Strategic Car Ditching to Avoid Bangkok Traffic

As a Bangkok commuter living in the suburban areas of the city, I find travelling by private car a necessity. Most days travelling to and from work is the main priority, but things get more complicated on the occasions I need to go into the Sukhumvit or Sathorn area of Bangkok.
Whenever possible, I’d suggest using the BTS skytrain or MRT subway lines if it is convient. There are designated parking lots situated at the certain stations like Mochit, Thailand Cultural Center, and Queen Sirikit Center for BTS and MRT passengers. When using these parking lots, remember to stamp your parking cars at your destination station to get the lower parking rate. One word of caution, check the times of operation for these parking lots since most close at 1:00 am. If you have not collected your car, you will have to pay a rediculous overnight fee.

Bangkok Traffic Pictures

Here are some photos to help people visualize traffic situations in Thailand. All of these pictures were take along Pitsanulok Road heading towards Thammasat University and Ta Praatid on a Friday afternoon. I normally commute between Ratchadapisek area and Thammasat in the late afternoon. This takes roughly 45 minutes on average, but there have been occassions where it takes 2-3 hours!!


Thai-style Car Wash

I love getting my car washed in Thailand. There are always so many people working on my car and it’s 100% hand wash. There’s an entire range of wash and cleaning services to choose from. You can even get your engine or undercarriage washed and upholstery shampooed. Most car washing services are located at gas stations and lots of times there are minimarts or little coffee shops where you can grab a drink or a snack while you wait for your car to be washed.

The best thing of all is the price. For 80 baht, roughly $2.50, I can get a basic wash and interior vacuum. For 300 baht, roughly $10, I can get a wash, interior vacuum and exterior buff. For a bit of extra nice treatment, I can get a wash, interior vacuum, exterior buff and wax for 600 baht, or $20. I was accustomed to paying $10 before tip for the most basic car wash in the United States, so the car wash prices in Thailand are very reasonable.
Anyone driving a motorcycle can also use the car wash services to get their ride washed and detailed.

Parking Cars the Thai Way

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Take a look around most parking lots in Thailand, you’ll notice that most people park by backing their cars in. This took a little for me to get used to as the skills required for backing a car into a parking spot in a crowded parking garage is not something your typical American knows how to do. After much practice, I think I’ve grasped the basic idea, but I do struggle when I’m in a hard to maneuver situation.

Why do Thais back into their parking spots? Most people I’ve talked to say that it’s easier to drive out of the parking spot when you are parked with the front of your car facing the way you need to go. In this case, all you need to do is put your car in gear, take a look in front of you and drive away. But, if you parked with your head in first, it is difficult for you to see the cars behind you when you are pulling out to leave. This can be especially frustrating in parking garages or when other cars don’t want to stop to let you back out.

The other thing that Thais say is the benefit of backing into a parking spot is that when you find your parking spot and start backing in, you have a very clear view of the cars around you. Other drivers are aware of what you are doing and those behind you have to wait for you to finish backing in. They think that backing out of a spot is more likely to cause accidents since the driver has a much more restricted view of the cars behind him.

The Thai viewpoint on parking by backing into a parking spot is well taken and in the case of parking in Bangkok, where drivers tend to be a bit impatient, makes a lot of sense. Generally, I try to follow what other people who are parked are doing in order to keep in line with the parking norms. Parking in Thailand has definitely improved my ability to maneuver in tight places and drive in reverse. Now, if only I could fine tune my ability to parallel park.

Horrific Traffic on a Rainy, Friday Night

I experienced one of the most trying traffic situations this evening as I spent almost three hours sitting in my car. I was trying to go from my work in the Meng-jai area of Bangkok to Thammasat University for my Friday evening lecture. Normally, this journey across town takes around an hour or so. I usually leave a good hour and a half to get to Thammasat and a little more time to find parking in order to be in class by 6:30 pm.

Of course, I was running a little late today and the rain complicated matters. I tried to bypass traffic by taking the Ramintra Motorway to the Rama 9 Motorway and then getting off on the Yommarat exit. This tactic normally works very well and gets me through rush hour traffic with relatively few problems. But, I soon as I was within a few kilometers of the Yommarat exit, I knew something was wrong because cars were already stopped and waiting to get off.

I spent over an hour simply inching along the motorway, trying to get off at the Yommarat exit. I soon as I could see the intersection at the end of the motorway off-ramp I saw the reason for the hold up. The lefthand lanes which were head to Lan Luang were at a stand still and the majority of the cars were trying to go in that direction. I made the decision to go down Pitsanulok Road, even though I knew it was block off by the protesters a few intersections down.

