Readers' Submissions

Driving Around 2

  • Written by Sydney Tom
  • June 22nd, 2004
  • 11 min read


The last time I spoke to Stickman, I said I wouldn’t write like this, but here is goes;

Sweat was pouring down my forehead and the quivering of my loins along with the endless poundings of my meat…… No you think I am talking about something naughty, but I was sleeping face-down in my truck after going to the markets to buy some pork for a party…..

I had written a serious piece about driving in Bangkok and Thailand, including the various merits and demerits of different modes of transport. But at the end of the day, if you are going to drive around in the LOS then you need a survival guide, not a “Lonely Planet” style guide.

First and most important thing, you need a drivers licence. If you live here and don’t have the “Jing Jing” Thai Licence then you are a sitting target. It is not difficult to get, as long as you have a valid licence with the International permit, it is quite easy. Remember you want a motor bike licence as well, it may come in handy and its only an extra 2 photo’s and about 50 baht. If you aren’t endorsed for motorbikes, you need to convince them you are. There are a number of things you need, like a residence certificate from your embassy, and either a “O” or “B” Visa. I think that if you have a “TR” visa, you should have no need for a Thai licence – if you know what I mean. You also need a letter from a doctor saying you are healthy normally that’s a 50 baht tip, I was also told I needed a Re-Entry Permit. It was all too boring, so I got Mrs Sydney Tom to do all the talking and after about an hour I was happily paying the 3 Baht per licence to have my Motor-Bike, Car and Heavy Truck licences laminated.

If you don’t have a proper licence, you are in a real grey area of the law, with the police, insurance and plenty more, for half a day’s effort it will save you a lot of possible problems.

The next most important thing is not to stand out on the road. You need to fit in like all the local drivers. Driving in Bangkok is different to anywhere else I have driven in the world. I have driven a lot in Australia, England, Mainland Europe, the USA, Canada, China and India. For the first week or so, just sit back and behave and watch what every one else does. Once you have the idea, you will know it isn’t hard to drive, just different. As a side note I saw the “Police Camera Action” series “Kiwi Style” and since seeing that television series, I have been too frightened to think about even visiting New Zealand, let alone driving a car there.

First thing to remember is about the phenomenon “Road Rage”. If you are partial to Road Rage, don’t bother driving in Bangkok, and probably Thailand, it is really a country where you need to drive with a cool heart. So leave your road rage at home.

Now how not to stand out:

Throw away your licence, most Thais I have met don’t have one but drive every day. They don’t worry so why should you. I deal with a lot of Thais every day and I often ask them if they have a licence and how they did the test, most say they don’t have a licence.

If you have a new car with Red Plates, leave it at home until you get the proper plates. A Farang driving a car with red plates is a mobile donation centre.

Now your style of driving needs to change. Remember that your indicators are only intended and fitted to your car for “Fortune Telling” purposes, not to tell anyone the direction you are intending to change direction of your vehicle. All I can understand is possibly turning indicators are to indicate “Negative Energy” or “Bad Luck”. So if you are going to turn right remember if the bad luck goes left, you should indicate that way, before you make your right hand turn.

“Vehicle In Front” rule”. Now when lane changing or merging in traffic, there appears to be a “Vehicle in Front” rule. If the front of another vehicle is in front of you, they can cut into your lane. It doesn’t matter that it may only be 5 – 10 mm in front, they are in front and therefore can cut in front of you. There seems to be an interpretation of this where there is a 50% margin of error for busses and taxis. So if a bus or taxi is level with the middle of your vehicle they can start cutting into your lane.

The last major style change to your driving will be “Running the Red”. This is a popular pastime of Bangkok drivers. For me I will never run a red light, I think it is a risk, that really a minute or less of saved time in Bangkok Traffic, isn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean if a light has turned red for up to 7 or even 10 seconds, its no reason for you not to continue on your merry way. I have seen people run red lights and even hit the police. So a concept you may want to consider if you run a red light is don’t actually look at what you are going to hit when you go through a red light.

Next thing is to modify your car. I am assuming you are driving the “National Vehicle” of Thailand, being the Pick-up. Here is a list of some modification ideas:

