road awareness in paradise city ...
Traffic in Hua Hin is becoming an escalating problem as the number of cars on the roads here increases every year.
The once sleepy fishing village gets completely swamped with SUV's from Bangkok every weekend and public holidays, this coupled with the increasing number of motorists living here can make for some scary road encounters. In the year alone three new motor dealerships have opened up so the trend is likely to continue.
Whether in a car, on a motorbike, bicycle or walking you should be have some basic road awareness in Hua Hin as motoring here is a far cry from what you will be used to in the west. You drive on the left in Thailand but as you are about to find out things are not all what they seem on the roads.
If you are driving be on the constant look out for people crossing the road. There are few pedestrian crossings and people are generally too lazy to use the foot bridges. With pavements being narrow and often in disrepair people often tend to walk in the road, it is your job to avoid them. As in any country schools are particularly dangerous when adjacent to a busy road. You may come across huge carts being pushed down the middle of the road or cattle further out in the sticks, just be patient and you will soon be able to pass.
If you are the pedestrian try to stick to the pavements as much as you can although sometimes this just physically isn't possible. When crossing the road look both ways as vehicles here often drive up the wrong side to take a short cut. Watch for the traffic lights as many now have counters so you know when they are due to change.
If you are the cyclist be aware that you are the lowest form of road user here, the bigger vehicle wins so make sure your bike has good brakes. It maybe a good idea to stick to smaller back roads unless you are comfortable with motorbikes buzzing past inches from you. There are some great cycling roads out of Hua Hin centre and a bicycle makes a great form of transport here as the town is relatively compact. Make sure you wear a helmet and use lights after dark, drivers will not move for you.
When driving keep an eye open for cyclists, many of them are on old bikes with bad brakes so give them a wide berth. Be extra vigilant at night as most local cyclists do not have lights.
You either love them or hate them but sooner or later you will come into contact with one if you are driving in Hua Hin. Motorcyclists in Hua Hin generally have little or no respect for the roads so again, if driving, it is your job to avoid them. They will come at you from all angles but do generally abide by the premise that the larger vehicle has right of way. One particular annoyance is motorbikes driving down the wrong side of the road, make sure you look out for them when attempting any manoeuvre. They also all seem to be in a mad rush to reach their destination so will crowd to the front at junctions and level crossings, just let them all move on and proceed when clear. Often they will turn or pull out without looking, be prepared!
When on a motorbike in Hua Hin you are literally taking your own life in your hands. First and foremost wear a helmet, your head is worth more than the 200 baht fine you will get if the police catch you. It is also law that you drive with your lights on, this theoretically increases your chances of being seen by other road users, but it doesn't really work here. Keep to the inside as much as possible allowing larger vehicles to pass and use your mirrors at all times - you seriously need eyes in the back of your head for driving in Hua Hin. If you have never ridden a bike before it really is not recommended that you drive one in Hua Hin - it is a busy town with many road hazards - including novice riders. Use the horn liberally to warn other drivers of your presence and be prepared to slam on the brakes should they pull out on you anyway. Expect the unexpected.
Other cars, pickups and motorbikes will without a doubt be your greatest annoyance. A strange phenomena occurs on the roads in Thailand. Thai people are generally very laid back and easy going where time is of little consequence. This completely changes when they get on the road and all become Formula One drivers racing impatiently to their destinations without a second to spare. If you leave a gap of a couple of meters between you and the vehicle in front someone will fill it. If you're not driving close enough to the vehicle in front someone will over take you. As much as the temptation to get annoyed takes you try to stay calm and let the racers go, you will all get to where you are going at the same time. Thailand has only had this influx of motorcars in the last twenty years or so therefore it stands to reason that driving standards and general road safety and etiquette is severely lacking here. Be aware - they will pull out on you, fail to signal, cut you up, brake in front of you, undertake you, and even drive into you in the worse case, all this with very little regard or consequence of their actions - be aware.
