Driving in Phuket

So you want to drive a car in Phuket? Well, there are a few things you need to know before you hit the roads if you want to avoid the roads hitting you. They say that if you can drive in Phuket, you can drive anywhere. It is estimated that there are over 30 million vehicles in Thailand, and with rapid improvements being made to the highways and road infrastructure, these cars, bikes and trucks are getting faster and faster.

Cars in Phuket

There were an estimated 20,000 deaths due to road accidents in 2005 in Thailand. That’s a pretty scary statistic, especially as the majority of deaths occur as a result of speeding, collisions with motorcycles, or drunk driving.

If you are keen to drive in Phuket, it’s best to approach the situation with some knowledge of how the roads function. Coming here fresh from driving in another country won’t do much for helping your cause. Locals drive down the wrong side of the road, motorcycles cut in and out of the flow of traffic, pedestrians leap out into the road, and if you get hit, the chances are that you will end up taking at least some of the blame.

Follow these handy hints and you’ll be sure to avoid becoming Phuket’s next road kill:

One of the biggest risks is of hitting a motorcycle. You should always keep an eye out for them as they zip from lane to lane without a care in the world. You’ll see entire families speeding along on the back of a motorbike, as well as an assortment of intriguing characters, some intoxicated. They won’t pay much attention to you, so it’s up to you to pay attention to them.

Back home, you will be accustomed to drivers flashing their lights to let you go, either at a junction or an intersection. In Phuket the rules are slightly different. If a driver flashes his lights, it means he wants you to get out of his way, and if you don’t he will likely plough into you in catastrophic fashion.

You might be stopped by a policeman on your travels. If this happens and the law has anything to complain about, you’ll be forced to go to the police station unless you offer a little cash incentive. These bribes are what keeps Phuket ticking and they are really no big deal. Whatever you do, don’t hold your money out of the window. Keep it out of sight of passers by, in your hand somewhere the policeman will see it. 2-300 baht should suffice. He’ll take it discreetly and it’ll all be over before you know it. Failing to give a bribe will cause you grief in the long run.

Be wary of commercial vehicles, such as taxis and buses, as there are usually handled by the most aggressive drivers. They won’t often give way and will change lanes at the drop of a hat. Also be careful not to suddenly slow down at any point, or else you’ll end up causing a pile up as most Thai drivers are not renowned for allowing for breaking distances.

Remember, if you are driving in Phuket, you are required to have an international driver’s license or a Thai driver’s license. A license from your native country is not officially accepted, though it can get you by some of the time. You shouldn’t come across too many problems, but you could just as easily be stopped and fined. An international driver’s license is just a form of your own license remade into a universal format. You can get it in your own country.

To get a Thai driving license, you will need to apply in the province you live in. Call the main Bangkok office on 022792959 to find out where your nearest branch is. You’ll obviously need a license from your own country to start with, and you may need to show a work permit. Thai licenses are valid for one year. The Phuket Provincial Land Transport Office is in Phuket Town on Rattanakosin Song Roi Pii Road, opposite Soi Sakdidet 1 and Soi Sakdidet 3 (076-211-019, 076-220-792, 076-214-930, 076-214-929, info@phuketlandtransport.th.org).

Documents you will need are:

  • Passport with non-immigrant visa
  • Confirmation of Address
  • Health Certificate
  • International driving license or national driving license
  • Two passport photos

Arrive at about 8:30 am and be prepared for a day of tests and exercises. With a bit of luck, you should come out with a Thai driving license.

These tips should help get you on the road and out of trouble. Once you’ve mastered the art of gliding between the bikes and the occasional soi dog, you’ll be fit to take on the traffic anywhere in the world. Consider Phuket life practice for international driving.

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