The Unspoken Rules of Driving in Bangkok

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If you’ve mastered the art of driving in Bangkok, you’ll survive driving anywhere; even 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 can be difficult to see the subtle codes of conduct at play but with a proper understanding of these unspoken rules, you can be sure to minimize both your travel time and even your road rage!

As soon as we take the driver’s seat our demeanor changes.

Gone are the Thai smiles and patience when we get behind the wheel; perhaps it’s the sense of protection we feel from being in an enclosed space, or the confidence going to our heads from the feeling of being in charge, or maybe it’s that we manage to convert everything into a game.

So what exactly are the unspoken rules of Bangkok’s roads? 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 even questioning it, will drive around you as though it’s second nature, regardless of the fact you have blocked an entire lane and caused a massive traffic jam.

The Sly Intercept

Sometimes there is only one lane of the road allowed to turn at a junction, and the queue can stretch anywhere from 100 meters to 1 kilometer.

In these cases, it is advisable to take the second lane all the way to the front of the queue and cut into the turning lane at the very last possible moment. As a byproduct, you can enjoy jamming both the turning lane and the second lane intended for cars going straight on.

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 for the last few cars to continue trickling past.

Who knows when the next green light might come around? It really depends on the policeman operating the lights 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 competitive games, as pedestrians, hawkers, and bicycle riders face off against the cars, while the cars are busy facing off against trucks and buses.

What are the zebra crossings for then, you may ask? They give character to the road, of course!

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 are just trying desperately to save a couple of minutes of travel time.

The key is to be the first mover to the next lane as soon as you notice your lane start to slow down. All the rest will soon follow and then that lane will slow down, so then you’ll need to switch back. Join the vicious cycle or just stay in your own lane – you’ll probably meet up with the “zig-zagger” a few kilometers later anyway.

 

Driving in Bangkok is all about the art of overtaking and cutting corners.

The truth is, we have all given into this subconscious driving etiquette at one time or another. How else are you going to get around?

Are you brave enough to drive in Bangkok? How many of the unspoken rules do you follow?

 

Featured image is by Captain Kimo and used under a Creative Commons licence

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