Driving in Chiang Mai, Thailand. - Can I, should I?
Having had my Driver’s License for 47 years now and having driven manual transmissions and automatics from Volkswagen bugs, to Corvettes, to Nissan 300 ZX Turbo’s to more refined Lincoln luxury cars you would think that I could drive anywhere in the world. My driving record is excellent. No accidents and no points off in the last 6 years and that qualifies me for the best rating and the best insurance rate in Canada. An experienced driver with the best driving record. Coming to Chiang Mai, Thailand and renting a car to see the sites and get around town should be a breeze you would expect. Well anyone who thinks so is dead wrong.
Driving here has to be seen to be believed. Do not try it unless you know someone here who has educated you as to What to Watch Out For. Here is my list: The lines on the roads do not mean a thing here. You can drive on them, you can drive on the side of them, but do not expect drivers to drive between them. Why? Because on the left side of the road you will find motorbikes so cars move over knowing that this is the preferred route of the motorbikes.
That is one reason. Another is that both red taxi’s (converted pick up trucks used as taxis) and tuk tuk’s (three wheeled motorcycles used as taxis) move over from the fast lane to the middle of the two lanes in an attempt to pick up more passengers and yet not lose out on positioning in a fast lane of traffic. Traffic signals do not mean a thing here. Vehicles can jump the green and make a turn against the flow of traffic if they are hmmm. the first, second, third or even the fourth vehicles in line at a red light as you want to cross an intersection with the light just having turned green. Expect vehicles to run the red if it just turned red hmmm. what one, two, or perhaps three seconds ago. Watch out for the 3 wheeled bicycles. These are normally driven by slim men in their sixties who have doing this for years. This may have been a fashionable and popular means of transportation 50 years ago or so but now it is a danger out on the roads as they move along at 4 mph on streets full of cars and motorcycles, all of which are in a hurry to go somewhere.
Watch out for vendors pushing their carts at 2 mph down the street on the left hand side of the road. Watch out for dogs who lay on the road and refuse to move or move reluctantly as the last second. If you are keeping up with the flow of traffic on a fast moving road at 45 mph in bumper to bumper traffic EXPECT someone to tailgate your vehicle. Oh maybe 10 ft from your rear bumper or perhaps 5 ft. from your bumper. Nice, polite, quiet people that they are Thai’s when they get behind the steering wheel change they make a transition from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. In my opinion most drivers here only have the mandatory basic insurance which is almost useless should they have an accident. So they try to be careful and not hit other cars by driving 3 ft away from vehicles on their passenger side.
Either they cannot judge the distance as they are inexperienced drivers or they are extremely careful, either way they will drive down the street using part of your lane forcing you out of your lane. Overtaking can be done regardless of whether you do it by passing the vehicle in front of you on the left or right side. So if you drive down the road EXPECT to see a vehicle coming straight for you in your lane passing a slower vehicle. They will pass and expect you to slow down or move out of your lane as they are going somewhere in a hurry. Overtaking another vehicle will happen by vehicles going uphill and not seeing what is ahead of them, overtaking will occur on turns and the drivers not seeing what is ahead of them, overtaking will occur whenever and wherever. Pedestrians crossing with the traffic light green DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY, vehicles go first and you should cross when you it is safe to do so. Now having said all of that you may be thinking to yourself, Is this guy trying to scare me, is he trying to be funny, does he not want me to drive in Chiang Mai? The answer to these questions is: I want you to know what you will be facing should you decide to drive here. I want you not to injure yourself or someone else thinking you can go ahead and rent/drive a vehicle without having driven here before or without some advice. When I first arrived and saw the traffic I thought that I would never be able to drive here. Well now I do drive here.
I know what to watch out for and drivers running greens or red lights does not surprise me or anger me. I merely expect it. The Thai drivers here have probably not had any formal driving instruction, they may not have any decent insurance coverage, and they may be pushy when it comes to driving as they may be in a hurry to earn money so that they can feed their family. So nothing against them, I try to understand their driving habits and adjust mine accordingly. No matter how they drive they are happy go lucky, cheerful, hard working people and I love them.
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