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

Inequality of Thai society in general, partly based on a deeply rooted patronage system called Sakdina - 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 the Mercedes Benz - 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 of 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 the 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 totally 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 deathwish. Irrespective of the road-signs, motorbikes often ride in any 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 their ability to zip in and out of traffic. Although it will require to take one's courage in both hands.

Bangkok Traffic
Bangkok Traffic

    Actually driving in Thailand isn't quite so bad as its reputation would have you to 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 to make 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 a 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 a parking easily
  • Wish to retain their sanity

Driving Thai Style

Some Thais like the thrill of riding quick motorbikes and racing rally cars, some other enjoy fast driving 4 x 4 vehicles in a wild cross-country terrain or just seeing how fast a 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.

Anticipate 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 in the countryside.

As a matter of fact, 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, listen to the news or your favorite songs, no disruptions. That is what commonly viewed as driving Thai style.

To be continued...

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