How To Score A Thai
The bad news is that probably won't be
able to get one. These little goodies are exclusive.
You need to possess the street smarts and charm if you expect Thai
governmental authorities to hand you over one of these. Stop
taking me so seriously! I'm
exaggerating about the charm and smarts. Still, don't count on being able to
automatically snag one of these luscious treats like you'd pick up a
new SIM card.
haven't been completely clean with you. One reason it took me six
years to get the licenses is because I wasn't eligible to apply for
them. For my first four years in Thailand, I came and went on a
tourist visa, although it was obvious to any immigration official
who cared that I was living here. Tourist visa holders cannot
You've got to have a non immigrant
visa. Already have one? Good for you.
Now you have two options to accomplish the first step.
Option 1: Visit any Thai immigration office and show
the authorities your rental contract or housing deed or some other
document which can prove where you reside in Thailand. There
is no cost for this service. This address will appear on the
back of your future Thai licenses. The immigration office I
visited in Bangkok didn't bother asking me for proof of residence.
Option 2: Visit your embassy, not so
convenient if you don't live in Bangkok. Your embassy will
authorize some kind of form, usually for a rip-off fee, which the
Department of Land Transport actually accepts. The U.S.
form reads: "Before me, Vice Consul of the United States of
America in an for Bangkok Metropolis, Thailand, duly commissioned
and qualified, personally appeared [AMERICAN SUCKER WHO PAYS THE
FEE, HEREAFTER REFERRED TO AS SUCKER] who being duly sworn, deposes,
and says: 1. I, [SUCKER], was born on ..." and the citizen
lists his birth date, city, state, country, passport details,
employer, and resident address. Suckers pay $50 for this
service. As far as I know, neither the U.S. Embassy nor
any other embassy wastes the effort verifying that you really live
at the address you state. With how profligate embassies
are with taxpayer funds, wasting money on address
verification might be something embassy officials can consider in
the future. If you're an American reader, petition your
senator or congressman (who will ignore you anyway) to consider
wasting more money on senseless tasks nobody cares about.
First step over. Congratulate
yourself. Now you'll want to get your driving happy fingers on
a medical certificate. There is
a certain format for these certificates, and although any medical
clinic can weigh you, check your blood pressure, and ask if you
suffer from elephantiasis or dementia, not all can issue you the
results in the medical certificate format the Department of Land
I tried to get a medical certificate on the cheap at
the Red Cross Clinic. They test for HIV and hepatitis, but
aren't authorized to state you're breathing. I had to go down
the street to Bangkok Christian Hospital, where you can salute Jesus
as you're examined, and pay $17 for the privilege of a medical
doctor telling you you're alive. I've since discovered that
there are a plethora of clinics charging $3 and as a low as nothing
for the same assessment.
One fine Tuesday afternoon, I drove my motorbike over
Department of Land Transport. There are four branches in
Bangkok, and you're supposed to go to the one nearest to where you
live. I doubt it much matters which branch you visit.
For those residing in another province, you have to visit a
provincial land transport office. You'll find out where the
nearest office is soon after you arrive in a new province. I
was unable to find a succinct Thai-wide list published in English on
The internet is full of information, a lot of it
conflicting or dated. I was convinced I'd have to fill out a
few pages of Thai forms to apply. I managed to find those Thai
forms in advance online and some other good samaritan explained on
his own site what each of the form entries mean. In my
knapsack was a copy of this form, already filled out by me in Thai;
a copy of my main passport page; a copy of my non immigrant Thai
visa; my latest entry stamp; and my entry card. I also had a
few passport photographs at the ready.
The conventional wisdom had me thinking I'd probably
be able to avoid taking the driving part of the examination based on
having a valid driver's license from a recognizable country.
Would the Department of Land Transport authorities honor, say, a
valid Nepalese or North Korean driver's license any less than they
would a European Union or American one? No one will go on
record with that answer.
I still figured I'd be on the hook for the written test.
Signage and driving customs can differ across borders. I
wasn't overly worried if I had to take a written examination.
The test is available in a number of languages besides Thai, English
among them, and you're given preparation materials in your own
language. You can rent cars and/or motorbikes for just a
couple of bucks to take the driving test, if required.
All my preparation was for naught. Once I
sussed out which desk handled Thai driver's license applications,
all I had to do was pass the staff my photocopied information pages,
my passport, my residence and medical certificates, and an existent
driver's license. I had brought both the American and
British ones. On the back of the British license, it
clearly delineates which vehicle types I'm permitted to drive, so
the transport officials selected that one as my credential
guarantee. I had to fill out no forms.
Nor take written or driving tests. A
peripheral vision test was it. I stuck my eyes through a
view finder and had to indicate what color light was blinking on my
left or right. No color perception or vision test was performed.
Photographs aren't necessary either. You will
be seated in a chair and a digital photograph taken by the staff.
Insure your shirt isn't inside out like mine was. A temporary
one year motorbike and driving license will cost less than $10
combined. Just before these are about to expire, you can renew them
for a five-year span for less than $30. I have a
Canadian friend who forgot to renew. Now he's driving around
with his motorbike with no license, and if he decides to acquire
Thai licenses again, he has to do everything from scratch. He
should stop smoking so much weed and get with the program!
Driving In Thailand
You've got the driver's
licenses, whether the cool Thai variety or a foreign one.
What's it like driving around the Kingdom?
