Thai Driving Licence
After much prevarication I finally plucked up the courage to try and get a Thai driving licence. I really needn't have worried. Everything was in Thai but because I still had a valid UK driving licence I did the simplified test (i.e. no driving round the track or theory tests on the computer). In at 8:30 a.m. and out at 10:00 a.m. Here's what happened.
The last time I looked my embassy was charging 2380 baht for a letter confirming my address, which I would need to accompany my licence application. After the pound’s recent nosedive this was quite an amount. Then I read that Immigration would do me a similar letter for 100 baht, so the next time I went in to Suan Plu to report 90 days I enquired about this.
I was directed to a charming lady upstairs in Room 206. I showed her my 90 day stamp and she asked me which office I would be applying to, in my case Nonthaburi. She told me to allow three weeks for the letter to arrive and get back to her if it didn’t. It came after two weeks and it did only cost 100 baht and it was accepted by the Driving Licence centre, along with the doctor’s note I got separately, both of which had to be less than 30 days old.
On the day I turned up early with an application form (in Thai) already filled in (thanks to my partner – we had gone along in advance to locate the place and get an application form). The reception desk smiled and sent me upstairs. There a sour faced woman took a great deal of time and trouble poring over my passport and UK Drivers license (which being in two parts is enough to put anyone off). Because I am qualified to drive a motorcycle in UK there was some debate in sign language as to whether I wanted a Thai motorcycle licence as well as a car one. Knowing how the Thais drive this would have been tantamount to requesting my own death warrant so I declined.
This did not altogether please her (was she on commission?) but she waved me to sit down and as I turned away from her I fell over the Thai who was kneeling behind me writing on a seat and this broke the ice somewhat.
I had no idea where to go next but luckily my passport was attached to my application papers so it was easy to see it in the pile of all the others. I followed it like a spaniel into a room seething with people. In one corner there was a mysterious machine and in another a wall chart with coloured dots like you sometimes get at opticians. This last I understood by watching and listening to Thais calling out "Red", "Green" or "Yellow" as the woman pointed to each dot with a stick.
When it was my turn I duly impressed by calling out the answers in Thai. So far so good. Then I joined the milling throng at the mysterious machine. This machine performed three functions: testing peripheral vision, testing depth perception and testing reaction speeds. I didn't have to do the last as that part of the machine broke down soon after I joined the queue.
Depth perception was fine (I watched the others) but peripheral vision was scary because I wasn't sure what was required. I had to sit down and peer into some goggles (like when you get tested at an opticians for glaucoma). Lights of different colours were flashed randomly left and right at the edge of my vision. My Thai abandoned me and I was reduced to calling out "Red", "Green" or "Yellow" whilst waving my left or right arm frantically in the air.
The smile on the face of the guy with the machine may have been Thai politeness or suppressed hysteria at my eccentric ways. Anyway, that was it. I then went downstairs to have my photo taken and came out with the very smart credit card sized plastic licence shortly afterwards. Total cost four pounds.
It was a temporary licence valid for one year. After that I have to apply for a 5 year version which will in turn qualify me for an International Driving Permit that I can use when visiting the UK. This will come in handy because the photocard section of my UK driving licence expires in 2010, even though the licence itself is valid until 2017. It was only recently that I discovered the photocard would need to be renewed if I wanted to carry on using the UK licence.
There was one other farang at the test centre. She was accompanied by a Thai English speaker who was quite surprised that I had come on my own. It wasn’t so bad, though.
Getting the licence is one thing, however. Getting a car and driving it is quite another. That will be a story for another time.