So you’re maybe thinking of buying a car or motorcycle and heading out onto the road in Thailand . . . You will then have the freedom to travel wherever you want to and explore the kingdom. No more jumping out of moving buses and doing a parachute roll when you reach your destination, no more conversations about Wayne Rooney and Man United with taxi drivers and no more being packed into a van like a sardine and driven at breakneck speed though unpredictable traffic. All in all it is a great decision, but these tips below may help reduce the initial shock factor when first heading out onto the road.
1) How flashing your headlights could be fatal
In the west at least, when you flash your headlights at a car it is a polite gesture to another driver to go first, however, it is the opposite in Thailand as people flash their lights as a signal to say “Stop! I’m coming through!” I learnt this the hard way after flashing my lights to give way to a car and then having a near collision, whilst infuriating the other driver.
2) Right of way at junctions. Is there such a thing?
There are rules written up about who should have the right of way at a junction of course, but none of this carries through to the real world, especially if you happen to be driving through Bangkok. Cars will pull out in front of you from junctions every now and again. Prepare for it by slowing down and getting ready to apply pressure to that break pedal.
3) Night vision & ghosts appearing in the mirror
Many motorbikes, especially on B roads in the countryside will have no lights. I’ve never found out the reason for this, but good luck on trying to figure this out if you fancy trying to neatly wrap some logic around it. So, when pulling out of a junction, always keep an eye out for fast moving dark shadows. Also, many motorcyclists have their rear view side-mirrors turned inward, as this makes it easier to weave in and out of traffic, plus avoid seeing a ghost. With the downside being, of course, that they can’t see anything, including you, behind them.
4) Keep your cool or prepare for trouble
A big factor in navigating heavy traffic in places like Bangkok is the ability to keep your cool. Random insane things will happen, so breathe deeply and clench your fist rather than explode. Many taxi drivers carry weapons for self protection and some drivers may even carry firearms. Plus, if you keep your speed down, put on some chilled out music, and just let traffic mayhem do it’s thing around you, you’ll have considerably less accidents than trying to fight the flow.
5) Lock your car doors to avoid a nasty surprise
As in any country, it’s always a good idea to lock your doors, especially at night or when driving around solitary areas. I once had some dodgy looking characters roll a tractor tyre in front of my car on the way to Chaam; I managed to avoid the tractor tyre trap by swerving around it, but if I would have hit it at least the doors would have been locked, giving me more time to plan some kind of escape action. Like in any country, there have been horror stories of car jacking and also criminals spraying chemicals into a driver’s face after winding down their window. So, take the time to get into the habit of locking those car doors whilst driving and never wind the window down if someone waves you down or forces you to stop if you don’t know them.
6. The famous taxi drivers
Of course, taxis in Thailand are generally fantastic and a majority of taxi drivers are fair, helpful and polite. There are some great taxi drivers, but of course, if you don’t drive yourself you will meet the odd unfriendly taxi driver every now again, after all people are people and it’s the same all around the world. Many times foreigners are taken on a 3 hour journey which should have taken 30 minutes (happens with every foreigner when they are new). Taxi drivers are also good at bringing out a full length sword in an argument with another taxi driver and of course ask “How much do you earn?” along with 20 other prying questions, that they would not dare ask a fellow Thai person. However, you can avoid the odd confrontation with these types if you drive yourself.
There are numerous positive points to driving in Thailand, including:
- Being able to renew your tax through a drive through tax station.
- The ability to explore the beauty of Thailand or the exciting city of Bangkok.
- Car insurance rates are fairer than most western insurance companies and they are more ‘humane’ and less interested in wriggling out of compensation payments or delaying a claim, compared to most western car insurance companies.
- Road conditions and traffic laws are continually improving in Thailand, such as the government’s recent crackdown on illegal vans and cleaning up mafia owned transport monopolies.
- Thai drivers will often go out of their way to help you if you break down or have a problem on the road.
In conclusion, driving in Thailand can be a culture shock at first for an expat and your ability to drive a bumper car will be a big factor in forecasting your survival odds on the road and our advice is to not even get into the car at Songkran. However, in Thailand drivers drive slower than most other countries, such as Spain or England for example, which makes driving safer in some ways. Having your own car or motorbike in Thailand gives you the freedom to explore Thailand at your own pace and makes traveling a lot less energy draining.