Driving in Phuket… safely!
Driving in Phuket, whether it is a bike or a car is fun and convenient, but most travellers underestimate the consequences of events going wrong. All it takes is a second and what was so much fun a minute ago turns out to be the nightmare of a lifetime. This page sums up 28 years of driving bikes and cars safely in Phuket and Thailand. It’s not meant to scare you, but if you keep in mind the facts listed below, you will reduce the chances of something going wrong by a large percentage. So take five minutes and read this!
1. When traffic lights turn green: watch right AND left first!
As you can see in this video, cars keep driving through the intersection much after their light has turned red. You must adapt to the local way to survive in different countries and habits. If you observe drivers around you, you will notice that bikes waiting at traffic lights always look right and left first (yes! Both ways!) before crossing
2. Have an international driving license
Even though bike rental shops will accept your home country’s driving license when renting you a bike, only an international driving license will work in case of an accident. If you only carry your local driving license, a ‘fee’ will be requested at occasional political controls.
3. Wear your helmet!
It seems obvious, but Phuket has been incredibly resistant to helmet laws. Tropical islands are hot, heads are light, and locals don’t seem to give a damn: they carry their helmets in the front basket of their bikes (to the point I wonder if it wasn’t designed solely for this purpose) and rapidly wear their helmet just at the last minute when approaching a police control (which location seems never to change). So wear a helmet when driving in Phuket! Yes, it is a bit hot, but the future of your holiday may depend on it.
4. Safety distance doesn’t exist in Thailand
One of my favourite topics. Many of us are trained to respect a certain distance between our vehicle and the one in front of us. Let’s say 50 meters. Try it and observe this: it will not take 5 minutes for a car to seize the opportunity and squeeze itself into that space. So you start complaining and cursing that guy, but soon you create a new safety distance, which instantly is filled with another opportunist car. It never fails; it’s hilarious. Try it!
5. Beware of ‘Ghost Riders’ and other weird things!
Ghost riders are incredibly common here; in case you don’t yet know what a ghost rider is, it is a bike driving on the wrong side of the road because it’s a lot faster for them to reach home than going all the way to the next U-Turn.
6. Always assume that the guy at the coming intersection didn’t see you
That could apply anywhere in the world, but I find this precaution surprisingly useful here. Make eye contact to ensure this old man on his bike saw you!
7. Learn your left brake from your right break!
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But try to squeeze with the front brake on a sandy spot, and you will understand, especially if a car suddenly breaks in front of you (see number 7)
8. Don’t underestimate how much you drank
This is Phuket, and the temptation is stronger than your good resolutions. The mood is very relaxed, and law enforcement is nowhere near what it is in your country. So everyone tends to drink a little more than they should before driving. Yes, you could make it home alive; most people partying in Patong seem to think so, but:
1) you might regret it for the rest of your life.
2) there are frequent police controls at the bottom of Patong Hill with an alcohol test. I went through it once, and it’s severe enough to end up in jail for the night (plus all the fines that go with the next day). No need to say that I was sober.
9. Keep your eyes on the car/truck/bike in front of you at all times
Too many fatal accidents occur when bike riders fail to notice a car/truck/bike braking hard in front of them.
10. Remember your plate number (or at least some parts)
You just rented this shiny Honda Click or any motorbike for what matters. It’s pretty, bright red, stands out nicely by the beach, and you feel happy. Great! Now it’s 2 am, and you had one too many beers, and you think you should be aiming to bed. But where is your bike? Suddenly all the bikes parked along the street (and there can be hundreds) are all red Honda Clicks! Have fun finding yours.
11. With great power comes great responsibilities
Yes, you can easily rent a big bike in Thailand with your home country’s driving license, which is irresistible to many inexperienced drivers. But the consequences of all the risks mentioned above suddenly become much higher when driving in Phuket. After just a beer (or two) and with the roaring power of a 600 cc engine between their legs, it seems obvious that some guys feel invincible. We saw enough crashes in the news to know that no one is!
12. Watch out for potholes and sand spots on the road
The condition of the back roads of Thailand can vary from not-so-good to disastrous; potholes are frequent, and construction sites are rarely indicated.
13. Get a travel insurance
International insurances always seem to be useless… until the day you need them. In the unfortunate case of an accident, you will be amazed at how fast your hospital bill can grow. The government even considered insurance compulsory, seeing how many people couldn’t afford medical treatments. In most cases, coverage provided with your rented bike is minimal.
14. Emergency Phone Numbers
Call 1155, the tourist police number and call an ambulance if necessary. For an Ambulance, call 1554. You might hear all kinds of stories, but you will stand better chances with an English-speaking police officer, even if just a little.