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.
You get a round of applause.
Going through all that “hassle” and slight confusion is worth it, isn’t it, when you finally have that new driver’s license in your hand? It’s so relieving and besides, it’s for the good of the long run as well. Glad you retained your patience throughout the process!
@Southeast_Beauty – The irony to all of it is that Thais tell me that when you are pulled over at one of the “traffic stops” (which are usually just shake-downs), the last thing you want to do is hand your actually driver’s license to the police. Once they have it, they have leverage for a bribe. Better to just give them your gym membership card with 100 baht folded discretely underneath.@amygwen – Thank you, thank you.
@christao408 – Oh wow. But then again I’m not too surprised. The system’s pretty similar in Indonesia, as it is in throughout much of Southeast Asia, I would assume. Thanks for sharing and continuing to write out these cultural tidbits. It’s fascinating.
I couldn’t handle driving in such crazy traffic – which is why I hope to move somewhere with fantastic public transportation so I never have to even get a drivers license 😀 Hahaha, “have pulse, can drive”.Good for you for thinking “better safe than sorry”!
I’m so happy that you have a legal (if not useful) license. Sounds like the skytrain is the way to travel!
Love the story!!! But what is with the bribing the police??? Sheesh!
Great story. Congrats on the license.
Cool beans! You would always do the absolute RIGHT thing. Glad you have your Thai Driving license. Now, are the pictures any better on it than those that get taken here? One year, I looked so bad that I was sure if I showed it to Noah, he would have nightmares. lol.
I read your comment about handing over your gym membership and a gift for the policeman lolol – here you would be jailed for attempted bribery. Oh the process here is easy. My license was renewed by mail last year for 7 years. Just send the money lol.
Nicely done.Chest sounds for driving eh? That’s a new one.
@yang1815 – Tuberculosis screening, I think.
@christao408 – At least they didn’t give you an enhanced pat down haha.
I am glad you have such a good sense of humor. Some people might have lost their cool in such circumstances. Congrats on getting the license and happy driving!
Congrats! I imagine traffic in Thailand can’t be much better than what I see in Vietnam. Haha. And boo to those taxi drivers who help up traffic for imperceptible damage. I hate it when people do that. Bleh. >.<
Your entry seems to convey your satisfaction at doing the right thing and following the system 🙂 It seems nice for some reason even to me, the reader. I have this satisfying smile on my face… knowing that you got a 5 year license. Weird, I know.Although I have nightmares about driving anywhere in Asia, I suppose I need to give you a high five for doing so for such an extended period of time!
I can’t imagine driving in Bangkok. I don’t have the Zen like calmness you must have. I’m sure I would utter every Thai swear word including ones that I don’t even know. btw – congrats on navigating the system. It must feel a bit like nirvana once you get to the end.
@ElusiveWords – Fortunately, I don’t know any Thai swear words! =D@AzureRecollections – Well, considering that so many people play the system here while simultaneously complaining about how corrupt and inconsistent the system is, I figure myself duty-bound to try and do things the right way. Glad it brought a smile to your face.@bengozen – Vietnam has many more scooters and motorbikes than Bangkok. It’s crazy there. Of course, it’s crazy here, too. But in a different way.@icepearlz – Oh, no reason to get upset since it won’t help anything.