Driving in Phuket

Road Manners in Phuket

Here are few things about road sense and manners, especially for those who have never been here before, that might prove useful when planing to drive in Phuket.

Do plan in advance if you are thinking of renting a vehicle in Phuket. You need a licence, and your ordinary national licence is not valid in Thailand. Get an international licence for the type of vehicle - motorbike or car - that you plan to rent. 

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Do rent from reputable companies if you want to avoid unnecessary drama during your holiday. This can be a bit of a problem with bikes, because they are all rented by small outfits with no international (or even national) reputation.

If you can, ask friends who have been to Phuket who they would recommend (or not recommend). If you are going for four wheels, however, there is a number of reputable companies. A fair daily rate is 140 baht for a motorbike and between 1,000 and 1,500 baht for car.

Don'ts

Don’t ride a motorbike with your shirt off. You may have a body like Brad Pitt or Pamela Anderson, but under Thai law, showing it off on the streets is illegal. In the beach areas, it probably won’t be a problem, but in Phuket City or other parts of the island away from the seaside, it’s a different matter; the police may stop you, tell you to put your shirt on and possibly even fine you to a maximum of 500 baht. Plus, the fact is that Thais are generally modest people, and if you ride into a school or a market, or stop in a village half-naked, you are going to be regarded as an ignorant oaf.

Don’t - please don’t - jump onto a motorbike if you do not have real experience. Far too many young tourists come here and the first thing they do is to rent a motorbike. Driving in Phuket is very different from, and much more chaotic than what you know at home. You can now find bikes for rent with automatic gears, which might make you think it’s easy. But it’s not. The problem is not the bike; it’s the other road users. Do you really want to ruin your holiday by having an accident?

Don’t copy the locals when you see that they ignore the rules of the road. Take helmets for example. The law states that the driver and passenger on a motorbike must both wear helmets. Many Thais don’t, but that’s no reason for you to take risks with your safety. It can also put a dent in your wallet; if you are not wearing your helmet, there is a good chance the police will pull you over and fine you. Remember, not everything that Thais do is cool.

Don’t forget: In Thailand we drive on the left side of the road. You will see the locals driving on the right when they think it’s convenient, but it’s dangerous and illegal. Stay on the left, take it easy, and keep your eyes wide open for others coming from all directions.

Tips

Gas station opening hours

Gas stations in Thailand are usually open from 8 am to 9 pm. Only one on the island - the Shell gas station on Dibuk Road, Phuket City, opposite Wat Mongkol Nimit - stays open 24 hours a day. A few others serve gas until 10 pm or even midnight. But it’s best to make sure to keep your tank topped up so that you don’t spend hours pushing your bike back to your hotel. The further you have to push it, the heavier it will get.

Roadside gas vendors

You’ll see vendors with small booths selling gas at the roadside, pumping the gas by hand from barrels, or selling it by the bottle. These are not recommended except in dire emergency. The gasoline they sell may be substandard or adulterated. Buy from them and you could find yourself facing a hefty bill from the motorbike rental shop for a complete overhaul of the engine.

Gas prices

The average fuel price per liter is 24 baht for diesel, 26 baht for 91-octane gasoline and 25 baht for 95-octane gasohol. Ask you car or bike rental shop which fuel you should use.

Insurance

Make sure you get as much insurance coverage as possible. For bikes, this is likely to be “third-party only” - in other words, the insurance will pay only for damage you do to other people and property, but will not cover your hospital bills or the cost of repairing the bike. If you are renting a car, insist on full insurance coverage. If they do not want to provide it, go somewhere else. And always insist on seeing the insurance papers; don’t just take the word of the rental shop that you are covered. You may not be.

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