Car Ownership in Thailand
‘On Car Ownership’
Living and working in London, several years ago a couple of friends and I pooled our experiences and determined conclusively that owning a car in a city was a mug’s game (American cities, more geared to cars are perhaps exceptions) – using buses, subways and occasional taxis was much, much cheaper than a car’s running costs (including depreciation, which many people forget to include), walking between stations etc. was healthier, and the money saved was more than enough to rent a car when wanting to drive into the country. I have to agree with your findings.
‘On Police and Car Ownership’
I have been driving in Thailand for over twelve years, the first five years living in Bangkok, with weekly journeys to Issan, and occasional trips to Hua Hin, resulted in being stopped just once, legitimately, for inadvertently jumping a red light. I didn’t argue and got away with 200 baht. The past seven years I have been based near Hua Hin, where I drive daily in and out of town. Three times a year I drive to Korat, using the Bangkok ring-road. Three or four times a year I also drive into Bangkok. Once or twice a year I drive to Jomtien, two or three times a year I do a visa-run to Ranong and twice a year I drive down to Samui and sometimes Phuket. Granted this is a much smaller annual mileage than you do (and perhaps I’ve just been very lucky) but… I have only been stopped four times, in seven years (thus only five times in twelve years) – once because the tax disc had just dropped off (the cop, at the tollgate near Moh Chit, told me not to let it happen again, and saluted me), once because I had lost a number-plate (I had a letter from the Vehicle Office saying they were making a new one – maybe the cop couldn’t read – he still wanted 100 baht), once, on the main road to Pattaya, because I was in the outer lane on a quiet road and was accused of speeding (I explained the trucks chew up the inner lanes and I was preserving my tyres – the cop warned me that speeding was nevertheless dangerous, and saluted my departure), the fourth time in a quiet rural lane where I live – I was asked where I was going (‘To eat…’) and, as they waved me on, I foolishly asked what they were doing, all this way out of town, and the guy snapped: “Doing our work…!” – I kept driving.
I dare say you receive many emails from your readers whenever they have a problem with police but very few from those of us who rarely write when things appear to be fine, and this, along with your own experiences might give an exaggerated view of the total situation…
I have had two accidents: the first, a (Thai) maniac pushed me off the road – he quickly disappeared, and I was in hospital for over two months. When I was eventually able to remember, and review the accident I had to conclude it was also my fault because a Thai driver would have expected the other guy to behave as he did, and backed off.
The second accident, a young Thai lady reversed into my car when it was parked, and left her business card on my windscreen, and her insurance, and Honda, dealt with it the same day.
From my experiences (so far…) I have no reason to give up driving in Thailand – yet. The only other thing I can say is: whenever I am stopped by the police I always offer a respectful wai, even to the scruffier cops, I always answer them in Thai (though my Thai is pretty poor), I never get, nor behave, angry, and I answer their questions politely. I have never seen a cop apparently rubbing his hands together as a farang is revealed – indeed, the ‘speeding’ cop’s face dropped when he saw me, as if saying to himself: ‘Oh no… and I don’t speak English. What am I going to do now?’
Finally, I invariably use the trick you mentioned years ago about dropping the sun-visor to make the interior of the car less clear and, since you previously wrote about your friend’s dreadful experience with the kids on the moped, I now always leave plenty of room on the inside when I turn (both into and out of a side road), and I always check the wing mirror before making the actual turn. No doubt your friend, if he’s still driving here, now does the same – nevertheless I have to say I despair of Thailand ever becoming what farang would call a ‘law-abiding society’ when such things can so easily happen to innocent people…
For sure, I wasn't thrilled to sell the car and miss the convenience that a car gives you. What I really liked was being able to do something on the spur of the moment i.e. taking off to Hua Hin for the day. Probably the big difference between you and I is that I am in Bangkok and you're outside the big city. It's in Bangkok, and on the way to Pattaya and also the main road up to Isaan from Bangkok, where the main police hassles / problems seem to be.