Driving in Thailand can be an adventure, especially for a foreigner. The process of obtaining a Thai drivers license is not necessarily difficult, but learning how to drive in Thailand is a whole different story. There are several very important tips to keep in mind as a foreigner driving in Thailand.
First of all, patience is the key word to remember when driving in Thailand. Most Thai people are not patient while trying to make their move on the road, but they are patient with people trying to cut them off. If a driver gets upset at another driver, it is a rare incident if the anger lasts more than ten seconds.
However, a foreigner that gets cut off by a Thai may experience a very hostile attitude and could get into serious trouble, based on their reaction. Many people have road rage occur in their country, and they forget Thailand is not their country. Patience is the best characteristic to exercise when driving in Thailand, especially for a foreigner.
If a foreigner is going to drive in Thailand, he/she must be able to drive aggressively and that is mandatory. Hesitation may be the most dangerous characteristic a driver can have in Thailand. The Thai people are very calm in their nature, but when it comes to driving, they have no worries about being aggressive.
Therefore, the best way to drive in an aggressive country is to drive aggressively. However, aggressive doesn’t mean rude, but it does mean that a driver in Thailand does need to push into traffic sometimes. This is important if a driver ever wants to go anywhere, because very few people will let another car into their lane.
One of the most important tips to remember while driving in Thailand is to be aware of motorcycles. There are, on average, 27 motorcycle deaths each day in Thailand. These drivers have the right of way and they take advantage of this. Motorcycles are known to go in the wrong direction, and many times, they make daring maneuvers that are known to cause accidents. The most important thing to remember when driving in Thailand is if a driver hits a person on a motorcycle, they are most likely at fault and will answer for this accident.
Driving in Thailand is not necessary for a foreigner, but if depending on public transportation is not convenient, then it will almost become a necessity to drive. There should be no reason to fear driving in Thailand, but taking the few precautions mentioned above will prevent a lot of problems on the road.
Make sure that you always have enough petrol to get you around! Filling up is very easy. Most of Thai’s petrol stations are not self-service there are attendants to do it for you , but I recommend that you always you use the brand name petrol stations. Although I have had no problems, you might have heard stories from other people of petrol being watered down or the attendant not resetting the counter of the pump to zero before filling up. This means that you pay for the previous person and for yourself.
If you are renting a car, you will need to ask them what petrol it takes. It can get a bit confusing as there are so many different kinds, gasohol 91, gasohol 95, E20, E85 or diesel. You can either say “tem tung”, which means “fill it up” or tell them how much you want to put in. Make sure you read the rental contract properly before you sign it. Find out about liability and how much the insurance really covers during an accident.
Driving in cities like Bangkok can be nerve racking for even the most experienced drivers. It takes time getting used to it. One thing you should know is that it is every man for himself on the road. That includes pedestrians. Don’t stop at pedestrian crossings because the car behind you won’t expect you to do that. He will probably just overtake you and then as you are blocking his view of the pedestrian, he will probably run them down.
The same goes for lights that are changing to red. Think twice before you prepare to stop for a red light. The car behind you is probably speeding up and won’t realize that you are going to stop.
Then again, you need to be aware that the people going the other way will be watching your lights turning red and not for their lights going to green. You will find that they often start coming before they get a green light. Motorcycles are the worst. They often don’t take any notice of red lights and you will also find that they drive down the road the wrong way facing the oncoming traffic.
Many drivers are very dangerous. Like changing lanes without signaling or going into the left lane to do an illegal u-turn.
Animals. The more driving you do, the more you have to prepare for wandering animals.Be prepared for dogs wandering out in front of you on the more rural roads (no one wants a dead mutt on their conscience).
Your indicators can be used at any time, such as to signal to a faster car behind you that he can safely overtake (one blink to the left), or that there is oncoming traffic (one blink to the right). After the car has overtaken you, he may signal a quick left-right blink to thank you. You can also use the quick left-right blink when you’re driving at maximum speed, and you approach a slow moving vehicle driving in the middle of the road. In that case you could do a quick left-right signal to indicate you’re going to overtake, you just haven’t decided yet on which side you’re gonna do it.
At the latest possible time you will calculate your chances and drive either way. Some Thai also use indicators to go straight at an intersection (all 4, the emergency button), or you can signal left-right to the beat of the song you’re listening to on the car stereo.
Other questions from travelers who want to travel with rental car/van,
” Should I rent a car in Thailand and drive by myself or better hire for vehicles which driver included? Dangerous driving?”
Do it only if you really need it. Driving is not very dangerous, but you may face problems like:
- Thais drive on the left side of the road.
- Road signs are not clear and sometimes (often) written in Thai only, including direction signs.
- In case of an accident, as a foreigner you are easily blamed in any case. For this reason, be sure to have full insurance.
- The rented car may not be in good condition and in case of breakdown it may be quite difficult to get needed support.
As an alternative:
- There are plenty of taxis in Chiang Rai and they are not expensive. Some taxis also accept long distance trips or full day service. You can generally bargain it directly with the driver.
- Most car rentals provide drivers. You can find an acceptable car e.g., Nissan Cefiro with driver for around THB 35,000 per month or around THB 2,000 per day. This may be more expensive at international car rentals like AVIS or Budget. You can find even cheaper if you have enough time for sourcing. Again, be sure to have full insurance.
- Take photos of every part of your rental car before you sign to accept the conditions of your car to make sure that scratches or other damages that already exist can not be blamed on you
- Air conditioned buses serve all towns in the country.
By Dr. Manta