A year ago Christmas day I received my provisional Thai Driver’s License. Provisional means it was only good for a year, so as Santa left for points west and Boxing Day dawned on Wat Arun, I was faced with another trip to the Department of Land Transport (DLT) to renew my license.
Many farang (foreigners) ask why I bother getting a license. While the vast majority probably are smart enough to leave the driving to others, untold numbers of farang drive about the Kingdom with nothing more than their International Driver’s License, or even less. I, however, wanted to make the effort to follow the law and have my license if I was going to continue taking on the traffic-choked byways of the City of Angels from behind the wheel.
Heading to the DLT on the last Monday of the year was not the wisest choice. I spent a half-hour orbiting the parking lot searching for a place to park. The chaos there – traffic going every which way, regardless of the painted stripes and arrows – was like a driving examination writ large, and nearly everyone seemed to be failing. Finally, as my bladder strongly suggested it might be best to abort the mission, a spot opened before me, one with blessed shade.
The process of getting a driver’s license at the DLT is more painless than you might expect. Even if I didn’t speak a fair amount of Thai, I would still have been able to work through the steps without the assistance of a native. The main counter on the second floor is staffed by friendly employees who review your documents and there is an English language list of what is required, should you be missing anything. Ad hoc photocopy vendors are in the hallway to take care of any last-minute copying needs so as long as you have all your documents with you, you will be in good shape.
Alas, I was ill-prepared and arrived at the DLT without a medical certificate stating that I was free from whatever diseases would prevent me from the safe operation of motor vehicles. Drat. A trip to my local hospital and a return to the DLT would consume the rest of the day. Cannily, I asked whether there was a clinic nearby. Certainly, replied the friendly staff member. Downstairs in the motorcycle department.
Or, at least that is what I understood. This tale illustrates how knowing not quite enough Thai can be a challenge. I went downstairs and read a sign that I thought said “medical inspections” but which, upon later reflection, must not have said that. Asking at what, in my vision of the world, was the medical inspections counter, another nice lady gracefully cleared up my confusion and explained that the nearest clinic was on the main street and to the left at the first traffic light.
Or, at least that is what I understood. As I traipsed the considerable distance back to Paholyothin Road, avoiding the drivers still participating in the parking lot-wide driving exam, I wondered whether I had misunderstood a second time. My confidence was boosted at the traffic light, though, when I made out the words “clinic” on a sign board and walked past a broken down photocopy machine and into the pale green interior of a small shop house.
Sure enough, for 100 baht a woman of unknown medical experience will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope and then sign a medical certificate clearing you to drive. No, I have no idea what she was checking but presumably she heard my heart beating. Have pulse, can drive.
Once I returned to Building Four, Floor Two of the DLT with the medical certificate in hand, the process was head-spinningly fast. While Thais have several dozen counters at which to be helped, we farang have two cubicles at the far end of the room that have been set aside for foreigners. Thais may find this unfair, but I figure it is just desserts for the double priced admission I have to pay at Calypso Cabaret, even though I’m a resident foreigner.
Within ten minutes of entering cubicle 18, I exited with my very own five-year Thai Driver’s License. After all the hassle of getting there, finding parking, and locating a clinic for a thorough medical examination, the actual bureaucratic process of filling out forms, taking a picture, and printing a new license took all of ten minutes.
As I pulled out of my still-shady parking space, I marveled at how easy it can sometimes be to do the right thing and follow all the steps required by the Thai government of farangs living and working here. And then just as my car reached the exit, two taxis ahead of me had a small fender-bender. The drivers exited their cars and spent several minutes arguing over the imperceptible damage to their vehicles, unaware of the line of blocked cars behind them growing longer. As the Skytrain glided by overhead, I put the car in park and snuck another look at my picture, grinning back from under the laminate of my new driver’s license.