3 Things You Must Know Before Driving In Thailand

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Thailand | 1 comment

I don’t want to confess this to you. But I will. The thought of driving in Thailand used to scare me — for good reason. It all seemed overwhelming. I am not sure that was because the traffic rules ‘look’ different on the roads, or that everything looked so unfamiliar. Driving here is different. I am not saying it is better or worse than home. Just different. One thing I can say for sure is that it took me a little while to adjust. But to my surprise, I adjusted much quicker than I imagined.

Driving In Thailand: Have License or Pay!

There is some controversy over whether foreigners need a driver’s license in Thailand. There is a rumor that people from America, Canada, England and Australia can use their own country’s license for up to 6 weeks. I have had difficulty validating this. But the reality is this: if you have an accident, no insurance will cover you if you don’t have a valid Thai license.

There are a diverse range of vehicles on the roads By Rachel Devlin
There are a diverse range of vehicles on the roads By Rachel Devlin

Accidents happen in Thailand, too — all the time. And you will pay if uninsured, meaning without your Thai license.

Police roadblocks are also common in Thailand. They are mostly to catch people without helmets and people without license. They issue painful fines. My advise is this: Get an IDP (an International Drivers Permit) from your hometown.

The IDPs translate your driver’s license in a way that Thai authorities will accept. If you take it to your local Thai Land Transport Office, the changeover to a valid license is remarkably simple.

If you do not have documents, you must go through the process that every Thai person does. This involves watching a road safety video in Thai and passing a written exam. They also provide an English version of the exam.

Driving In Thailand: Road Running

Once I held the Thai driver’s license in my little hand, the obvious challenge was to drive. I delayed this event for a few weeks. And then I took the plunge. Here is what I learned:

Driving In Thailand: Secrets

Once I discovered the secret, the secret to Thai roads, it became much easier for me, and I suppose also for those around me.

The secret is that the road rules here are the same as in most Western countries. There is even a road rule book in English that’s available for purchase at the Land Transport Office. The thing though is, there are two levels of traffic rules. There are ‘the rules’ and then there is ‘what really happens’.

Driving In Thailand: Odd Examples

To illustrate, here are two odd examples.

Odd Example 1

It is illegal to turn left on a red light at an intersection. Common sense, right? Yet, everyone does it.

One day, I was waiting at a stop in exactly that situation, waiting for the light to change green. I could feel the Thai drivers behind me getting frustrated with me. A police officer happened to drive by, and he waved me through! Even though this was genuinely against the law!

Odd Example 2

Sometimes, someone will just stop cold in the middle of the road. Perhaps, they need to find something in their glove box or take a call. Lo-and-behold, everyone just patiently waits. I used to find this pretty frustrating, but now, I wait like a native Thai driver. They never take too long. And when I had a car full of teenagers I was dropping off, I didn’t feel so bad doing exactly the same thing.

Yes, my road habits have changed ever so slightly. I like the flexibility on the roads here. But one thing I would say, though: I maintain a top level of alertness on the roads. Things can become quite unpredictable at any second.

Driving In Thailand: Changing My Thinking Made Me a Better Driver

It took me a while to realize that my initial response to driving in Thailand came from a position of privilege. It was easy for me when I was a learner driver, because I had a part-time job and could pay for lessons.

I am always prepared for surprises on the road. By Rachel Devlin
I am always prepared for surprises on the road. By Rachel Devlin

There was a rational system to help me become ‘road worthy’.

Thailand has a combination of drivers on the road. Some are good, because they learned to drive properly. But there is also a cohort of drivers and riders that didn’t have the luxury of formal training.

Perhaps they learned to drive on a farm, taught by a family member… You can well imagine that driving on a farm differs from driving in urban areas. I can now accept that there are people sharing the roads that have had completely different driving experiences, and that makes me more patient.

Sometimes I hear expats complain. But I don’t want to complain. I am here to soak up all the wonderful differences that this beautiful country offers. I know, I have to embrace the good with the bad, like I would in any other country in the world.

The strange thing is this: I now prefer driving here to back home. There is a general level of acceptance that I haven’t seen in the western cities.

And that is exactly what I like. How about you? What’s driving like where you are? Sign up for free and let us know!

by: Rachel Devlin