The Undocumented Dangers of Thailand’s Roads

December 29, 2011

It is a top tourist destination – but what the guidebooks don’t tell you is that Thailand’s roads are lethal. Now a group of mothers whose sons died in a bus crash are campaigning to change that. Bruno Melling Firth, Max Boomgaarden-Cook, and Conrad Quashie – all 19 years old – arrived in Thailand for a 9-week holiday in June. They had saved up all year for a final holiday together before starting university. Four days into their trip, they boarded a night bus in Bangkok. There were heading for the ancient city of Chang Mai, which lies 11 hours by road to the north. They didn’t make it.

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13 Responses to The Undocumented Dangers of Thailand’s Roads

  1. Miles Trethewey on December 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Thailand’s roads are much safer than the ones here in the UAE

  2. Kiki Roseberg on December 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Backpackers are by their very nature adventurers and risk takers, they choose to stay in risky locations, take dodgy transport and do risky activities as part of their adventure. If you take a gypsy bus with no insurance and no known organisation you made a conscious decision to risk your life to save 5 pounds…. there are some things you shouldn’t risk, quality bus companies abound and their prices are usually the same as the gypsy ones, but the thugs and touts who run the gypsy buses go to the source to get their victims, supply and demand – tell backpackers to stop going with these guys and use proper registered transport – rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t take this risk at home why would you do it in a risky environment? commonsense is on a backpacking holiday too it seems.

  3. Kiki Roseberg on December 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I have complete sympathy for the mothers and families who have lost loved ones here and other backpacker locations, I have lost myself so I also have empathy for them but people make decisions and take risks they wouldn’t otherwise do, then later try to lay blame on others. A proper bus with registration and reliable bus company is less than 15 pounds from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. about 18 pounds for Bangkok to Phuket with good seats and services. People who try to get a ticket for 5 -8 pounds on dodgy buses are taking a risk, tell mothers to tell their children on backpacking holidays to catch a proper bus. and Lonely Planet Guide has plenty of warnings on their site and blogs about buses and not getting buses from Khao San Road: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2043030

  4. Kiki Roseberg on December 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Do a simple google search: “warning for buses in thailand” and you get 34 million responses… “undocumented dangers” in the headline is a bit of a stretch?

  5. Chanakan on December 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I’m feel really sorry for her son, and I know how sad when people lose their love one, but any accidence no one want its happen.

  6. Richard Barrow on December 29, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    They use “undocumented” because they want it to be officially added to travel warnings for Thailand.

  7. Kiki Roseberg on December 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    There is a note in the UK Embassy website about safety of buses – whilst not extensive it does at least raise the issue – how about a warning to use common sense? my wife jumped on the back of a motorbike one rainy night in July 1998, drunk as a skunk and so was the rider and they ran into a steel door at 140 kph – both dead – should there be a warning about drunken stupidity as well? how about just – use your common sense – would you put your valuables in an unknown place on a dodgy bus if you were at home? would you take an unlicensed unregistered bus if you were at home just to save a few pence? the embassy should be warning people not to leave their common sense at home, for some reason people travel and seem to think that the rules of nature, law and everything else sensible just don’t exist anymore and do the most stupid things – http://www.easts.info/on-line/journal_06/3617.pdf – see this link to see that the number of “bus” accidents involving tourists is not as frightful as portrayed, unfortunately the british media has a habit of over exaggerating almost everything, they should stick to what they are good at – phone hacking

  8. Richard Barrow on December 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks Kiki for your input. I would agree with many of your points. I think Thailand’s buses are just as safe as any other around the world, but you have to be careful and use common sense. I personally won’t take night buses, nor will I book at some small travel agent on Khao San Road. I think 9 times out of ten you will be ripped off. You won’t get the bus that they showed you in the pictures and the chance is high that you will have valuables stolen from your luggage while you are sleeping. I’ve had many emails about this. In fact, I will post an extract from one tomorrow.

