If you are a foreigner living in Thailand and thinking of driving to travel Thailand, you’ll firstly need to get a Thai driving licence.
You can only legally do this when all of your other paperwork for living in Thailand is up together. Some people say that you can drive on international licences and even with your home country’s driving licence, however, the rules are extremely sketchy on this, so to be totally sure it pays to get a Thai driving licence.
To get a licence, you need to go to the nearest licencing depot. If you can speak Thai you can choose any you like, but if you cannot speak Thai it is probably best to go to a depot in a tourist area or near Silom.
I’m not sure about other countries, but if you have a UK licence you only need to take a sight and reactions test, rather than the driven test and written test.
In Thailand they place a lot of emphasis on whether or not your vision is up to scratch or not. If you are colour blind, the bad news is that it will be difficult to get a licence in Thailand. The reactions test usually involves stepping on a fake accelerator pedal when the light turns red. The sight test seems to vary, but usually involves a coloured dot test and a periferral vision test where you have to say which colours are popping up.
The Thai driving rules are based on the UK’s driving system, but as you’ll find out, the driving is quite different.
You will initially be given a one year licence, although you can apply for a 5 year licence when the 1 year licence is due to expire. After the 5 year licence expires you will have to take the sight test again to make sure your vision is up to scratch.
One thing to bare in mind is that when you flash your lights in Thailand it means ‘Stop, I’m coming through!’ and not that you are giving way. I made the mistake of stopping and flashing a car which in turn made him stop and in the end resulted in him screeching off in a mood.
People rarely stop at a zebra crossing and the feeling is that the bigger the vehicle, the more right it has to come through. Pedestrians having the ultimate right of way does not exist in reality whilst driving in Thailand. Cross a zebra croosing on foot whilst expecting traffic to stop is the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette. So to travel Thailand by car it is best to be fully aware as if you are on an English driving test with the examiner about to slap a book on the dashboard for an emergency stop.
If you happen to break down or drain your battery by leaving your lights on, or even have a puncture, you’ll be surprised at how Thai people will try to help you. Thai people in general are very kind and will often help you if they can.
If you hit a motorbike it’s your fault full stop usually. This can be frustrating as motorbikes will often come at you from the wrong direction.
Your night vision should be good, as at least fifty percent of motorbikes have had the back light taken out. If anyone knows the reason for this please leave a comment. I still cannot fathom the reasons behind this one, through Western logic anyway.
As for buying a car, you’ll find that second hand cars are quite expensive. This is partly because cars don’t rust very fast because of the heat and hold their value more.
At the time of writing this blog, car tax is about 1,600 baht per year. They have come up with a great idea that you’ll find at some Department of Transport depots . . . drive through car tax points. You just queue up and it takes about 3 minutes to pay for your car tax and receive your documents, as if you were ordering a burger!
New cars are again quite expensive, especially imported cars not assembled in Thailand. Cars that have plants in Thailand seem to be less hammered with tax, such as Honda or Toyota for example.
You can overtake on the inside or outside on a motorway and be prepared for some intense veering by other cars.
In Bangkok the stress of driving is often intense, but when you drive outside of Bangkok it is more of a pleasant experience.
One plus point is that traffic speed is slower in general compared to the West.
There are many beautiful places to visit in Thailand and with a car you can skip taxis and tours etc.
It takes a few months to settle into driving and recognising the unique hazards in Thailand, such as stray dogs and motorbikes coming at you from the opposite direction. However, once you’ve been around the learning curve and dealt with the initial culture shock, your reward is more comfort and freedom. Thailand is full of beauty just waiting to be explored with a set of wheels. The most convenient way to travel Thailand.