After living here for over 7 years now, I’m familiar enough with the rules and nuances of Bangkok traffic to know that I never, ever want to drive in it. It’s not so much that it’s bad – traffic in India or Vietnam makes Bangkok traffic look like a driver’s ed training course – but rather that my skill sets aren’t useful here. I’m Canadian, so if you want me drive at 80km/h on an icy road with well-defined traffic rules that are strictly enforced and adhered to – no problem. But driving through go-kart-style traffic dodging tuk-tuk’s, bug vendors, stray dogs, motorcycles and pedestrians – and with the wheel on the wrong (right) side – well, maybe I better take a taxi. Bangkok has several million of them anyway – if I think of them as my own personal limo service, it’s not so bad at all. But despite this, I recently had to get a Thai driver’s license. This is normally accomplished by showing your license from your own country to the Department of Land Transport, at which point they’ll just transfer it over. But due to an unfortunate case of stupidity, I let my Canadian license lapse, which means it’s even less useful than the fake ones you can buy on Khao San Road. The only option I had was to go through the rigmarole as if I was a 16-year old Thai teenager.
So – what does it take to be allowed to legally drive on Thai roads?
The day started at 8am at the Department of Land Transport, a five minute walk from Chatuchak Park MRT station. The first step was to hand my work permit and health certificate (without these, you won’t even get past the door) to a woman behind a desk, who gave me a queue card and told me to go the fourth floor, where I was ushered into a room with about 15 others – all Thai. This was the group I was stuck with for most of the day – basically, they bring the whole group in to a room and test each person one at a time, at which point you all shuffle off to the next test together.
The first test was colour blindness. A stern sounding woman pointed to colored dots on a wall chart, and we had to yell out which colour the dot was. Red! Green! Yellow! I did it in Thai just to be safe – past experiences with Thai government officers have left me with little confidence in the depth of their English comprehension. I also had to stifle a laugh when I remembered what happened to Monty Python’s Sir Galahad at the Bridge o