Driving in Thailand, A Survival Guide

Travel Tips | 7 comments

Living in Thailand is the dream of every hardcore racing fan, at least it should be. Where else can you watch car and motorcycle racing live on a daily basis without having to pay for admission? All you need to do is pull up a chair to any major street and watch the chaos unfold. Witness the breakneck speeds, hairpin turns, pedestrian slalom. Thailand has got it all. You may be thinking, how can it be racing without winners and losers? That’s simple, the winners you never hear about, and the losers, just follow the ambulance sirens.

Traffic in the Middle of Bangkok

Traffic in the Middle of Bangkok | Photo by: null0, on Flickr

Okay, I’ll admit that I may be exaggerating just a tiny bit. If I’ve already scared you out of driving in Thailand then I am sorry. On the other hand, it may be the best thing to ever happen to you. Who knows, maybe I saved your life.

Although driving here is not as extreme as I’ve made it out to be, it’s still pretty bad. Just think of the absolute worst traffic conditions in your home country and multiply that by ten. If you still insist on doing it, then you better sit down and take some notes.

Forget Everything You Know About Driving

Maybe not everything, but remember all those laws and rules from your home country? You can throw those out. Yes, there are traffic laws here in Thailand. It’s very likely that the laws are exactly the same as those laws in your home country. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for those with a wild side), rules mean less than nothing without enforcement. In Thailand there is no enforcement. 99.9% of Thai traffic laws come down to two things. You must wear your helmet while riding on a motorcycle and you must carry a valid driving license while operating a vehicle. The huge penalty for neglecting to do these things? About two hundred baht or around six dollars, assuming you ever go through one of the very obvious police checkpoints.

Lawlessness Breeds Anarchy

With nobody to keep drivers in check, drivers are free to do as they please. This includes every stupid, reckless, selfish maneuver that you can possibly think of as well as about ten times as many that you couldn’t even consider. Driving on the wrong side of the road at full speed. Failing to even recognize a red traffic light. Driving on a sidewalk to get to the front of traffic. These are just a few of the wonderful driving practices that you will encounter here in the Land of Smiles on a daily basis.

Unofficial Rules of the Road

The above should really say ‘Rule of the Road’ as there is really only one. If you have a big car, the smaller cars need to get out of your way. In this land of lawlessness, the semi trucks and tour buses are the Kings of the road. If you are in their way, you had better move because they won’t. You’ll be lucky to get a friendly honk before being run down at a high speed.

If you are like most people in Thailand and are driving around on a motorcycle, sorry to tell you, but you’re the bottom of the rung. You need to look out for everyone else as they won’t pay you much mind at all.

Traffic Jam at Victory Monument

Traffic Jam at Victory Monument | Photo by: le_mulot, on Flickr

How to Prepare

When approaching driving for the first time, it is good to ‘Always expect the unexpected.’ Sorry to drop such a cliche on you, especially one that is impossible to fulfill, but it does get the point across. Maybe a better cliche for Thailand is ‘Always expect everyone to do the dumbest thing that they can possibly do.’ You’ll be surprised how often it actually happens.

The Thai Mentality

I’d like to go out with a little anecdote that I read somewhere online. It goes a bit like this:

In Western countries, drivers won’t pass vehicles across the center line while driving around blind turns or over hills. This is because there is always the possibility of a car driving toward you in the opposite lane. In Thailand, the drivers have no problem doing these things because a car may not be coming.

If you can understand this, you can understand Thai driving.

Stay safe out there.

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Driving in Thailand, A Survival Guide