Terrorism in Bangkok and Thailand

The vast majority of the terrorism you read about in Thailand occurs in one of the three southernmost provinces in Thailand, along the Malay border. Those provinces were previously a part of a Malay kingdom and were ceded to Thailand by the British colonial rulers about 100 years ago. Few foreigners ever get close to those provinces.

Occasionally, when there is political conflict in Bangkok, there will be a bomb or a few go off somewhere. It is extremely rare that a foreigner is injured by one of those bombs.

Summary: You run a much higher risk of injury or death driving down the highway in your home country than living and working in Bangkok. In fact, many people would be better off if they paid more attention to issues such as stress, the food one eats, alcohol, and other matters, not just what the sensational news media sells. Deciding not to come to Bangkok due to some terrorist bombs is ridiculously poor personal risk analysis. One would be better off deciding not to drive. We will all die someday, so the bigger issue is quality of life.

This article was written in 2007 after some bombs went off after the 2006 military coup, and there have been some other incidents during three protest periods after that. The same fundamental safety issues apply, no different.


Knowing the mentality of the masses, there will be a lot of people who will decide to not come to Thailand as a result of the terrorist bombs of New Years Eve 2007 in Bangkok. In 2001, after the 9/11 hijackings, air travel went way down as people feared their jet might be hijacked. What they didn't consider is that more people died in traffic accidents in the USA on that same September 11, 2001, day than died in all the hijacked aircraft combined. Just on that one peak day of hijacking, road deaths still exceeded aircraft passenger deaths! If you consider the following weeks, months, and years, the relative risk starts looking quite ridiculous.

Notably, our company had an American customer in 2003 who hired us to find her Thai mother. After finding her mother and a very emotional reconnection, we were surprised to find out a few days later that the customer had put on hold her plans to come to Thailand due to her fear of aircraft hijackings and flying in general. A little bit of risk analysis got her to change her mind quickly and come, which became a major highlight of her life.

Besides the risk of road accidents (which is a high risk in Thailand, too, but doesn't hit the news much), Bangkok and Thailand are actually relatively safe. Muggings and armed robberies of foriegners is extremely rare and less common than in most western cities (largely due to the way Thais are raised psychologically to respect higher status people), though exceptions apply in a few hot spots of mafia prostitution and drugs areas (and even those aren't so bad). Thailand is a gentle society, quite unlike a lot of western cities I know.

As a health food and brain food advocate, I could really go off on a tangent about quality of life and other factors besides terrorism...

The real issue here is our perceptions of the world, Thailand, and Bangkok.

For so many people who just don't think well by themselves, and are highly suggestible by the mass media, their perceptions are shaped largely by the news media.

The news business is "show business". Sensational news is good business. It reflects Hollywood, which cranks out movies of violence and sex which don't really reflect the common reality. It appeals to our most basic instincts to get our attention and keep us entertained. Fear gets our focus. Violence and sex get attention and sell.

CNN has a long-running ad with the statement "Journalists instinctively go for freedom of expression." Editors instinctively go for sensationalism. I've dealt with a lot of journalists wanting to "come up with a story" about something I was involved in, many times, and as a result I have come to realize that "the public good" is way down the list of values of most editors and journalists who are out in the field. Sure, they are interested in "the public good", but not too much, and they are much more interested in their profits when it comes to quoting travellers reactions and opinions.

In fact, the news media has even refused to take simple steps to discourage terrorism. For example, several years ago there was a concerted effort to have the media change its wording from saying a specific terrorist group "claimed responsibility" to "admitted guilt", whereby there was a lot of discussion which every significant editor and news chief surely understood. Claiming "responsibility" just dignifies the act and encourages the organization or individual behind it as being "responsible", it was pointed out. Actually, it is a crime against strangers and innocent people, and "guilt" would not only be more appropriate but also a shameful and discouraging word.

However, terrorism is in the best interests of the news business' bottom line, so they stuck to "responsibility".

This is the real world of business, and if you want to be a sucker to feed the news media profits at the detriment to your own quality of life, by not thinking by yourself, then you just become another statistic.

Speaking of statistics, Wikipedia has the statistics on leading causes of death. See also another more detailed breakdown and analysis of causes of death.

Another viewpoint, considering only road accidents:

  • On January 2, on Thailand roads, there were 509 vehicle accidents resulting in 56 people killed and 576 injured.
  • On December 31, in the one-day bombing, there were 8 bombs resulting in 3 people killed and 40 injured.

What are the traffic death and injury statistics for today in your city, state/province, and nation? Are you afraid to go out and enjoy life as a result?

Again, the above stats are for just one day. There were bombs on just one day. There are traffic accidents every day.

From December 28 to January 2, there were 4,078 road accidents in Thailand, resulting in 407 people killed and 4,546 injured. That's about 1 person per million killed every day in a road accident during this period. The New Year weekend period was an accident peak time due to the large number of commuters going home upcountry, combined with drunk driving (about 40% of accidents were due to drunk driving). Nevertheless, pick any day of the year and you will get statistics on deaths and injuries which will still be more than for bombings in Bangkok on that one peak day.

To put the bombing into perspective and minimize the damage to Thailand's economy as well as individuals' quality of life, we really need good leaders to keep emphasizing facts such as these, not just copycat followers of the western mass media, like the fairy tale of Chicken Little who ran around saying "The Sky Is Falling" just because some lowly criminals set off some bombs. Of course, that's what the crooks want us to sucker for.

The Chicken Little analogy is perfect for terrorist bombs. To just quote the Wikipedia summary:

    There are many versions of the story, but the basic premise is that a chicken called Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little) eats lunch one day, and believes the sky is falling down because an acorn falls on her head. She decides to tell the King, and on her journey meets other animals who join her in the quest. In most retellings, the other animals have similarly rhyming names. Finally, they come across Foxy Loxy, a fox who offers Chicken Licken and her friends his help.

    After this point, there are many endings. In the most famous one, Foxy Loxy eats Chicken Licken's friends, but the last one, usually Cocky Lockey, survives enough to warn Chicken Licken and she escapes. Other endings include Foxy eating them all; the characters being saved by a squirrel or an owl and getting to speak to the King; the characters being saved by the King's hunting dogs; even one version in which the sky actually falls and kills Foxy Loxy.

    Depending on the version, the moral changes. In the "happy ending" version, the moral is not to be a "Chicken Licken" and have courage. In other versions the moral is usually interpreted to mean "do not believe everything you are told". In the latter case, it could well be a cautionary political tale: Chicken Licken jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate them for his own benefit.

The unscrupulous fox is the terrorists, and the press driven hysteria is exactly what they want of the masses. It takes alternative leaders, or better yet just a large population who can think by themselves, to put the terrorists into perspective.

(By the way, the oldest version of this story comes from the Jataka folklore from Theravada Buddhism, not Aesop's Fables as many in the west believe.)


It would be quite refreshing if the Thai leadership came out addressing the "guilty" terrorists for what they are -- murderers of innocent strangers -- which should be seen as a shameful crime in any decent community or peer group.

The associates of terrorists should inform the government authorities truly "responsible".




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