There are a number of road signals and gestures that differ slightly here. The main one is flashing the headlights. Contrary to the west this actually means get out of the way, I have no intention of stopping or moving for you - you will see it often. When approaching an intersection vehicles that turn on their hazard lights generally do so it indicate that they are going straight ahead. There is absolutely no general courtesy on the roads here, nobody will wait or let you go, which is why drivers simply pull out - it is that or sit there all day. Locals will simply smile sheepishly at you if they have almost caused an accident by pulling into your path.
These are one of the most dangerous aspects of driving in Hua Hin and you will find several along Petchkasem Road. Unregulated u-turns are a magnet for accidents as traffic is pulling out into a fast moving highway often with little regard of what is approaching and at what speed. Be prepared to brake hard when approaching a u-turn and if turning in one give way to what is coming, also watch for vehicles driving up the wrong side of the road while making your turn.
Driving at night
Driving after dark is extremely hazardous, drink driving is a major problem here and while it is against the law it is not enforced or regulated. There is no social stigma attached to drink driving in Thailand besides that most people are likely to get away with it so there is no deterrent. Traffic lights are also switched off at night so look out in all directions when crossing a junction. Many road users here fail to see the importance of lights when the sun goes down so again you will need eagle eyes to spot them.
When on the open road the situations change but the danger remains. Always drive to the conditions of the road and traffic, be extremely careful of the u-turns mentioned above, vehicles will still pull out on you regardless of what speed you're doing. Large slow moving trucks and buses will think nothing of pulling directly into your path to overtake a slower moving truck - give them a wide berth and keep your distance. You will also get the odd pickup driver who thinks he has a Ferrari coming up behind you, flashing, then swerving to undertake you - let them go. Tailgating is a common occurrence here, you will often find the car behind is so close to you that your exhaust fumes begin to oxidise on their bumper. Let them pass and allow plenty of space between you and the car in front, however be ready for someone undertaking you and moving into this space - use your judgment.
The law of the road in Thailand is actually quite similar to that in the west, it is based on UK road law. The problem is that none of the laws are enforced so there is no incentive to obey them - people drive how they like because they can. Traffic police are underpaid so tend to do as little as possible aside from the odd road block to nab motorcyclists without helmets. Do not be surprised if you see a vehicle coming at you down the wrong side of the street, or a truck that is so overloaded that its axle scrapes the ground, or a clapped out motorcycle with two adults, three children, a dog, and full shopping, with no helmets, lights or brakes pulling out in front of you - it will be your fault if you hit them. Things are slowly changing however it seems to start in Bangkok and slowly filter down, it is still a jungle out there.
Finding a place to park in downtown Hua Hin is simply a nightmare and if it is a weekend forget it. The town's roads simply have not been able to expand to cater for the number of vehicles that now occupy them ... and there are no car parks except for the hotels that are reserved for customers only. You may find yourself driving around the block looking for a space while some SUV double parks and causes a tailback, this is commonplace. Another major problem in Hua Hin is the presence of taxis and tuk-tuks that sit parked up all day waiting for a fare, there are hundreds of them in the centre. It has even become difficult to find a parking spot for a motorcycle on extremely busy days.
If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a road accident there are a number of things you should be prepared for. The police will not help you, their job is to report the accident, clear up the mess and get rid of the problem as quickly as possible regardless of who is at fault. A farang involved in an accident will usually be blamed for causing it, be ready for this and make sure you have good insurance cover or legal support. Be prepared to stand your ground if you are in the right, do not back down and above all be polite and do not lose your temper. Go to the police station to report it and call your lawyer or Embassy if necessary. Driving without insurance is illegal here but not a lot is done about it, just hope you are not involved in an accident with someone who doesn't have enough money to pay for the damage or medical bills or it will come out of your wallet.
Despite all of the above there are very few incidences of "road rage" and anger is rarely displayed between drivers in Hua Hin, the whole "mai bpen rai" attitude prevails, usually followed by a smile. For most of the time it all seems to flow on the roads here ... most of the time.