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Unimog and Songteuw in Chiang Mai
Public transport in Chiang Mai vs. bringing your own car.

Driving in Chiang Mai – Stay Safe!

How to drive safely in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Driving in Chiang Mai shouldn’t be any different than driving in any other city in the World. Of course, it shouldn’t. But, just as you have to be aware of reindeer on snowy roads in Scandinavia, emus and kangaroos in Australia or IEDs in Kandahar, there are some unpleasant surprises on Thai roads.

Traffic lights in Chiang Mai

Traffic lights are on the opposite side of the intersections

For the most of us foreigners in Thailand, the traffic is on the “wrong” side of the road, as opposed to the “right” side of the road. That is not a big problem, just stick with the crowd. Safety is in numbers, right!? But, the traffic lights are on the opposite side of the intersections. Well, you just have to follow the biggest car in front of you and give way to any pick-up truck behind you carrying enough veggies to feed a family of elephants for a year.

 As Jeremy Clarkson said : “If you want to save environment – drive fast!”.

Getting a driving license in Thailand is a bit easier than in most of the developed countries. Firstly, you need a health check, where they ask you for your name, weight and height. A part of having a name, a weight and a height, they will check you for peripheral vision and reflexes. Having this being a whole day affair, your patience will be tested in the process. A very important requirement! Traffic regulations test and driving tests are very similar to the ones you take in your home country. But don’t forget to bring your own car to the test.

Traffic police blockade

Traffic police blockade – just behind the corner!

If you ever wonder: ”Where are the traffic police?”. They are just behind the corner. Maybe you can’t predict exactly behind which corner, but you could predict at what time they are gonna block the roads. It is usually in the morning hours on working days and night time through holidays. Driving in Chiang Mai is all about timing. There is no need to have a fast car – it won’t help you to get anywhere any faster. As a matter of fact, a golf cart would be a perfect car for Chiang Mai if it had doors, an air-condition and an image of prestige and luxury. What you need is a car with a hurricane powered aircon and wheels that can plough through flood water, stray dogs and pot holes. It is not the certain roads that you have to avoid if you don’t want to be stuck in the traffic jam, but the certain hours, days and weeks. 9 a.m., 5 p.m., Songran, Loy Kratong, New Year, January, August and of course Chiang Mai University graduation day being the worst.

Never give up, never surrender.

Amazing parking skills – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

There are some specific DOs and DONts when it comes to driving in Chiang Mai. Don’t park your car in the opposite direction; be aware of cars overtaking you from the right and from the left; be aware of cars coming from a soi – they MIGHT stop (just MIGHT); GIVE WAY rule and red traffic lights can be subjected to interpretation; NEVER use a horn and drive as lowly as you can.


Don’t park your car in the opposite direction

Don’t park your car in the opposite direction

About Nikola Lucic

Production manager at Chiang Mai Boats.


  1. The only way to drive safely in Chiang Mai is whilst dreaming about holiday in Europe.

  2. Marisa Stevens

    Yes I agree with Dr Alan’s comment.

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