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Paradise lost: 5 dangerous places for Australians abroad

March 18, 2012 - Jo Lane

THE once sleepy town of Vang Vieng in Laos has garnered much media attention in recent days, particularly since the death of two young Australians tubing on the river.

But it’s not the only place that has inherent dangers for Australians abroad, many with a no-fear, no-holds-barred approach to international travel. Between February 2011 and 2012, 981 recorded Australians were admitted to hospital overseas.

From news.com.au:

Total number of Australians admitted to hospital overseas that DFAT assisted between 28 Feb 2011 and 28 Feb 2012

Thailand – 133
Indonesia – 97
United States – 60
Italy – 47
China – 45
Greece – 34
Germany – 30
Philippines – 30
Vietnam – 30
India – 27
TOTAL – 981

So what are some of these risks in these places? Let’s take a look at five of the Asian places on the list.

Rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia, are seen, June 1966. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

Indonesia

From Yahoo News about Bali:

Richard Flax has lived in Bali for 30 years. During that time he’s helped many young Australians horrifically injured in traffic accidents.

“Wake up Australia. Come up here, have a great time, but just bear in mind the fact they are risks you wouldn’t take at home. Why take them here in a foreign country with no insurance,” he asked.

“If you’re dead you’re dead, but if you have to live with some of the injuries we have here, you may wish you were.”

The Aussie ex-pat warns our devil-may-care attitude abroad is coming at a dire cost.

“An Australian on a bike, full of grog or not, is going to have a hard time trying to work this out, because it is not working to any of the rules we know when we get our drivers’ licence,” Flax said.

In Bali, the statistics are sobering. Last year one of the island’s biggest hospitals treated around 5,400 traffic accident victims – fifteen per cent of them weren’t wearing helmets, and more than 200 died.

According to official Government figures, at least three people die on Bali’s roads every single day, among them young Australians who are either oblivious to the risks, or are simply willing to take the chance.

Indonesia is listed as a “reconsider your need to travel” risk on smartertraveller.gov.au. Some of their warnings include:

  • If you do decide to travel to Indonesia, you should exercise great care, particularly around locations that have a low level of protective security and avoid places known to be possible terrorist targets.
  • We continue to receive information which indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia, which could take place at any time.
  • Since early 2010, police have disrupted a number of terrorist groups in North Sumatra, Lampung, Banten, Jakarta and Central Java. Police continue to conduct operations against these groups. Police have stated publicly that terrorist suspects remain at large and that they may seek to attack Western targets.
  • Terrorists have previously attacked or planned to attack places where Westerners gather including nightclubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, airports and places of worship in Bali, Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia. These types of venues could be targeted again. Attacks against Westerners in Bali and Jakarta indicate that these areas remain priority targets for terrorists.
  • Judicial processes, including trials of extremists and the implementation of sentences, could prompt a strong reaction from their supporters such as demonstrations and acts of violence.
  • Australians should avoid all protests, demonstrations and rallies as they can turn violent.
Thailand

From smarttraveller.gov.au, listed as “exercise a high degree of caution”:

  • Carefully consider your safety and the implications of accidents if you hire a motorcycle or jet ski and seek advice on any restrictions that may apply (such as insurance cover if you are not licensed to ride a motorcycle in Australia). You should check with your travel insurer whether these activities are covered by your policy. You may be detained and arrested by police following jet ski and motorcycle accidents until compensation, often in thousands of dollars, can be negotiated between parties.
  • Australian travellers continue to report harassment and threats of violence by jet ski operators on beaches across Thailand, and particularly in Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
  • Tourists may be exposed to scams and more serious criminal activity in Thailand. Be aware that food and drink spiking occurs in Thailand, including around popular backpacker destinations such as Khao San Road in Bangkok the night-time entertainment zones in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, and during the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan.
  • Travellers planning to attend Full Moon parties at Koh Phangan and other locations should carefully consider personal safety issues and take appropriate precautions. See our Partying Overseas travel bulletin for advice on the risks you may face when attending Full Moon parties and tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

There’s also specific warnings in smartertraveller’s YouTube video about dangers in Thailand and Asia as a whole.

Vang Vieng in Laos. Pic: Matthew Bennett, cnngo.com

Laos

The new backpacker paradise that has been under the spotlight of late receives no particular warnings from DFAT (listed as “exercise normal safety precautions” although Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng is listed as “reconsider your need for travel”) but plenty from CNNGo.com and Sunday Night. From the latter:

Today it’s on the must do list for every young Australian heading overseas. A thrill seekers paradise where anything goes and there are no limits.

But with the buckets of booze, pulsing dance music and river tubing, death is stalking. This seemingly harmless stunt, floating down a river for several days in a tyre inner tube while stopping frequently to drink and dance, has taken a sinister turn. Unscrupulous operators are selling alcohol and illicit drugs to backpackers, and the result is leaving families burying their children.

In the past two months three young Australian fun seekers have died in South East Asia.

China

On smartertraveller.gov.au the China travel warnings are to “exercise normal safety precautions”, however Tibet and Xinjiang have a higher warning level.

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution if travelling to Tibet Autonomous Region. You should not attempt to travel to Tibet without permission from the Chinese authorities. For details about obtaining a travel permit to Tibet, see Local Travel below.
  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution if travelling to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region due to its volatile security situation and heightened ethnic tensions. In July 2009, violent protests resulted in a large number of deaths and injuries in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. A number of further protests and incidents, including bombings, have occurred in the region since that date. In late July 2011, a series of violent incidents occurred in the city of Kashgar in which a number of people were killed and injured. You should avoid any protests or large gatherings.

Heavy rush traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. (AP Photo/Andy Eames)

Vietnam

Vietnam is listed as “exercise normal safety precautions” on smartertraveller.gov.au along with these warnings:

  • Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death sentence. Vietnamese authorities have strict security measures to combat drug trafficking. Over 20 Australians are currently serving long sentences for drug trafficking in Vietnam.
  • Traffic accidents occur often in Vietnam. You should consider the risks of driving a car or riding a motorcycle in Vietnam, particularly if you are unfamiliar with local conditions.
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