Newcomers to The Big Mango are usually overwhelmed their first time in a vehicle. Cars, buses, tuk-tuks, songtaews and literally millions of motorbikes buzzing around like angry bees. I’d need all my fingers and toes to count the number of expats and visitors I’ve heard say, “I could never drive here”.
I used to be the same way. Bangkok did seem like one big chaotic beehive. For the first 3 years I never sat behind the wheel of a vehicle in Thailand. Then one day, as I was being chauffeured about by my first Thai girlfriend, I marveled at her ability to navigate this metallic mayhem. There she sat, barely able to see over the wheel of her hulking Mercedes Benz, talking on the phone, adjusting the air conditioner, tuning the radio and fluffing up her Doraemon collection on the dash. She sensed me watching and my amazement. “The secret” she said, “Never go too fast, never make a sudden move and never ever come to a complete stop”. For the next 20 minutes I watched her adhere to this short list of absolute axioms to perfection. As it turns out, that’s all you really need to know.
Now I’ve driven all over Thailand and half of Malaysia. The most treacherous place I found was in Phuket with its wicked mountain roads full of idiot tourists on big fat motorcycles. The most frustrating is unpredictable Pattaya with its never ending construction projects, double-decker Chinese tour buses and road-raging Russians at the wheel.
If you don’t think you can’t handle driving in Bangkok, I have a solution for you. Don’t even try. Getting around is actually much easier and cheaper if you just learn how to get from A to B without driving. I’ll give you an example.
I had just finished work in Lat Krabang which is just South of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. I was scheduled to meet a friend for dinner and drinks at a place on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Anyone who knows Bangkok traffic knows that getting from that “A” to that “B” at 7 PM on Friday could easily take most of the night. So, I hopped on a Songtaew provided free by my employer and took a 10 minute ride to the Airport Link at Lat Krabang. From there I took a comfortable 30 minute ride into the city exiting at Makkasan station which is actually connected by a sky bridge to the subway at MRT Station Petchaburi. From there I went to MRT Sukhumvit (only 2 stops), road up the escalator to the BTS Skytrain Station Asoke where I planned to finish my trip by going one stop to Nana Station and walking the 50 meters to my destination. When I looked down off the sky bridge the southbound lane of Sukhumvit was clear so I dropped down onto the road and took a 40 baht taxi ride in air conditioned comfort. The whole trip took 45 minutes and cost just over 100 baht. Not one nail was bitten. Not one expletive crossed my lips. Blood pressure normal.
Is Bangkok the worst traffic in the world? It depends on whether or not you get behind the wheel.