Driving in Bangkok is like driving nowhere else in the
country. Go onto YouTube and look at videos of Bangkok in the
1940's and 1950's and see Bangkok for what it was:
a collection of small villages that got swallowed up into a
megalopolis without the infrastructure to match. The late
1990's saw the launch of the Bangkok Skytrain and of mass rapid
transit systems, but there still aren't many stops and those stops
don't go to every nook and cranny in the city. Compare
Tokyo's and Seoul's mass rapid train systems to Bangkok's, and
you'll see huge discrepancies. Bangkok's came late and
covers little by comparison. As a result, more people buy
more cars to generate more pollution for more people.
Today's Bangkok has expressways with very inexpensive
tolls by Western standards, and they can be packed like
regular roadways in other countries. You can't take
expressways everywhere. You will have to drive on
regular roads, narrow roads which were designed for far
fewer cars and people than live in modern-day Bangkok.
On a drive to Pattaya, it took me
forty-five minutes just to get out of town. For my
day-to-day needs, I prefer to get around by motorbike, asI can weave in between the cars and actually get from point
A to B faster than it would take me in a car.
Parking spaces, even for a fee, are not a foregone
conclusion here unless you're visiting an upper tier
shopping mall which features free basement level
parking with a validated ticket. Outside Bangkok,
apart from key travel centers like Phuket City, Pattaya, and
central Chiang Mai, traffic is manageable.
Be cognizant of a few points on your driving adventures
In Thailand, traffic is on the left, and most
of the time, unless otherwise specified, you can make a left
turn on a red
light. This won't stop motorbike drivers from driving in
the opposite direction to make a convenient right turn.
It's less pressure to drive a motorbike than a car in trafficked
areas because with a motorbike, you have to watch out for bigger
cars to insure your wellbeing. In a car, you have to be
ever more vigilant so as to not knock over a motorbike that may
daringly turn in front of you and come at you from the wrong
Thais aren't strict adherents to the rules.
Traffic lights are but guideposts. If a Thai driver,
particularly a motorbike driver, thinks he can make it
through a red light, he'll go through one, and there are
rarely policeman around to stop him or reprimand him.
According to a statistic published in The Bangkok Post,
only about one in four people obey the crash helmet law
stating that a motorcycle driver must wear a helmet.
When a policeman is around, it's usually to your
detriment. Policeman in Thailand tend to be
positioned at busy intersections where you have to slow down or
stop. If you have a foreign face that can't pass for
a Thai, the policeman will stop you for some
infraction. How legitimate are their reasons?
Not so long ago in Hua Hin, I was driving along a curved road
beneath an underpass, a road I'd traveled on literally over a
thousand times before with no incident. I noticed several
policemen had stopped and pulled over a lot of other vehicles,
for what reason I have no idea. A policeman signaled for
me to stop, but I pretended not to see him and drove on.
Had I stopped, I would most certainly have been given a ticket
for one reason or another improvised on the spot.
Policemen in Thailand will not typically chase after you, though
on one occasion a policeman did and caught up to me, and I
played stupid like I hadn't seen him. When you are
stopped, you will have to show a license. A foreign
license has always done the trick for me. The fine, for
whatever I've been stopped for, is 500 baht, and the policeman
demands you hand over your license as collateral until the debt
is paid. You collect your license within so many
days at the nearest police station after you pay the fine.
In practice, you can slip the policeman 200 baht, about seven
dollars, and walk away with your license on the spot. When
I've been short small bills, I've offered just 100 baht, and
it's worked. These police 'stings' no longer bother me.
If I were stopped for legitimate cause in the West, a ticket
would be $100 or more. These small drops in the
bucket are best thought of as road taxes.
Speed limits seem to be nonexistent.
Rumor has it that the limits are 80 km/hr, but I've yet to see a
posting this or policemen around with speed guns to enforce such
limits. This lack of a real speed limit can be dangerous.
Roads are unevenly maintained, particularly some distance
outside of Bangkok. We were driving in eastern Thailand
once and, all of a sudden, the roads became potholed. If
you were driving at speeds to your heart's content and
encountered a deep enough pot hole, you car could flip over or
be badly damaged. Thailand ranks 73rd out of 177 on a list
of road traffic fatalities. Reckless speeding has a lot to do
with it. If living life on the edge is your thing, it
should be a blast driving at 150 km/hr outside Bangkok. Have a
grave plot picked out in your own country in advance.
Life doesn't appear to have the same value over here as
it does in the West. An affluent Thai involved in
an accident can buy his/her way out of it. Doesn't matter
if the other driver is killed or seriously injured.
I've seen Thai drivers moving at lightning speeds, weaving in
and out of lanes with a derring-do that could get them killed --
and in the West, stripped of their license.
Some of these drivers must've been drunk. Drunk driving
isn't legal in Thailand, but if you have don't have policeman
stringently policing the roads and performing random
breathalyzer tests and inflicting penalties on enough
miscreants, then drunk driving becomes something that is legal
and accepted de facto. Drive as if there are no rules but
as if you want to continue being alive.
Have a good insurance policy.
Legally, when you renew the plates on your motorbike or car, you
must prove you have insurance. You can buy insurance at
the Department of Land Transport, which is what I did when I
renewed my motorbike plates for another year. This
insurance isn't very costly, under $20 for the year, so it calls
into question how comprehensive this insurance is. Does
this insurance cover your damaged vehicle, the other party's
vehicle should it be your fault, medical expenses for the other
parties as well as yourself? I've been told
often, but have no proof, that whenever a foreigner is involved
in an accident with a Thai, it's always the foreigner's fault.
This wouldn't surprise me at all. I cannot imagine Thai
experts coming to the scene of an accident and taking
photographs to prove liability. The party least
familiar with the system -- that would be you -- is the one more
likely to get taken on a very unpleasant ride.
Have fun and make sure your will is up to date.