OK i admit I'm not the best driver in the world (although, in reality, I am), this post is for those who have some or no experience driving out in Thailand. Over the last year i've covered around 60,000 km, so I've been doing a fair bit of driving, but then Thailand is pretty big, so whilst getting about you can't help knocking up some miles.
The Pirate's tips to driving Thailand
1. Hold your own. Definitely relevant to driving in BKK. Hold your own. That means, pick a lane, and hold it steady. There will be Thai's lane swapping and diving from lane to lane to get 5 metres further in front. Let them. If you want to drive as safely as you can, try to stick to one lane, and hold you own.
2. Don't get involved in spats. Just like driving anywhere in the world, you will get frustrated in traffic... Idiots will want to slice you up, edge in front etc... Try not to get wound up. Bad Thai drivers will push you to the limit, but you're the one on unfamiliar terrain, so take it easy. Thai's are the world renowned masters at holding back pent up frustration, but you don't want to be around when one blows a fuse (anyone with Thai girlfriend or wife can back me up here).... You flicking the birdie at the Taxi driver might just be the final spark that blows the roof off...
3. Left is for slow. If you are trying to find a shop, street or building, stick as close as you can to the far left lane, beside the pavements / sidewalk, and even in city traffic you can pretty much drive as slow as you like. This is well known as the slow area, and it will be obvious to Thai drivers that you are looking out for something on that street.
4. Carry cash. Traffic cops are notorious in Thailand. If you are driving alot whilst in Thailand, chances are they will find a reason to pull you... By all means fight your corner, but have some cash handy, cos you don't want to have to visit the old bill shop in some obscure part of Bangkok (or Thailand) later on.
5. Don't be tempted to kill motorcyclists. Motorcyclists will surround you, effectively herding you in., The more driving you do in LOS, the more you will want to kill them.... But take a breathe and try to remember, they are road users too, and should be afforded the same space as a car. If they drive poorly and something happens, that's their look out; if you drive poorly and something happens, you could be in deep trouble, as well as have a very bad conscience to deal with.
6. Police stops. This is a good one. Having been stopped at least a dozen times by traffic cops, I have around a 70-30 ratio of escape (although lately it's going down). Cops will accuse you of switching lanes, driving too fast etc, plus general minor offences that often cannot be helped.
The cop stop game begins... My personal 'bottom line rule' is that I am never going to waste time going to the cop shop at some later date, and so there are only two possible outcomes in the cop stop game, you either get away with it, or pay a fine.
There are many tacts you can attempt, smiley, naive and friendly, this has worked for me before, i.e try to make the cop like you (you have more chance of pulling this off if done genuinely)...
Or, you could go the other way and assume a lofty stance and try to convince the cop that you are mighty 'VIP', thus scaring him into letting you go. This works better if you are a bit pissed off about something anyway.... This has worked for me also (and gone wrong as well, I should add).
The other trick I am trying lately is, if you are English speaking, and your girlfriend / wife is English speaking, and you have a cop bogging at you both through the window, I've found that if you show some Thai language skills, and also discuss things with your better half (in English) 99% of the time the cop won't have a clue what you're saying to each other.... As time ticks away, cop may get aggitated that more and more of his 'customers' are speeding by, or possibly he might even get freaked that you're planning to get him in trouble somehow - he may just let you go to save all the bother..... That has worked for me as well (discovered by accident).
The other great one, but rare, is travel with someone who is actually considered important in Thai society. I had someone in the back of the car whilst driving in BKK once, we were stopped, and my passenger (a lady) opened her window and smiled and said a few words. The cop SOMEHOW knew instantly that she was 'VIP', and like some Jedi mind trick, we were magically on our way without so much as a frown.... I don't know what that is all about, or how the cop knew she was VIP (she isn't famous or anything) but I guess there are rules the Thai's play by that us farang just don't understand.
If in doubt, or indeed if you have actually done something wrong whilst driving, just give the cop the 200-400 baht and be on your way. Its a helluva lot cheaper than getting flashed by a speed camera back in UK, so quit bitchin' about how unfair the world is, and drive on!
7. Night driving. Thai main roads between provinces are good, wide and traffic is sparse. You can have a great time driving in Thailand when outside of the main city centres. Night driving is a little different, as lots of the roads won't have street lighting and if you drive too fast on unfamiliar dark roads you could be asking for trouble.
8. Animals. The more driving you do, the more you have to prepare for wandering animals. I have lost count the amount of birds that have commited suicide on the front of my car. Plus, be prepared for dogs wandering out in front of you on the more rural roads (no one wants a dead mutt on their conscience).
9. Finally, personally I think the most important tip. Don't do anything suddenly. Whether driving in heavy traffic, turning the car into a side street, or moving into a parking space, don't do anything suddenly. Chances are, there is a person / motorcyclist / car / lorry somewhere in the equation, out of site... Your sudden, unexpected movement could be curtains for them.