Conventional Expat wisdom is that everything in Thailand is dangerous so its best to avoid it.
A prime example is driving.
Conventional Expat wisdom is don’t do it. If you have an accident, the Thai’s involved and the police will conspire against you and screw you. Better to keep your head down, be safe, and stay out of trouble.
Conventional Expat thinking may be right about caution being the prudent course, but if you adopt that strategy life would be pretty boring and you’ll end up missing many of the unique pleasures of Thailand.
Driving in Thailand can be a ton of fun.
It is the only country that has a decent road system and absolutely no enforcement of the traffic laws. Sure there are periodic roadblocks where the police allege you were speeding and ask for a couple of hundred baht (less than $10 USD) but 99.99% of the time you can go as fast as you want and drive how you want without fear of serious legal consequences. Skill, judgment, and prudence are the only limiters and arbiters on your driving style in Thailand.
The problem is that it is virtually impossible to get on all the great roads with decent machinery underfoot.
The picture below is of the road between Bangkok and Lampang. This is not the fastest way there but my friend and I took it for variety. We had to drive up and back and didn’t want to drive the same road twice.
If you just want to make good time you can take the divided highway all the way (see the picture above).
We wanted to enjoy the drive and took an alternative route over secondary roads.
This road is relatively open but with a worn road surface—slabs of concrete where, over time, the slabs have shifted making the road a succession of bumps, some quite severe. In the U.S., they would be described as frost heaves but with no frost in Thailand I don’t know what the locals call them.
In the pickup we were driving, the slabs set up an unpleasant rocking motion and the shocks were never really able to absorb the bumps and settle down.
I would kill to get one of the newer sports cars with active suspension and All Wheel Drive on this road, really open the car up and see what a modern state of the art suspension, engine, and software can actually handle.
I would kill for the chance to separate the advertising hype from real road reality.
For the non- car enthusiasts, active suspension is where the car has sensors mounted on each wheel and the spring and damping rates are constantly modified by the cars computer to adjust for bumps and road irregularities.
Active suspension comes in different forms. Some cars have electro-magnetic fluid in the shocks or electrically actuated shock valves which allows the damping the be changed instantaneously. Some can actually have four different spring and damping rates running simultaneously— a different one on each wheel.
Other cars have roll bars whose stiffness is adjusted electronically and semi-automatically by the car.
Still others allow the car to tap the brakes of one wheel, cut power to one wheel, and shift power from the front and rear drives depending on the road conditions.
In the US, the roads are so good your rarely encounter a real test for these cars and if you did find such a road you risk financial disaster and the loss of your license if you really opened one of the cars and let it run.
I would kill to be in the seat of an M3, a Porche Cayman, 911, or even a full size Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-series, run the car up to over 100MPH entering this curve and see exactly how much of the rough road the suspension and electronics could neutralize.
Run the car up to 80-100 MPH, enter the corner, turn the car, hit the gas and see what the suspension and electronics can do and how much power the engine, tires, and electronics can put onto the ground.
Now that would be a hoot.
Here is another section of road but with a good road surface.
I would dearly love to get a good traditional sports car, one without electronic aids or high tech gadgetry, like a Mazda Miata, Lotus Elite, or a lowered properly set up Japanese rice burner on this road, spin the car up and drift the car through this corner at the limits of the suspension and tire adhesion.
In the U.S., this habit would almost certainly end up with a suspended license and a drawer full of expensive citations.
In Thailand, no one cares.
The problem, of course, with both of these scenarios is Thai tax and import policy.
Any car not made in Thailand is heavily taxed and there is also a tax on displacement. There are no domestically produced reasonably priced sports cars.
The luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes cost several times what they cost in the U.S. and they come with lawn mower engines and truly shitty power to weight ratios.
Click here for the Audi price list and be prepared for sticker shock if this is the first time you’ve priced cars in Thailand.
Look at what happens to the price if you try to get the A6 with decent power.
An Audi TT comes with a 2.0 liter that makes 200hp. This car costs $40,000 USD in the U.S. and almost $150,000 USD in Thailand.
An Audi A6 comes with a 2.0 liter than makes 200 hp. This car costs $115,312 USD in Thailand and comes with a lawnmower engine.
For only $60,000 USD the same car the comes with a 350HP 4.2L V8 in the U.S.
Both of these cars cost 2 or 3 times as much as they do in the U.S. where they come with almost twice as much horsepower.
So the Yin of driving in Thailand is the road are great and there are no police.
The Yang is that you can’t get a decent piece of machinery on the Thai roads to enjoy them unless you are filthy rich and have no problem flushing a ton of money down the crapper.
It must be nice to be a rich Thai dude with billions of baht to burn!