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Driving In Thailand

  • Written by Bulldog
  • January 7th, 2004
  • 14 min read



This was my second trip to LOS (Land Of Showers!) It will not be my last. The first time as I left the airport and jumped into my brother's truck I didn't know what to think. He thought it was amusing to see the ridiculous look on my face as he lives there and it's just another day to him.

In America we have laws. Far too many laws to be precise. When you go out in traffic you are expected and demanded to obey these laws. We all do. If we don't we are hit with a HUGE fine and have to appear in court sometimes as well. If you get caught more than a few times in a few years they will take your license. Like I said, we all obey these laws. We all drive in a straight line and stay in our lane with the occasional lane change if there is more than one lane. We sometimes speed a little and forget to use the turn signal but usually not much more than that. All of this out of fear from our police who always seem to be waiting around the corner from me with their ever-vigilant eye.

So here I am exiting the airport and getting on the highway in Bangkok in the middle of the day in this ridiculous whirlwind of maniacal drivers. What a sight for my American eyes. I was not prepared. I am not scared of anything really but this almost had me to that point. This was sheer insanity! Are there no rules? Are there no laws? Where are the police? Why don't they put a stop to this? These questions all went through my head. But as they did I also notice that this system seemed to work. If people drove like this back home I could drive to work in half the time! Why does only one car have to occupy a lane when 3 will certainly fit! If I want to go faster and the lane 3 lanes over is going faster, why not shoot straight over and jump in. No need for 1 car length for every 10 miles per hour, how ridiculous – what a waste of valuable driving space! This was genius at work! I love this country!

But again, I was not prepared. Before arriving I had envisioned renting a car or motorcycle. My American driving skills were not up to par with their genius. So taxis it was. The whole time. I HATE taxis. In my whole life before this I had only been in a taxi twice. Both were a result of car accidents when my parents were driving. How ridiculous to pay someone to drive me when I am perfectly able to drive myself and taxis in America are incredibly expensive where I live. But this was different. I'm glad Thailand has the taxi system they do. Maybe some day I'll have the balls to jump into the back of a drunk driving tuktuk! Someday, but not today.

So here I am one year later. Back in Pattaya with my beautiful, soft, warm little teeruk when I start talking about my last trip to Thailand and to Isaan and how I really enjoyed it. Well, I'm sure you all know what came next:
Her-"You want go Isaan?"
Me-"Yes, I like Isaan?" Her-"You want go Isaan?"
Me-"Where Isaan?"
Her-"Kalasin"
Me-"Where Kalasin"
Her-"Kalasin same Isaan"
Me-(Oh, now I know exactly where you're talking about.)"Okay"

She could have told me exactly where it was and I wouldn't have known where it was. I don't know why I even asked except that it is a natural reflex to ask where when someone asks you if you want to go. So here I am agreeing to go God only knows where. She doesn't know how to get there, I sure as hell don't know how to get there but I figure, what the hell, I love an adventure. I live for them. So then I find out that her Mama and Papa #2 are in Bangkok visiting family and "he know how go Kalasin." So here I am contemplating a car. I must be insane. But I think of all the other farangs I see driving and surely some of them must be from America. If they can do it so can I! Goddamnit, I'm gonna drive this time. Fuck the laws. Fuck the rules and most importantly, FUCK THE AMERICAN POLICE!!! They have been fucking me for years and now they can do nothing to stop me!!! I love this country! So I find a decent Toyota to rent and make sure it has good insurance. I sell insurance back home in the Land of Laws and I have read horror stories about accidents in Thailand without insurance. I will not be contributing my horror story in that category.

