Readers' Submissions

Driving In Thailand

  • Written by Mickey
  • January 7th, 2011
  • 15 min read


Well it’s that time of year again; another whisky and we are that much closer to the grim reaper to take a good percentage of the population away. I’ve wanted to write about this subject for quite a while, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. I just sit back and watch the craziness that goes on in this country, the absolute stupidly that happens day after day. It’s not an easy subject to write about, even the experts can’t agree and when you throw in Thai face and denial and the fact they just don’t care – it makes it an in-depth topic that really one could write a book about.

Driving and flying has always been a passion of mine and I should add what I am about to write is purely my observations and experiences and possibly a lot of you won’t agree with me but that is OK and feedback is welcome

I have had a CAMS license and driven competitively on most circuits in Australia and at one time was an advanced driving instructor. I used to teach the wannabe race car drivers how to be real race car drivers. My introduction to my classes was driving is like making love to a women, you should be gentle, smooth and assertive. Aggressiveness is not the fastest way around a circuit and / or the best way to drive in traffic. When you are aggressive, things usually break, sometimes you!

It’s probably not a good analogy because I hear some women like it rough. Anyway I have just had a thought – if we can use the analogy that sex and driving are similar, maybe Thais have sex like they drive? What a terrible thought!

I’m using Australia as an example / comparison because that is where I’m from, but to make Stick happy, my grandfather was a New Zealander and so was Bruce McLaren. What a great man, but I would say most western countries are probably similar. In Australia there are 1,600 deaths a year – that is 8 deaths per 100,000 population. In Thailand there are 14,000 (some sources say 17,000) deaths a year which is 40 people per 100,000 population, According to the Bangkok Post, Thailand has the highest in the world – 2.9 people die every hour!

People in Australia are taught to drive by obeying rules. If something happens they create another rule. Australia has what I call “safe” drivers, not necessarily good drivers. There is no substitute for experience and “good” comes with experience. Most of them will never become “good” because as long as they stay inside that “safe” envelope they will always be “safe”.

Same as here they say speed kills, their “speed kills” campaign is not working because the death toll in relation to speed is on the increase. In fact they are ignoring the root problem, it’s not speed, but the inability to control speed that is the problem and also speed is relative to the conditions.

In Thailand people are taught to drive to survive and they become “good” drivers, not “safe” drivers. They actually become good at fitting in and adapting to their crazy driving style that has evolved. Don’t believe me, you throw 100,000 “safe” Australian drivers over here by magic and see how long they survive!

Thais drive the same as they live from day to day, anything goes, completely irresponsible, no concept of caring and just downright lazy. They just won’t go that extra to do it right, and when there is a problem, they go into complete denial and blame something or someone else! It’s like everything in this country – they blow a lot of wind but nothing is ever done. Welcome to Thailand!

A perfect example is the recent tragic incident of the mini bus and the Honda incident.

To quote the Bangkok Post, “Sombat Wongkamhaeng, spokesman for the Lawyers Council of Thailand, called on police to investigate the accident and determine who should be held responsible.”

And also..

“Police have not yet charged the unidentified girl, and are compiling more evidence in the case.”

What is wrong with them? Take your blinkers off! The girl was 16, without a license, had very little driving experience, speeding, probably on the cell phone and may be under the influence! Don’t tell me for one moment her parents didn’t know she was out in the car! It wouldn’t be the first time she had been driving! Didn’t they notice the car was missing and at the same time she wasn’t home? She is just a poor little rich girl from one of Thailand’s influential families and can do what she wants!

Maybe the authorities should throw the blame back on her parents? After all she is only a minor.

The driver of the minivan is dead and more than likely a “nobody” so we will blame her. I mean after all, everybody knows vans speed in Thailand. It has to be her fault. Of course the authorities know that vans speed but nothing has ever been done and now we will puff our checks and blow a lot of hot air to make ourselves look good and sound important but nothing will be done. Welcome to Thailand. <Ordinarily you would be right, but this case has attracted massive attention and for a change it looks like, this time at least, something will be done – Stick>

Just a quick question, if the Honda driver was a foreigner with an appropriate license, I ask you, who would they blame for the accident? With a population mentality like that they will never see what is fair and true. Welcome to Thailand.
In all fairness, she (the van driver) has probably done the same trip day after day for the last 12 months and it will never be a problem until someone throws in an unknown occurrence. In this case an unlicensed driver tapped the van on the rear and the driver lost control.

