Highway to the Danger Zone

Driving in Thailand is a treat for the adrenal glands. I’m sure those little endocrine workers have acquired an exaggerated sense of self importance during our time on Koh Samui since they’ve been busy pumping out stress hormones every time I get behind the wheel of our car. While I’ve gotten used to the intensity of driving here, there’s simply no such thing as a “relaxing drive” for me on this island.

Brian and I adjusted to left-hand traffic once before during our time in England and Ireland. However, we were driving a right-hand traffic rental car then since we’d gotten it in France, where they follow the same rules of the road as the United States. Here in Thailand, we’ve had to adapt to the steering wheel being on the right side of the vehicle. Needless to say, it’s a little awkward at first. The turn signal is where the windshield wipers normally are, so you can probably guess which one I flip on before making a turn. Changing gears with the left hand feels bizarre, so I wind up checking and rechecking to be sure I’m in the right gear before letting my foot off the brake. Even scolding the girls for their backseat bickering is strange. I always turn to the right out of habit and wind up giving my evil eye to the driver’s side window. The simple act of operating the vehicle is enough to get my adrenalin pumping a little bit.

Now add to all this the fact that traffic in Thailand is CRAZY! And I don’t mean “crazy traffic” as in heavy, slow-moving traffic. I mean crazy as in some-of-these-people-clearly-have-a-death-wish traffic. Scooters swerve between lanes or pass on the shoulder, some of them carrying entire families. Cars dart out into oncoming traffic and shoot by other vehicles with the smallest margin of error imaginable. Vehicles park along narrow roads, which results in others squeezing by them at incredibly high speeds. (Slowing down is evidently for wusses.) The roads are curvy, the directional signs are often poorly placed, and did I mention the whole death wish thing? Bah! It’s exhausting!
Scooter traffic

There’s also the whole dog issue. As we’ve mentioned in our post about our volunteer work here, Koh Samui has a large population of stray dogs. Evidently, the place where all the cool stray dogs hang out is…in the road! Sometimes they’ll nonchalantly stroll out of the way as though it’s a butterfly coming at them instead of a high-speed box of metal. This compounds my driving stress, because I think the most traumatizing thing my animal-loving children could ever witness would be their mother killing a dog with a car.

One amusing part of driving here is the fascinating spectrum of vehicles we see on the road. Trucks loaded with palm branches and scooters with tricked-out platform sidecars are common sights. During the morning commute we see pickups with a dozen or more locals standing in the back for their carpool ride in to work or school. We’ve even seen several trucks full of coconuts with monkeys, the highly skilled coconut harvesters, sitting on top of them.
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Koh Samui Public Transit
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Palm truck on Koh Samui ring road

One thing we certainly can’t complain about when it comes to driving in Thailand is the scenery. While most of the island’s main roads are jam-packed with stores and restaurants, our quiet area on the south side is much more rural. We pass coconut groves and lush jungle hills. I’ll make a turn and get a panoramic view of the ocean.
View from the road
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The natural beauty can make a trip to the store seem like a scenic tour…that is, until I’m jerked back to Thai driving reality when an oncoming pack of scooters darts into my lane and zips around a truck full of monkeys and coconuts. Ah, the joys of driving in Thailand!

About the Author

Tracey Carisch

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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