Motorcyclists in Thailand ride as if they studied some pirated copy of a defensive driving course that accidentally inverted everything.
It's as if Thais took a canonical list of no-nos motorcyclists learn in the West so they can 'Ride to Survive' and then did the opposite.
Virtually everybody you'll see on two wheels in Thailand, including traffic cops, seems to be following this list of rules:
- follow other vehicles at an unsafe distance. A good rule of thumb is that you should be nearly able to touch the back of the car in front with your hand or foot. Actually kissing the car in front comes a bit later, if he slams on the brakes.
- sit in other drivers' blind spots. This is especially handy when riding next to large buses and trucks. Try to do this a lot, especially if you're carrying your wife and three small children (without helmets).
- undertake ALWAYS, especially if a vehicle is signalling to turn in front of you.
- accelerate if undertaking a vehicle that has begun to turn in front of you.
- go around any large large truck that is reversing into the road. Your speed should be increased as the available gap behind the truck is reduced. Bonus points for doing this at night, in the rain, without any lights.
- split lanes. You would be a moron not to do so as it's the only way to get past all the cars that can normally outrun (or more typically, overrun) your 100cc 'steed of the road'. If traffic is moving, up your speed as you split lanes. And remember - just because all of the cars and buses are also splitting lanes doesn't mean you can't use the remaining 18 inches of space between a pickup truck laden with ice, a motorcycle carrying cylinders of cooking gas, and a forty-year-old truck with no brakes (or tread) to get to your destination.
- change lanes without regard for other road users. If changing lanes means crossing the center line, into oncoming traffic, it is their job to avoid you.
- pull out into heavy traffic without looking.
- ride solo if it can be avoided. Help the planet by carrying a minimum of two generations of your family. If one of your cousins, riding pillion behind your daughter, is carrying a new Sony LCD TV or a four-foot-wide plane of glass, so much the better.
- maintain your motorcycle. A rusty chain is merely part of the normal ebb and flow of the universe. Don't anger the gods by trying to lubricate or adjust this chain.
- replace missing parts. You wear flip-flops so you don't need shoelaces, which is awesome as an old shoelace will hold your clutch lever in place no problem! Split pins will only slow you down when you need to change a tire (Skinny, bald tires are okay but once rainy season arrives and you're splitting lanes riding on the white lines, even Thais reckon it's time for new-ish rubber), so leave them off the axle nuts.
- bother with a helmet unless you're on a really big road where cops might demand a bribe for not wearing a helmet. They won't hassle you for speeding the wrong way down the road, occasionally using the sidewalk, without lights at night after a bottle of Thai whiskey but you best have that bright pink plastic colander balanced on your head because the chin strap is tied conveniently out of the way.
- learn how to use your brakes properly. Just grab as much right lever as you can, as suddenly as you can, especially in the rain. It's so easy, a child can do it. In fact, a remarkable percentage of motorcyclists in Thailand ARE children, without licenses, insurance, or helmets.
- wait to let oncoming vehicles through when traffic is snarled up by roadworks, weather and incompetent drivers. Your job is to keep pushing through, like the last few grains of sand filling up the remaining gaps between larger stones. This is Asia, after all, and that is a cool-sounding, rather 'mystical' parable to keep the silly foreigners confused by what seems like nothing more than thoughtlessness, intransigence and a lack of critical thinking. Murhahahaha, the fools!
- miss phone calls or SMS messages while riding.
- slow down in the rain. You're only going to be run over by that bus with no brakes...
Then you might like to watch this video.