The Unspoken Rules of Driving in Bangkok


viaBangkok’s article as seen on What’s On Sukhumvit

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If you’ve mastered the art of driving in Bangkok, you’ll survive driving anywhere; this includes India and China. Driving in Bangkok has morphed into some sort of Survival of the Fittest challenge, and everyone is a participant. At first glance it is difficult to see the subtle and delicate codes of conduct at play, but with a proper understanding of them, you can be sure to maximize your travel time, and perhaps minimize your road rage!

As soon as we take the driver’s seat our demeanor changes. Gone are the Thai smiles and patience when it comes to driving; perhaps it’s a sense of protection we receive from being in an enclosed space, or we feel in charge behind the wheel and the confidence gets to our heads, or even that we manage to convert everything into a game. So what exactly are the unspoken rules? These are a few that come to mind.

The Non-Emergency, Emergency Lights

This involves parking on the roadside, where the pavement is clearly marked white and red, to run a small errand that is probably not an emergency. Put your blinkers on, and voila problem solved. All drivers, without flinching or evening questioning it, will drive around you as though its 2nd nature; regardless of if you have blocked an entire lane and caused a massive traffic jam.

The Sly Intercept

Sometimes there is only one lane allocated a turning lane, and the queue can be anywhere from 100 meters to 1 kilometer. It is advisable to take the second lane all the way to the front and cut into the turning lane the very last second possible second. As a byproduct, you can enjoy jamming both the turning lane and the lane that goes straight.

The Leeway in Traffic Light Signals

I am convinced that the traffic lights in Bangkok are operated by someone who loves taking long naps. Only in Bangkok can a red light last for as long as 30 minutes. For this reason, red does not necessarily mean “stop”. It just means, glide past the red light. It’s customary that the last few cars can trickle past. Who knows when the next green light might come around? It really depends on the light-operating policeman, and how much he enjoys his naps.

The Invisible Zebra Crossing

It is a common misconception that pedestrians have right of way at a zebra crossing. That’s why Thailand’s roads often become a spectacle for epic games, as pedestrians, hawkers, and bicycle riders face off against cars, while the cars are busy facing off against trucks and buses. However it is still important to have zebra crossings as it gives character to the road.

The Zig Zag to Nowhere

Switching lanes is considered both an art and a hobby on Bangkok roads. Some do it for fun and sheer joy, while others try desperately to save a couple of minutes in travel time. The key is, to be the first mover to the next lane, when you notice your lane start to slow down. All the rest will soon follow and that lane will slow down, so you switch back. Join the vicious cycle, or just stay in your lane and you’ll probably meet up with the “zig-zagger” a few kilometers later anyways.

Driving in Bangkok is all about the art of overtaking and cutting corners. The truth is, we have all given into these subconscious driving etiquettes at one point or another.

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