The first rule about driving in Thailand is that there are no rules! And as with many other countries in South East Asia driving conditions, congestion and traffic can be incredibly bad.
Often described as being dangerous, hectic and chaotic, driving in certain parts of Thailand is certainly not for the faint hearted and generally not recommend to holiday makers or people who have little experience of driving on Thailand’s roads. Bangkok, for example, has some of the most heavily congested roads anywhere in the world and has a rush hour that starts from around 3pm and lasts well into the late evening.
If you do happen to drive in Bangkok then you will need to be pretty sure you know exactly where you are going or make sure that your car has an extremely efficient and reliable Sat-Nav system. One wrong turn in Bangkok could literally add hours onto your journey time (and take years off your life!), such is the chaos and congestion of its roads, as well as the some of the driving habits that are used by many of the city’s drivers, much of which leave a lot to be desired!
Part of the problem with the driving habits and skills of some of the drivers in Thailand is that a lot of drivers might not even have a driving license, let alone have ever passed a driving examination. Even for drivers that have taken a driving examination it is pretty fair to say the levels and standards of the driving examination in Thailand are probably nowhere near as thorough as they are in other, more developed countries.
Consequently, poor driving habits lead to a large number of accidents and fatalities on Thailand’s roads each year. Statistics from the World Health Organisation regarding international road safety claims that Thailand has a ‘traffic related death rate’ nearly 3 times that of the United Kingdom (per 100,000 people). Because motorbikes are so commonly used as a lot of peoples main mode of transport, it is not surprising that many road traffic accidents in Thailand can be fatal.
This is a particular problem on Koh Samui, and indeed other popular tourist destinations throughout the country. Many people just turn up at a destination and hire a motorcycle, despite having little or no experience of driving a vehicle of this kind, as well as never having driven in Thailand before. They also seldom wear any protective clothing or even a helmet! With all of these factors combined it is little wonder why a large number of foreign tourists that hire motorcycles in Thailand end up having an accident, which not only ruins their holiday and potentially leaves them with a hefty medical bill, they are also scarred for life, which acts as a permanent reminder of their accident.
But it is not just foreigners who fail to wear a helmet or adequate protective clothing whilst driving a motorcycle, often Thai people will also failed to take the necessary measures with regards to motorcycle road safety.
As many road traffic accidents in Thailand end fatally, for the lucky motorcyclists that are involved in an accident they might only receive broken bones, severe cuts or grazing to the skin; all of which are relatively common.
‘Thai tattoos’ or ‘road rash’, as they are know, are the names given to the cuts, grazes or scars that someone suffers from after they have been involved in a motorcycle accident of some form or other. You may have noticed a lot of Thai people with these types of scars or ‘tattoos’ on their arms and legs. Just imagine being thrown from a motorcycle and dragged along the road at 40 kilometres an hour, without wearing any protective clothing or a helmet, it is bound to do a great deal of damage.
Thailand is also the country of the ‘u turn’ and vehicles often stop on a main road or busy highway in order to make a complete turn and go in the other direction. This can sometimes be incredibly dangerous as there is a genuine risk of the vehicle which is making the turn being hit from either on-coming traffic or hit from behind at high speed by another vehicle that might not have seen the turn being made.
Sometimes a large part of the outside lane can be busy with vehicles waiting to complete a ‘u turn’ and because of this congestion and tailbacks can often be caused. It can be bad enough when one car or a motorbike stops suddenly in the outside to perform a u turn; but when a bus or large truck decides to do it, a considerable amount of the road on both side of the carriageway can be blocked by the large vehicle trying to complete the manoeuvre.
Consequently if you ever happen to drive on any of Thailand’s busier roads then it is important that you make sure you look out for vehicles that either come to a sudden halt in the outside lane or pull out just in front of you as you are approaching at high speed.
Driving on Koh Samui
Probably the best way to get around Koh Samui is to hire a car or a motorcycle. Renting a motorcycle is by far the most popular form of transport amongst foreign visitors as it can be a cheap and fun way to explore the island and get from A to B.
However, as mentioned above, the importance of safety whilst riding a motorcycle on the island cannot be stressed enough. ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET! It sounds obvious but plenty of tourists don’t and if you are involved in a road traffic accident without wearing a helmet, your chances of being seriously or fatally injured are greatly increased.