The first thing I notice is that some jackass put the steering wheel on the wrong side of the damn car. I think that the same jackass built every car in Thailand because they're all like this. Why don't they fire this guy so they can hire somebody to put the steering wheel where it belongs?! He must have some serious connections and they’re afraid to fire him. So anyway, after getting used to my backward Toyota I also realise that I'm going to have to drive out of the lot onto roads that were obviously built by this same jackass. My God this guy must be busy. How does one guy make all of the backwards roads and cars for an entire country. Maybe his family is involved here. I want to meet this guy someday. So I bravely drive out in my backwards car onto the backwards road without killing myself or anyone and merge into the lane. I'm doing it. I felt good. I felt proud. I am a man again. Behind the wheel where I belong. In control of my own destiny. So now:
Me-"Where do I go, Honey?"
Her-"I don't know."
Me-"Well I sure as hell don't know. You can call Papa?"
Her-"Oh, yes. I forget. Can call." She calls, lots of talking. Hangs up.
Me-"Papa told you where to go?"
Her-"Yes, he tell me."
Me-"Good, where do I go?"
Her-"I not know. He tell me. I not know. He tell me toll road but he not know
how from Pattaya."
Me-"You can ask someone?"
Her-"What mean someone?"

I could tell this was going to be a fun adventure. I know this would have pissed a lot of people off, but I like not knowing where I'm going or when I'm going to get there.

I rented the car for a week. Surely we could get there by then. So here I am driving here and there, around in circles, figure 8's, plenty of u-turns and any other direction you could possibly imagine with her on the phone to Papa #2 every few minutes and we finally come to a gas station where she said he told her to stay and he would drive there to meet us so. I think he felt sorry for me with my cute little inept direction giving teeruk having me drive every way but the right one. It was fun.

So I met Mama and Papa #2. Lots of smiles. We followed them back to the house and they gathered up a few things and we all jumped back in the car. She said Papa could drive but I politely said I want to drive for a couple more hours. He could drive if I was too tired. So we were quickly on the way. Me driving with my teeruk / translator by my side and her Papa #2 / navigator in the back with Mama. We stopped once to eat but were making good time. I finally started to get tired and also wanted to be babied my little darling so I let Papa #2 drive and got in the back with my teeruk.

Once he got back on the highway I realised that I am still an amateur on these Thailand roads. He was whipping through traffic and flashing the high beams with the speed and accuracy of an orchestra conductor. It was amazing. What genius. What insanity. I was impressed. Maybe someday he can teach me. So I got comfortable and felt at ease in his expert care and laid my head on her soft lap and slept a bit. I awoke with about 45 minutes to go and just looked around at nothing as it was after 2am. We got there about 3 and we went in their typical Isaan house and she immediately started making up her old room and we went to sleep. Kind of. About 4:45am the alarm clock started to go off. Over and over and over. Cock-a-doodle-doo. There was no sleep that night. God I wanted to eat that fucking bird. There wasn't much there to eat, just feathers, bones and skin but the satisfaction in seeing that fucker fry would have made it a tasty dish!

I won't go into the details of Isaan living in this story because it is about driving, but I enjoyed my time in Kalasin. Maybe I'll write about it later if somebody wants to hear about it.

On the second to last day in Kalasin in the village as we were heading out to do something. I remembered years ago when I went to buy my first motorcycle. I had always liked motorcycles but had never owned one or even driven one. I went with a friend so he could drive it home for me and I could learn. I had been driving a standard transmission car for years so I figured it wouldn't be too hard. I got on, fired it up, checked out the shifter, clutch, brakes and said to hell with having my friend drive MY bike, this is easy, and off I went. Driving a motorcycle was just like driving a car only with the hands instead of the feet. No problem. I figured I would let my beautiful, smiling teeruk / translator / babyer give driving a car a try as she had only driven motorcycles before. Before renting the car I had been having her drive me around on a rented motorcycle because I was too chicken shit to drive and she seemed to be a good driver. I asked her if she wanted to try and she said yes. So I stopped the car on the little dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, Isaan and we switched places. I explained to her what the pedals were in my ridiculous pidgin English / Thai and explained to her that the gears, clutch and gas worked the same as a motorcycle only with the feet instead of the hands and she seemed to understand, somewhat. So we were off and going and a Thai man on a bike was coming our way and she didn't know quite what to do so she stopped and the motor died because it was still in gear and she didn't have the clutch in. She stopped a bit diagonally but the Thai man passed safely by with a funny little look on his face as if to say, "You stupid ass farang. Do you have shit for brains?" I was to find out the reason for this wise little Thai mans funny look at me. So I explained to her why the car died and we were off again.

