Readers' Submissions

How I Got My Thai Driving License

  • Written by Marc Holt
  • November 11th, 2005
  • 7 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I had to apply for a new drivers license recently, because I lost my original license somewhere. I tried to get a new one at the Sukhumvit Road office (near soi 95) where I originally got it so many years ago. But as I had moved house to the northern end of Phaholyothin Road I was told I had to go out to Saphan Kwai and apply for a new one. Since I didn't have a valid international drivers license, I had to go through the full day process.

Getting a Thai driver's license is a lot easier than you would think. And if you already have an international license, it's even easier. You don't have to spend a whole day sitting through a long lecture and then taking the written and practical driving test.

You need to do a couple of things first before you are ready to get your license. First, go to your embassy for a letter confirming your nationality and address. If you are British you will have to pay almost 1,500 Baht for this piece of paper with their signature and stamp on in. Most other embassies do it for free. It wastes all day to get the paper from the British embassy, because you have to go in the morning between 9 to 11 to submit the application and pay your fee. Then you have to return in the afternoon to pick up the letter.

You will also have to visit a doctor to get a medical certificate. I went to a local clinic, where they gave me a blood pressure test and pronounced me 'very strong'. Frankly, I thought the nurse was stronger than me. She almost burst the inflatable band before releasing the pressure bulb. I had a dent in my arm for an hour afterwards!

The next step took me down to the local land transport office. I found the staff were very friendly and helpful from the moment I arrived. The lady at the information desk helped me fill in the application form. Then I moved inside to register my application. Even though very few staff spoke any English at all, we managed to communicate and get through that stage without any problems. Then they sent me upstairs to the 3rd floor to do a color blindness test. Despite imbibing copious amber libations the night before I passed with flying colors.

Then I was shown into a room very much like my old high school, furnished with student seats. What a wonderful surprise to discover that the room was air-conditioned. The last time I took the test about 20 years ago we sweated it out under a couple of lazy fans.

Finally, about 150 people filed in and we settled down for a scintillating two-hour lecture on the traffic laws and road safety. As it was all in Thai I spent the time reading through the English language traffic law booklet they lent me when I registered.

Now I know that you must turn on your turn indicator light 30 meters before the turn, and it must be visible to everyone from 60 meters away. I wonder who came up with that brilliant requirement? Perhaps our turn indicators should be hoisted 3 meters above the car on poles to comply.

I would have had a bit of difficulty with some of the road signs written in Thai, but there were English translations next to each of them. There was also some very helpful advice on what you should expect to find in a car. For example, did you know that every car has a steering wheel, brake, clutch and accelerator pedals, and even a funny device called a speedometer to tell you how fast you are speeding? Having seen how many Thais drive, this must have come as a bit of a surprise, especially the presence of a brake pedal!

The booklet also mentioned maintenance procedures to be carried out before jumping in your car each morning. If I followed them I would never get to work! And I was a little perplexed when they mentioned checking the engine air pressure. Then I figured out they were presenting information for all kinds of vehicles, including trucks. They also recommended decreasing the pressure in your tires before traveling on a motorway. Does this mean I have to get out of the car each time and let out the air by hand? I'm still working on that one.

During the lecture we viewed a multi-media presentation showing everything I had just read about in my booklet. I looked at one of the Thai language booklets and saw that it was much more detailed. Perhaps this explains the discrepancy between the booklet I was given and some of the questions I had to answer in the written test.

After the two-hour lecture we all handed back our booklets and prepared for the written test. Because I was taking the test in English I was taken to another room where I opened the test question book and started work.

Some of the questions were ambiguous, and some of them were even wrong. For example, one question showed a diagram of a road T-junction, and another road marked with a cross further to the right on the other side of the junction. The road going towards the T-junction was marked with two lanes. The far left lane showed a left and right turn arrow, and the right lane showed a right turn arrow. The question asked which lane I should be in if I wanted to turn LEFT and then continue left into the road marked with an X after the turn. Since this was physically impossible I sat there scratching my head. Eventually, I called the examiner over and pointed it out to him that the wording should have read a turn RIGHT. He was just as puzzled as I was, but as I had marked the correct answer (both lanes), he didn't seem inclined to do anything more about it. I guess future generations of English speaking applicants will be just as puzzled as I was.

I'm sure they asked some other trick questions too. One of the multiple-choice questions asked: Choose the vehicle that is illegal to drive on the road.

The choices given were:

1. A racing car with the permission of the police (huh?)
2. A car without a windscreen (my choice)
3. A war tank (I am not kidding!)
4. A car with red dealers plates (what time of day?)

I am still not sure if it is legal to drive a war tank on the road, although my examiner assured me it is legal during war. I don't think I'll put that one to the test. Although, on second thoughts that might just be the solution to the traffic problems in Bangkok! Perhaps PM Thaksin will declare war on traffic jams again so I can try it out.

After a break for lunch, we all moved over to the practical driving test. When I took my driving license test many years ago I had to hire a decrepit old car with no carpets, no glass in the windows, and a rusty old body that was ready to fall apart. This time we were allowed to drive our own cars, and for those without a car the hire cars were in much better condition.

We all sat down while a lady explained what we had to do for about half an hour. There were three tests to pass. We had to drive into a defined area and park facing forwards. Then we had to back up from there and park the car between a set of lines and poles. We were told we could not change gear more than seven times.

This was the funny part as we all crowded up against the windows to watch the first batch of applicants try their hand at it. One poor woman just made it in on the seventh gear change. Quite a few of the others weren't far behind her. I noticed that many of them used their rear vision mirrors instead of twisting around in the seat to eyeball where they were going.

Next, we had to drive up the road and park parallel to the footpath, not more than 25 centimeters away. That was easy. Then we had to drive between two rows of poles and stop the car before we hit some tires at the end. Next we had to back straight out, move to the right lane and continue around the road to pick up our examination papers. Somehow, every single person I saw take the test passed it. There are now about 150 fully licensed new drivers out there on the roads. Look out Bangkok! Here we come.

Stickman's thoughts:

Great story! The test seems to vary a little from testing centre to testing centre. A friend of mine did it out in the suburbs and he had to drive around a small circuit and at one point had to stop the car and put an envelope into a post box!