Driving in Thailand
One of the best things you can do in any country is hire your own form of transportation. Tour buses do have their upsides but having your own vehicle is such a splendid way to travel that nothing else really compares.
If you feel confident on a little scooter, you can find them to hire nearly everywhere in Chiang Mai. Just be aware that the insurance policy is often not included in the price (or is non-existent) and you do need an international MOTORBIKE licence to ride here. If you are pulled over, all your international driver’s licence will get you is a nice little fine. We didn’t feel confident enough to hop on a motorbike without a full suit of body armour, so we opted for hiring a car.
Compared to the style of driving in Australia, Thai driving can seem a little unpredictable and ballsy at times. Scooters weave in and out of the traffic quickly and without warning, cars sometimes drive in the wrong lane and there are quite a few streets with right-lane driving although in Thailand they drive on the left (normally). Just to keep you on your toes.
We did our research and found a reputable company called North Hire. Everything was booked online and all our queries were answered promptly and clearly. Our car was delivered at exactly 8.00am (as we had requested) and the driver explained everything well – what was expected of us, what fuel the car ran on, where we should park it, who could drive etc.
We did a quick check of the body to make sure that there was no pre-existing damage and all scratches and bumps were noted. He gave us a copy of all the documentation in an envelope, handed over the keys and took off.
Everything about the procedure was competent and professional. The car was almost brand new, had airbags, a radio, aircon and a phone charger. Everything was clean, in working condition and the tank was full of fuel. We were ready to begin our adventure.
Driving in Thailand is challenging but also very enjoyable. Local drivers pull some pretty hair-raising stunts like overtaking on blind corners, overtaking on straights with oncoming traffic and winding onto and off the road as they cruise along on their scooters making it quite tricky to pass them safely.
On the other hand, the roads (on the route we did) are all in pretty good condition and people don’t get angry and beep if you want to crawl along at a snail’s pace or don’t want to overtake. Despite their dangerous maneuvers, they are very patient in regards to other drivers.
If a car is overtaking straight into oncoming traffic, said oncoming traffic just moves a smidgeon to the left, effectively creating a middle-lane for the rogue-overtaker, so that there is room for everyone. This is done quickly and quietly and with no honking!
If you’re thinking of driving in Thailand, do pay attention to how they use their indicators. A flashing indicator does not always mean the vehicle is turning. If a slow-moving car/scooter indicates left, it normally means you can overtake him. If he indicates right, probably best not to because he might be slowing down for some pedestrians that aren’t yet visible to you.
In fact, most people will start to right-turn way before they actually need to and spend a great deal of time on the wrong side of the road before actually completing the turn. Watch out for this. It can really throw you off.
There can be quite a few police checkpoints on the popular tourist routes but most likely you will be waved through quickly with a “Good luck” or a simple nod. If you see bright red signs, do slow down. Especially if you don’t speak any Thai. This normally means there is some obstruction ahead and this could be anything from a pothole to half the road covered by a recent landslide.
And last but not least. Avoid driving at night. Even through cities. Night time is tricky because the dangerous, unpredictable behavior of the motorbikes reaches a whole new level of scary because they often don’t have lights and can sometimes just appear out of nowhere. Once the sun goes down, it’s better to find a guest house and put the keys away until the following morning.
TO ADD IN EARLIER: Most locals don’t adhere to the speed limit. It’s your job to take note of the signs and drive accordingly. If you are looking for a particularly scenic route that is an easy drive, check out the Mae Hong Son Loop. You definitely won’t regret it!