So, what side of the road do they drive on in Thailand? Left or right? If you plan to enjoy a road trip in this country, you need to answer this question first — or you might find yourself sleeping in a cell for a couple of months.
Thai people drive on the left side. The reason was that the British, the original left-sided drivers, influenced Thailand heavily on the traffic culture when cars first appeared in the country. In fact, the first driver in Thailand had learned how to drive back when he worked in England.
Now that you know this much, it is time to dig deeper. Uncover the root of Thai traffic, find out “interesting” Thai driving rules, and get stupified by Thai drivers’ misdeeds.
Why Do Thai People Drive on the Left?
As you know by now, Thai people drive on the left. And the reason is simple. However, if you google “why do the Thais drive left-sided,” you might find historically inaccurate answers like these.
Because Thailand was colonized by Britain (Wrong)
The answer couldn’t be more incorrect than this.
It might sound sensible since England is the most famous country to drive on the left. And back in the day, they had colonies all over the world. However, this is not the reason the Thais drive cars this way. Not only has Thailand never been colonized by Britain, but Thailand also has never been colonized at all.
Among the Southeast Asian nations, Thailand is the only one to maintain its independence during the colonial period. So, if you see an answer like this, do not trust it.
Because the first car in Thailand was British (Wrong)
Many foreigners seem to believe that the first car in Thailand was a present from the British royal family to the Thais. And that is not true. The first car appearing in the country was nothing as grand as that. (Source)
According to the correspondence between Prince Narisara Nuwattiwong and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Chaophraya Surasakmontri bought the first car in Thailand. He bought it from a foreigner whose name was not recorded. The car model and origin were also unknown.
Furthermore, the first Thai royal family car was not of British origin but German — the Mercedes Benz 28 HP. Prince Raphi Phatthanasak bought it as a gift to King Rama V in 1904.
The REAL reason Thailand drives on the left
Thai people drive this way because that is how they first learned it.
Since 1826, Thailand has had a friendly relationship with Britain. Many wealthy Thai families sent their members to study and work in Britain. And among them was Chaophraya Anutootwatee — Chaophraya Surasakmontri’s brother. (Source)
Since the first car in Thailand was manual-driven, and Chaophraya Surasakmontri couldn’t handle it, he needed a teacher. Chaophraya Anutootwatee, who had worked and learned how to drive in Britain, was his go-to person.
And from then, Chaophraya Anutootwatee taught his brother and many drivers that followed. Of course, his teaching was based on the British driving system: driving on the left. (Source)
Check out Why Was Thailand Not Colonized? to learn about Thailand’s relationship with Britain during the colonial period.
Will Thailand Change From Left to Right-Hand Driving?
No, it won’t.
You can probably imagine what would happen had such a change occurred. Yes. Chaos.
Thailand has been driving on the left since 1903. Changing it 120 years later would be difficult. People across the kingdom would be confused, and the law enforcers would probably be too.
Moreover, the budget for this project is going to be massive. The Thais would need to switch sides of all the road signs in the country. Not to mention repainting and rebuilding roads. They also need new buses with doors on the matching side.
Overall, changing the driving side for Thailand seems like an unproductive move. They don’t even have a decent reason to change.
Most countries that have changed their driving side have a good reason to commit. Like in the 1900s, many British colonies switched from left to right after regaining their independence to symbolize their freedom. Like the USA and many Arab countries. (Source)
Another good example is Samoa. They switched from driving on the right side of the road to the left in 2009. The reason was that importing left-sided cars from New Zealand was cheaper than the right-sided Americans. (Source)
Now that you understand the driving-left situation in Thailand, you might want to know more about Thai driving culture and an “interesting” traffic law in this country.
Well… Here goes:
Bizzare Thai Driving Law
In Thailand, if you take a clear photo or a video of someone violating traffic laws and report it, the police will pay you.
This law was passed in 2018 and became a public phenomenon. Since there are way too many traffic law violators in Thailand, you can make easy extra cash daily. And Thai people loved it.
After you submit your media, The police will give you half of the fine they collect from the offenders. If you catch a big case, you can win big money.
According to Thairath news, there was an elderly man who made a million THB by reporting cases to the police alone. And it took him only 4 years. He said he spent most of his free time as a retiree taking pictures and videos of traffic offenders around Bangkok. (Source)
For those coming from the “right” country, you might want to prepare yourself before you start speeding in Thailand. Try driving on the left in safe areas and get used to it. If that doesn’t work for you, you might want to find a local driver for your trip. Who knows? Your driving on the wrong side might be caught on someone’s camera.
Bizzare Thai Drivers’ Misdeeds
If you have been to Thailand before, you would know that the country’s traffic can get hectic at the drop of a hat. Not only because of poor road design but also Thai people’s relaxed attitude.
Some Thais are so laid back that they think breaking a few traffic laws is okay. And here are 2 extreme examples.
Driving on the footpath
A footpath was designed for pedestrians. You can walk safely while staying away from fast cars and motorcycles. However, such safety isn’t guaranteed in Thailand.
Not only is the footpath narrow and packed with street food carts, but you might also find unwanted motorcycles there. And they cause accidents all the time.
This offense usually occurs in Bangkok with its busy streets. But you can also spot it anywhere else in the country. Getting caught driving on the footpath would cost you up to 1500 THB (2000 in Bangkok).
Despite the penalty, lots of Thai riders still continue this crime. In 2019, there were 23,421 reported cases. The total fine was 15,566,800 THB. (Source)
Driving on the “right” side
After reading this far, you might think that you will never see a vehicle running on the right side of the road. Well… you would be wrong.
Many Thais, regardless of location, break this fundamental law on purpose. The reason for it is simple. They wanted to get to a nearby destination but didn’t want to drive to the much further away U-turns.
This offense is not limited to motorcycles either. There are reports of pick-up trucks committing the same stunt.
Aside from life-threatening danger, this could cost you up to 500 THB of fine. And if an accident happened, you could get thrown in jail for up to 3 months. (Source)
In Short, Just Be Careful and Drive on the Left
Since the first car appeared in Thailand, the Thais had been driving on the left. And it will remain this way for a long time. Maybe forever.
Your road trip inside Thailand will be fine. Just don’t forget that you are driving in a foreign land. Respect their law, and they will respect you too.
If you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this fascinating country.