Incidentally, police in Australian are taught to stop a speeding car by this method. All they have to do is tap it in the rear in the right place and the car will go into a spin. How many times have you seen on a race track where a slower car is holding up a faster car and he will just give it a light tap on the rear and around it will go? It’s not that hard to do!

Of course, if they were all wearing seat belts they would be alive today. Just imagine in two months time if you could stop 100 vans and check the occupants for wearing seat belts – I guarantee not one will have a belt on.

Last week I rode my little 125 Suzy to 7 Eleven to pay my power bill and as I was coming out a Thai family were getting on to their bike. There was mum and dad and I guess a 7-year old daughter and a baby of about 10 months old. The father got on first and the 7-year old wedged in the front like they do. The mother got on behind the dad and proceeded to put the baby on the father's shoulders and held her from behind. Here you have this baby completely unprotected with its head about 7 feet in the heavens! I was stunned I looked at the mum, looked at the baby and back at the mum. She just smiled at me and they proceeded on their way all without helmets. I ask you, with a mentality like that how in the hell can you re-educate a population in a country like Thailand? Nothing will ever change. Welcome to Thailand.

I have actually seen a tour bus go up the wrong way on a divided motorway because he was too lazy to go up and do a u turn and come back down and take his left exit. To give him credit, he had no passengers on board, but it was no comfort to oncoming cars, but nobody seemed to care.

I was watching a woman reverse a Fortuner out of a hotel last week and the whole exercise should have taken 15 seconds. I took her 4 – 5 minutes. She would stop go, stop, go and eventually when she selected “drive” it took another period of time for her brain to reprogram. She shouldn’t be driving. Why? Because she is driving at 99% of her ability. I will talk about that later…

I would have to be one of the worst passengers around and there are very few people I feel comfortable with. My son is one of them but he was a super cart champion and is very smooth but fast and decisive.

I was a passenger with a women in Bangkok a few years ago and she was negotiating maneuvers in a car park and moving out to the main road. It was the most frustrating thing and you could hear the rice rattling around in her brain trying to make a decision a process that should have taken a minute took 5. She just could not plan 30 feet ahead and once out on the motorway she was sitting on 130 km/hr. I was petrified, (and I’m no stranger to speed). She was driving at 90% of her ability and the scary thing is she didn’t even know it.

In Australia, when they opened the M1 and made the speed limit 110 km/hr, there was a talkback program on the radio and one woman said that anybody driving at 110 is driving dangerously and they should make it 100 km/hr the same as everywhere else. What she was telling everybody was that to her 110 was too fast and 100 was ok. Basically she was saying she was driving at 90% of her ability, and what I say to that is she shouldn’t be driving.

In an ideal world everybody’s standard and ability should be that high that when they are driving in normal conditions they are driving at 50 – 60% of their ability and that comes about by education and reprogramming there psyche. But it will never happen and that is why like places in Australia they put everybody in a safety envelope and hopefully never need to open it. In others words they control everybody's driving by rules. If you do develop this ability you have to maintain it to that level or the margin will diminish and it’s not that easy to maintain unless you are involved in motorsport, rallies or motokhanas.

Personally, I think worldwide if they are serious about the road toll there should be a compulsory motorkhana road test every 2 years, but that will never happen. It’s like the education test here where 90% of the teachers failed. But if it was enforced and drivers were to increase their margin the road toll would be halved overnight.

