Every time I renew my driver’s licence I have the same old lame conversation with the Road and Traffic staff.
Just as they are about to take my photo, they say, ‘Smile.’
And I say, ‘No, I don't want to smile, thank you. If the police pulled me over and checked my licence they wouldn’t recognise me because there is no way I would be smiling.'
They get it, eventually.
So that’s why my licence photo always looks suitably sullen and displeased.
It got me thinking about what kind of expression I would have to wear on my licence photo if I lived in Thailand.
Clearly my eyes would have to be tightly shut and my mouth would have to be open, forming some kind of four letter word.
After all, that’s the expression I wore every time I travelled on the roads in Thailand. And I wasn’t even driving (we considered hiring a car but we didn’t have the psychological fortitude to take the plunge – bungy jumping and swimming with stingrays were seen to be less hazardous).
The traffic is something you have to see to believe (now I am not having 'a go' at the beautiful Thais but their driving may indicate that they have a death wish not only for themselves but for everyone around them).
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that some people have a need to live on the edge. Some like the thrill of riding fast motorbikes and rally cars. Some enjoy driving four wheel drives in rocky terrains and others just like seeing how fast their 15 year old cars will go. Gosh, there are even those who like the occasional game of Russian roulette. Thai drivers do it all. Every time they hit the roads. No matter what they are driving.
It’s not for the faint-hearted. If you happen to be from one of the few countries in the world who drive on the left side of the road (like we do in Australia) you have a slight advantage.
The official road rules are actually quite similar to what I’m used to but the rules of engagement are essentially Thai. The expression, put your life in someone else’s hands comes to mind. It’s a big call to get behind the wheel (and that also includes sitting in the back seat).
The general knowledge of any sort of road rules appears to be non-existent. Such things as overtaking at speed and signalling (even when turning across several lanes of traffic) are not practiced. By anyone.
Motorbikes will cut you up left and right at the same time. They will pull out in front of you and expect you to stop, all the time while pedestrians are weaving between traffic queues without seeming to notice cars and motorbikes heading towards them at 50 kms per hour and a few centimetres away.
In the country where the roads seem to be appallingly potholed in places, there are no rules given the local drivers have had to drive round these hazards for years. They will use the bit of the road without holes. That’s why it may be possible to find yourself on entirely the wrong side whilst someone going in the opposite direction passes you on their wrong side.
Compared with Western countries the passing of a Thai driving test is a mere formality which takes around 10 minutes in a car park with cones. Until you pass this test you can drive anyway without ‘L’ plates if you are with another driver. In fact you can probably do that with the whole family on your bike or piled into your car. Seat belts are not a requirement.
We mainly caught Tuk-tuks to get around.
On one trip we met this gorgeous driver called Mr Sam. He had driven us to various areas around Phuket (taxis are cheap) and during a near miss with a bike we asked him if he rode a motorbike as well. He said that he did but not as much now given he'd had an accident some years earlier and was badly injured. He then completely turned around in his seat, while still driving, took off his sunglasses and showed us that he only had one eye. Oh.... I hadn’t noticed.
So if you want to drive in Thailand not only do you have to have a driver’s licence but you should also possess these other must haves that locals clearly possess in abundance: a permanent smile (even on your driver's licence), nine lives, the patience of a holy-man, eyes in the back of your head, a crystal ball, the reflexes of Michael Schumacher (and heavy medication just in case it all goes pear shaped because it may take some time for an ambulance to rescue you in that traffic).
So who is up for travelling to South-East Asia to check out this dangerous pastime? It’s actually very good fun! Once you live to tell the story, that is.
Another giveaway – one lucky commenter will win a Thai scarf. All you have to do is leave a comment by 11 Dec and by some magic hocus pocus and a clever algorithm a winner will be selected.