Most people arrive in Thailand promising themselves they will never drive a motor bike, the roads are just too hectic and unsafe. There are plenty of statistics supporting the fact that Thailand’s roads are amongst the most dangerous in the world and at Songkran this danger is amplified considerably. Although I can’t verify this, these statistics could be even larger, as only people that actually pass away at the site of the accident are included.
However, many of those adamant they won’t drive, slowly start to ride on the back of someone’s bike. This leads to asking a friend to show them how to ride, often in the car park of their condo or a quiet road.
Before they know it they find themselves venturing out onto the roads for the first time, more often than not long before they even have a license. Wow, imagine doing that back in your home country! But hey this is Thailand.
Once on the roads you actually find the roads are not as bad as you first thought and the madness actually flows mostly quite well. Now you have the freedom to move about without trying to find a Tuk Tuk driver who isn’t hell bent on over charging you for your 2 km journey up the road for lunch. It really is an experience when you are brave enough to do your first trip into the hills of the Sameong Loop or through the rice paddies of San Sai to Doi Saket.
To help you enjoy your new found freedom we have put together some tips to help you stay safer and understand how the roads work in Chiang Mai.
Follow the main laws; you do need a motorbike license to ride a motorbike on the roads in Chiang Mai or anywhere in Thailand. This can be an international motorbike license or a Thai motorbike license. The motorbike must also be taxed and once taxed the motorbike and you are automatically insured for up to 50,000 baht. However, be warned 50,000 Baht does not go far when in an accident here and your own holiday insurance or BUPA may not cover you while riding a motorized vehicle.
Get your bike serviced regularly. Check the brakes, the lights and the tire pressure. Low tyre pressure can severely hamper your bikes handling. Weak breaks have obvious consequences and you do not want to find they are not working as you are heading towards the back of a red Sangteaw that has suddenly decided to stop right in front of you!
Traffic lights, these are obvious aren’t they. Green means go, yellow means caution and red clearly means stop! Unfortunately, Thailand seems to consider traffic lights a little bit of a nuisance and the lights are often interpreted in a different way. Green means go go go, yellow means go and red only means stop after being red for at least 3 seconds.
I think it is much better to follow green means caution, yellow means caution and red means stop with caution. Even when stopping for red lights always move out of the main traffic flow as the person in the car behind you may be expecting you to follow a more local understanding of the lights, in other words might not want to stop!
Never rush to be the first of the lights. Once the lights turn green proceed with caution. Too many people presume as the light is green then it is safe to go which far too often is unfortunately not the case. Remember the other drivers might have been a bit too generous with their counting with the previously mentioned 3 seconds before red rule.
Drink driving it is obvious, but far too often ignored. There are just too many people that think drinking improves their driving and this contrary to popular belief is simply not the case! Chiang Mai is currently undergoing a crack down on drink driving that is targeting foreigners as well as the locals. According to several sources it is not fun spending the night in a Thai jail waiting to have a little hung over chat with the judge, not to mention the absolute horrendous consequences that it can obviously cause.
Another great tip is, lets to not try and copy our Thai friends who can chat and even text whilst driving along the superhighway. They have also mastered the art of driving with two and sometime three of their friends plus the dog on the bike. What could possible go wrong? Let’s just leave this one to locals!
Another traffic law that can see you receive hefty fines in most parts of the world is undertaking. Thailand is different and it appears not to be in the rule book. Here undertaking seems a perfectly acceptable driving technique whether someone is turning off or not. So when preforming any maneuver on the road do not forget to check all around and ALWAYS expect the unexpected.
Flashing! No, I don’t mean any indecent behaviour, I am referring to the use of lights on the car and what it actually means on Thai roads. In some countries in the world it is letting you know you can pull out or you can proceed. Here in Thailand, it is the opposite and it means STAY WHERE YOU ARE OR I AM GOING TO CRASH INTO YOU. A very useful tip to understand and remember in my opinion.
In recent years Chiang Mai has become increasingly popular with the Chinese, who love to hire motorbikes and explore the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. This in turn has brought a new issue. Expect them to JUST STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! Of course they need check their Iphones, read the upside down map or wait for their friends to catch up. Honking your horn does not seem to work in this situation. If they even bother to look, you will just receive a confused face as this is perfectly normal driving back on the roads of China.
Last but by no means least please! please! please! wear a helmet. God forbid you do get into and accident the most important part of your body deserves protection!
So there are our tips for helping to make Chiang Mai roads safer. Although the article is written in a jovial manner, this is of course a serious issue and we hope these points will help people to try to stay safer and avoid harm in the amazing city of Chiang Mai.