With the very real possibility of you meeting another vehicle coming towards you on the same side of the road, driving in Thailand is not for the sane (I was going to say faint of heart, but surely any normal person would avoid such circumstances)? Saying that though I, like many other travelers in Thailand, love to drive around this great country.
There are a few things you need to bear in mind before embarking on your epic road journey, things that will hopefully keep you safe and make you ride as smooth as possible. There are laws for driving in Thailand; however it would appear for the most part that these rules are there to be broken. Officially, everyone drives on the left, although there will be occasions when a car or motorbike will head towards you on the same side of the road. Normally they will drive slowly on the hard shoulder – don’t be alarmed, just carefully pull around them to let them pass.
Although it may seem as if parking is a bit of a free for all in Thailand, there are some general points to be aware of. Unless you want the police to issue you with a ticket, don’t park by a curb or in front of railings that are painted in red and white stripes. The Thais have an ingenious solution to the fact that parking is limited, by double and triple parking. The owner of a car that has been blocked in simply has to push the offending vehicle out of the way – therefore when using a car park keep you car parked in neutral.
Drinking and driving in Thailand is illegal, but many still do it, and in the interests of self preservation, it is better to assume that every other driver on the road is a little worse for wear. Expect to see people running red lights and stop signs, trucks piled dangerously high with all manner of goods, motorbikes precariously balancing whole families and packs of dogs running wild in the middle of busy highways. It is also not unknown for someone to try to overtake as you are overtaking them or to undertake you by driving on the hard shoulder. In every circumstance the best survival technique is to constantly check your mirrors while liberally employing your horn. It may seem odd at first beeping and tooting everyone, but it helps to keep you safe and is a common practice on Thai roads. Flashing your headlights in Thailand is a warning sign meaning ‘don’t go’.
Should you be unfortunate and have a road accident in Thailand, it will be considered your fault – as a Westerner you are seen as rich and therefore responsible for paying for a crash even if your car was parked and you were no where near it at the time. You can also be stopped and fined by the police for doing what everyone else is doing. (However, this prejudice works in your favor during road blocks as Ferangs (Westerners) will be generally waved through). If you do get stopped by the police, don’t argue, pay any fine and in the case of an accident pray that your hire firm has got good insurance.
Also, be aware that whether you are hiring or borrowing a car, one thing that will remain prevalent is that your windscreen wipers will not work in the rain. This is because for most of the year the sun will have slowly melted the rubber of the wipers, welding them on to the windscreen. So, when it rains, all you will be effectively doing is smearing a couple of small strips of perished rubber across your eye line – handy if you are trying to create the impression of a badly tuned in TV in stripy mud, not so good if you are trying to negotiate your way through unknown roads during a tropical thunderstorm.
With that all said driving in Thailand is generally easy and good fun. The roads are wide and in overall great condition, most of the tourists sign posts are written in English and Thai, and you never have to pump your own gas. Just drive with your eyes open, expect the unexpected and enjoy your Thai road trip.
Article by Christine Oatley, copyright 2008 Asia Products LLC. All Rights Reserved. Christopher Snyder is the Founder and Managing Director of Asia Products LLC and currently is living in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes on a variety of topics including current events, politics, and travel ideas. He manages an e-commerce store buying products to sell on AsiaProductsLLC.com. He is documenting some of his more interesting travels in his Thailand Travel Pages website.