In the US, “Asians are VERY bad drivers” is a pretty widely-used stereotype. In college my friends and I would tease our Chinese friend about said stereotype because he’d gotten more traffic tickets in his 3 years of school than the rest of us combined had ever gotten. In the past three weeks of traveling through Southeast Asia I have changed my mind about Asian drivers. They are the BEST drivers in the world, and I will go to the mats with anyone who says otherwise!
My first daylight exposure to the roadways of Bangkok was a very trying experience. Imagine playing Frogger, but if Frogger had ADD. Frogger knows he should keep hopping his little green butt safely from log-to-log, but there are just SO MANY other frogs, and really fast colorful logs that drive on the other side of the road, and stands of delicious smelling food EVERYWHERE. Thats the best way I can describe crossing the street. I’ve adopted the philosophy “treat every street crossing like it’s your last because you might get smashed by a rogue motorbike and die at any one.”
Traffic laws in basically every city we’ve visited are more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule.
Rule: Drive in the left lane.
Practice: Drive in the left lane most of the time. But just kind of hang out in the middle unless there is oncoming traffic.
Rule: Use your turn signal to pass someone
Practice: When you’re getting close just honk the horn a few times to let them know you want to be in front. Usually the other driver will move into the right lane or the shoulder so you can continue driving straight on in the left lane.
Rule: Yield to pedestrians.
Practice: If pedestrian A is crossing the street at 3km/h, and pedestrian B is crossing the street at 4km/h how fast does motorbike A have to take the corner to avoid hitting both pedestrian... Meh. They’ll just move. Probably.
We booked a tour to take us from Pai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos from a tour agency. For $53 this tour included a 9 hour minibus (11-seat van) ride, the 14 hour slow-boat ride down the Mekong River, one night of accommodation, and 3 meals. Not even half way through our minibus ride the two vans park on the shoulder of a highway and the drivers start speaking very animatedly with each other. Our driver tells us that 2 people from our van will be moving into the other vehicle and a passenger from that van will be joining ours. When a man that could have been the life-cast for one of the grumpy-old-muppet men walks into our van he is very displeased. He’d made the other driver so mad with his complaining and back-seat driving that the driver kicked him out! When he took his seat in our van asks us “This driver doesn’t cross the double yellow line too, does he?” To which we responded “uuuhhhh... yeah. He does. Literally every driver does.” Angry-muppet-man then starts muttering “It’s not gonna be my life... That guy drives like a maniac!.. bloody stay in your lane...*tsk* *angry huff* *tsk”.!
If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia and you aren’t prepared for some white-knuckle car-rides you’re going to have a poor time. Most cities are very densely populated, and that doesn’t take into account the throngs of tourists. The fastest way to get anywhere is by motorbike. In some of the larger cities there are even taxi motorbikes that you hop on the back of. The second fastest mode-of-travel would be the tuk-tuk. (For those in the audience who aren’t familiar with the tuk-tuk refer to the attached picture.) The tuk-tuk drivers are generally fearless, and if you don’t think you’re going to die once per ride than you’ve never ridden in a tuk-tuk. The downside is that they’re more expensive and basically brand you as a tourist. There are also A LOT of tuk-tuk drivers so they’re always trying to get your business. (After this trip I’ll have nightmares of zombie-spiders saying “hello, lady! You need tuk-tuk? Royal temple, city tour, night market? Hello, lady! You need tuk-tuk?”) Finally the taxi. Cheap(ish) and reliable, a taxi will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go... just a tad more slowly. But they’re air-conditioned, so it’s not a hassle.
So back to the paragraph #1 stereotype. The yearly death-toll of traffic related accidents in Thailand is 4% of ALL deaths. That is an insanely high number, but it should absolutely be higher. How anyone can drive here without being distracted is beyond belief... I’ve literally seen a person riding an elephant on the highway and not a single vehicle showed to gawk. I think everyone in the US are the worst drivers and we all just need to start taking our DMV tests in Bangkok.