Samui Wining & Dining
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know (and some things you didn’t) about getting around on Samui’s roads.


“Driving in Napoli is like a video game. You just have to relax, stop thinking and feel it in your stomach.” Giacomo Bennelli: Manager of Hertz, Naples.

      Ever been to Rome? How about Cairo or Zimbabwe? I would dare to suggest Afghanistan, too, but seeing that it’s more or less a war zone that’s hardly fair. So how about New Delhi, then? Any ideas yet about where I’m heading with this? All right, let’s just say that in Cairo nobody takes any notice of traffic signals at a crossroads. The technique for driving across the junction is to aim directly at the car that’s crossing your path; that way by the time you get there, you’ve missed him – just. At least in Rome or Naples everybody seems to be heading the same way and on the same side of the road.

       And, essentially, that’s what it’s all about. In order to get safely around the unfamiliar roads of any new destination you have to be aware of what everyone else is doing. In other words, forget everything you’ve learned about the Highway Code and the rules of the road. You have to. The other people on the road around you know nothing about your rules and certainly don’t drive by them.

          Samui is no exception. Our island doesn’t have a good reputation when it comes to road safety, but that’s a lot to do with the fact that many of the locals don’t drive thoughtfully or with consideration towards others. Think of it this way. For generations the people here, from the ages of ten to 80, have simply climbed on their little scooters and chugged off down dirt tracks and across the fields to go to the market or to visit auntie. Each new generation of youngsters has absorbed these everyday skills without thinking. Nobody ever bothered much with driving licences, and the only things the highway code entailed was not bumping into things or falling off. Their driving instruction came by watching what their uncle/big sister did to make the motorbike go and stop. The fact that today there are now blacktop roads, two lanes of constant traffic in both directions, traffic signals and roundabouts, hasn’t much affected the local attitude to riding about on the roads. They still mainly go around as if they are in a field, taking the shortest line, cutting corners, and driving on whatever side of the ‘field’ happens to be the most convenient – often with the entire family on the bike with them.

          The first thing that you have to do is to switch on all of your senses and focus your concentration on everything that’s going on around you. This goes for what’s alongside you and behind as much as what’s in front. On Samui the lefthand edge of the road is the place for motorbikes and they’ll zip by, overtaking you on the inside, without hesitation or pause. You simply can’t afford to gaze around at the scenery and chat to your partner when you’re driving.

          The last thing that you’ll expect is to see a motorcycle come flying out of a side street without pausing or even looking. The first few times this happens, it’s scary. It’s bad enough when the rider is going in the same direction as you and ends up alongside. But when one comes whanging out on the wrong side of the road and right into your face it’s terrifying. That’s only because you’d never dream of seeing anything like this back home. But here it’s quite normal, and to be expected.

          Along with this, another thing you’ll notice is that Thai people instinctively always take the shortest line into any turn. This can be particularly traumatic if you still haven’t actually got to the road junction yet, and are rolling, indicating (naturally!) that you intend to turn left in a moment. Suddenly a motorbike appears from nowhere, around the blind corner to your left, into your path and heading right at you. I could go on . . .

          Just keep remembering that probably 85% of riders here have no licence and have had no formal instruction about road sense or practice. And those that boast a licence have passed a test that’s so simple you just wouldn’t believe it if I told you. Turn signals? Expect that these won’t be used – what’s the point? They know exactly where they’re going, so why use them? Also expect that if indicators are used, it can mean anything. Many times I’ve seen a bike (in front of me and going in the same direction) indicate right and then turn left without looking, right across my path. (The reason is that they were going to turn right, but it’s too busy. So they’re heading for a nervous wait at the side of the road until all is clear.)

          One final point, before I give you the last of the best advice you’ll ever get about our island’s roads. If you’re out at night, keep an eagle eye out for oncoming vehicles without lights. At a guess, one car or bike in every hundred will not use lights in the early part of the evening, particularly in areas with good street lighting. The reason? They can see fine, thank you. It never enters their heads that they’re effectively invisible amongst the oncoming stream of traffic. And be warned: if you happen to clip one of these dark savants, you are in the wrong. You will pay. If they are on the correct side of the road and not doing anything other than drive along without lights, that’s okay. The police will deem you to be at fault for not having seen them. This recently happened to a friend of mine!

          All of this takes practice. You can’t just jump off the plane and into a rented vehicle and expect to enjoy a blissfully tropical ride around the island. You are not at home. You are here. There is no SS Enterprise or Scotty to beam you up off the surface of a strange and hostile planet. It’s just you and the rest of the asylum. And they are all lunatics, every one of them, except for you. That’s the mindset you need. Either that or pretend it’s all a video game – join the mob, stop thinking and just feel it in your stomach!


 Rob De Wet



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