Motoring In Bangkok
To get away from the usual stories of Thai bar girls ripping off ‘farangs’ and lads’ exploits at Pattaya and / or the Eden Club, I thought I would write about something completely different but a subject nevertheless that still affects every visitor to Bangkok. I am referring to the notorious Bangkok traffic and Thai motorists in general. Being totally mad or otherwise, I ride a mountain bike in Bangkok, the best form of transport. My submission is based upon personal experiences and actual observations over the last eleven years travelling throughout this wonderful and unique city. To begin, here is an extract from a British Police driving manual –
“A really good driver will formulate his driving plans on the correct assessment of the ever-changing scene ahead and the rear of his vehicle. He should have a deliberate and calculating temperament, be able to make driving decisions without hesitation in a methodical manner at any moment. All decisions must be based on the principle of safety for others as well as himself.”
And, then there are Thai drivers………..
My disconnected jottings:-
1.. Ownership of a Mercedes Benz car is seen as the pinnacle of personal success by other Thai people and, thus, to be seen actually driving one is the ultimate provider of face. Of course, really rich Thai people sit in the back of their Mercs., often with curtains at the windows to prevent snooping, letting their drivers do the hard work. The fact that very often the owner/driver of the Mercedes lives in a skungey small room in a down-market apartment block because that’s all he/she (usually a ‘she’) can afford doesn’t enter into it, any more than the real truth that repayments on the car account for about 90% of their meagre salaries. Just to have everybody seeing THEM driving the Mercedes is worth it to the Thai.
2.. The same rules apply to most other new or nearly new cars seen on the roads. The actual owners are banks and finance companies, the apparent owners are merely the users or drivers.
3.. For additional ‘face’ car users in Bangkok must be seen to be so important that their indispensable, valuable time has to be occupied to the full by making calls on their mobiles. Yes, that’s right, they are composing and sending SMS messages and MAKING ‘phone calls; rarely are they receiving them. How many times do you see cars emerging from garages, petrol stations and parking lots with the driver already on the ‘phone? Don’t tell me they’ve just received the call. The actual fact that a car is more difficult to control whilst one hand is holding the ‘phone against the ear, to say nothing of it being against the law in Thailand matters not one jot. I’ve even seen city bus drivers hurtling along busy roads with mobile ‘phones glued to their ears!!
4.. Without a doubt, the largest single contributor to Bangkok traffic jams is the cars themselves having just one occupant, mostly females. All these people, I suggest and contend, could get to wherever they are going by public transport, be it BTS/MRT, taxi or bus. But, no, they feel they cannot be seen as just common ‘ordinary’ people like everybody else. And, what is more, it is these very same people who take their lunches at Bt.25 noodle stalls in the street most probably because with the monthly payments to be made on their cars they can’t afford to eat any better. The latter parts of each month being particularly hard. Maybe that’s why Thai people are so slim?
5.. I once wrote to the Bangkok Post suggesting the quick fire solution to Bangkok’s traffic chaos would be to ban women drivers because generally they cannot handle cars properly nor do they display any road sense, never mind festooning their cars with cushions and cuddly toys on the rear window ledges to block their rear view. I received through the Post’s columns tirades of abuse from lady drivers – I think one lady actually called me a male chauvanist pig!! The very notion.
6.. Although I have never worked it out exactly, I am sure that it would be less expensive over a given period – like one year – for people to use taxis all the time rather than have to pay off the car, then pay for tax, insurance, servicing, maintenance and running costs, never mind parking charges and all the hassle involved in actually getting rid of the car once it finally, very slowly, reaches central Bangkok.
7.. With the price of oil now hitting an all time high, the Bangkok traffic jams will not diminish I wager. It was always estimated and anticipated (hoped?) that that the opening of Bangkok’s Skytrain and then the MRT in 2004 would significantly reduce Bangkok’s traffic chaos. Well, it just has not happened. In the same way, inevitable fuel price hikes won’t reduce the traffic either – people will, somehow, still manage to find the money rather than be forced to downgrade (in their eyes) by using public transport even though a bus, for example, might well be both cheaper and more convenient. No kudos to be had riding a bus.
8.. Some amusing and irritating traits displayed by Thai drivers include:
a) Being macho; not necessary to wear (compulsory ?) seat belts in the front of vehicles.
b) Allowing their children to remain un-tethered in their cars, sit in the front seats and mothers holding new born babies in their arms in the front seats
c) Allowing young children and/or dogs to lie on drivers’ laps whilst the car is moving.
d) Having to be in front of everybody else, especially YOU!!
e) Watching TV on the dashboard when driving along.
f) Rarely exhibiting any accident or danger awareness, witnessed by how close following drivers stick to your tail, especially in the wet.
g) Parking / stopping just about anywhere they feel like, to hell with anybody and everybody else, 2’-0” out from the kerb on main thoroughfares and with hazard lights flashing to suggest their consideration but really to feel exonerated of any form of blame or criticism.
h) Displaying little or no lane discipline, never mind signaling, to gain a car bonnet’s length advantage. This is particularly common in traffic jams.
i) Using hazard flashers to pass straight through a crossroads junction.
j) Not using the A/C, even when it is sweltering, because it uses too much fuel!!
k) A popular addition to car windows is plastic film to reduce the sun’s glare – well, that is the declared purpose but some films are thicker and darker than others. From my observations the rule of thumb seems to be thicker the film, the worse (or thicker) the driver and the more stupid things they do!!
l) To the majority of car drivers, both male and female, bicycles are, I am sure, deemed peasant transport and by association cyclists using them are therefore peasants, or low life. Thus, they can be ignored as road users by motorized vehicle drivers, pulled out in front of, cut up and turned left across one’s bows all with no warning whatsoever and with no compunction. I’ve experienced it all.
m) The way drivers give way, like sheep, to those performing U-turns from the other carriageway.
n) There's the Thai penchant for driving on the wrong side of the road of course.
o) It seems to me also that the more expensive the vehicle is, the less likely the driver is to us the indicators.
p) Then there's their practice of flashing the headlights to indicate they have no intention of stopping. Presumably if you choose to ignore the 'flasher' he is prepared to deliberately crash into you.
q) What about their complete disregard for any zebra crossings?
s) Then the complete lack of lane discipline, especially on the expressways.
t) More recently with the price of fuel at it's current level, Thais drive more slowly on the expressway. We now regularly find SUV's in the outside lane moving at fifty km/h, probably to conserve fuel. Of course it doesn't occur to them to move over. They must think the inside lane is the 'wankers and women drivers only' lane.
In this submission I have omitted to mention the millions of motor-cycles, motor-cycle taxi drivers, motor-bikes pavements, families on motor-cycles with not one crash helmet between them to say nothing of using m/cycles for delivering refrigerators, TV’s or sets of large pick-up truck tyres. That subject could be the subject of a separate submission alone.
Happy motoring to all your readers!!
Special thanks, too, are due to ‘Union Hill’ for his contribution.
The local driving habits are quite different from the West, that's for sure.
Author can be contacted on [email protected]