Driving In Thailand | A Family In Motion
Driving In Thailand | An Exercise In Becoming Ambidextrous
I took a leap of faith today and drove a borrowed car that was graciously lent to us by our real estate agent. The car has been sitting in our parking space for days, but up to this point, we have not had the courage to take it out for a test drive. The first thing I did once inside the car was reach for the seat belt with my right hand over my left shoulder. Of course, in a Thai car the seatbelt is over my right shoulder. Gear box and shifter are maneuvered with the left hand instead of the right, and one must look to the left in order to view objects in the rear view mirror. Of course, all traffic is driven on the left side of the road. Even as I type this post out, my left hand (I’m right handed) seems to have become more dominant than ever before.
Pulling out of the parking spot was easy enough; however, turning my first tight corner was a little stressful, as I was unsure how close to the left barricade I was. In actuality, I wasn’t that close, but I’ve been driving for 15 plus years judging distances from the left side of a vehicle. After successfully leaving the parking lot, it was time to merge into oncoming traffic. Now, I’m not sure I can effectively describe Thai traffic. It is intimidating, to say the least. It looks like barely controlled chaos, but if you pay enough attention (this is the key!), there is a delicate rhythm. What seems at first like road-warrior-like lawlessness is actually the equivalent of a beautiful, interweaving dance between bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks and tuk-tuks.
Driving In Thailand Amidst A Sea Of Obstacles
There are typically just as many mopeds and motorcycles on the road as there are actual cars. Pulling out into oncoming traffic is an exercise in multi-tasking, as one must take into account mopeds driving on the shoulder (both with traffic and against traffic!!), dogs wandering into the road, reptiles lounging in the road (we saw a giant 6’ lizard basking in the middle of a busy country road yesterday), food vendors parked on the shoulder hawking satay, and giant Mercedes trucks zooming by.
I was given great advice by our new friend, Glenn. He said there are essentially three rules for driving in Thailand: “Look, look again, and then look one more time.” The painted designated lanes on any given road are just general suggestions, not to be taken too seriously. Signaling to change “lanes” might be considered confusing to other drivers, as I stress again that “lanes” are optional. Most motorists are often seen straddling the painted lines. But old habits die hard, and I still try to use my turn signals when changing lanes, but unfortunately the signals are on the right side of the steering wheel. I find myself often turning the windshield wipers on when preparing to change lanes, which elicits a titter out of Adrienne and my parents when in the car with me.
Driving In Thailand On A Major Highway
There is one major highway that runs from Bangkok south through our town of Hua Hin and beyond. Every so often along this highway (called Petchkasem) there are little meridians where you can turn around if your destination is on the other side of the road. There are no exits at all, and if you happen to miss your turn-off by over-shooting your destination, you must turn around at the little meridian and head back in the opposite direction. So what I’m saying is that if you overshoot your destination or if your destination is on the opposite side of the highway, you must complete a u-turn (on the highway!) from the fast lane, right into the fast lane in the opposite direction of travel. Honestly, it’s terrifying for me, but I must learn to relax and not feel pressured by the line of impatient vehicles pulling up behind me. I’m not only worried about performing a u-turn myself, but also nervous about someone else pulling out in front of me while I’m doing 75-80mph (~120km/hr). That would be disastrous for everyone involved. The Thais have amazingly quick reflexes and possess a wide panoramic vision, thus able to drive simultaneously aggressively and defensively. And Paul’s uncle summed up the pervasive Buddhist mentality that helps to preserve everyone on the road (human or otherwise): “Be kind.” This must be why all the dogs literally sleep in the middle of the road–they know the Thais don’t want to harm any living thing, and thus make no effort to move at all. The Thai pedestrians, however, are smarter and realize that you get the heck out of the way for all things moving faster than you.
Driving Directions In Thailand (Or Lack Thereof)
We ambitiously decided to make our way to Ingrid’s new school, and quickly got lost in a maze of houses, unfinished construction projects, illegal roadside dumps and random food stalls. We drove past goats, chickens, cows, horses, and a dead snake, all without passing a single street sign. We decided to ask for directions at one of the local roadside restaurants. To our frustration, three people gave us conflicting advice, and one girl told us to get out and hire a motorcycle taxi to take us there. (We were a car of four adults and one child, and her best suggestion was for us to all take a motorcycle taxi!) There is no urban planning or grid system, and all the roads seem unnecessarily complicated and circuitous. But we eventually found the school. To arrive, you need to head north from our condo on Petchkasem Road (the major highway that runs through the middle of town) and turn left at Soi 94 (Soi=Street). After that there are no street signs to guide you. The following will be our best set of directions for arriving at Yamsaard Hua Hin School: One must drive over the train tracks towards the abandoned and unfinished apartment complex; continue straight past the very well groomed goats on the left, after the jog in the road; continue past the three white cows on the right and the house that advertises live blues on Friday night (avoid all of the giant potholes in the unpaved dirt roads); take a left after the bright pink building and a right at the brown horse grazing by the side of the road; and then the immediate first right across from the empty field. If you see the large dead snake on the left side of the road, you’ve gone too far. We are thinking of printing this map to assist other new parents with finding the school. (By the way, if anyone knows someone at Google, kindly inform them that google earth and google maps are a little lacking in Hua Hin, Thailand).
More adventures from the Land of Smiles to come…
Post: Driving In Thailand