    • Michael Chick on December 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      While on the topic, there’s also an ongoing scam between the Lao and Vietnam Border, where travellers are “extorted” for an extra US$20 on TOP of the price of the ticket they paid. Failure to pay this generally means that you will be dumped in the middle of the night with your luggage.
      I bring this up, only because Thailand is usually en-route of all these victims…

  9. Wayne Edginton on December 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I sympathise and agree with what you say Kiki, but even armed with a full pack of common sense the amount of incompetent and downright reckless driving here will come as a shock to those only used to travelling in North America, Europe, or Australia.

  10. Betti on December 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    part of the problem is that these accidents don’t only happen to the dodgy Khao San Road buses – those white and blue official buses are also affected.
    I first came to Thailand 10 years ago, prices have hardly gone up since then, and there hasn’t been a raise in the past 4 or 5 years, while the price of everything else, including fuel, has skyrocketed. I suspect the companies are trying to cut corners and save money by making the drivers work longer hours without enough time off to recover, this way inevitably they make more mistakes.
    I would rather put up with a 10% increase in prices for 2nd class and 1st class buses (don’t want to speak for “cattle class”) if I knew that meant drivers get more sleep and there are higher standards of maintenance.

  11. GM Greenwood on December 30, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Some of the posts here seem to view Thai bus ‘accidents’ as inevitable, almost force-of-nature events. This attitude removes – or at least mitigates – the state’s responsibility for managing and controlling key transport links crucial to the local population and foreign visitors. The first group are citizens and are entitled to the maximum protection the state can provide, the latter are guests and due the same rights while also serving as vital components of the economy – tourism produces around 6% of Thailand’s GDP. While it is obviously impossible to eradicate risk in any form of human activity, the state has manifestly failed to protect Thais and foreign visitors by targeting bus and truck operators whose employees are responsible for the majority of bus crashes. Corporate manslaughter charges and huge fines would at least gain the attention of the owners of these vehicles and would be more likely tot reduce the incidence of accidents than focusing on the poorly paid and overworked drivers, assuming they survive. This, however, is extremely unlikely to happen in Thailand – or many other countries – where the legal system is geared largely towards protecting the interests of a small and wealthy elite than dispensing impartial justice.

  12. Yum on December 30, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I agree that travelling is about common sense whichever country people are visiting. But my husband and I often drive on the roads of Thailand with our own car, around Bangkok and also for long distance trips to the South and the North-East. And we can tell you that most Thai drivers are not aware of road safety and are bad drivers :
    * Lots of them often change lanes without any warnings and without looking what’s coming behind them.
    * They drive very close to each other that’s why we often see small accidents on the side of highways during holidays periods
    * The buses and the trucks think they have the priority everywhere as they are the biggest vehicles so they drive like crazy.
    * Other rules Thai drivers do not respect : Slow drivers are driving on the fast lane, you can overtake a car on the left or the right side, during traffic jam people even drive on the emergency lane.
    * Driving tests are mostly theory and video tests. No proper training on the roads most of the time that’s why you will hardly see any storefront driving schools. My husband’s Thai colleagues even told us that lots of Thai people buy their driving licence without taking any tests.
    * On Thai highways, there are U-turns which are very dangerous and there are not only vehicles, but also small motorbikes, people and lots of abandoned dogs crossing the roads (most provincial towns are built along the main roads and highways). In France and other European countries, highways are only for vehicles and you never see any people walking around and there are no U-turns on highways.
    * The Thais don’t mind driving while drunk : I already experienced drunk motorbike taxi driver at only 10 AM and heard lots of stories from my friends living in Bangkok about the same case. For lots of young Thai people, having fun is drinking so during the Water Festival in April, we often see groups already drunk in the morning !

    So, I don’t think that the British media is overexagerating : last year, during the Western New Year (Dec 29th, 2010 to Jan 4th, 2011), the Thai newspapers reported 358 deaths and 3,750 injuries, which is a lot for only 6 days !
    Road safety is not a priority for the Thai officials though you would see lots of policemen during holidays periods but the safety check points are rather dangerous as they would slow down all the cars and would often cause traffic jam.
    We don’t mind driving in Thailand as it is very convenient but while driving in Thailand, we try to be always careful, especially at night time.

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