  • Have a stereo with a greater maximum power then the car itself.
  • Disconnect the turning indicators and remove the globes. Replace the globes with bright blue and purple globes and connect them to your stereo. Then when you are driving, everyone can see your turning indicators flashing like a Disco, and the driving population can see what a great time you are having. After all, turning indicators are needless accessories.
  • Install a TV with a TV Tuner, VCD and DVD player. It is so handy to catch up on your favourite TV Shows or watch a movie when in a Traffic Jam. Of course on the long boring trip to the Rice Farm in Isaan, its better to watch TV than pay too much attention to the road. Even better is if you can get the Karaoke accessory for the car.
  • Lower your Pick-up as much as possible. After all the people who design your car really don’t know what you want, so if you have a pick-up you need to lower it to the bottom of the suspension travel. Of course the frame will add some “spring” and the roads are so smooth you will never notice the difference.
  • If you don’t like lowering the “Thai National Vehicle”, try raising it at least another 15 – 30 cm. Of course if you don’t spend 50,000 baht or more on the suspension, to get silly things like added wheel travel etc, you will have something that looks like you have spent ten times the amount.
  • There are well-known brands of glue on and “Bolt On” accessories. These marvellous accessories will allow you to carry people on the roof of the “Thai National Vehicle”, and also make an oven-like back room for you to carry people to Isaan at about 100 baht a go. From what I have seen, you can get 3 on the roof and about 6 – 8 in the back, so each time you go and visit the Rice Farm, you can get 900 – 1,100 Baht for carrying people. Since a couple of tanks of diesel is less than that, you might have enough money to also drink a bottle of Mekong on the long drive, while you are watching TV.
  • The down side of outing the room on the back of the “Thai National Vehicle” is you cannot carry as much rice, when you eventually get to Isaan.
  • Stickers and more stickers. The first thing you need is the 4WD / ABS / TURBO Sticker. Now it doesn’t matter if these are part of your vehicle, its nice to have people see that you have the stickers. Next you need some other stickers maybe from a Tyre Manufacturer, normally not the brand of tyre you have fitted. Also a “Digital 2 WATT GSM” sticker will add great resale value to your version of the “Thai National Vehicle”. You may want to add your own touches like a sticker for a motor-bike helmet manufacturer or maybe something to do with Nitrous Oxide. A NOS sticker looks so clever on a diesel truck…
  • An important modification to your “Thai National Vehicle” is window tinting. Don’t worry about what may be legal in your country, but you should affix tinting that cuts at least 60% of the light. For a practical reason, it cuts a lot of heat, but remember if they can’t see you, they don’t know you are a farang. You should also tint the front window, if you can’t see the bad luck – particularly at night, maybe you will miss it….
  • The final and most important accessory is the picture of a monk and maybe a small shrine and of course Buddha. It is very important to go to the local Isaan village and have your vehicle blessed by the local monk. This is very important, and it involves revving the engine, blowing the horn, having the monk tie some string around the steering wheel, water (of course) is thrown, but most importantly you will have your pocket lightened from 200 – 500 baht. But as the local villagers in Surin claim, it will keep away bad luck, and when I crash the car, I will only be going to hospital, and not being killed, such a comforting thought.

With your vehicle “Fully Optioned” you can now drive yourself, your partner and half a small village to Isaan. Remember please that with the Karaoke should only be turned on after you have climbed the hill into Isaan, as the TV will work fine for Bangkok TV channels almost all the way up the hill. Once all the way up the hill and past the “Welcome to Isaan” sign, it really is a good time to crank up the Karaoke, have a good drink of the Mekong and enjoy the remainder of the drive.

One thing I will marvel at is the skill of some of the drivers I have seen, I know most people in Bangkok cannot reverse a car into a space without a man giving indistinguishable hand gestures and blowing a whistle, but when back in Isaan, what a difference. As they climb up that hill, their skill level increases exponentially. Four lanes become seven, people can overtake with the slightest margin for error. One of the best pieces of skilled driving was this guy who overtook me at about 130km/h around a blind corner and you could clearly see he was singing Karaoke and in the non-microphone hand he had a half bottle of Mekong. To add to this man’s skill, he had about 6 people on the roof of his “Thai National Vehicle”. He only made one mistake, what he paid the monk for the blessing can’t have been as gratefully received as what I paid, I saw all the unfortunates off on the side of the road after he had “Bad Luck” while negotiating a bend. I really felt sorry for the people on the roof and in the plastic accessory at the back, rather I thought these people who don’t have much money have tried to come home and pay respect to their family.

Back onto blessings, luck and your family, you also need the family to bless your own “Thai National Vehicle”. Now what happens here is you get the family Matriarch or Patriarch to bless the vehicle, this may involve some pork products, rice and of course alcohol. Being brought up in a country where it is socially unacceptable to drink and drive, I am astounded to see a vehicle blessed with alcohol.

Finally, It is fun driving in Thailand, if you behave and are not silly you will do fine. Just remember, you make your own bad luck, so if you drive tired, drunk, don’t wear seatbelts or finally take unnecessary risk you will have problems.

My final tip is with the police. When travelling, only have a few hundred baht in your wallet. When you need to tip the police, they will see you only have a few baht. Avoid the freeway past the end of the airport. I just about have always seen the police there.

Stickman’s thoughts:

A lot of good information here.