Four-Way Intersections

As I travel around my adopted hometown of Krungthep, I sometimes see things and think, “Oh, that is so very Thai.”  These things usually seem innocuous enough at first glance, but I think they illustrate the differences between Thai culture and other cultures.  Four-way intersections are a good example.

When I drive in the US (or pretty much any “developed” country), there are rules and laws and signs and to some degree, everyone follows them.  Very little is left entirely to human nature and the good will of the drivers.

Italy seems to be an exception, actually…

Anyhow, here in the City of Angels, we have many uncontrolled intersections.  Much of this is a result of how the network of roads and streets developed out of a network of canals and waterways.  What worked well for boats isn’t always so effective for cars.

Whether a major street like Sukhumvit or a small, twisting back soi, you encounter these intersections where the drivers’ best behavior is all that governs right-of-way.


Most of the time, it works alright.  In fact, like the use of traffic circles, drivers are forced to be more attentive and drive slower because there are few rules to rely upon.  Other than the occasional marks on the ground, spray-painted by an insurance company investigator after a crash, there are few signs that the uncontrolled intersections are really a problem.

Here’s a 90-second video clip (set to pleasant music) for you to see the above intersection in action:

In a chicken-or-egg dilemma, it is unclear whether these types of social confrontations (uncontrolled intersections) work so smoothly because of the Thai people’s culture of patience and friendliness towards others, or is the culture a result of having to negotiate these types of confrontations in everyday life?

In either case, it is interesting to observe and even more interesting to experience firsthand as the driver behind the wheel!


0 thoughts on “Four-Way Intersections

  1. wow, this is scary!    Ilena Holder…..Rose Garden by……Fade to Grey……..coming son….Color of the Flame…

  2. That’s sooo cool how they can all just actually “take their turn” in turning and crossing the intersection. Really don’t think that would work here.

  3. I wonder if this encourages social trust, because people would have to pay more attention to each other than just “the rules” – is there an active mindset of needing to treat others as you would like to be treated, since your safe passage relies on them too? Seems a bit more personal and maybe has positive aspects. Does it feel hectic and scary, frustrating, or kind of humorous?

  4. Well… Traffic rules and regulations are good to check recklessness and driver’s excessiveness and they are really a great tool at traffic chaos reductions when obeyed…

  5. I don’t think the Thai have had “success” which such intersection. The wigs probably just don’t care how many schmoes get smucked on it. Look at that traffic, stopping, vying for right of way, trying to beat out other cars, that’s a very dangerous intersection and a 1.5 minute video of no one getting killed isn’t going to convince me it is. Just watching it and putting myself in that situation at that intersection was somewhat nerve racking.

  6. That was interesting. I didn’t know that. I have only been to two countrys out of the US… Canada and Okinawa Japan. Both have traffic lights and rules to govern the flow of traffic. I am a very intimidated by driving so I don’t believe I would be able to handle driving there.

  7. I was thinking “have you been to Italy?” when I started reading and then you mentioned it! That place is crazy… I would never presume to drive there, It’d be accidents galore! And wow… the 2nd video scares me! It really is a bit too intense for my liking, I could never handle it 🙂

  8. @xo_dianaaa – Thanks for your comment.  What is interesting is to consider whether, if these types of intersections were more common in the US, would there be any positive impact?  Would be drive slower, become more patient and considerate, etc?  I wonder…@betweenrivers – Thanks for your comment.  I think your observation is spot-on.  When I drive here (as well as when I ride my bicycle in the city) I get the sense that it is actually safer here because people are forced to really be alert and pay attention.  The unexpected is the norm, rather than an unexpected event.@mj_degreat – “…when obeyed.”  Aye, there’s the rub!  Thanks for your comment.@Excatog – Thanks for your comment.  Yes, it could be very nerve wracking.  I felt the exact same way when I moved here nearly four years ago.  But the thing is, it works.  There are far fewer serious accidents than in the US, at least inside the city limits.@earthdragon_535 – Out of curiosity, did you notice any differences in the Okinawan style of driving versus Canada or the US?  I was in Tokyo this spring and the drivers seem to be pretty good about following rules.  Not so agressive as in the US.  Thanks for commenting.@MochaSprinkle – Ha ha… funny that we were on the same wavelength!  Yes, Italy’s driving feels very familiar to visiting Thais, I bet.  Thanks for your comment.

  9. The Okinawan people are good drivers. (*Except the people on motorcycles and the typical bad apple) The farther away from city like areas, the smaller the roads get. People drive slower and more cautious around the pedestrians. They tend to walk and bike so you see less cars in those areas. You still see a group of young people who feel the need to rev up their moped engines around people just to get attention. I haven’t really noticed a difference except that I have never been stuck in traffic because of an accident. I know that they must still happen but I think it is less often.

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