The recent work of XploreAsia staff Tyler and George covering public transportation in Thailand about getting one’s self around naturally leads to questions about actually driving yourself around, usually by motorbike. While cars are just as readily available they can be somewhat impracticable and cost prohibitive.
Thailand is a country where the preferred mode of transportation, especially for the individual, is clearly dominated by the motorbike. Every city, town and village will always seem to have motorbike rentals available at reasonable prices. They can also just as well be purchased usually without breaking the bank.
If you do decide to go this route, there are some considerations you should make. First and foremost would be the fact that you should have ‘some’ experience driving a motorbike, hopefully previously in your home country. If you do not have such experience you can still do it and take advantage of having the convenience of your own transportation. However, be realistic about it starting slow – very slow – and possibly look for an outlying, low traffic area to practice a bit, getting comfortable with your new skills as a ‘biker’.
Next, take the time to acquaint yourself with the rules of the road and how they may differ from your home country. Americans, for example, must come to terms that not only are the driver’s seat of vehicles on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, but that Thais also drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road to which they are accustomed.
Finally, you must understand that the Thai people interpret traffic laws as ‘polite suggestions’ as to how they should drive. They are very free form and abstract in their driving behavior and this presents a whole new world of challenges when motoring in the Land of Smiles. As westerners we have been taught very strict rules and even a minor failure to adhere to the law is quickly enforced, usually making a dent in our pocket book.
Motorists will quickly find that this is not quite the case in Thailand. Ignoring a traffic signal in Britain? That’s a ticket. Broken taillight in Chicago? That’s an ordinance violation. Does your vehicle have a headlamp that is even just too dim on your vehicle in New Zealand? That’s a fine you’ll have to pay.
While these are technically against the law in Thailand, enforcement is largely nonexistent. That being said, there will be road blocks and occasional safety checks that are essentially random in their time and location. As a foreigner living and driving in Thailand you will be stopped as a matter of course so that they can make sure your papers are in order. For this reason it is a good idea to get an international driver’s license in your home country before traveling here, which is usually quite easy and inexpensive.
This is also why you must adhere to the mandatory helmet law that Thai authorities began enforcing with much more vigor a few years ago. Indeed you will notice that locals will often forego wearing one but what applies to them being able to get away with versus a foreigner is much different.
The same can also be said when it comes to general traffic rules and signals that you will find they seem to often ignore. It is not unusual at all for Thais to drive down the wrong side of the street to make it to the side road or business they are going to simply to avoid having to go past it and make a u-turn. Thus be careful to look both ways when pulling into traffic, not just in the direction of where you expect traffic to be coming from.
Another example to consider when driving at night is people driving motorbikes – and cars – operating in what some people have come to refer to as ‘stealth mode’. This is when the vehicle has absolutely no lights on it at all but is nevertheless driving at a rapid clip despite being very hard to see.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, what must be kept in mind is that Thailand has consistently featured in the unfortunate rankings of ‘most dangerous roads in the world’, on a per capita basis that is. You must take care to look after your own safety and drive defensively while being alert. Just like in any country then, drinking and driving is a miserable choice. As the XploreAsia video discusses, there are a myriad of ways to get around Thailand via public transportation that will keep you safe should you decide to have a night out on the town, while making sure you make it home in one piece.
Above all be conscience of your environment and use sound judgment when taking to the roads. Thailand is a beautiful country with a vibrant culture and you’ll want to make sure that you are around to enjoy it for a long time.