Have you ever played a game of Frogger? That is essentially the same game you are playing when driving a motorbike on the roads in Thailand. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Thailand has the second deadliest roadways in the entire world. That is a great deal of pressure put on your shoulders while making your way to teach every morning. It is not all doom and gloom though as I have gathered the skills to face these automobile challenges and bring you this article. Rest assured as I have sat down with some of the best farang minds in Surat Thani to compile a multitude of suggestions to ensure your safety on the road as you seek to educate the youth in the Land of Smiles.
- Go With the Flow
The concept of going with the flow is not just a lifestyle practice for the classroom but can also be transitioned to your journey along the roads. Often times you will find that the flow of traffic supersedes basic laws of the road. The light’s red but cars are still proceeding? You may as well too lest you are bumped out of the way by that truck behind you.
- Use Your Side Mirrors Liberally
Overtaking in tight spaces is much too common of an occurrence here. Stuck behind a car in a traffic jam? That won’t keep the local teenagers from speeding down that narrow space you allowed on your left at 40 kph. Other drivers will attempt to pass you and do so with little area to spare so it’s best you keep a straight line and check your mirrors and shoulders before moving to the left or right.
- DON’T Stop for Pedestrians
I know, this seems rather selfish and dangerous but if you see someone about to walk out in front of you it is best to try to swerve around them rather than stop. This is due to other drivers who will not be as courteous as you are and continue on past both you and the pedestrians. This only increases the danger for both you and those crossing the street.
- Beware the Spaces Between Stopped Traffic
I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have had a motorbike or pedestrian move out from between two stopped cars in traffic as I am petering down the motorbike lane. Twice now this has happened in the rain and caused me to slam on the brakes as my bike slid to the ground while I roll over the top of it. Luckily each instance I escaped unscathed other than being angered. Just keep one hand on the breaks as you pass stopped traffic (better yet, always keep one hand on the breaks). You never know what will pop out of the most unexpected places.
- Secure and Lock EVERYTHING
When you park your motorbike be sure to lock the handlebars to avoid someone wheeling it off while you are away. Helmets are important to secure as well. It is easy enough to just throw it on your mirror or seat but do not be surprised if it is missing when you return. I have seen instances of motorbikes and helmets being swiped and each situation was avoidable with just a bit more care for security.
- The Rain is Not Your Friend
Driving a motorbike brings enough concerns without the rain lumping on another. It seems that when it rains every driver in Thailand becomes a 15 year old girl taking her first driving lessons. Motorbikes slow to a snail’s pace, cars take simple turns with more caution than if a baby were in the road, and riders are more concerned with getting out of the rain than doing so in a safe manner. Combine these new obstacles with those previously mentioned and the rain becomes a nightmare to drive in. Also, the first downpour of the rainy season can be more dangerous due to the buildup of oil on the roads slickening with the water.
- You Aren’t Seeing Things, He’s Going the Wrong Way
Often times you will notice other motorbikes coming straight at you in your lane. Some drivers do this to keep from making U-turns or trying to avoid following general safe driving techniques. Give the lunatics the space they need so that you can move on.
- One Pothole, Two Potholes, Three, Four…
Other drivers are not the only concern for motorbikes. The roads themselves are out to get you as well. Try not and be surprised if you are driving along a smooth road only to have a pothole swallow your front tire and give you a nice bruise on your bottom. Random sections of road will turn to gravel with no warning. Raised drainage grates will give you a nice jolt if you do not avoid them.
Finding Your Comfort Zone
Driving a motorbike in Thailand is often a difficult adjustment for new expats but is in most cases a necessary evil. Not only may you be new to driving a two-wheeled vehicle but you also have to deal with soi dogs, poor driving of others, monsoon-like downpours, and illogical rules of the road. Take the time to practice. Be cautious during your first rides. Learn the intricacies and subtleties of driving a motorbike in Thailand.
*A big thanks to the expat community of Surat Thani for providing some great suggestions!
Moving to a new culture may require you to pick up a new skill. As an expat, what new ability have you had to adapt to better fit into your home abroad? Let me know that or any motorbike safety tips I may have missed in the comment below.
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