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Thailand forum

Am I out of my mind? Driving in Thailand...

Posted by smudglette on 29/9/2010 at 15:01

The fact that I can find zero information online is sending me signals here, but bear with me.

I'm thinking about driving from Donsak to Krabi (so different drop off points) over the Christmas period, just because we want the chance to see some of that area of Thailand at our own leisure, it seems a shame that there's this massive area that people just travel through. I know that the signs won't be in English and the roads will most likely be unlike I've ever driven on, but I think it would make for an adventure...which is what I travel for.

I guess my questions are
1 - does anyone know of any companies with drop offs in these areas?
2 - other than the things I've mentioned, is there anything else I should be wary of?
3 - has anyone else done anything similar?

#1 smudglette has been a member since 29/9/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by busylizzy on 29/9/2010 at 16:10

Out of your mind for hiring a car in Thailand? No way!

A couple of years ago my sister and I hired a car in Chiang Mai with the intention of driving to Phuket area. (In the end we only made it to Samut Songram, south of BKK, because we were taking too long with our little detours and side trips and we were falling behind schedule. We ended up returning it to BKK airport, and were quite proud that we managed to navigate the BKK highway system to get there without any problems.

I loved hiring a car. Roads are very well marked, and generally were in pretty good shape (at least in the areas we were travelling in). The roads were mostly similar to the roads in NZ (in terms of quality) and the Thais drive on the same side that we do which made it easy for us. If you are used to driving on the right side of the road, then you will find it strange at first, but it's doable. (I learned to drive in NZ, but have managed to drive many times in the US).

We spent a few dollars on a decent Thai map to help us get around - not so much that we needed it, but I love reading and navigating with maps. I think there were English road signs in most of the places that we went to, and if there weren't any... well, we managed anyhow. I think Samut Songram was the first place we came to where we couldn't find English signs and I do remember driving aimlessly trying to find a place. Getting lost is half the fun!

Having a car allowed us to stop in small towns for lunch or just to wander around. We stopped at roadside fruit stalls to buy fresh fruit. We had came across all sorts of interesting bits and pieces just because we could get to them.

You will pay more for a separate drop-off point, and you will probably have to use one of the bigger car rental firms to be allowed to do this. After doing some searching online, we ended up booking through Thai Rent a Car and found them to be very good and professional to deal with.
I would suggest that you just start googling car rentals for Donsak, and go from there.

A tip: when hiring a car, I prefer to get a sedan rather than a hatchback as it gives you plenty of space to stow your packs, and keeps it out os sight of prying eyes.

I have also hired a 4WD in Koh Phangan where the roads were very rough in places. I have done a bit of off-road driving in my time, so I just found it a bit of an adventure. But it was very easy to navigate around. Rental policies were far more lax however, compared to the bigger rental companies.

Definitely, I would recommend hiring a car!

#2 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by smudglette on 29/9/2010 at 18:49

Thanks Lizzy - you've made me feel much more sane now :-) good tip about getting a good map too.

That website was the only one I could find that didn't look dodgy. My blokey reckons we should hire one once we get there, but I'm not so keen - I have a tendancy to overplan these things though :-S

#3 smudglette has been a member since 29/9/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by exacto on 29/9/2010 at 22:18


when i lived in bangkok in the late 90's, i had my own car and did quite a bit of driving all over Thailand. as lizzy says, the roads are generally pretty good, but can be narrow, particularly in the south, where you'd be driving. what lizzy didn't mention is that unlike in lovely places like New Zealand, you'll be sharing the road with huge, lane-stealing buses and other crazed folks. in other words, the road rules in Thailand are more like one of Mel Gibson's earlier movies than in most other places i've driven.

if you are used to driving on the left side of the road, great. but if not, it can be a difficult place to try that for the first time.

anyway, it isn't all that far from Donsak to Krabi , and i wondered what it was specifically that you wanted to stop and see along that route. sometimes people rush through an area for a reason.

it seems like it will be a very expensive way to get from Donsak to Krabi by hire car, particularly with the one-way rental drop off charges. perhaps you could get the same experience, at a fraction of the cost, by just doing a day trip tour with a hire car once you arrive in Krabi.

another option you might consider is to charter/hire a car for the drive. that way you'd have all the fun of going where you wanted and stopping wherever but not having to worry about doing the actual driving. oddly enough, this might even be less expensive than just hiring a car.

just some ideas to consider. whatever you do eventually wind up doing, i hope you'll let us know how it went, what the costs were, what you saw along the way, etc. thanks and have fun!

#4 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,762
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Posted by smudglette on 29/9/2010 at 22:35

Hmmm, thanks Exacto - tha's definitely food for thought. I hadn't even considered chartering a car and driver.

