoms of dementia (madness), acting very aggressively, and foaming at the mouth in the late stages. There is a non-profit organisation on the island - Dog Rescue Centre Samui - which has taken steps over the past 10 years to vaccinate dogs against rabies. As a result, the island is largely rabies-free thanks to the hard work of this German-run charity.

Swine flu (H1N1): although Thailand did make the headlines with cases of swine flu being reported in the country, it never made it to Koh Samui. Areas affected were to the west and the north of the country and no new cases have been reported of late. However, an upsurge is expected in winter months and it remains a world threat. Fortunately, Thailand’s health authorities are competent at responding prudently to these threats, with transparent information and hygiene checks in public places. Watch the press for up-to-date details.

Venereal disease: likewise, there are higher incidences of diseases such as syphilis, herpes and gonorrhoea among prostitutes and their clients; however, the high publicity of AIDS has encouraged many people to use condoms, thus reducing the spread of venereal diseases in general.

Safety in Samui

Unfortunately Samui has earned itself a rather unwanted, dirty reputation in recent years as a result of mafia types (both Thai and foreigner) who have found the island a nice haven. A number of negative press reports, from rape and murder to illegal land encroachment and taxi rip-offs, have impacted the island. Some of it stems from a lack of control by local police over influential forces on the island, who find the whole tourist trade quite lucrative.

Lack of policing adds up to lots of rip-offs and occasional danger due to poor law enforcement. Although most tourists never even notice the difference, this particular island comes with a mild warning to be aware - whether you're a lone female on the beach at night, a guy getting into a drunken argument with some locals, or an expat thinking of buying a villa.

Similar to the rest of Thailand, personal safety is seldom threatened. Theft occasionally occurs in tourist areas, but snatch and runs are uncommon. Women needn’t feel insecure and there is very minimal chance of tsunami action hitting the Gulf of Thailand. You do need to be alert to taxi rip-offs, however, along with credit card abuse and irresponsible water sports revellers, such as those on jet-skis. Overcrowded ferries (particularly after the full moon parties) are also a worry.

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