This winter, thousands of UK tourists will flock to Thailand for rest and relaxation. Seduced by visions of white sand, full moon parties, and cocktails, this land of ancient empire and distinct religious tradition has carved a niche in British imagination as the destination of choice for unbridled fun in tropical settings.
n spite of Foreign Office warnings that 9 British nationals have been murdered in Thailand in the past 3 years, the shooting of Stephen Ashton from South London on New Year’s Eve still grabbed national headlines-many questioning the safety of this supposed idyll. In fact, there have been widespread reports of western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. Visitors are universally warned to “exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark.”
Stephen was apparently caught in the crossfire of a fight between two gangs in Koh Phangan, at a party on Haad Rin beach. Koh Phangan neighours Koh Samui, the area popularised in West by Alexander Garland’s bestseller ‘The Beach.’ Backpacking to the beaches of Haad Rin to enjoy the pleasures of full moon parties has become somewhat of a rite of passage for many young people, and even more seasoned travellers. Some beaches are becoming more akin to British resorts than off the beaten track get aways, with a McDonald’s opening in the spot once described as unblemished by modern civilization by Garland.
However, for all Thailand’s reputation for wanton drug use (stoked by many a gap year returning waxing lyrical about their own little Asian odyssey) punishment is draconian- a British pensioner recently received a hefty jail sentence after being found with very small amounts of cannabis intended for recreational use on her person.
With recent news spotlighting the seedy underbelly of this vacation hot spot, it can be easy to forget the relative safety of Thailand. After all, over 800,000 visitors travel to Thailand from the UK every year, and serious incidents are the exception rather than the rule. Physical assaults are actually rarer here than in many other developed nations. It’s very much in the Thai government’s interest to maintain the flow of tourists to the region. According to Governor Suraphon Svetasreni of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, tourism is now recognised as Thailand’s most important service industry, and it has set itself a target of 22.22 million international arrivals to Thailand in 2013.