Once I got past that crazy intersection and found an alternate route on Si Ayutthya Road, I arrive at Thammasat twenty minutes later without any further difficulties. I must say though that spending so much time stuck in a car can make one a little stir crazy. Traffic is one of the most frustrating things about living in Bangkok and trying to get around the city, especially in the rain.

U-turns in Bangkok

A friend of my who visited Thailand once commented on the number of u-turns that exist in Bangkok. It seems that Thai civic engineers love using u-turns instead of allowing intersections. The logic behind this decision may be that instead of using red lights, which stop traffic, using u-turns allow traffic to flow continuously at all times. U-turns are used especially in conjunction with flyovers and bridges. This is especially true in the city where traffic conditions are especially bad and u-turns are used frequently. Large roads like Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road even has u-turns that go overhead in order to avoid stop traffic on that busy street.

The use of u-turns in Bangkok often restricts going straight on a road or making a right hand turn. For example, when I drive on the Ekkami-Ramintra Road and want to head towards my house, I have to make a left hand turn onto Kaset-Nawamin Road and then a u-turn at the next traffic light. Additionally, I cannot make a right hand turn into my soi because there is a cement center divider. I have pass my soi and make another u-turn in order to make a left hand turn at my soi. All these u-turns means that driving in Bangkok is often more difficult to maneuver than simply knowing where your destination is because you also have to figure out the complicated roads.

U-turns are places where drivers should be very carefully. Tonight on the drive home I saw an accident at a u-turn where the car making a u-turn obviously pulled in front of traffic and caused a collision. Cars making u-turns need to take care to stay to the rightmost lane as much as possible and watch for the cars heading towards them. Likewise, the cars which are going straight would be wise to change lanes as they approach u-turns. There are usually signs posted at 100 meter intervals starting at around 500 meters to let you know when the next u-turn is coming up. Of course, you should also slow down a bit and keep a watch out for those who are trying to make a u-turn.

Rain Brings Out the Worst in Bangkok Part 1

It’s probably true all over the world that rain is one of the weather conditions that will reek havoc on traffic conditions. As a Los Angeles native, it’s often been said that Californians don’t know how to drive in the rain because even a drizzle will bring our freeways to a stand still.

It’s no different in Bangkok except that the scale of traffic is at least ten-fold. Most Thais don’t have an affinity for rain and Bangkokians especially because they know that rain equals traffic. As soon as it gets cloudy in the afternoon, you’ll hear Thai saying “fon thok” and that they have to go home as quickly as possible as to avoid the anticipated traffic conditions.

Now imagine millions of people all over Bangkok doing the exact same thing and instead of lingering around their workplaces or stopping somewhere after work, all of them rush home as soon as they can. The unavoidable result is that the road are packed with the normal traffic, as well as these “fon thok” traffic avoiding Bangkokians. Unless you were lucky enough to actually beat the “fon thok” traffic, whether or not it’s actually raining, depends on if you got out earlier enough.

If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, expect to be stuck in the kind of traffic that Bangkok is famous for. It isn’t unusual for your daily commute to double or even triple under rainy conditions. You’ll sit in your car or taxi counting the number of times the windshield wipers swish by as cars all around you sit at a stand still for no apparent reason. By the time you get home, your bladder is probably about to burst, a condition worsened by listening to the sound of rain for an hour.

Perhaps the best thing to do if you suspect that it will rain during rush hour is to stay put and wait it out. At least you won’t have to suffer through gridlock traffic like the millions of Bangkokians who fear “fon thok” traffic. The down side is that in Thailand it can easily rain all night and you’ll never know when the traffic will subside.  

Difference Between Gasohol 95 and Gasohol 91?


Gasohol is a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, hence the name which is a mixture of the two words. It is an alternative fuel to 100% gasoline and helps to reduce the consumption of expensive and nonrenewable gasoline.

Many countries use gasohol, such as Brazil, Canada and Thailand. Here in Thailand is has been on the market since 2001 and is being promoted to increase public use. There are even commercials on TV that speak of the good qualities of gasohol and reassures the public’s apprehensions about using gasohol. People are becoming more aware of gasohol and it’s usage has increased over the years, but many people still use regular gasoline over gasohol.

There is a very aggressive long term plan by the Thai government to change all benzene, or regular gasoline, pumps into gasohol. At this time, however, gasohol pumps are hard to find outside of Bangkok and major cities. Bangchak and PTT are more likely to carry gasohol than other gas stations, but in smaller cities it’s hard to find even one pump with gasohol. Also, Gasohol 95 is relatively more common than Gasohol 91.

