Unexpected Dangers Of Renting A Car in Thailand
Whenever you set out upon a journey in a foreign country you expect to be surprised. That’s part of the allure, isn’t it? The novelty? Well, what surprises you when you set out to drive or rent a car in Thailand is potentially hazardous – even deadly – so you may want to be informed before you head out. As an attempt to leave as much to your own discovery as possible while still educating you enough to keep you from becoming crimson asphalt decoration, I present this article on some of the dangers of driving and renting a car in Thailand that you would not see coming until it is too late.
First off, one of the dangers of renting: Unscrupulous rental shops. It is incredibly common in Thailand for a motorcycle shop to run a particular scam. This is called the passport scam because, obviously, it involves your passport. When you go to rent a scooter from a shop in a tourist trap like Phuket or Koh Samui you are probably going to be renting from a member of, or a person protected by, a family that has owned the land on the island since the beginning of recorded ownership. These people serve as the defacto law enforcers and can literally get away with murder. To you they are the operator of a junky little shop. But they make quite a good living thanks to their status. Want to rent a bike? They’ll request your passport as collateral plus a deposit. Deny them and they may not rent you a bike, or require a big cash deposit. Either way they’ll assure you you’ll get your passport or deposit back when you bring the bike back. But when you do return the bike, lo and behold, it has been damaged in some way. Possibly some way it was damaged before you took it, or possibly due to no fault or your own, or maybe scratched on one of the dirt roads. It doesn’t matter. You will now be extorted. Argue and you may find yourself in a potentially violent situation.
Now let’s talk about a couple of the road hazards you’re likely to encounter. Number one, big rig trucks. Just like everywhere in the world, trucks are the most common way to move goods in Thailand. At night they are all over the bigger roads. In some parts of the country those bigger roads might be little more than a goat path to you or I, so if you’re traveling in the less urbanized areas of Thailand you can expect to share the road with enormous trucks that do not have any intention of sharing the road with you. Now, don’t get me wrong, the 18 wheelers and buses that are speeding along the expressways aren’t all driven by bloodthirsty, egotistical, chemically-alert macho men. But some of them are. And those just do not care about the comfort and well being of your puny vehicle. They are unlikely to intentionally run you off the road, but try to cut them off and expect them to brake for you and you are in for quite a nasty, and short-lived, surprise. In other words don’t think these elephants are afraid of mice. If you’re squeamish or inattentive on the road you may want to restrict your driving to the daytime. But do not forgo a country drive. On the way from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai you can see orchid farms and waterfalls and all manner of beautiful wonders both natural and manmade.
Another road hazard you’re definitely going to run across (but hopefully not bump into) are the lunatic motorcycle riders that zip around all of Thailand’s roads. Mostly these are little bikes no bigger than a 125. After all, how much horsepower is needed to comfortably ferry a 50 kilo human three miles at a time? But these little bikes and their miniscule riders are skilled and fearless. They will weave through traffic. They will ride into oncoming traffic and they do expect you to know how to react because their countrymen all do. Yup, look out for motorcycle is not just a clever bumper sticker in Thailand. It’s how much of the country ends up not getting stuck to a bumper.
Until next time.