For my fun and buzz I also ride a sports bike. I had an R1 for a while, but now I ride an R6, nearly as quick and a little easier to ride. When I ride it I always without fail wear the appropriate gear. I don’t care how hot it is.
When I was working at the airport last year I would leave early in the morning and going to the airport is a long stretch of road with a slight curve along half its length. I would accelerate to 200 km/h and have to brake for the curve and change back a gear and usually go through it at 160 km/hr and accelerate again to 200 and brake hard for a sharp left hander at the end of the straight. I would do this every day and at those speeds I was still well below my 100% and also the bike was well below its limit. What I’m saying is it helps me with my comfort level in every day driving. I’m completely relaxed and go with the flow so to speak. I should add I’m the only one on the road at that time of the morning.

Personally I think the roads are great in Thailand and if you enjoy driving or riding a nice bike the roads are excellent particularly up north, especially when you head towards Mae Hong Son.

My style is different and depends on what I am driving or riding. If I am driving I just drive with the traffic, very rarely do I exceed 110. I drive a Toyota Hilux and I think 110 (or less) is its comfort level. The Toyota and similar vehicles are great value for their money but they are very agricultural in their design – the spring rates and damper rates are all wrong, the disc / drum brake combination doesn’t work. Disc brakes improve with heat (to a certain level) and drum brakes deteriorate with heat and if you have a big load it accentuates the problem. Even the million+ baht SUVs have a live rear axle and disc / drum combination.

Treat and drive them for what they are and they are ok. You quite often see Thai on steroids drive them at very high speeds. I know for sure it’s well over the vehicle's safety limit and I guarantee the driver is very close to his 100% so there is no safety margin for error.

A lot of Thais buy these pickups for what they are meant for – work on the farm, but a lot buy them as a macho self esteem builder, order them in black with big wheels which incidentally makes the marginal brakes even more marginal. They are too big for the sois and I’ve noticed the drivers have no concept of width or length. Widths that you could drive a bus through they usually stop and make a minute decision whether they can fit or not, but once on the highway they develop two horns and give those horns a beer or two and their egos go through the heavens. Of course they are protected by their black windows and their amulets that normally block their view.

Twelve months ago my wife’s friend asks me to take her to Pattaya because she wanted to pick up her belongings and return to Nan and we could use her Hilux. We left Phitsanulok at 0430 in the morning and I told her straight “If you want me to drive the first thing that goes is that white fluffy mat and all those Buddha’s on the dash top!”

She and my wife in unison said “but it’s there for good luck!”

“It all goes or I don’t drive, and I am not being a passenger!”

I got the normal reply “But this is Thailand!”

I said “Yes, you are right, it is Thailand and that is why so many of you people die!”

I got my way, of course, after we had done the trip she put everything back on the dash top and proceeded on to Nan.

Welcome to Thailand!

When it comes to bike riding the small bike I am at everybody's mercy. I have to be completely defensive and be on the watch for “in thing goes”, get blocked by cars in the front and get run over by cars from the rear and ride on the left edge of the road which is not the safest place to be but it is the only place you can traverse.

With the “sports” bike the same rules apply except I am my own boss and I ride on the right side of the left side of the road. It creates its own problems – oncoming traffic which are overtaking a slower car in front will pull out and flash their lights and expect you to pull over or be a mascot on their bonnet, and cars especially tour vans see a bike in front in the left or sometimes right lane and they will try to push past you. I’m a great believer in constantly using your mirrors and I just go back a gear or two and accelerate away so I’m not in their line of attack. I’ve actually been passed by vans at 160 km/hr and at one time a SUV passed me at 200 km/hr. He would have to be at the red line. You just let them go you because don’t want to compete with their lack of penis size and destroy their macho ego trip.

Well it’s turned out to be a long submission and I’ve only skimmed the surface and it’s basically a boring subject, so all the best for the New Year to all you Stickmanites and careful driving. Welcome to Thailand.


Stickman's thoughts:

Driving in Thailand can be a challenge and there is a lot of foolhardiness out there and a complete lack of fear, or even awareness, that something might go wrong.

There are of course a lot of good points about driving here. The further you get from Bangkok, the less traffic there is. The interprovincial roads are generally pretty good and until recently – the last year or 18 months – police hassles weren't a great problem.