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Driving Habits on Thailand Roads

"Life isn't about weathering the storm,
but learning how to dance in the rain."

This essay isn't about Thailand's traffic laws or Thai driving rules, nor the license regulations unless they are the "Rules of the Road Thai Style" and are related to Thailand's driving habits, customary norms, and typical Thai patterns.

Inequality in Thai society in general, partly based on a deeply rooted patronage system called Sakdina à±¼ a social hierarchy structure (refer to the Modern Thai History and Thai Ladies titles), has its influence on the "Rules of Engagement" on Thailand roads. Accordingly, if you're driving a new model of Mercedes-Benz, à±¼ you are the King of the road, and all other less expensive cars, as well as pedestrians, have to give way. Pedestrians, BTW, give way to cars most of the time. Elephants are the main exception to the right-of-way rule, and the largest vehicles (mostly 12-wheel trucks) come a close second. Notwithstanding the meddling as a swarm of flies' motorcycles (motosai in Thai) that get here there and everywhere.

Motorcycles on Thai Road

Take into account that according to Thai Law, the legal age for riding a small motorcycle is 15 y.o. In practice, the age for driving a motorbike on Thai roads is quintessentially governed by the child's ability to walk. Not surprisingly, they are quite irresponsible and ignore the most basic and simple safety rules.

In contrast to the Thai polite and non-confrontational attitude, many motorcyclists become suicidal with no regard whatsoever for other drivers, especially the youngsters on motorcycles, as if they have an apparent death wish. Irrespective of the road signs, motorbikes often ride in whatever direction that suits them, let alone riding on pavements or sidewalks. There are more motorcycles in Thailand than any other vehicle type. And they are widely used as taxis as well.

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Family Motorbike
Family Motorbike

Just imagine how many more children, adults & pets can sit on this motorbike.

There is an extensive network of excellent highways and roads throughout Thailand especially in and around major tourist destinations from Chaing Mai in the north to Phuket in the south. Roads range from multi-lane freeways around Bangkok to tiny lanes of small side streets (soi in Thai).

Despite the rather hectic traffic, especially in Bangkok, most Thai drivers are well-mannered and polite. You'll hardly ever hear a honking car and anger is never displayed publicly. By the way, one of the fastest ways to travel around Bangkok is to ride a motorcycle taxi with the ability to zip in and out of traffic. Although it will require taking one's courage in both hands.

Bangkok Traffic
Bangkok Traffic

    Driving in Thailand isn't quite as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Here are a few simple things to remember:
  • Drive on the left, even if others seem to drive anywhere they like. They turn a blind eye
  • Thai drivers always manage to find more lanes on the roads than I can ever see
  • People flashing their headlights means "Don't Go"
  • When overtaking someone, a vehicle behind you may attempt a double overtake
  • Although drinking and driving is illegal in Thailand, some drivers still may be intoxicated
  • If there's an accident it's your fault - no, really
  • Get stopped by police for doing what everybody else is doing - pay up and live with it
  • And above all, regardless of circumstances, avoid confrontations with the taxi drivers

Traffic Scene
Deviating Traffic Scene
Regenerating Road Lanes on the Go

    Driving in Thailand is not recommended for those who:
  • Are timid
  • Adapt slowly
  • Are impatient
  • Have low frustration thresholds
  • Have orientation difficulties
  • Expect the driving rules to be abided by
  • Expect to be able to stop and ask/get directions and distances
  • Detest traffic jams
  • Expect to find parking easily
  • Wish to retain their sanity

Driving Thai Style

Some Thais like the thrill of riding quick motorbikes and racing rally cars, and some others enjoy fast driving 4 x 4 vehicles in a wild cross-country terrain or just seeing how quick their 10-year-old car can go. While others prefer a complicated game of Mah Jong or chess, maybe even an occasional round of Russian roulette. The psychology of Thai drivers includes all these traits and more.

Anticipating the impossible and unexpected is the name of the Thai road game. Don't be confused and don't be surprised to bump into some Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati, Ferrari, and other luxurious sports cars, bikes, and sedans on the heavy-jammed Bangkok streets, in Pattaya or the countryside.

Bangkok's traffic is terrible, to say the least. What is surprising, Thai drivers do not horn even in truly enormous traffic jam situations. Patience is the name of the game. Simply sit in your air-conditioned car, and listen to the news or your favorite songs, with no disruptions. That is what is commonly viewed as driving Thai style.

To be continued...

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