How to drive in Thailand

How to drive in Thailand

How is driving in Thailand? This is the second year that I have been driving in Thailand almost every day, although I once vowed that I would never drive here. I drive in and around Hua Hin on a daily basis, but I've made a few more journeys and driven around Bangkok. Although it is more dangerous on the roads in Thailand than in Poland, I enjoy driving here. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but that's how it is.

To feel more confident and safe on the roads in Thailand, it is important to know the rules here - not to be confused with laws, although there are of course regulations here too.

How to drive in Thailand, let's start with basic traffic rules

Traffic in Thailand is left-handed and you get used to it after just a few drives. Only sometimes, when I am thoughtful, I approach the wrong door. On the road, however, I am already completely converted to left-hand traffic and it seems quite natural to me.

On multi-lane roads, the right lane is the fast lane, the left is the slow lane. The left lane is mostly used by motorbikes and you really have to be careful because you never know when a motorbike might suddenly decide to turn straight in front of your car.

The condition of the roads in Thailand is rather good on the main routes and a large part of the roads in urban areas. In rural areas and further into less inhabited countryside, 4×4 vehicles definitely do better. Intersections are avoided on main routes in Thailand and there are often U-turns instead. Traffic lights are mainly found in cities.

To drive legally in Thailand you need a driving licence. I have written about what kind of driving licence you need in Thailand and how to get one in this article Prawo jazdy w Tajlandii.

How to drive in Thailand, speed limits

Once you know that you drive on the left in Thailand, it's time to move on to the numbers. The following speed limits apply on the roads in Thailand:

  • in towns the speed limit is 60 km/h
  • outside urban areas 90 km/h

Some routes have express lanes with a minimum speed of 100 km/h and a maximum speed of 120 km/h. In addition, the speed is limited by signs, often 50 km/h in the city, 30 km/h near schools. 

Other road rules in Thailand worth knowing

Below I list some important regulations that tourists should also be aware of. These regulations are governed by the Land Traffic Act B.E. 2565 with an update in 2022 and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act B.E. 2551:

  • Helmets - Drivers and passengers riding scooters and motorbikes are required to wear helmets. Not wearing a helmet carries a fine of up to THB 2,000.
  • Car seats - children under 6 years of age or under 135 cm in height must be transported in car seats or on booster seats in private vehicles. Fine up to THB 2,000
  • Seatbelts - Wearing a seatbelt is compulsory. Fine up to THB 2,000
  • Prohibition of alcohol consumption - it is prohibited for the driver and passengers to consume alcohol in vehicles on public roads (including taxis and tuk tuks), with the exception of vehicles parked in the car park outside your home. Violation of the regulation carries a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to THB 10,000. Of course, driving under the influence of alcohol is prohibited.

How to drive in Thailand - typical driver road behaviours

The first rule of driving in Thailand is: don't trust anyone. Really, never lose vigilance and never assume that the driver in front, beside or behind you will act rationally. On the contrary, be ready for anything. Don't assume that someone will let you pass, or that they will stop at a red light. Here are typical driver behaviours on Thai roads:

  • Blinking headlights - indicates that the driver has no intention of stopping to let you pass.
  • Drivers are mainly interested in what they see in front of them. I would urge people to nevertheless keep their eyes to the rear themselves and also take an interest in what is seen in the mirrors.
  • Driving against the flow of traffic, most often happens to motorists
  •  Switching on the wrong indicator or not switching on any indicator at all. 
  • Slowing down to low speeds hundreds of metres ahead of a planned exit or stopping abruptly at the last minute 

  • Motorbikes squeezing in front of your car at traffic lights, even when you are already moving off. 

  • Not knowing how to use speed-change lanes - this is a nightmare. Drivers want to get into the main lanes straight away and even the outermost ones. This is why it is so common to see sudden stops in the middle of the road with a completely empty speed-change lane.

  • Using the left turn lane by motorbikes to go straight - if you are about to join the main road and you spot a motorbike on the left turn lane, wait until it passes. In most cases, the driver has no intention of turning, but instead goes straight on.

Surprises on the road in Thailand

Jak się jeździ w Tajlandii, niespodzianki na tajskich drogach

In Australia, kangaroos pop up on the roads, in Poland, roe deer, while in Thailand you may encounter: 

  • Monkeys - monkeys tend to stay away from main roads, unless they are roads in areas where they live. Occasionally, however, a monkey may run across a road out of nowhere.
  • Snakes - snakes on the roads are most easily encountered during the rainy season after dark. Motorbike drivers should be particularly wary of snakes
  • Water monitors - like elephants, monitor lizards don't care at all when cars are driving. 
  • Dogs - stray dogs, so-called soi dogs, literally love to bask on Thai roads. The common sight is a dog lying asleep in the middle of the lane. The best part is that these dogs have no intention of getting up at all, it's up to drivers to avoid them.

Should we always follow the locals?

You know that saying "do like locals do"? Well, when it comes to riding in Thailand, I don't advise following this rule when it involves following the rules. What a local can do, a foreigner cannot get away with. If locals drive without a license or drunk, you never do it. You will be in big trouble if you get into an accident.

Driving in Thailand from my perspective

After what I have written, it seems like driving in Thailand is some kind of bad experience, yet it is not. I enjoy driving on Thai roads because people drive relaxed and unaggressively. Drivers have more patience and if someone takes longer to park then the rest wait patiently. Horns are used really rarely.

Thai roads are not as sprinkled with signs as Polish roads. If there is a sign, you pay attention to it straight away.  

Against all appearances, I find driving in Bangkok quite pleasant, apart from the traffic jams. At first glance, those motorbikes squeezing in everywhere can be frightening, but once you're behind the wheel, it looks different. The speeds are low enough that you can react accordingly.

Are you looking for inspiration for a road trip in Thailand? Check out these posts:

Thailand in a two week, itinerary in southern Thailand with kids
South of Thailand in 2 weeks

Route from Hua Hin to Koh Lanta and back, via Ranong, Surat Thani, Krabi, Chumphon.

plan podróży Chiang Mai Tajlandia z dzieckiem
Chiang Mai and North Thailand

Northern Thailand tour: Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao, Chiang Rai, Mae Kampong

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