Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Canadian Sisters Dead in Thailand

A horrible way to die: two Canadian sisters have been found dead in a hotel room on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. The early indications are that they might have been poisoned. Speculation will run wild as this comes three years after two other tourists were found dead on the same island, only a short distance from where these two young Quebec women met their tragic end.

In Bangkok Filth: The Freaks, Frauds and Failures of the Expat Community, I explore the mysterious and horrible way that far too many expats and tourists die while in Thailand. An excerpt from "Suicide Solution":

The country’s most respected forensic pathologist made a public comment a few years ago regarding the number of “mysterious deaths” that occur in the Kingdom every year. She ranked the number at approximately 1000. These are deaths that are unexplained and largely go uninvestigated by Thai police.
So, on top of the high number of murder victims, there are 1000 deaths deemed completely unworthy of looking  into. Perhaps due to the social status of the departed or the possible murderer. Or maybe the mind-numbing heat plays such havoc with corpses that things go beyond the solvable stage a lot faster than in other parts of the world.
While not the freest press in the world, this news does get reported. But somehow it doesn't resonate outside the country as much as it should. That image doesn't jibe with the experience most people have had while vacationing here. The winsome, ever-smiling Thais with a rich and varied culture are just so darned nice in the short, hazy doses of a two-week vacation. And of course, most Thais are genuinely decent people. Still...
Bangkok Filth: The Freaks, Frauds and Failures of the Expat Community in Thailand

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thai Driver's License for Foreigners: Procedure, Documents, Instructions

Department of Land Transport Bangkok
If you plan on staying in Thailand for any length of time, it is a good idea to get your Thai driving license.

In this post I will provide information on how to get your Thai driver's license in Bangkok from the Department of Land Transport offices located at 1032 Pahon Yothin Road.

Specifically, this is for people who have a valid work permit and a valid driver's license from their home country. For all other individuals seeking information on how to get a Thai driver's license, I would contact the nearest licensing office in Thailand.

While different offices in Thailand well may follow the same procedures, I have found that when dealing with various government bureaucracies, different locations sometimes have their own set of rules and require slightly different documents.

If you have any questions about whether there are additional documents required for verifying the authenticity of the driver's license from your particular country, please contact the Department of Land Transport. In my case, only the original driver's license from Canada and photocopies of it were required.

Just a quick note regarding the current online information posted by numerous individuals about the Thai driver's license process: I found that some of the details were outdated. My experience was that the process has been streamlined when compared to what had been outlined in a number of those online posts.

Address, Phone Numbers, Opening Hours

Address: 1032 Pahon Yothin Road.

Phone number(s): 02-271-8804, 02-271-8888, 02-271-1105-27

Opening Hours: 0830-1530

However, the doors to the second floor Information desks where you obtain the first of numerous queue numbers, open at 0745. I urge you to arrive early. I walked in at a few minutes after 0800 and it was already a mob scene.

Also, the office closes for lunch from 1200-1300. And you apparently have to be in the queue for doing the testing on the third floor at least one hour before the office closes for the day.

Original Documents Required

—Work permit
—Driver's license from home country
—Medical certificate: this can easily be obtained from any walk-in clinic for 100 to 200 baht.

The Department of Land Transport in Bangkok does not seem to be concerned about what tests were done to obtain the medical certificate. If you have any problem when trying to communicate to the people at the doctor's office about what you need, the phrase in Thai for "medical certificate" is "bai rap rong paet" (ใบรับรองแพทย์).

Photocopies Required

—first page of passport
—page containing the Non-Immigrant B visa, or the most recent extension
—the most recent entry stamp
—the departure card (TM)

Work permit
—all pages with information

Note: I am assuming this is the case. For me, this was the first 8 pages of the work permit (i.e., 4 photocopies). However, if you have numerous renewals in the same work permit booklet, you may only need the first six pages plus the most recent renewal stamp.

You may want to confirm this with the office directly or wait to get the photocopy of the work permit when you arrive. However, if you want to verify this at the second-floor Information counter when you first arrive, you will have to go to the photocopy kiosk and this will cause you to lose your place in line. The easiest solution is to photocopy all pages in advance and they can take what they need.

Driver's license
—front and back

Sign your name at the bottom of all photocopies.

Directions/Getting There

Department of Land Transport entranceAs mentioned, the Department of Land Transport office where I completed this process is located at 1032 Pahon Yothin Road. If you are taking the Skytrain, get out at Mo Chit station, exit 2, walk straight on (walk in the same direction as the traffic) for about 15 minutes. If you are travelling by subway, get out at Chatuchak Park station, exit 4 and walk straight on (walk in the same direction as the traffic).

