The easiest and fastest way to get around Bangkok is either by scooter or Tuk-tuk. The latter tends to be a lot more expensive. Especially, when you are a tourist and have no comprehension of the Thai language – some operators triple or quadruple the price for unwitting tourists. This makes the appeal of hiring a scooter all the more worthwhile. There is one issue; most of the population of Bangkok have stumbled upon this cost hike and, instead, chosen to hire or buy a scooter. Now, what would be a casual drive down the road in other countries, has turned into a fear inducing, spine tingling, adrenaline fuelled, all-in roller derby, just to pick up some toothpaste from the local supermarket; road rules are almost non-existent, red lights mean nothing, speed restrictions might as well not be displayed, and any space on the road that can be filled – or squeezed into – will be.
This is likely the reason you do not see many tourists riding scooters in Bangkok; it is, simply, too overwhelming. However, one thing has persisted through the mayhem – moderate civility. And it’s the only thing keeping you alive. Cars give way to pedestrians and scooters – even on busy roads. If you’re slow, others go around you without honking or profanity, although expect it to be at double your speed. When you’re trying to cross lanes, others will let you in. There is no road rules, but unspoken codes of conduct seem to exist.
In one particularly vivid memory, I had stopped at a traffic jam where a bus had gotten caught on a narrow corner. I was amongst about 50 other scooters. Cars began to queue up behind me with scooters lined up bumper-to-bumper between them; everything was so congested I did not think anyone would be able to move. Within a few minutes, the bus began to turn and continued on its way. Almost instantly, all the scooters took off, even the ones between the cars, I had no choice but to follow. The cars quickly followed even though scooters were still weaving between them. The traffic jam was gone in less than a minute and there was no accidents or run-ins that I saw. In a traffic jam in Australia, it can take up to 10 minutes for 2 cars to work it out between themselves how to navigate and rectify the issue. And yet, the issue in Bangkok would have easily involved over 150 vehicles. I do not know the exact mechanism or system of conduct for navigating the traffic, but it seems to work. If you forgo preconceived notions of road rules from your own country and have the nerve to follow the system of driving that the locals are accustomed to, then you should have no issue. It’s only when tourists start to go against the flow that accidents happen.