95 versus 91

Gas stations may use different brand names to market the fuels, but generally they are coded in the same colors.

Regular 95 (benzene) = yellow

Regular 91 (benzene) = red

Gasohol 95 = orange

Gasohol 91 = green

Gasohol ranges from 2.5 bath  to 0.70 satang cheaper than regular gasoline at the same octane. All of the gasohol on the market in Thailand today is E10, meaning that it is a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. The primary difference between gasohol 95 and gasohol 91 is that the 10% ethanol is mixed with 95 octane gasoline in the case of gasohol 95 and 91 octane gasoline in the case of gasohol 91.

The mixture of gasoline and ethanol does have disadvantages such as loss of power and fuel efficiency and possibly even damage to the fuel system. The reason for this difference is that ethyl alcohol, another name for ethanol, contains about half the amount of energy when compared to regular gasoline. Gasohol 95, with its higher octane, would enable a car to perform slightly better than gasohol 91.

In order to achieve comparable performance to regular gasoline when using gasohol, engines have to be modified to use a fuel pipe that has a section area twice as large and fuel injectors that are twice as fast. Most cars that were manufactured after 1995 can handle E10 gasohol, but newer cars are being made that can function using E20 gasohol, which is 20% ethanol and 80% gasoline.

Toyota and Honda 2008 Models to Use Gasohol E20

Environmentally friendly folks will be happy to hear that several car manufacturers in Thailand will be selling passenger cars with the capacity to use a higher percentage of ethanol in ethanol-gasoline blended fuel (gasohol). These engines have been modified to use ethanol, a renewable fuel, with greater efficiency that older car engines.

The gasohol currently available in Thailand labelled as gasohol 95 is only 10% ethanol, or E10. In the future, these cars will be able to use gasohol that is 20 % ethanol, or E20, while older car engines not modified specifically for ethanol will not.

Toyota, Thailand’s largest manufacturer of passenger cars, has announced that the new Corolla Altis released in Thailand with be able to use E20 gasohol. These cars will be manufactured in Thailand, sold in Thailand as well as to Asean markets. Toyota plans to sell 2,600 units a month with each car priced between 709,000 to 969,000 baht. Passengers cars in the Toyota fleet are also being modified to use E20 ethanol, such as the Vios, Yaris and Camry.

A few other car manufacturers, such as Honda, are also set to release E20 gasohol cars  in the near future. At the 2007 International Motor Expo, Mr. Otaka of Honda, Thailand’s second largest manufacturer of passenger cars, announced that all of Honda’s 2008 car models will be able to use gasohol E20.

For those of you looking to do your part to save the planet from the global climate change that is being caused by carbon dioxide emissions, consider buying one of the new Toyota or Honda cars that are using E20 ethanol fuels. These cars will also accommodate the increased use of ethanol fuels more easily that cars that are not designed to be used with ethanol fuels. You will also help to reduce our consumption of nonrenewable fuels and be part of the initiative to use alternative forms of energy which are renewable.


Mini Cooper at Motor Expo 2007

While I was at the Motor Expo a few weeks ago, I couldn’t resist snapping some shots of my favorite little car. There was an entire booth dedicated to the Mini Cooper’s from the Next Millennium showroom in Bangkok. The on right up from was the classic red with white roof and racing strips, although a silver and grey Mini Cooper were parked right behind it. All of the Minis on display were used vehicles for less than 2 million baht, considerably more reasonable than 2.4-2.8 for the new 2007 models. Since Minis don’t really change much and advertise their classic styling, a pre-loved Mini Cooper could bring you just as much fun as a brand new Mini Cooper with a much lower price tag.

This is the interior of the Mini Cooper when you go inside the vehicle through the fifth door. You can see that there is no much room between the small trunk, the back row and the front seats, but you’ve got all the basics you need in a car, as well as some of the fun features and cool interior. The seats and dash are black but the dials are primarily white to contrast all of the dark coolers. Of course, it all feels rather sporty and befits this speedy little car.

This is a shot of the trunk with the hatch open. Don’t plan on taking any long camping trips with the Mini as it can barely pack enough luggage for two people on a weekend trip. We all know that the Mini Cooper is perfect for a cramped metropolis like Bangkok, but it’s ill suited for large families, toting lots of people or lots of stuff. However, if you are a high society (hi-so) Bangkokian who needs to zip around Bangkok in style, it’s perfect for squeezing through those tight streets in Sukhumvit!