After reading a tweet by Mr Ajarn.Com about driving in Thailand, I wanted to put forward my thoughts on driving in the Land of Smiles.
I have owned and driven my car for nearly two years, living in the suburbs of Bangkok, driving both in the city and in the countryside, and despite many concerns from non-drivers in Thailand, it has been a mainly positive experience.
However, as a passenger in taxis, minivans, motosis' and buses before, I can appreciate the other side. This is why I think driving here is great.
Firstly, if you are a public transport user, you are travelling on the same "crazy" roads, but without the control. You still have to get to the same places, but do so in less comfort, with more waiting and as rainy season approaches, the probability you will get wet, and the worry caused by a driver you don't know and seemingly has no concern for his own life.
Driving may not look great, but against that competition it seems a good deal.
When you say you are a driver here, most non-drivers will shudder with worry at what they see as lawless race tracks / death trap roads, and when I was a non-driver, I felt the same.
However, in the driver's seat, with the help of your mirrors, it is very different.
I can't pretend that the first time I turned into a road to find a motorbike with 5 people on it driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the road without lights, it wasn't an eye opener. However, quite quickly, you get used to the idea of "expect the unexpected", and you learn to plan for it. When the policeman on his bike did it this morning, it felt quite normal.
In the absence of signage, warnings and other "safety" features from the West, you take personal responsibility. My peripheral vision is now much wider, I see things that could be potential trouble a long way away, and avoid them. The crazy lorries, buses, racing cars, bikes, the lanes ending, the potholes and elephants I slow down, avoid, simple.
Also, and if you aren't in the driver's seat, you wouldn't notice, but my average speed is a lot lower, normally around 50mph here, whereas in the UK on expressways it would be 70mph minimum.
Although the roads appear lawless, as with Thai culture in general, there are lots of rules which are known but seemingly not written anywhere. Once you learn them, it really is fine. Yes it looks dangerous, but it's predictable and becomes natural. Yes traffic is bad, but not much worse than London. Yes there are horrendous accidents in the papers, but genuinely in my two years I have only seen one personally, on the other side of the road.
It seems there are a large number of accidents at Songkran (when I don't drive through personal choice) and in the early hours of the morning (when I don't drive through personal choice). If I drove a motorbike, I would be a lot more worried about this, but touch wood, in a car, it is much safer.
What about the boys in brown I hear. Again, this problem is not as advertised. The police ignore cars and minivans in favor of the serious criminals, motorbikes without helmets, pick ups without the correct strapping, lorries without paperwork, so as a car driver it is no problem.
I have been stopped twice, both times when I had broken traffic laws in direct sight of a policeman. It has cost me 200B in "on the spot fines" so far.
Financially, my car costs around 10,000THB per month, but as it runs on LPG it is very cheap to run. My weekly costs are the same that I spent on transport to school. Additionally I used to spend about 5,000THB plus a month on taxis to private work, friends, entertainment and others.
Now I can do more other work and activities.
When you factor in that cars hold their value really well here, when the car is paid off I will be in a better position, owning a saleable asset and having no costs.
The final and biggest benefit is the freedom and independence driving a car gives you. If you want to go somewhere, you can, without waiting, without getting wet, without wearing headphones, with air con at a temperature I can control, without stressing about the suicidal van driver, or the taxi driver taking you round the houses. It's that simple and it is a joy.
My life is much fuller and more varied since I purchased the car. I do more, go more interesting places, don't waste time waiting and feel safer in traffic.
I don't know any Thai person who moans about safety of public transport. They buy a car. And I don't know anyone with a car who has gone back to public transport. Added to the above, I would say if you live here, can afford it and it would benefit your lifestyle, don't be put off.