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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Driving on Phuket

Driving on Phuket Thailand.

If new to driving in Thailand but intend to have a go in Phuket you might want to peruse these tips before you start. Although there are many many places worse for driving in the world, if you are only used to driving in Europe or US, it can come as quite a shock to be faced with the dynamics of the Phuket road. Although the great majority of tourists who drive get on and adapt and enjoy it, driving in Thailand doesn't cater for the faint hearted, so be careful.

Driving on Phuket. Kata and Karong beaches
Might is right.
If you are driving down the Thepkrassattri Rd from Phuket Airport towards Phuket Town you will be on the main artery for Phuket Traffic. These means you will be on the road with all the trucks coming down from Bangkok and other provinces. Many of these truck drivers have driven non stop through the night to off load in Phuket and often do not take a break. With out sleep, often on a lot of caffeine they are pumped up to driving fast. They don't take any nonsense, and believe they are in the right. Keep out of their way!

Meek has some significant powers.

The other key aspect of Thailand roads is that all motor bikes have great protection in Thai Law. The motor bike is the transport of most of Thailand's villagers and for many of the poorer people and in an accident situation between a westerner and a motorbike driver, it is all too easy to create a blame culture where the foreigner, who cant defend himself in Thai, is wrong.

Driving on Phuket, Driving amongst the bikes
Motor bike riders are everywhere and there are probably 5-10 bikes to every car on the road at any one time. I have seen up to 5 people on one bike. I have seen 10 year old's driving bikes and so there a can be a carelessness and randomness to the way they are driven.

Keep clear of the bikes! The way to do this is always check your rear view mirror on the undertaking side, at any real movement from your lane. Motor bike drivers drive on the inside lane, even if they are going faster than a car or truck, and so can come up underneath you without any notice.

Another way to keep clear of the bikes is to drive in the middle or the fast lane, though you will have to have a speed to justify sitting in these lanes.

Tour Buses and Taxis in Phuket
Similar to the Trucks on Phuket, Taxi Drivers and tour bus drivers some can be paid for results, miles driven and so there are some very aggressive bus drivers on the road. If you see what you think is aggressive driving, keep clear.

Going over the hills on the windy roads
Just after a dry patch of weather, often in March and April, the oil from any badly kept cars trucks and bikes which has spilt onto the road can be a very dangerous hazard. As the rain falls it combines with the oil and makes for a deadly slippery surface. The main accidents happen with motor bikes and especially when going over the Patong Hill down into Patong Beach. Take extra care during the rain.

Loi Kratong, New Years Eve, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year (Songkran).
The main festivals in Thailand are often celebrated with Whisky and beer. Driving after 3pm during Loi Kratong, New Years Eve, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year (Songkran) can have the added excitement of drunken driving.

Road Works.
On the hole, the roads in Phuket are good but potholes are an issue on the quieter roads and there are regular road works. Often there is no warning for road works and the first time you know there is any obstruction is when you are right on top of them.

Traffic Lights on Phuket
Traffic lights in Thailand have a peculiar variation that is worth commenting on. At quiet times in the day they get locked into a flashing amber mode. The idea is there is no right of way. As you approach the lights you must check to see if there is any traffic and avoid it. Often the wilder drivers just drive through without looking too much because it is not a red light.

Traffic is an issue on the from about 7.30-9.00am and then 4pm-5.30pm most days but especially during the Thai school terms which are November til April and May till October.
  • by-pass roads near Phuket Town at Sam Kong and the Central Festival (Thai Naan ) intersections
  • the main Patong- Phuket road
  • Phuket town north for 1.5km on the Thepkrassattri Rd
  • Phuket town south for 1.5km on the Chao Fa Road (from Chalong to Phuket Town)
It rarely gets badly snarled up but it does take time to run through.

One great system Thailand has on traffic lights is a count down shown above the lights between red lights. This allows you to know how many seconds before the next green lights. I think they should employ in the rest of the world. It is an excellent system.

Thai Law insists that you cannot move the vehicles from the scene of the accident. In fact you cannot move them at all until okayed by the insurance companies. This is because all accidents reports must be written from the last position for the vehicles involved. It is worth taking some pictures if you have a handy camera to remind yourself of the scene.

Be insured
I all things be insure and be insured for a comprehensive cover. The reason for this is that accidents do happen in Phuket and it is great to be able to phone the Insurance company. They will have English speakers who will argue your point as they are definding the insurance claim agaisnt their company. In this situation you will not need to to try to get involved with the other party.

Death toll
Last time I heard a statistic, 20-30 people die a month on Phuket Roads each month. Many of these accidents can be attributed to late night speeding, drunkenness. An aweful lot of these accidents involve carelessness on motorbikes. It is rare for tourists to get hurt. Be ever awake!

Car Rental
Driving on Phuket; getting a jeep down the sea front
There are the standard car rental places with standard saloon cars up by the Phuket Airport. Branches of Avis, Budget, PureCarRental can be found just outside the gates of the airport (on the left).

If that is not your scene, check out the jeeps on Patong Beach seafront if you like to get the air running through your hair.

Your Guesthouse Hotel or Resort
It's worth checking your Guesthouse Hotel or Resort in case it doesnt have parking. Some of the places in the back streets of Patong do not have onsite parking which can make having a rent a car a pain.

I love driving in Phuket. It gives me a totally different perspective from being driven around, a chance to explore a stunning island. Some people get upset with the style of Phuket driving but I marvel at it. It is an amazingly rich culture that can drive so freely without systems, and not worry about it so much. People get where they are going and life goes on.

Happy driving!



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