I've managed to get a quote for a Hilux for 3 days for £150 - including the one way charges. This is cheaper than the £160+ I had budgeted for the flight/ferry/bus/ferry option I had previously considered and we can choose to go straight to Lanta and have the car for a couple of days exploration there or the freedom to stop somewhere we like the look of on the way.

You make a good point about why people go through somewhere, and while I don't have anything I can say I specifically want to see I like the idea of driving the long way around ie down the coast a little and then across (through Khao Kaeo). It's got to be better than messing around with flights/ferries etc.

Thanks for your thoughts - it's nice to bounce these ideas around!

#5 smudglette has been a member since 29/9/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by Captain_Bob on 29/9/2010 at 22:57

Sorry to be the party pooper, but from Don Sak to Krabi is a relatively boring drive (200km of mostly highway on the direct route) but it also depends on how long and which route you actually take. Arranging a one-way rental can also be a costly hassle.

Another idea could be get to Krabi town, rent a car there and drive around the area, to Phang Nga province, up the Khao Lak coast to Takua Pa and inland to Khao Sok national park, then back to Krabi by another route.

IMO the best self-drive experience in Thailand is the far northwest - Mae Hong Son, Mae Sot, Umphang, etc but that's another story =)

#6 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,950

Posted by busylizzy on 30/9/2010 at 02:05

"what lizzy didn't mention is that unlike in lovely places like New Zealand, you'll be sharing the road with huge, lane-stealing buses and other crazed folks."
Good point! I had forgotten about all big trucks and idiots who overtake on blind corners. Hmmm... just like in NZ!

Not sure why you would hire a Hilux - seems a bit overkill and expensive - which is fine if you have the spare dosh and are not travelling on a budget. Our rental car (a mid-size Toyota, in 2008k, including separate drop-off location) cost a total of 8728 baht for 8 days - which I thought was bugger all when split between two people. This equates to £68 for 3 days, although I assume you would pay a bit more for short-term rentals.

Also - there is no problem with leaving the booking until you get to there. That leaves your options open in case you change your mind, decide to go elsewhere, etc. We didn't decide to rent our car until we reached Chiang Mai, and organised it via the website a day or two ahead of time. You're doing your research ahead of time which is good so that you will know what to expect.

#7 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by smudglette on 30/9/2010 at 02:41

Lizzy - completely agree that the Hilux is overkill (from what you guys have said the roads really don't require anything like it), it's more that the Hilux is the cheapest car available at £80 for the 3 days (plus £60 one way charge). I think I might take your advice and leave it until we get there and see how we feel.
Captain Bob - Driving the 200km will actually be less painful that getting the ferry to Samui, flight to Krabi , taxi into Krabi, overnight in Krabi (something I'm starting to think I don't actually want to miss the more I look into it) and then morning ferry to Lanta....presuming of course the delays and waiting are as bad as I hear anyway. Rather than doing the direct route, we were thinking of going South and then West/North-west - do you have any experience of this route?

I would LOVE to be thinking about this for Northern Thailand, as you say but my blokey wants Xmas in Phangan and then New Year on a different Island (Phangan his choice and Lanta mine - only because I want to spend a night or two on Jum), I'm really only considering driving as a more pleasant/exciting alternative to flying. Northern Thailand next time hopefully :-)
I figure if we have the car for 3 days, even if we drive straight to Lanta because the road there has little to see then at least we can use it for some of the more Southern parts of the Island that scooters are suitable for.
Thanks to you both again, it's great to get another perspective.

#8 smudglette has been a member since 29/9/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by Dutchgirl on 1/10/2010 at 04:02

We drove for 5 days through Northern Thailand and it was the best part of our holiday. The freedom of doing whatever we want, whenever we want it, just can't be beaten. And for us that freedom includes: just the two of us, no driver. We'll be riding the North again next year but longer, another part of Northern Thailand. The North have the best maps, GT-Riders, makes driving so much easier. They have this great website too:
Thought of driving the south as well, but my budget doesn't stretch that much.
If you're not too inexperienced and like to drive, just do it! If the South is as easy as the North you'll have the time of your life!

Another tip: last year I watched a couple of video's on Youtube just to see what the roads are like. Maybe there are video's on the route you choose (or is it chose? don't know) too.

#9 Dutchgirl has been a member since 20/12/2009. Location: Netherlands. Posts: 52

Posted by smudglette on 1/10/2010 at 15:19

Thanks Dutchgirl - there's so much more info on the North, that definitely seems like the place to be doing this. Next time maybe, next time. I'm pretty sure we're going to go ahead with it now, I'll be sure to come back and let you know how it went!

(you had it right with 'choose' too by the way :-D )

#10 smudglette has been a member since 29/9/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by fondo on 1/10/2010 at 18:15

The Hilux fits in with the rest of the traffic ... and it's fun! I've driven around in Issan and the Central/South Coast ... it's all great.

#11 fondo has been a member since 23/6/2006. Posts: 175
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