I'm sure that some of you have already experienced Thailand to some extent, but unless you've actually ridden or driven yourself around Thailand, especially up country outside the cities of Bangkok or Pattaya, there are things that you'll need to be aware of.
The only thing that's really predictable about local driving habits is the "unpredictability" of it. Saying that, it's by no means intolerable. If it was, I wouldn't even consider bringing people over here to spend their money on something that might give them more fear than fun. The Quality of the roads and Highways is quite superb, aside from the occasional site of road construction which we try to avoid.
It doesn't take long after you arrive here, to notice that it's a bit different from "back home". Vehicles with 2 wheels are not given much respect by many locals. There may be times that oncoming traffic will decide it's safe to pass and you'll be expected to move over. The leader of the tour group will do his best to try and avert this, but it may or may not be effective. Always keeping a safe distance between yourself and the rider or vehicle in front is the best policy.
When you see a vehicle parked on the side of the road, pay attention and leave yourself an "out", as he may be getting ready to make a U-turn with no regard for traffic. Dogs and small motorbikes can also be an issue, but the risks are minimized by scanning both sides of the road and maintaining safe distances. There will be many areas that we ride, with very few of these potential hazards, but as we are travelling through small communities and habitated areas, you must pay attention. We don't go "blasting" through these places as we are not here to cause havoc or upset anyone. As foreigners, we really owe it to the locals to show respect.
When in the mountains and twisty bits, never assume that the oncoming traffic is going to maintain their line. It's one of those "things" that you just can't figure out. I've been here for several years and have yet to come up with an explanation. Unless you can see "through" the corner, always stay to the inside of left handers and to the outside of Right handers.
Thailand has Highway rules on the books, but due to lack of enforcement, most of the locals just do what they want. It's up to you to be aware and look out for your own and your fellow riders safety. We have a couple of the bikes with electric Stebel horns which will alert almost anything or anyone to your presence. The other bikes have Hella 110DB horns which are also quite effective compared to stock horns.
The use of Horns and Headlight dippers is encouraged. Probably your best insurance against unwanted occurences is to make sure that man and beast are aware of your presence.
Typical Thai Driving Habit’s.
* They seldom use indicators
* They typically have "tunnel" vision, not noticing anything except what's directly in front and sometimes not even that.
* They often cross centre lines and cut corners
* If someone is pulling to the left, whether it's a 4 wheel or 2 wheeler, good chance they are getting ready to make a hard right U-turn.
* L.H. blink can mean its safe to overtake, or maybe not?* R.H. blink can mean it's not safe to overtake?
* Thais will normally expect a vehicle with 2 wheels to be travelling no more than 60 or 70 Kmph, so don't expect them to be able to judge your speed.
* Thais will overtake another car into oncoming traffic if they feel there is room for more than 2 vehicles on the road , and you will be expected to get out of the way. Honestly though, if you see a bus or large vehicle that needs time to pass and they make their move , we need to just slow down and let them get back into their lane. What happens sometimes though, is that the traffic behind the bus or lorry will tag along directly behind and you may not even see them. Once in awhile, you see some blatant #@%$#^ pull out at the last second and that's when you need to be aware. Thankfully most of the roads have decent hard shoulders. This is the main reason for using the headlight dipper when you see a long line of oncoming traffic, as there will no doubt be some people trying to get around a slow moving vehicle. Just expect it and you won't be taken by surprise.
* They may drive erratic and move around the lanes, even on a perfectly straight road
* You will see 2 and 4 wheel vehicles driving towards you on the wrong side of the road. I did figure this one out! If it's to far down the road to make a U-turn, why not take a short cut? Nevermind that you've got oncoming traffic at 100 clicks.
* They will get on your tail, overtake you, only to turn left directly in front of you. Normally we don't mess around and keep a brisk enough pace to distance from drivers like this, but once in awhile you'll see one that's just being stupid. Maybe he just can't stand the thought of anyone being in front, or something? If someone is getting to the point of causing a problem, we pull over and let them go. Let them have their accident on their own.
Traffic Lights and Intersections:
* Traffic lights tend to be an indicator only, locals will often keep passing through lights a few seconds after they are faced with a red light
* Always look behind when pulling up to a red light. The guy behind may not even notice that you are stopping.
* They will start pulling out before the light is green.
* Left on a red light is allowed (keep the left lane open)
* The people in the oncoming right turn lane at an intersection, without a doubt will take off before their light is green, so you need to watch before going. They will all expect you to yield, contrary to traffic rules in our countries.
Defensive driving tips:
* Honk the horn at any time if you feel threatened or unsure about a vehicle or person on the side of the road. Pedestrians can give you as much grief as anything. If you can get their attention, chances are they will stay put. Honk on blind corners.
Honk the horn at any animal near the side of the road, Typically a dog will not traverse across if they notice you beforehand. If there is a dog actually in the road and you are getting close, try to direct yourself towards its tail. Not always the case, but normally dogs will not turn around on you. Cattle are another story though. You'll see the farmers grazing cattle on the side of the road, normally they stay put, but if spooked they can be quite unpredictable. We just slow way down.
* Hold a tight line around L.H. bends and a wide line around R handers.
* Scan continually, it's the only way to really be ready for the unexpected.
* Do not jump a traffic light and still look both ways before proceeding
* The lead rider of the tour will obviously try to avert any situations, but it can go the other way also, due to the unpredictable behaviour of the local's and their animals. Just pay attention. We will always keep a safe distance between riders, but we'll also try to ensure that the lead rider is within site of the trailing riders, so hopefully the people behind the tour leader will see what's happening up front and have more time to act accordingly.
* Cattle Dung and such can be quite slick and also makes us alert to the fact their may be animals in the near vicinity. Pay attention.