Although Thailand may have an image of being a single mans’ playground, littered with bars and prostitutes as it is, it is actually one of the safest and most enjoyable countries for women to visit alone. Koh Samui follows this theme and is a relatively safe and relaxed island for women to visit. There are many cross-cultural relationships on the island, and although most involve male foreigners with Thai females, plenty of foreign women also have Thai boyfriends, and even husbands.
Thais are friendly and welcoming, and especially find Caucasian foreigners attractive, so don’t be surprised if you receive compliments. Although some Thai men are notorious for their sweet talk, they are all generally harmless and remain polite, although care should be taken when drugs or alcohol are involved as their tolerance is quite low.
At the very least you are left with the freedom to travel around freely, feeling safe and comfortable with plenty of helpful and friendly people to mingle with or simply get assistance from. As a woman traveller in Thailand, you are spoilt with numerous great value spas to pamper yourself at, along with wonderful food, cooking classes, and massage schools to keep you busy, and, of course, relaxing beaches. It’s also quite easy to hook up with other female travellers for group tours or party nights, where the old adage ‘safety in numbers’ applies as it would in any holiday destination.
Getting around is convenient on easy-to-manage scooters, which suit women just as well as men. Make sure you wear a helmet as the driving is unpredictable.
There is little cause to be suspicious of friendly people. Obviously, you should use your better judgment, especially if people are asking you to spend money. But, generally, Thais of both sexes avoid confrontation and men are unlikely to bother you. There are a few things you should bear in mind, though. Thai women are typically quite modest (except for bargirls), so dress modestly, and do not touch or flirt with men in public.
People on Samui will be quite friendly and helpful towards you and in general almost all areas of the island are safe for walking, even at night. Use common sense and stay away from deserted beaches and roads and also avoid seedy bars and nightclubs. If you are alone, it’s probably best to limit your drinking so that you have your wits about you and be especially careful accepting drinks from strangers at large gatherings, such as the Full Moon Party where there have been instances of drugging.
Culture and etiquette
Sexual equality may seem a long way off in the male-biased society in Thailand, but there are a number of complex cultural norms regarding sex roles that cannot be easily changed. The stereotypical image of the subservient Asian women taking care of her man has to be understood in context, and it is important to bear in mind that many types of behaviour are linked to acceptance among family and peers. Trying to stop a Thai woman from looking after her man, even if he is a foreigner, could result in a loss of face for her, as she may be considered a bad wife. As Thailand rapidly modernizes, many of the less acceptable habits are disappearing, but it’s a slow process.
Women contribute an important role into Thailand’s character. Thai women make up more than 60 percent of the workforce and can be found everywhere from construction sites and rice paddies to high-ranking government positions. Although Thai women are seriously under-represented in government, they often control family finances and make many important decisions.
Prostitution is an issue that many foreign women in Thailand have difficulty coming to terms with. However, a different set of values and ethics motivate people here and it’s a sad reality that many young girls are forced into the sex trade for economic reasons. Most of them are from the poor north-eastern region of Isaan, and many simply have material ambitions. These girls typically find that the benefits of sending home significant sums of money to their poor families and gaining huge amounts of respect in their village at the same time, far outweigh the private loss of self-esteem they might feel.
In the tourist go-go bars, you may find girls appear to be enjoying their job, although this is generally part of the deception. In reality, many are tied to their work through debt or the threat of violence. On the other hand, there is also a large portion of free-spirited girls who enjoy singing karaoke and hanging themselves over strange men for a living, especially when the alternative is a mundane factory job. Although Thailand doesn’t have a huge problem with child or forced prostitution, it does exist.