In October of 2018 i decided to try driving in Thailand for the first time. This was quite daunting for me as i have never driven in another country before and i was worried about all the accidents you see and hear about in Thailand. So I wanted to put together my top tips for driving in Thailand. Having heard all the stories i decided to give it a go any way. Before i arrived in Thailand i decided to do some homework on the rules of the road to make sure that i would not be committing any offences whilst driving. Once i had read up on this it appeared as though the rules of the road were not that different from the UK. So i went ahead and booked a car for my trip.
Car rental companies
I used skyscanner to find a rental company in the Udon Thani airport area and booked myself an SUV for the duration of me trip. This was quite reasonably priced for a 2 week stay so i decided to book it. The only reservation i had about booking a car was that i would have to drive an automatic. As i own a manual gearbox car back in the UK i was sure that i would initially struggle, and i was right. But i will come to that later.
Driving licences and permits
When i booked my vehicle i was informed that i would need to have an International Driver’s Permit to be able to drive in Thailand. I obtained mine from the post office for £5.50 for a year which i really cheap in the grand scheme of things. You can also get them from The AA and RAC websites too if you can’t make it to a local post office. You will be required to carry this with you whenever you drive in Thailand along with your driver’s licence. Both of these would be needed when collecting the car from the airport.
Hire car desks at the airport
So i had all my paperwork with me for my arrival at Udon Thani Airport. Having just stepped of a flight from Bangkok, i managed to find my way to the counter of the hire company. As i was on one of the last flights in i was the last one to collect my car. This is where i had my first issue. Unfortunately during the day the hire company had let all of the SUV’s go out on hire and i was left with the only car available, a Honda Civic. The attendant was very apologetic and ensured the paperwork was completed in a timely manner to get myself on the road as quickly as possible.
Check the vehicle thoroughly
I was escorted to the car and had a good look around to ensure that all of the damage was captured. I took pictures of the damage i found to prevent me from any further expenses at the end of my trip. After this inspection i signed for the vehicle and i was on my way. As i had a 2 hour drive to my final destination i decided to use the sat nav on my phone. This proved to be problematic at first as i found it difficult to secure this to the dashboard and it kept coming loose. But once i did, i was on my way.
Driving on the roads
The first thing to note here is that in Thailand you drive on the left. This means drivers from the UK will be very at ease with this. After a short drive out of Udon Thani, i found myself on some rural roads that would take me to my destination of Kranuan. The first thing to notice was that there were very few lights on these roads. So i decided to take it slowly. This turned out to be a good idea. Over the course of the next 2 hours i would encounter a number of vehicles which had no rear lights. These would not be seen until the last moment, which would mean breaking quite swiftly to avoid a collision. Another thing to note is that you will encounter drivers who will be driving at excessive speed. This was no exception at night as i would find out. I would have vehicles overtake me numerous times on roads that were full of potholes and that could easily have damaged the vehicle. This was one of the main reasons for taking my time. After a couple of hours i reached my destination and began to plan my next driving experience.
Refueling the car
My Partner wanted to visit her friends in Pattaya whilst i was in Thailand with her. After a little deliberation we decided to give the 360 mile trip a try. I filled up the car at a local petrol station, which was very different from back home. In Thailand, you tell the attendant how much fuel you want putting in and they fill it up for you. You then pay the attendant and you are on your way. This is a highly efficient way of filling up your car as you do not get stuck in a queue waiting for someone to buy a pint of milk when trying to pay. Now we were ready to begin the trip.
Using a Satellite navigation system
I again decided to use my sat nav on my phone for this and began the trip by heading towards Khon Kaen. This should have been a straightforward drive but my sat nav had other ideas. This was due to the fact that in Thailand, a number of roads are referred to as highways, but are actually dirt roads. This meant driving at around 20 mph for around 30 minutes until we can to an actual highway. This was where my drive could begin. Almost straight away i was aware that many drivers would undertake you on the roads. But as long as you keep your wits about you will be fine.
Much like the UK, most of the service stations are very similar and offer a range of facilities. These are always located around the outside of a petrol station. The facilities are very basic. It is this point i would like to suggest always carrying a pack of tissues with you. The toilet facilities do not supply this. Given the fact that Thai Toilets will often be very low to the ground and do not have water connected to them it can be very unpleasant if you are caught short.
The rest of the service stations are really quite good. You will usually find a 7 Eleven somewhere along with a coffee shop and restaurants. You can get a decent meal for a fraction of the cost that you would pay back home. So the services are much like back home. The only thing i would say is that be prepared to use the hard shoulder when leaving the services as many drivers will overtake in the left hand lane at speed. You can very easily end up in an accident if you do not keep a close eye on traffic, especially at night.
Roadworks in Thailand
Like most countries, Thailand has its own road repairs going on. It is advisable to slow right down when entering these due to the impatience of other drivers on the road. A lot of drivers will try and overtake you if they see a gap. This happens all the time in roadworks, as i experienced on my trip to Pattaya. The roadworks tried to make sure that traffic was down to 1 lane, but many drivers would pull up alongside your vehicle in an attempt to overtake. This makes the traffic come to a halt as a result. Often you will find traffic police ensuring that only 1 lane is used.
Local Police in Thailand
In Thailand it is not uncommon to be held up at a police checkpoint on the highways. These checkpoints are there to check for any unsafe vehicles on the road. Often drivers will be pulled over as they appear to have damage to their vehicle. In the event that you are pulled over you will need to present your driving licence along with your permit to drive. Failure to have either of these will land you with a hefty fine. So always have these with you.
Speed cameras in Thailand
You should also be aware that there may be speed cameras located on your route. These will be signposted in advance and you will know once you have been through one. You can expect to be fined as you would back home. The cameras are often grey in color and very difficult to see at night. But if you stick to the speed limits you will not have a problem.
Driving at night
As i have mentioned earlier, driving at night can be quite unnerving at times. Most streets in Thailand do not have street lights and it is often very difficult to see the entrances to some locations and streets at night. Add in the fact that a lot of drivers will have their main beams on too, as they forget to turn them off. You will often be dazzled by bright lights. I would advise slowing down in the event that you can’t see. It’s better to arrive late than be in an accident. This is especially important when driving in rural areas. You may find people walking in the road to get home are motorcycles with no lights on.
Would i drive in Thailand again?
On the whole, if you drive at a sensible speed in Thailand you will not have any issues. I will definitely be doing this again and it does not seem so daunting as i feared. It’s amazing how much more you can see when you get out of the cities. If you have any tips for driving in Thailand, leave a comment below. I enjoy reading about other peoples experiences.