Scale of the issue
The Thai government does not publicize the numbers of deaths and it is not even clear whether or how the data is collected. Also, embassies do not normally publicize the information. But comments from the British Foreign Office two years ago suggest that about 350 UK citizens die in Thailand every year. The total figure for all foreigners nationwide may be in the region of 2,000 annually.
Data on Pattaya
No agency compiles comprehensive data on the number of foreign deaths in Pattaya or why they occur. It is risky to rely on local media reports as they tend to highlight the unusual and ignore the mundane. One local hospital reported that it sees about two foreign deaths per week, but this particular institution is not the largest by any means. Generally speaking, hospitals are not keen to discuss publicly deaths on their premises. Certainly, there are several farang fatalities in Pattaya every month.
Why deaths occur
Lifestyle diseases – heart attacks, strokes, alcohol-related diseases – are the most common and rarely receive any media publicity unless the stricken individual was famous locally or internationally. Hospitals estimate that about half such deaths occur in hospitals and the rest, particularly if sudden, at home or in hotels.
The next most-common reason concerns accidents. Resorts such as Pattaya are notorious for motorbike crashes, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, and it is also true that the engines of typical machines here are larger than those in Europe. Also to be considered are sea accidents and accidental drowning of which Pattaya has had its fair share in recent years. Accidental overdoses of illegal substances are another cause to remember.
The most common way of self-inflicted death appears to be a leap from a tall building in a fit of depression. In spite of media reports, it is doubtful if there are more suicides than in any other world city of Pattaya’s size. Other causes include deliberate overdosing and, more rarely, gunshot wounds. It is not always clear whether a death was self-inflicted or suicide. For example, many condominium units have low balconies and accidents have been known to occur, especially if alcohol is in evidence.
Although murders of foreigners receive lots of publicity, the phenomenon is still uncommon. The main reason appears to be strong disagreements between a foreigner and a Thai national – possibly disputes about money – but other causes include violent rape or a contested robbery. It seems that murders of foreigners by other foreigners are very rare.
Wherever a body is discovered, the police will write a report of which a copy is lodged with the appropriate embassy, if known. The police also have the power to insist on an autopsy. This will invariably be required unless the deceased person died in hospital with a documentary trail of the fatal disease. Autopsies on foreigners are normally conducted at the Royal Thai Police Hospital in Bangkok. Foreigners dying in Pattaya are taken there by ambulance or by the Sawangboriboon Foundation.
Role of embassies
They don’t normally get too involved and their role is largely restricted to issuing a “letter of release” which permits the next-of-kin to make the funeral arrangements and to have the body removed from the Police Hospital. If the death is controversial or disputed, embassies don’t get involved in the detail except to offer translation services and to recommend Thai lawyers. However, huge international publicity in the past has caused embassies to play a bigger role in individual murder cases.
Most embassies will not pay for hospital or funeral costs. They expect the next-of-kin or friends to do that and will facilitate contact with interested persons overseas. Where this does not happen, the Thai authorities normally arrange a pauper’s cremation or even a burial. The Sawangborboon Foundation, for example, retains a common burial area in Naklua which is periodically cleared and the bones cremated. A typical Thai cremation in a temple costs between 30,000 and 100,000 baht depending on the location, the funeral director and the type of ritual and the number of monks hired for the occasion.