A Year in Bangkok – Getting a Thai Driving Licence

3 01 2011

I believe I have previously mentioned the insanely bad standard of driving here. Every now and then, a terrible accident causes an outcry and people demand that something be done about road safety. There is then a lot of bleating by politicians – rather like back home really – and some superficial measures are taken but nothing ever really changes. For example, a mini-bus crashed on an elevated road in Bangkok.  When it hit the crash barrier, the door was ripped off and eight people came out, falling to their deaths over the edge of the road. Early reports suggest that the accident was caused by a sixteen year old driving a nice new car. If that is true, she should be prosecuted for that. More to the point, it is against the law for a sixteen year old to drive here. Will anything be done about that? Unlikely as her parents are rich and powerful. Or against her parents, who apparently bought the car for her even though she is too young to drive it? And why isn’t there a law ensuring people wear seat belts other than in the front seats of a car? There again, road safety laws are not enforced anyway. It is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving, it is illegal to drive on the pavement but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise as I have never seen these laws enforced. So what was done to improve road safety after the accident I just mentioned? Extra police were deployed at busy points and pulled drivers over for minor offences such as cracked light covers. Great! That really helps to prevent fatal accidents.

You won't see this in Bangkok any more.

Despite not normally being suicidal, I have decided to buy a car now that we have moved out of town which means getting a local licence. My wife contacted the right people to find out what to do. I had to present myself at a Land Transportation Office with my passport, a copy of my passport, my UK driving licence, a valid visa in my passport, a letter from the British Embassy confirming my residence, a health certificate from an approved doctor and two photographs. Before I came here, some of the tabloid papers delighted in calling my home country ‘rip-off Britain’, not without good reason. And, as if to verify that, I had to pay the embassy 2,315 baht for my letter. That is about fifty pounds and, to put it in perspective, I know people whose total earnings are as little as 3,000 baht a month. The check-up for the doctor’s certificate was somewhat less than thorough. A nurse checked my blood pressure, I was shown into the doctor’s office and he briefly held a stethoscope against my right shoulder while chatting to his nurse. That done, he signed off the paperwork and charged me 300 baht!


So, armed with what I believed was all the right paperwork, I toddled off to my local Land Transportation Office. A very helpful young man went through my paperwork and returned the photos to me, saying they were not needed. He then asked for my work permit. I explained that I had not been told I needed that so he said I did and went off to speak to a supervisor who, after checking the visa in my passport, said it would be okay. Next, he helped me to complete an application form. Then he showed me a sheet of paper, in English, informing me that I may have to take some or all of the following tests: colour blindness, peripheral vision, distance vision, driving theory and practical driving. The idea of a driving theory test in Thailand seemed especially amusing. He also showed me a list of what I needed which included my driving licence, translated into English if it was not an English one.

Oh dear!

The helpful young man took me to a counter where an older lady took my application form and paperwork and he abandoned me to my fate. It was just my luck that I had been handed over to the Thai equivalent of a jobsworth. She started to froth at the mouth, waved my driving licence at me and shouted “Translate, translate.”

“But it’s in English,” I said.

“No angrit,” said she, “Translate translate.”

So I called my wife and asked her to translate. I explained that, as far as I understood, the jobsworth was demanding that my English driving licence be translated into English. My wife spoke to her. That was exactly what she was demanding because she, who did not speak English, had decided that my licence wasn’t in English. My wife explained to her that, as it was an English driving licence, it really wasn’t going to be in Estonian or Ancient Greek or any other language that wasn’t English but that didn’t wash. To prove her point, the jobsworth found and pointed out to me the little panel on the licence which states, in the main EU languages, that this is a driving licence. I told my wife about this, she explained it to the jobsworth and the jobsworth went back to her desk, leaving my paperwork behind and seemed to be getting on with something else. Neither my wife nor I knew what she was doing. I tried to get her to come back to the phone but she wouldn’t. I asked one of her colleagues to speak to my wife and let us know what was happening but she wouldn’t. I tried the jobsworth again but she wouldn’t come to the phone. As you can doubtless imagine, I was starting to get really pissed off by this woman’s rudeness. Then I had a brainwave and went back to find the helpful young man who I had first seen. He spoke to my wife and sorted it all out. The jobsworth’s supervisor came along, had a look and declared my licence to be in real English and, therefore, okay. But the jobsworth got her own back – she put me down for all the tests bar one. Apparently the person who administers the theory tests wasn’t there. She handed me the papers and barked “Loom fie-teen.” So I wandered around and eventually found loom fie-teen which was empty.

I got it!

Fortunately, there was somebody in loom sixteen who gave me a colour blindness test. I had to identify red, yellow and green, presumably in case they ever decide to make drivers here obey traffic lights. She then took me to the next loom where I had a peripheral vision test. This involved putting my head in a frame, looking straight ahead, and telling the tester whether the lights by my ears were red or green. That lady took me to another loom where I had my distance vision test. This was trickier. It took me quite a while to understand the instructions, despite a written but unintelligible English set of instructions. The lady doing it was very patient though and we finally got there. It involved pressing buttons to move a small pole so it was next to another, static pole. Easier said than done and you only get three attempts at it. After I failed for the third time, she winked at me and moved the pole herself before recording a pass. Then she took me to another young man who said we were going for a practical test. Outside we went, he opened the driver’s door of a car and gestured for me to get inside. He then indicated that I should put on the seat belt. “Welly good,” he said “You pass.” That was it! I had just passed the practical bit of the driving test by successfully fastening a seat belt. Back we went, I handed over my 200 baht, got my photograph taken and my licence was printed as I waited. So I now have a Thai driving licence and can start thinking about buying a car. I think I’ll go for an  armoured car!

I think I'll buy one of these.



2 responses

3 01 2011
Francis Stafford

Ben. I like it AND so true. I am 1 + a little sighted. i.e. just enough to get through my periferal vision BUT those sticks are lethal. You don’t mention that you have to get it right 2 times out of the 3. Through luck I used to get it right on the 1st. attempt and then fail the next 2 times. I was allowed 3 tries on the first day and then told to come back next day to try the sticks again. I spent all night lying in bed working out how to do it. Stand behind examiner where you could see the workings while someone else tried and then time how long the moving stick took to get from the back till level with the static one. Excellent idea BUT it didn’t work. The examiner said wait for the others to go. Then he said “you are doing it too fast. You want to do it – little bit, little bit”. I then sat in the seat and when he said “little bit” I moved the back stick a lilte bit and so on till he stopped and so did I.
I passed!!!!!!!!!!!!

Good luck with your driving.

3 01 2011
Ben Salmons

Ha ha! Thanks for this, I didn’t even realise you had to get it right two times out of three! I’m still amazed that I got it wrong three times out of three but got a pass – I think all the other staff in the building (who were lovely) were feeling sorry for me after my experience with the ‘jobsworth’.

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