DRIVING – AND SURVIVING – IN PATTAYA
I think everyone is aware of the very poor record that Thailand has in relation to how many accidents, and deaths, there are on the roads every year and the latest set of figures that have been released only confirm it.
Driving in this country can be a hair raising experience, especially for the new arrival. I have been in Pattaya for over ten years and having driven both cars and bikes for all that time, I have a few observations that may help the newcomers on our roads among you to avoid a few pitfalls along the way.
Around three quarters of all fatalities happen on motorbikes. As in most South East Asian countries, the motorbike is used by the vast majority of people for obvious economic reasons, hence the heavily skewed figures. In spite of this it is my much preferred way of getting around in the city, mainly because you can judge more or less what time it will take to get to any given destination. If you’re using a car or truck in Pattaya, a journey can take 15 minutes one day and an hour the next, depending on the time of day and especially the time of year. After the recent pandemic we have yet to see the return of hundreds of coaches clogging up the roads but if they return this coming high season, you’ll see what I mean.
Firstly, keep your eyes open, for everything. You do get used to driving here and it does feel fairly safe to get around after a while. At least in the city. Pattaya doesn’t quite have the manic traffic of Bangkok, but has enough not to really allow the lunatic speeds which are the main cause of most accidents, along with alcohol, in the provinces. Just expect anything to happen and the road sense you’ll need here will come to you with more experience.
You should certainly keep an eye out for one of my personal favourites, the overtaking bike on your outside when you’re already indicating to go right. It goes like this. You’re driving along and are due to take the next right turn. You move to the right and indicate to do so. As you’re slowing down to either turn right or stop altogether and wait for the oncoming traffic to clear a lunatic food delivery driver will overtake at great speed on your right. It’s now only luck that will decide if you turn right as he arrives and you both get sent to a better place. I know it sounds insane, but before you turn check your rear view mirror for this, just in case.
A recent fun addition for both drivers and pedestrians is the crossing that half the drivers on the road ignore and don’t stop for. Let’s forget for the moment the crossings that are just put down at any busy intersection, where the traffic never actually stops completely, leaving the hapless pedestrian doing some sort of involuntary break dance in the road to avoid the oncoming vehicles, and concentrate on the crossing where a button is pushed and the traffic is told to stop on a single road. If you are the first to arrive here as the light goes red you have a dilemma, especially on a bike. You want to stop to allow the person to cross, but you are also aware that there is every chance that the vehicle coming up behind you will ignore the signal and go straight through. If there is a space to pass then no problem, except for the people half way across, but if there isn’t, then you could well be in the way. Again, when coming to one of these crossings and having to stop, keep a sharp lookout in both mirrors for anything coming up at speed behind you.
I would not want to put you off driving in the city. To me one of the great things about Thailand is the ability to ride a motorcycle every day and use it as my first mode of transport. It is still a very cheap and effective way to get around and adds a great deal to life here, whether just visiting or in the long term.
Don’t drink and drive. It is one of the great curses that the country has to deal with and is the main cause of the appalling figures that we see year after year, and they certainly don’t want us adding to them.
You will get used to the way things are done here and you’ll see some strange sights too. My own personal record is seeing five people on one bike but I have heard reports of more! Watch out for loaded trucks too. You won’t believe how inventive the locals are at getting the seemingly impossible on the back of their vehicles. Most of all take care when you’re out on the road. Keep your eyes open, your mirrors clean and stay safe.