Posted by: fiddlehead | June 9, 2008

Driving in Thailand. Sometimes a real challenge.

Well, I’ve been driving here for 3 1/2 years now and no accidents. I come from the US so driving on the left was a little scary at first.

Now I am ok with it and drive even through rush hour traffic in the rain (this morning i had to take friends to Phuket town)

There are either no rules or you must assume that Thai’s will not follow whatever rules there are. This can be a little scary at first but after a while, you learn to drive defensively and expect anything to happen at any time. You cannot daydream and look out the side window and expect people to stay in their lane or stop at a red light or stop sign.

Probably one of the most dangerous things on the road are the motorcycles with side cars. They are used for construction carriers, food vendors, family station wagons and to take a pack of dogs to the beach. They don’t act like a motorbike and they don’t act like a car. They seem to have their own rules and stay between the lanes. They are often very difficult to manouver around as they don’t go too fast. (especially when the charcoal grill is still burning on the food vendor’s)

Also beware of dogs sleeping on the road. I am not sure why they like to do this but they can be a nuisance. Also people like to park almost anywhere. I saw a guy block a whole lane during rush hour and go into the 7-11 for a while.

The stop sign is a biggie, as it almost seems that Thai’s refuse to stop at a stop sign and almost always drive though them. You will learn to expect things like this.

Also, the bigger the truck, the more they expect to be yielded to. Don’t ever think that you will be in the right if you are in an accident because someone didn’t follow the rules you expect back home. It doesn’t work that way here.

All that being said, it is a challenge every time and Thai people can actually be very polite in letting you enter a lane or bigger street without waiting.

There is no road rage or horn blowing. I say that but, this morning, while I was jogging, I heard this horn blowing a lot. I like to jog around Nai Harn lake and there was a car with a Thai driver driving really slow in the extreme left shoulder with a farang (western) woman in the car behind just laying on the horn. She obviously didn’t realize: 1/ Thai people will pull over to the shoulder or left side when they want you to pass them. 2/ No road rage! No laying on the horn. It is something we bring from the western world and just doesn’t fit in here. Please save your horn blowing for emergencies or when someone obviously doesn’t know you are there and tries to come into your lane.

The Unwritten Rules!

1/ The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way they have. If you are on a motorcyle, yield to everyone (except perhaps a bicycle)

2/ The slower and safer you want to go, the further to the left you should drive

3/ No road rage! (definitely NOT COOL!)

4/ If you get in an accident, (as a farang or westerner), you will be considered at fault.

5/ Drive Defensively at all times! Anything can come at you at any time.

6/ If someone flashes their headlights at you, this means they are coming through so look out! In the western world it often means the opposite and I remember my first time this happened, I came very close to an accident.

7/ Motorcycles WILL weave in and out of lanes and traffic. It’s the way it is, just deal with it and don’t get mad or try to get even.

Just be careful and (Europeans and Americans) remember that right turns are tough and left turns easy. (and the turn signals are on the right hand side.  (I actually prefer driving here than back home where everyone stays in their lane and blows their horn at you when you don’t drive like they want you to) 

Something to add to this as i just went and got my Thai drivers license this past week.  
It’s quite entertaining (the whole process)   From the eye test (my perifial vision wasn’t too good so she told me to take off my glasses) to the reaction response test (you have to step on a make believe gas pedal and then when the light turns red, switch to the brake.   All the farangs (except 0ne) did this on the first try.  Very few Thai’s did it on their first try and some just could not do it after 4 or 5 tries.    

Then you take a computer “multiple choice” test with 30 questions.   You must get 23 or 25 of them correct.  I got 21.   Some of the answers are amazing (it tells you which ones you got wrong and the correct answer). For instance, they show you the yield sign and one of the answers is:  slow down and let cars in front of you have the right of way    (this is the one i picked)   BUT, the correct answer was:   Stop and let everyone around you go.   I had a bit of an argument over this one with the lady giving the test but she insisted in Thailand, this is the rule.  
Another one shows 4 pictures (says to look at the picture on the left, but the picture is on the right!) and tells you which one is the only one that is a legal parking spot.   I picked the one in front of someone’s house.  WRONG.  The correct one shows a 4 lane road with double solid dividing lines in the middle and dotted lines dividing the other lanes and a car parked in the far left lane.   This is supposedly the correct picture???

Then they let you come back the next day after telling you the answers to the ones you had wrong.  
But, the best part is the actually driving test.    I needed my motorcycle AND car drivers license so they said i could do both on the same day.     I brought my truck as they said you could rent a motorcycle.    So, there were about 20 people for the test and she said, (in Thai only) for everyone to get on their bikes and proceed to go through the test area.   I went up and asked her what she said and she told me to go rent a bike and join everyone and follow them thru the test.   By the time i got the bike, they were all finished so i just went where i thought they went (the test area is for cars, pickups AND bikes )    I must’ve done something wrong because i looked over and all the Thai people were laughing at me.   But she passed me as i stopped at all the stop signs and read the road signs all correctly even if i didn’t follow the correct sequence.  

So, then it was time for the car drivers test.  This was the best.  

Again, she told the 12 or 13 drivers everything in Thai and 5 of them proceeded to get to their cars and start.   I asked her what i should do (being the only farang there) and she told me this time to just watch for a while.  
So, these cars come up very very slowly and stop in front of her.   Then they turn right, go through a roundabout, turn left again and stop.    Now, they have to turn left and parallel park .    Not one of them could do it.    The 1st one got through after about 15 minutes.   The 2nd one got so screwed up that the lady driver ended up completely turning around inside the parking spot and knocking over 2 of the posts in the process.   I started snickering a little.     
The 3rd one never did get it done and finally after about 15 minutes, the lady just told her to stop.   Now, it is very hard not to laugh at this as these people just could NOT drive.     But looking around, there was only one other guy laughing.    I think he was Muslim.  (not that it matters but i think he knew how to drive and was with his wife or daughter)   ALL the Thai people were standing, watching and looking at these people trying to park and drive with complete horror on their faces!    Most of them were going to be in the same situation in a matter of the next hour or so.  
Finally it was my turn and i jumped into the lead as i didn’t want to have to wait for these people for their 15 minute park jobs.   I went thru the course easily and parked no problem as i’ve been driving  cars for 40 years and even driving here on the left side of the road for the past 7.      

Then there’s a part where you have to drive through narrow posts about 50 metres and then back out.   Many posts had gotten knocked down in this part as they didn’t know how to use a mirror.    

Anyway, when i finished, i went to the lady and asked if i had passed.   She smiled at me and said:  “I think you’ve been driving a long time”    
She gave me my paperwork and i then went inside and got the 2 drivers licenses printed up with my picture and they charge you about 105 baht for the MB license and 210 baht for the car.  

Enjoy the entertainment if you go and good luck not laughing.    

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