Text: Gerald Yuen / Photo credits: Google Street View

Driving in Bangkok can be a rather daunting task, especially for Singaporeans used to a certain style of city driving. Although Bangkok is also a city with its fair share of start stop traffic, there is more than meets the eye when we roam the challenging tarmac of this bustling metropolis  – we cannot underestimate the sheer scale of Bangkok-registered vehicles – almost 10 million and counting!

Left turns at junctions are possible when the lights are red, unless…

Have you encountered occasions where a constant stream of cars turn left at a busy junction even when the lights are still red? That’s because there is a sign which states (in Thai) that vehicles are allowed to make a left (or not). But do watch out for oncoming traffic, as delivery bikes might take advantage of this by cutting in from the fastest right lane to make a sudden left to beat traffic.

Blue sign: vehicles can turn left when the lights are red, but watch out for pedestrians (and oncoming motorbikes!)
White sign: drivers need to wait for lights to turn green to turn left. Sounds like common sense, but…

You can drive straight on the left most lane when the lights are red, unless…

Another scenario that’s similar to the above, but this time vehicles are allowed to drive straight on the left most lane at T junctions, even when the lights are red. It’s tempting if you’re stuck in the middle lane to swerve left to go straight, but it’s dangerous as locals familiar with the neighborhood can drive at speeds in excess of 50km/h on the left most lane, knowing that this lane will never be confronted by delays. If unsure, just stop, let someone behind give you a honk, and off you go. It’s better than scooting off without due diligence!

Makes you feel invincible, but please be careful!

It’s a number’s game in the parking spot

We pulled up at a local supper spot and were wondering why a lane usually packed with parallel-parked cars was totally empty. Something must be fishy and yes, there was a sign that stated “no parking on odd-numbered days” (in Thai). Which means you are able to park on the other side of the road, most likely reserved for parking on even-numbered days. Making a trip to Bangkok on Singapore’s National Day on the 9th of August? Remember to slot in at parallel lots meant for odd-numbered days! Or if you have a hard time finding the sign, monkey-see-monkey-do, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

No parking on odd-numbered days, which explains the empty lane.
“No parking on even-numbered days” – is this fella in trouble?

Tollway gantries are common sense, until…

Tollways are crucial when driving in Bangkok – it could save drivers hours during peak hour traffic, but there will also be instances where both tollways and regular roads are so jam packed that we might as well save the fees and crawl on Sukhumvit Road, soaking in the sights and sounds. If you happen to encounter a tollway, keep left as the right few gantries are often reserved for the automated “Easy Pass” (or Touch ‘n Go in Malaysian speak). When you enter one that requires cash payment, do not be tempted to drive pass the gantry if they are up. Some gantries are open but still require payment. And some gantries blend in so well with the background (some have poles so short, measuring one-third the width of your car) that we might find it tough to figure if they are in operation.

Green arrow, no gantry, but we’ll still need to stop and pay!
Gantry is up, lights are still red – will the truck make a dash?

Shoulder lanes are grey areas

Like in most countries, shoulder lanes on expressways are reserved only for emergencies – breakdowns and for ambulances to carve through peak hour traffic. It’s slightly tricky in Bangkok though. There is a rule that states vehicles are not allowed on shoulder lanes, but do not be surprised if the traffic police encourage you to take the shoulder lane to form an additional “left most” lane. Your blind spot becomes very important here as vehicles will attempt to squeeze through the left and take advantage of the shoulder lane.

Altis shouldering the responsibility – good luck to the driver!

Are you ready to tackle Bangkok tarmac?