Getting around Phuket on your own motorbike or in your own car allows you the freedom to go anywhere without the need to adhere to bus schedules. It is also much more economical than taking taxis or tuk-tuks.
Driving in Phuket is not for everyone. The seemingly chaotic traffic patterns, and the lack of rules (as compared to the Western world) can be dangerous for those with a faint heart. However, if you do decide to traverse the roads in a car or on your own scooter, there are some things to remember.
If you’ve been driving here long enough, surely you’ve been stopped at one of the traffic checkpoints where police officers regularly check for driver’s licenses, valid registration and helmets. Before you leave your hotel or apartment, don’t forget the following:
- If you’re on a motorbile, always wear a helmet
- Make sure your registration is valid
- Make sure your insurance is valid
- Always carry your driver’s license
Wear a helmet
Not only is it the smarter, safer thing to do, but being caught riding a motorbike on Phuket without a helmet will cost you and your passenger 300 Baht when the police catch you. If you don’t already have a helmet, consider buying one with a clear face shield for when you get caught in the rain. Even tiny rain drops sting at 40 km/h.
Expired registration or no registration in Thailand will cost 500 Baht
Two months ago, I was caught riding without my tax registration “sticker” in Karon. It had fallen off the previous week, and I actually had my new one at home. This mistake cost me 500 Baht. Registration stickers look like this:
Be sure to have a sticker such as this affixed to your motorbike or car in plain sight to avoid fines from the authorities. The expiration date is written in Thai, so you can use this guide to make sure that yours is valid:
January – ม.ค.
February – ก.พ.
March – มี.ค.
April – เม.ย.
May – พ.ค.
June – มิ.ย.
July – ก.ค.
August – ส.ค.
September – ก.ย.
October – ต.ค.
November – พ.ย.
December – ธ.ค.
The Thai calendar is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar, so the year “2555” in Thailand is “2012” in the West.
In the example above, the registration expires on March 29, 2012.
Always have insurance
You wouldn’t even think about driving a car or motorbike without insurance in Australia, the US or the UK. The same is true in Thailand.
Motorbike insurance should be valid and carried on your bike at all times. It looks like a cash register receipt and may be inside a small envelope as in the picture below.
Car insurance policies are usually printed on A4-sized paper. Car renters should always check for this
Carry your driver’s license and your IDP
Before you arrive in Thailand, get an international driver’s permit (IDP) in your home country. It’s a passport-sized booklet which states what kind of vehicles you are authorized to drive translated into about eight different languages. This is not to be confused with an international driver’s license which is worthless in Thailand. IDPs are inexpensive and are valid for one year. You won’t be able to rent cars at international rental agencies without one. Always carry your IDP and your driver’s license or you may be hit with a 300 Baht fine.
At a bare minimum, carry your driver’s license from your home country. Even if you only hold a driver’s license for a car, and you’re stopped on a motorbike, you should be able to pass through traffic stops without a problem.
Planning on staying in Thailand for a while? Why not apply for your Thai driver’s license? If you arrive in Thailand with your international driver’s permit and valid driver’s license, getting your Thai license is not difficult at all and makes for an interesting experience.
If you plan to take a language course at Patong Language School or if you are thinking of becoming a TEFL-certified English teacher at TEFLPlus you might consider buying or renting your own transportation in Patong. Follow these tips and you will be able to drive legally in Thailand.