Driving in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted. Hazards come in the form of potholed roads, confusing intersections, and dangerous driving. However, the main expressways, prefixed “AH” (Asia Highway), are excellent, with rest areas, shops, and refreshments. For those visitors who want to explore away from the usual tour routes, the best option may be to hire a car with a driver who is used to the roads. International car rental firms operate in Bangkok and provincial capitals. The standard of local rental companies varies enormously.
Renting a Car
A valid international driver’s license is a necessity for most visitors, while those from ASEAN countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) need only have a license from their home countries. International rental agencies offer safe cars and the most extensive insurance and backup services. Avis, Budget, and Hertz have desks at some airports and in major cities. Charges range from about 1,800 baht for a day to 35,000 baht for a month.
With other car rental companies, you should check the small print on the contract for liabilities. Insurance may not be included. Obtain a copy of the vehicle registration and carry it around with you. You should also have with you your passport and driving license, or at the very least good copies of these
Hiring a Chauffeur Driven Car
Hiring an experienced driver with a car is gaining popularity in Thailand. The cost can be surprisingly low – often less than 50 percent extra on top of the normal price of car rental. Some drivers are knowledgeable about sights and will suggest interesting itineraries. Most car rental firms can arrange drivers. Siam Express offers packages including a chauffeur, car, and accommodation in a wide range of hotels.
Renting a Moped
Mopeds and motorcycles are widely available for rent in the resorts, provincial capitals, and other large towns. If you have never driven a motorbike before it’s best to rent one of the small automatic gear 80cc bikes. Driver’s licenses are rarely requested, and few firms bother with insurance. Costs are low: 200–400 baht is average for a day’s rental. Safety precautions are essential. Check tires, oil, and brakes before you set out. Wear a helmet (compulsory in Thailand) and proper shoes. Long sleeves and trousers will minimize cuts and grazes in a minor accident. Take care on dirt roads and avoid driving alone in rural areas.
Gasoline and Servicing
Gas stations in Thailand are well manned and are located on main roads in towns and along highways. They are modern and most provide unleaded gas. Attendants will fill your tank, wash your windows, and pump up your tires. Some garages have a resident mechanic, or will at least be able to recommend one. Most of them have a small general shop, and all have Asian toilet facilities. Many garages open 24 hours, while others close at 8pm.
Multistory parking lots in Bangkok are generally attached to major hotels and department stores. Parking is usually free for hotel guests, and for visitors for up to two or three hours. A ticket is issued on entry and should be stamped by a cashier; pay on the way out. Apart from these arrangements, parking can be difficult in Bangkok.
Throughout Thailand, pavements painted with red and white stripes indicate a no-parking zone. In provincial cities, many hotels and large guesthouses provide free parking facilities for guests. In quieter towns you can generally park anywhere that is not obstructive.
In addition to regular roads, multilane elevated highways can be found in and around Bangkok. A toll is charged to travel on these expressways, including the ones to the airports. The fees vary but are indicated above the booth – the exact change is required at manually operated booths. The expressways are less congested than other Bangkok roads, but they are still prone to traffic jams. Many roads in Bangkok are one-way, though a lane may be reserved for buses moving in the opposite direction during peak hours. Be sure to look both ways when crossing the road at these times. There are four major highways leading out of Bangkok.
These are good dual carriageways, with AH1 and AH4 part of the Asia Highway network. In more rural and jungle areas, a concrete road may turn into a dirt track. Main roads in towns are called thanons; numbered lanes leading off these are called sois and trawks. In the rainy season, all roads can become flooded.
The signage on main roads is very good, in both English and Thai. Driving is on the left, but be aware of the dangers of night driving. Motorcyclists in dark clothing and with no lights may suddenly appear on the wrong side of the road.
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the left. The speed limit is 60 kph (35 mph) within city limits, unless signed otherwise, and 80 kph (50 mph) on open roads. On expressways and major highways the speed limit is 110 kph (70 mph). The standard international road rules apply, but are of little interest to Thais. The only consistent rule of thumb is that “size wins.”
The eccentric use of indicators and headlights can be unnerving. A left signal can indicate to another driver that it is alright to pass, while a right signal can indicate hazardous oncoming traffic, and a flash of the headlights means: “I’m coming through.”
Horns are not used enough as Thais tend to see them as impolite. When they are used it is often as a warning of presence rather than obvious danger. Drivers think nothing of straddling lanes and passing on curves and up hill. Yield to larger vehicles at unmarked interse ctions. It is legal to turn left at red lights if there is a blue sign with a white left arrow, or occasion ally if you are in the left lane. On minor roads, beware of animals.
Traffic fines are most commonly imposed for illegal turns. If you get a ticket and your license is taken, go to the local police station, the address of which will be on the ticket, and pay the fine. Drive slowly through army checkpoints in border areas, and be prepared to stop.
Tourist maps are widely available but cover major roads only. Some provincial, foldout maps produced by the Prannok Witthaya Map Center are useful, showing all roads and reliefs. The Thailand Highways Map by the Auto Guide Company and the Thailand Highway Map by the Roads Association are the best atlases, and are written in Thai and Roman scripts.
Renting a Bicycle
In the cool season, cycling in quiet areas is a pleasant way to get around. Guesthouses and small agencies often have bicycles for rent for 20–100 baht a day, though the bikes may be rickety. New mountain bikes may be available, but, perhaps surprisingly, costs may exceed those of mopeds. Taking plenty of water is essential and, of course, great care is always necessary on the roads.