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Driving in Thailand

Yamaha Mio Motorcycle (motosai) in Thailand

Yamaha Mio Motorcycle (motosai) in Thailand

Driving in Thailand, Not for the Weak

Driving in Thailand’s major cities can be quite a harrowing experience. Driving in Bangkok could result in the fastest traffic accident you’ve ever caused. The roads are backwards here, like the United Kingdom. If you are from another place where the roads are set up for driving on the RIGHT side of the road you will have a little trouble at first. It may take months to really get used to it. Before you are completely used to it you may have an accident as your unconscious mind takes over while driving sometimes – whether you like it or not.

You may know that you can’t drive on the right side of the road and while going straight – you won’t have a problem. However, come to a stop sign or stoplight and something could snap. You may find yourself turning into oncoming traffic. I did more than once. About 4 times it happened to me during the first couple months of driving here. For the last year and a half I’ve been fine though, never once turning into a street on auto-pilot and almost killing myself, passengers, and strangers. Think seriously before driving here – but if you’re VERY cautious every time you get behind the wheel you can do it. Do not, under any circumstances think you can drive in Bangkok until you have some months behind the wheel in Thailand. Bangkok roads are insane.

Here are some TIPS about driving in Thailand.

You might not want to drive in Thailand if you… are indecisive, adapt slowly, are impatient, have road-rage in your country, get frustrated easily, can’t read maps, expect driving rules to be followed, expect to be able to survive by asking for directions and distances in English, have unrealistic expectations about getting somewhere quickly or expect to find parking easily.
THAI ROAD RULES (or so it appears):

  • The largest vehicle wins. A vehicle larger than yours has every right and expectation to do what it wants in regards to your vehicle. If a car wants to pass your motorbike only to then JAM on the brakes in front of you – skidding perhaps – to make a left turn in front of you – this is reasonable and should be accompanied by a weak “mai bpen rai krup” instead of a verbal tirade.
  • The very large dump trucks that carry sand, dirt, rocks, concrete, bricks, etc – the ones with boat horns – are the kings of the road and everything, everybody, every one of god’s creatures must get the HELL out of the way or die. There is nothing else to be said. If you hear the horn of death, pray it’s not you that he’s beeping at because usually just as a courtesy before they PLOW INTO YOU with all 85 metric tons, they blow that confounded boat horn to prepare you for meeting your master. If you hear the horn – and it’s you he’s beeping about, it’s too late, you’re already dead but you don’t know it yet.
  • A stop light ends 5 seconds before the light turns green. Meaning, everyone goes at that point.
  • A stop sign means only to slow down a bit and verify nobody is going to cream you before blowing through it. Nobody stops. It doesn’t mean stop, so don’t you stop.
  • When pulling into traffic there is no need to look at those vehicles you are jumping in front of because they are behind you and must react to everything in front of them.
  • While driving a motorbike in Thailand… one must not move more than 4 inches in either direction – left or right before checking the mirrors thoroughly for other bikes, cars, trucks, and buses. But, never take your eyes off what’s going on in FRONT of you either.
  • There is no such thing as “tailgating”. If you are experiencing what you think is tailgating it is actually YOU that is the problem. Go faster or get out of the fast lane (right side) so normal Thai drivers can go warp speed.
  • If the vehicle in front of you has a left turn signal that is flashing he may be telling you that he’s going to learn left. Or he may be telling you that there is an obstacle on his left and he is moving into the right lane to pass it. Some Thais have this confused. What is the law? It must be to put turn signal on if moving in that direction. Either way – you need to really be careful passing.
  • If the vehicle in front of you has a right turn signal that is flashing – he might be telling you that it’s unsafe to pass him on the right. This would be correct because either he’s telling you HE is getting into the right hand lane, or someone else already is and is flying up behind you both at warp speed.
  • If a driver approaching from the opposite direction flashes his headlights it may mean, “police ahead, watch your speed”, or “don’t pass that car, you fool, I’m coming too fast!” or “I have screwed up big time by trying pass this vehicle so please give me some room by heading for the shoulder.”
  • Buses, especially those with a lot of passengers are blessed by Buddha because they have a large number of Buddha statues, amulets, and white chalk writing on their dashboards. The drivers know they are blessed and so they taunt fate by passing cars only during blind curves, cresting a hill, and as you are also passing from the opposite direction on a two-lane road. You must yield, it’s your fate.
  • If you are overtaking a vehicle, expect another driver to decide to overtake you at precisely that exact moment.
  • An equal time must be spent looking behind you as in front of you – especially motorbike drivers. And, you must never look away from in front of you.
  • If you have an accident and you are a foreigner, you are responsible. The other drivers, the witnesses and the tourist police will say so. It’s your fate.

[NOTE – “warp speed” – any speed over 150 km per hour or speeds at which it is impossible to guess whether it’s safe to pull out in front of the speeding vehicle. Pulling out in front of a vehicle going warp speed will be verified by one of 3 methods.

1.) Said vehicle plows into the back of your car, resulting in you both going warp speed for 700+ meters but eventually resulting in both cars slowing to a dead stop.

2.) Said vehicle swerves to your right between the curb and the median and squeezes by, hardly slowing – brakes don’t work at warp speed 2+.

3.) Said vehicle flashes headlights wildly – high beams, low beams… never thinking about the brake and flies by on the left side of you creating a vaccuum of suction that swerves your car a bit but you’re no worse for the mistake.]

If you insist on driving here are two books that get high reviews:

Thailand Atlas, by Lotus Image
Road Atlas of Thailand, by Asia Books

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