Driving in Thailand

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Many international companies will not let their expat employees drive cars in Thailand, figuring it is cheaper to employ drivers than have employees missing in action.  Of course there is one very different aspect to driving in Thailand that has to be got used to very quickly, and that is the ubiquitous motorcycle.  

Let me quote from the book Farang, the Sequel, “Typical of Asian cities, motorcycles are family transport, delivery vehicles and the ideal commuter chariot.  I am waiting for some enterprising motorcycle manufacturer to begin advertising their new 125 cc step-through as ‘The ideal motorcycle for a family of five’.  Don’t laugh, five on a motorcycle is commonplace, in fact you can buy an extra little saddle seat which fits in front of the main seat and is used for small children (who hang onto the rear vision mirrors) or the family dog, which just takes its chances.  Mind you, a large percentage of the family pooches travel in the wire basket carrier at the front, cleverly blocking the headlights at night.

Motorcycles.Motorcycles.

“No, motorcycles are everywhere, though mainly in the left hand lane, but at the intersections they weave their way through the cars in all lanes to end up as a raucous pack at the front.  This massed Moto-GP takes off, not on the green, but at some time before the green, when the majority decides it is safe enough to go.  Hence the motorcycles lying on their sides in the middle of the intersection, having collided with vehicles playing ‘last across’ from the other direction.  Traffic lights in Thailand are only advisory, not compulsory!

“Successful driving in Thailand does take a fair degree of observation skills, looking out for the dreaded two wheelers.  Probably the same observation skills as used in the West to avoid speed cameras, red light cameras and plain clothes police cars.  And other drivers with the raging red mist in their eyes.

“I could go on for days about the motorcycles.  There is a saying here which goes : You know you’ve been in Thailand too long when you look both ways before crossing a one-way street!  Funny, but very true.  Motorcycle riders will just happily ride against the flow of traffic and smile and bob their head (usually helmetless) to say “Thank you” as they thread their way through and across your bows.  Motorcycles will also just poke their front wheels into an oncoming stream of cars until it is either stop and let them out (because there is always many more than just one of them), or run into them or into the oncoming traffic.

“In the mornings, the motorcycles are people carriers.  As I drive to work, I pass dozens of motorcycles and scooters with mothers at the handlebar and several children in school clothes perched behind and in front.  Some are driven by the school children themselves, all looking as if they are only 10 years old, but are probably at least 13.  Yet they are riding with the flow of traffic and not racing each other or the cars and trucks and buses.  I know that at 13 years of age if I had been given open slather to ride a motorcycle to school in the traffic, my parents would not have had to worry about what to give me for my 14th birthday.  I wouldn’t have made it!”