It is a well known fact that more deaths occur from motorbike accidents because of head injuries than with any other cause. If you do happen to have an accident whilst riding a motorcycle it is highly likely that your head will either hit the road, a rock or even another vehicle. Therefore, it is vital that you wear a helmet at all times when on a motorcycle.
As well as the health and safety factor, riding a motorcycle without a helmet in Thailand is actually illegal, although plenty of people do ride without a helmet. If you happen to get caught on Koh Samui by the traffic police without wearing a helmet then you can expect to receive an on the spot fine of at least 500 Baht.
If you rent a motorcycle and a helmet is not provided make sure you ask for one, likewise if you have a passenger on the motorcycle, make you you ask the people who you are renting the motorcycle from for an additional helmet.
If you rent a motorcycle on the island, make sure you quickly get into the habit of wearing a helmet in order to stay safe whilst driving around Koh Samui.
Another major concern when driving on Koh Samui and something that you should watch out for is the overall conditions of some the islands roads. As Samui continues to grow as an international tourist destination, the amount of construction work and development that is taking place on the island increases, which also leads to an increase in the amount of traffic on the island too. The increased number of vehicle can make travelling around the island more difficult and dangerous, especially at night.
The increasing amount of construction work also means that the roads around construction sites can often be damaged or hand large amounts of gravel or other debris that finds its way into the road. This could damage your motorbike or at worst, cause a serious road traffic accident.
When driving on Koh Samui’s roads you also need to be extra careful for cars that overtake and encroach into the lane of oncoming traffic. Sometimes drivers even try overtaking on a blind corner, which is extremely dangerous.
When it comes to overtaking always make sure that you use your mirrors and carefully look around you to make that it is safe to begin your overtaking manoeuvre. When wanting to overtake another vehicle give a gentle sound of your horn just to let them know that you are passing. Similarly, someone who is about to overtake you in their car will normally give a little beep of their horn to let you know they are passing.
General Tips for Driving on Koh Samui
Always keep your eyes on the road, not only what is going on in front of you but also be aware of vehicles to the left and right and side of you, as well as from behind. You should also watch out for any people, animals or any sort of debris that might be in the road.
Unfortunately, Koh Samui has quite a poor record when it comes to road safety. Therefore, in order to stay safe whilst driving around the island you should drive responsibly and safely at all times. Driving a vehicle on Koh Samui can be a great way of enhancing your experience of the island and gives you the opportunity to go off an explore places and see sights that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. However, make sure you are fully aware of the potential risks involved and always drive with the aspect of road safety firmly in your mind.
Driving Rules and Regulations
Here are some general rules and regulations that apply to driving on Koh Samui or anywhere else in Thailand:
– Make sure that you drive on the left hand side of the road.
– The minimum age to drive a car legally is 18.
– The minimum age to drive a motorcycle up to 110cc legally is 15.
– The minimum age to drive a motorcycle over 110cc legally is 18.
– It is compulsory for drivers to carry their license and registration document at all times.
– All vehicles must clearly display a Department for Land Transport tax sticker.
– All vehicles must have at least the basic compulsory level insurance.
– It is a legal requirement to wear your seatbelt when driving a car in Thailand.
– It is also legal requirement to wear a helmet at all times when driving a motorcycle.
– Driving using a mobile phone is prohibited, expect when it is used with a hands free kit.
– Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs is also strictly prohibited. The driving limit for blood/alcohol is exactly 0.5mg.
– A vehicle that has a red registration plate is not permitted to be driven at night.
Additional Tips When Driving in Thailand
– Always watch your speed. The majority of speed limits on the main highways vary between 90 and 120km/h. Make sure you check local speed limit signs before putting your foot down.
– In most towns and cities the speed limit will be 60km/h on the main roads.
– The speed limit on Koh Samui is 45km/h
– Opposite from many Western countries, flashing your headlight in Thailand means ‘vehicle coming through’.
– Some drivers of larger vehicles merely assume that small vehicles will simply get out of the way.
– Always check for motorbikes or other road traffic before opening a car door.
– Always be respectful, courteous and polite to other road users.
– Always be aware and mindful of what is going on around your vehicle.