High Season in Thailand? Yep.
I’ve seen a couple hundred fold increase in the number of foreigners on motorbikes here in the south and I expect that it will be just days before I see my first motorbike accident for this tourist season. Man there are some really bloody scenes. I’ve seen heads cracked open and so much blood that I thought I’d be sick and I’m not usually weak-stomached.
I’ve ridden a motorbike here for 3 years and I’ve had one minor accident where the car in front applied a LOT of brakes just as I glanced to the side and rear of me to see if there was anyone in that lane so I could get into it. I hit the back of the car and caused 2000 baht of damage to the woman’s new car. It was my fault. Anytime you hit something – it’s your fault. She hit her brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of her. I lost as I wasn’t paying attention for a second.
There are foreigners that ride straight into the back of trucks here. There are those that are taken out on blind curves. Those that misjudge the speed they should be doing and can’t stop in time. Those that use their front brake hard – and lose all control of the motorbike. There is a LOT to learn about driving in Thailand – and it’s a shame to see people that wouldn’t be comfortable on a bicycle riding a motorbike because they’re on vacation and think it’s fun.
Here are some tips about driving a motorbike in Thailand that I hope you understand and follow:
- Your front brake is your RIGHT side lever. Do NOT use it when going around a bend – EVER. Do not use it hard in the rain. Do not use it in any sort of gravel, sand, dirt, oily patch or anything other than dry or wet road without any of the preceding conditions. It’s OK to use the front brake in the rain if you’re going straight and if the road is normal – no oil, gravel and other things – but don’t use the front brake HARD in the rain. The front brake – when it locks up, renders the motorbike totally unsteerable. If the back brake locks up you’re able to steer a little bit.
- If you feel the wheels lock up – let off the brakes a bit until the wheels are moving so you can steer again. (must practice – it may not come naturally for you).
- Some Thai drivers cut the corners on sharp curves. You may be unpleasantly surprised by a whole car or truck in your lane as you’re coming around a sharp left hand turn. Motorbikes that are racing or otherwise speeding very fast do this a lot too. We’ve ALL had experiences where we thought we’d die in these situations – and some of us did. Stay to the left when making a left hand turn where you can’t see around the bend. Horrible places for these types of near misses are: Koh Samui, Krabi, Patong, and anywhere else where there are hills and very windy roads.
- Use your turn signals for everything. Let anyone know what you’re doing before you do it. There are idiots flying up behind me sometimes at 120 kph when the rest of traffic is going 70. If they know what you’re doing by your turn signals then they’ll not hit you.
- If you are just moving within the motorcycle lane – or moving left or right at all (not turning) look in your mirrors because moving just 8 or 12 inches left or right can put you in a bad accident if someone is coming up fast – and they do. Hold your line as you drive on the straight and around the bends. If you don’t know what that statement means, look it up it may save your life.
- Keep enough air in your tires – but not too much as the more air you have – the quicker you’ll skid and lose control. Better to get a flat tire than die in an accident. I always keep our tires slightly underinflated so I have more traction.
- If you have the choice between disc brakes and not – get the motorcycle with disc brakes – they stop quicker and are much easier to judge in the rain – as they don’t change as much as drum brakes which tend to lock up really quick.
- Helmets for each person on the motorbike. Not more than 2 people on a motorbike.
- Be aware of what is behind you, all the time. BUT, never forget that what is in front of you will kill you more often than what is in back. If you hold your line as you drive the motorcycle you’ll almost always be ok… Often times I’m distracted for a second by something on the side or in back of me… and after I’ve looked and then look back in front of me – something has changed and I need to swerve or hit the brakes. The front is the most important – don’t ever sight-see on the motorcycle.
- Check your lights before you leave – headlight, left, right, and brakes.
- Adjust your mirrors so you can see to your right and left and behind you a great deal. Forget about directly behind you because that matters least and usually motorbikes don’t follow each other directly behind very close.
- Always have 150 baht under your seat to fix a flat tire.
- Ride your motorbike on a flat tire – don’t push it or leave it sit – no sense. The tires are VERY strong and won’t rip up – even with two people riding on it for 8 km – as I’ve done. Just go slow and know you’ll need to replace the inner tube, but the outer tire should be fine – just hot as hell for whoever will fix it!
- Thais on motorcycles don’t usually look as they pull out into your lane. Thais in cars and trucks usually look, but might pull out in front of you anyway. This is just the NORMAL way they drive. If you don’t compensate by knowing they’re going to jump out in front of you – you may hit them and it may be judged as your fault. Always be ready to compensate for people jumping in front of you in the motorbike lane – you’re expected to move right. DON’T move right until you check your right mirror.
- When it rains the oil that drips from cars is more likely to be found at stop lights where cars have sat and dripped for a while. Be VERY careful at intersections when it’s wet because they’ll be the most slippery spots.
- Thai people for some damn reason don’t remove debris from the street car or motorcycle lanes. They leave it. Take the time and remove all bricks, rocks, trees, bamboo, and other things you find in the road that could cause someone a really severe accident at night – or even during the day.
- Thai construction workers don’t mark the areas very well. My girlfriend’s best friend’s sister died in Ubon Ratchathani on the way from Ubon Ratchathani University back toward Warin Chamrap after 10 pm because there was NO warning the road was out – and she died a horrible death. Only go as fast as you see… and stop within that distance you can see.
- Be wary of motorbike riders in back of you. The Thai people are VERY aware when someone is driving close behind them or following them. There’s a reason for this – there are many stories of people on the motorbike being hit with clubs, machetes and fun things like that – and then robbed. It happens everywhere apparently and there is little about it in the papers, but ask ANY Thai person and they’ll tell you that at night time it happens.
- Use your horn 9 times more than the locals – because you DON’T know the rules of accepted behavior while driving and if you don’t know what someone is doing – beep. They’ll never verbally say anything about it – and may beep back, but at least you didn’t have an accident.
- Fear every vehicle larger than you, because the persistent belief is that “he with the bigger car wins” and usually that’s how they drive. Especially fear the banshee trucks (big dumpster trucks) as they don’t (and can’t) stop very well. Buses too, they don’t stop for anything. I’ve seen many dogs die under the wheels of the bus I was on… and ONE COW broadsided because our bus refused to slow down!
- Thai people usually stop at red lights – not always. Don’t even go through a green light without checking the right and left side to see if some punk is flying through the light at 100+kph.
- Thai people never stop at stop signs. If you do, you might be rear-ended.
- Thai people in cars and trucks WILL cut in front of you, slam on the brakes and make a left turn as you struggle to find the words to call the person. They do it all the time, all kinds of weather. It’s like they think they have the right to or something. This is usually the only time I ever lose it while riding the motorcycle!
Can you think of anymore?
Here’s another couple articles I wrote about driving the motorbike (motor-scooters) in Thailand.