Thailand gives many of us the impression of a free, kind of Wild West, and happy disorderly country where everything is possible. And in plenty of ways that is very true.
Nonetheless, the mistake some tourists make is that they take the above as an invitation to do things in Thailand that are actually illegal, that is, forbidden by Thai law. The interesting part of it is that most tourists will never be fined, arrested or imprisoned, but if they are — things become mighty horrifying. Just trust me, the last thing you want to do is serving time in a Thai prison.
Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that Thailand (statistics of 2018) is one of 58 nations that still retains capital i.e. death punishment, although rarely employs it. The latest figures, as of March 2018, show that 510 persons are currently on death row. Thai law permits the execution of a death sentence for 35 crimes, including for murder and drug trafficking.
Periodically, to “restore law and order,” the Thai police launches so-called crackdowns, which can be seen as massive police operations tackling a certain “issue.” This, for instance, can be cleaning up streets or beaches from illegal street vendors, or closing illegal establishments, putting out of business illegal tour guides, well, you name it.
However, every now and again crackdowns are also launched on foreigners: illegal English teachers, overstayers (staying in the country without a valid visa), tourists who use illegal drugs, foreigners found in brothels (prostitution in Thailand is illegal), illegal entry into the country, illegal work, to name some operations.
A good example would be the notorious Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan. Drugs use is a recurring issue there, and most of the time no actions are taken against it. But sometimes the Thai police launch crackdowns to “make a point” or save face and show the world that it’s taking drugs abuse seriously. Time for hanging foreign scapegoats!
Another example is the English teaching thing. Most of the English teaching jobs can be obtained only locally when already in the country, and one usually starts working illegally while in the meantime waiting for a work permit. This work permit, if everything goes “smooth,” can be obtained in about two months.
But if a crackdown should happen during your “work permit processing time,” you are working illegally and theoretically you can end up in prison for five years. This doesn’t happen a lot, but you will surely pay a huge fine and will be kicked out of the country. And by the way, the school or institute you were working for only pays a small fine!
Anyway, those were just some examples, and my advice to tourists or expats is to never ever use any recreational drugs in Thailand or engage in illegal work or overstay. Stay on the safe side.