When driving in Bangkok

When Driving in Bangkok

Exploring Bangkok by road is definitely one of the best ways to experience what this amazing city has to offer. Yet driving in Bangkok is quite challenging. There are a few things you have to learn.

I got a driver’s license in Bangkok at 20. But I haven’t done much driving since then given Bangkok’s convenient MRT and BTS Skytrain systems. With traffic in Bangkok shockingly chaotic, driving in this bustling city can sometimes be scary. But it doesn’t mean safe driving in Bangkok is not possible. For complete novices at driving, here are some handy tips or tricks.

Learning from the start
In Thailand, the driver’s seat is on the right and the passenger’s seat is on the left. Also, we drive on the left hand side of the road. Both the driver and front and back seat passengers must wear a seat belt. Most parking and warning signs are usually in Thai so it’s important to make out what’s written on the signs.

As for the driver’s license, Thai citizens are eligible to apply for a driving license to drive their own vehicle at the age of 18. For foreign tourists, you may use an international driver’s license obtained from your country to drive temporarily in Thailand. However, if you’re going to be here for the long haul, it’s better to get a Thai driver’s license by contacting the Department of Land Transport. If you have a driver’s license or international driving license from your home country, you may be exempt from some tests.

Getting around
With its confused urban planning, Bangkok continues to grow in a somewhat haphazard way. So it’s easy to lose your way in the labyrinth of streets. On different roads, there will be small alleyways or sois along the way. Some streets are two-way and some are one-way streets. There are also shortcuts and deadend streets everywhere. Therefore, it’s important to study the route before embarking on a journey. Google Maps serves as a useful starting point, but it may not tell you the exact location of the place or how to get there easily. If you know you’ll have to drive through different sois, then spare some time and be prepared to get lost.

No Parking

This no parking sign
reads, “No parking
on odd days, from
6am to 8pm.”

Parking in Bangkok is a hassle. In most department stores, you have to do reverse bay parking because of mostly narrow parking spots. With the car park full, one’s usually allowed to park right in front of another car in a bay. Always make sure you leave your transmission in neutral and never pull the break handle so that your car can be pushed out of the way of the one that’s about to exit the bay.

When you need to park by the roadside, be mindful of the side of the street you’re going to park. Look around for parking signs to figure out whether you can park at all times or during a certain period of the day, or on the odd or even days.

Beware of other road users
I’m talking about motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. Motorcycles swerve from lane to lane, and trailing behind too close can be dangerous. There are more and more cyclists these days riding alongside motorcyclists and cars especially when bike lanes are sometimes taken over by roadside food vendors. So be careful of the vendors as well.

As a driver, you also have to be mindful of pedestrians. When you see a crosswalk or zebra-crossing, slow down and stop for pedestrians to cross the street. We share the same road, so please be courteous to one another and drive safely!

Born and raised in Bangkok, J. Pakchuen studied English and translation at Chulalongkorn University. Currently, she lives in Washington, D.C. where she works as a translator, interpreter, writer, and tour guide.