Everything was going ok but she seemed to have some confusion over the gas and brake pedal. So in her desire to understand these contraptions a little better she takes her hand that was on the wheel and as it was blocking her view of these confusing pedals down by her feet and she couldn't see them she decided to move her hand out of the way. Now her hand was out of the way and she had a clear view of those confusing pedals, the only problem was that she did not take her hand off the wheel when she decided to move her hand out of the way. So now were speeding off the side of the road straight towards a fence. She notices this and looks back at the road at the same time I try to reach for the wheel. Now her eyes are back on the road and there are those confusing little pedals that she can no longer see. She knows one of them is the brakes. She used it before to avoid hitting the wise little Thai man on the bike. But she can't remember which one it is. No time to ask the farang, he "talk too mutt" anyway. So she takes a stab at one of the pedals and guns the gas. So we shoot off into the fence and over a dirt embankment and come to a stop where the car high-centered on the dirt. I asked her if she was okay. We both were.

We got out of the car and looked at it. It had some scrapes, dents and a broken turn signal but nothing mechanical. The front 2 tires were off the ground. It being a front wheel drive car, it wasn't pulling itself out. Now in America you instantly call a tow truck to pull you out and pay the nice thief $150-$200 for his 20 minutes of time. Well this is Isaan. There are no tow trucks. Now there are people coming from everywhere to laugh. I'm sure the wise little Thai man on the bike got the biggest laugh. He knew. He could have told me when we were stopped the first time but if he did he wouldn't have had anything to laugh about later. Damn him. So now that all these little people had assessed the situation they told me to get in the car and put it in reverse and they would push. I tried to explain that it was front wheel drive and that wouldn't work. They didn't understand and kept telling me to get in the car. Okay, I'll show them that it wouldn't work. So I got in and they pushup. The tires spinning in reverse off the ground obviously did nothing and the car didn't budge but they were convinced they could push it out. I said okay but let me get my 200 pound ass out of the car and push and one of you 120 pound people can get in. So there we are shoving and grunting with nobody in the car as they didn't seem to understand why I was not in the car when the car actually started to move. We pushed it about 2 feet and stopped. I didn't think we would get that damn hunk of metal to move but we did. So this time we regained our footing, we really beared down and pushed harder. This time the car got going and we actually shoved that car back up over the dirt wall and back onto the road. Lots of smiles and thank yous. I gave them 200 baht. There were 10 or 15 people there so I don't know who got what and we were on our way again. With me driving obviously.

I told her not to worry about the car as I had insurance with a 3000 baht deductible. It was well worth the 3000 baht to me just for the memory. I love this country!

We drove back to Pattaya with no incidents and only getting lost a couple of times and went to turn the car in. I didn't want any trouble with the insurance company telling me there was no coverage because she was not on the contract so I told them that I did it. Everything went fine and they kept my 3000 baht. Now we needed transportation again. So we walked across the street and rented a nice motorbike with only 87km on it. I told her I would drive. Not that I didn't trust her on a motorbike but I wanted to drive now. So off we go. This is definitely the way to go in Pattaya. You can keep your big clumsy cars. In no time at all I'm speeding like crazy, whizzing around everything in my path. Passing people on whichever side was convenient. Driving on the wrong side of the road. Running stop lights. Driving just like a local. It was great. Traffic was never a problem again. America could learn a lot from these people.

Stickman says:

I remember my first time in Thailand, riding in a taxi from the airport to my hotel and shocked at the driving standards. Well, the shock is even greater when you are a driver and one can feel like they are the only sane man on a funny farm.