Department of Land Transport building 4When you get to the Department of Land Transport main entrance, enter and walk straight down the road for about 250 to 300 metres until you get to Building 4 (no English sign), which is located on the right-hand side.

If you arrive by taxi, the driver will likely know where you are going. Or, simply ask any number of people inside the Department of Land Transport complex, as almost anyone will know where you want to go.

Once You Arrive: Procedure for Obtaining Thai Driver's License

Enter the building and take the stairs to the second floor.

Building 4 second floor
When you get to the second floor, enter the doors straight ahead. Get in line at the counter. The clerk will check that all your papers and your passport, home-country driver's license and work permit are in order.

The clerk will get you to print your full name on a form. Then, she will give you a queue number and the photocopies and you will go to the large waiting room in the back of where you have just been processed.

There seems to be two counters in the waiting room that are dedicated to processing foreigners (i.e., people like you). So, you get a bit of a break here and won't have to wait long. You will be called to sit inside a cubicle and you will sign your name on another form and leave the photocopies. Next, you proceed to the third floor with your documents.

Building 4 sign third floor
When you get to the third floor, turn right, walk through some doors, and then turn right again. Wait in line at the Information counter. There, they will give you a form and another queue number.

I believe they hold back your home-country driver's license and perhaps your passport at this point—it's a bit of a blur right now. Of course, you will have everything returned at the end of the process. This allows them to extract all the necessary information and enter it into their system and saves you the hassle of having to fill in any forms.

Driver's license video physical test
Next, you will have to wait in this area for 10 to 20 minutes before you are called in to the adjacent room to perform a few cognitive tests. In this waiting area, there is a TV that  runs a video showing examples of the tests you will have to perform.

An employee with a microphone will call in lots of 10 to 15 people to the testing room according to their queue numbers. It helps if you understand basic Thai and know when your number is being called. If not, just hang around and hold up your number like a simpering fool when a new lot of people is being ushered into the testing room.


On the day that I was there, you had to perform three tests, though apparently there are potentially four tests.

First Test
Indicate what colour lights are shown on a traffic light standard that is about seven metres away. The attendant there will click a button, the light will appear, and you call out the colour. Probably better to learn the colours in Thai, though I am sure they would accept English.

Second Test
Press a gas pedal and brake pedal to indicate your reflexes. In this test, you sit in a seat and on the floor is a unit with a gas pedal and brake pedal. About three metres in front of you is a rectangular box with a lighted meter that is activated when you press the gas pedal. The idea is to release the gas pedal and push the brake pedal before the lighted meter enters the red zone. However, I believe that as long as you push the brake pedal before the lighted meter goes past the red zone, you should be OK. To begin the test, press the gas pedal.

As mentioned, this is one of those tasks that is easier done than said. Just watch the example video when you are in the waiting room. Believe me, you will have no problem. I can't imagine that anyone in the history of performing these tests has ever failed!

Third Test
Sit down at a seat and push your nose up against a metal slot against which thousands of others have mashed their faces (blech!). The attendant presses a button and lights (red, green, yellow/amber) will flash to the right and left to test your peripheral vision. Call out the colours as they appear. As long as you get two out of three you are OK. The yellow/amber is not very bright and can easily be mistaken for green.

Fourth Test
Apparently, there is a fourth test as indicated on the video in the waiting room. This test involves pressing a start and stop button to line up a pair of posts in a box in front of you. One post moves and you press stop when it is in front of the other one. This test was not conducted on the day I was there. Perhaps the machine was broken or maybe they change up the tests on any given day.

Completing the Process

The attendants at all these test-stations write the results on a form and when you are finished the final test, you take the papers back down to the Information counter on the second floor. You are given a final queue number, and you then go back to the waiting room with the dedicated counters for foreigners. When you are called into the cubicle, you will be asked to verify the spelling of your name on a form. Finally, you sign your name and then have a photo taken for your driver's license.

Minutes later, you are the proud owner of a Thai driver's license. Note that this is a one-year, temporary license that can be renewed for a five-year license when it is close to expiring.

The process I went through is much easier and more streamlined than is indicated on other websites. You really do not have to fill in any forms and do not need to read or understand Thai. Hence, it is really unnecessary to bring along a Thai person to help you. I believe at some point that someone in charge realized it was much more efficient to let the Thai staff fill in all the information and avoid the inevitable blundering around by foreigners attempting to guess what details went where on the forms.

Good luck!