A Tale of Two Cities, Part 2

The following is a continuation of my lengthy comparison of Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Newcomers, see Part 1.

 

7-Elevens versus Temples

Once upon a time, Chiang Mai and Pattaya met together for a few drinks. After getting will lubricated with liquor, Chiang Mai lost a bit of her usual class and accused Pattaya of being a bit slut. She added, “I mean, you don’t even have but—what?—four temples? I’ve got hundreds of temples. So there!”

Pattaya replied, “Yeah, well for every temple you’ve got, I’ve got a 7-Eleven, a Family Mart, and a Tesco Express!”

“Impossible!” said Chiang Mai. “I’ve got hundreds of temples—more than anyone could possibly visit in a year. If a person were to feel truly pious, they could literally visit a different one every week!”

“Well,” retorted Pattaya, “At least none of my residents need to go more than fifty meters to buy a pack of smokes, a bottle of Chang, and a condom!”

“You are a slut!”

“And you’re a prude, holier-than-thou bitch!”

Pattaya grabbed Chiang Mai’s hair and shit got real.

They haven’t spoken to each other since.

thailand-chiang-mai-rachadamnoen-road-7-eleven-13-09-2011

In summary, whereas in Pattaya 7-Eleven puts Starbucks to shame with their proliferation, in Chiang Mai they’re quite a bit rarer. In fact, you might just pass 30 temples before you arrive at the nearest 7-Eleven. And if you don’t feel like doing that, try the neighbor. She’s converted the front half of her ground-level apartment into a little, humble convenience store.

 

Central Festival

As one might expect in a city entirely centered around its nightlife, daytime boredom is a real struggle in Pattaya. As a result, many residents become quite familiar with the seven-and-a-half level shopping mall known as Central Festival.

There you have a whole array of international clothing stores—the kinds of places that make their clothing in sweat shops in the neighboring countries for pennies a day, then ship them to Hong Kong, then import them into Thailand with duty taxes.

But if you’re not into buying a dress or a pair of jeans at three times the price of what you’d find in the local markets (but at twice the quality, it must be said), you can eat at one of the dozens of overpriced Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and American chain restaurants. Most people go there for SF Cinema City, which is arguably the best cinema in town.

However, the real attraction is the many retirees walking hand-in-hand with their granddaughters’ Thai peers. Ogle the beautiful, tanned, skinny Thai girls, then look at their senile boyfriend and lose the sushi you downed only moments earlier.

Central Festival isn’t unique to Pattaya. It’s sort of like Westfield shopping malls (for you SoCal residents). And so there’s one in Chiang Mai, too. It’s older and smaller, but it still features the same international chain stores and restaurants, and it still has a state-of-the-art cinema on the top floor.

The one palpable distinction between Central Festival Pattaya and Central Festival Chiang Mai is the demographic. In Chiang Mai, malls feel like malls in America: hundreds of teenagers wandering its floors aimlessly in the rare escape from home and school that it affords them. There aren’t addled pensioners twitching in the arms of their juvenile partners. Only innocent mallrats killing time and not finishing the homework assignment I gave them two weeks ago.

 

Traffic

Sorry, Chiang Mai residents, but I scoff at your complaints about traffic and the driving habits of people in Chiang Mai. Pattaya is far worse, with hundreds of drunk tourists who think they can manage a motorcycle even though they’ve never driven one before, thousands of impatient migrants from rural areas who haven’t adapted their driving habits to urban traffic, and probably millions of coach buses caterpillaring down every street and soi to show their Chinese riders the not-so-interesting part of Thailand.

Trust me: Chiang Mai is civilized compared to Pattaya.

 

Cafes/Beer bars

You really can’t drive anywhere in Pattaya without passing a pinkly lit open-air beer bar stacked with ladies who couldn’t get a job at the gogo bars. You can’t walk any of Pattaya’s broken sidewalks without hearing “Welcoooooooome!” or a deep-voiced “Sawadee ka!”

You really can’t drive anywhere in Chiang Mai without passing a cutely decorated café that serves subpar coffee and features overpriced Thai food and half-assed Western food.

However, the cafes do find ways to distinguish themselves, and every now and then I find one worth visiting routinely. That’s a lot more than I can say of the beer bars in Pattaya.

 

Friendliness of Locals

Probably the most useful generalization about these two cities goes like this: while Chiang Mai is everyone’s city, Pattaya is nobody’s.

And here’s what I mean by that:

Nobody is really from Pattaya. It’s a city full of people who have migrated there seeking the rich opportunities that sex tourism offers to people who are poorly educated. As a result, nobody really feels responsible for the city. Nobody seems to regard themselves as the city’s caretakers or stewards. And so it sags in near dilapidation. At the same time, visitors receive only a superficial welcome. There’s no pride in Pattaya, so why wash your greetings an enthusiasm for its culture?

Meanwhile, many Thais living in Chiang Mai are from Chiang Mai. They’ll be the first to brag that theirs is the best city in Thailand. And because they’re proud, they warmly welcome visitors. They usually want people to experience that special feeling that most visitors get when they come here. Chiang Mai has a character that usually stamps fondness in people’s hearts, and engraves itself strongly in their memories.

 

Food

It’s not that Pattaya has bad food, nor is it that Chiang Mai necessarily has the best food in Thailand. It’s just easier to find what you want in Chiang Mai. Moreover, because Pattaya is nobody’s home, restaurants often close during holidays because their owners go back to their little villages hundreds of kilometers away.

Here’s another way to look at it. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a turkey dinner in Thailand. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a Cubano sandwich in Thailand. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a proper burrito in Thailand. And until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had to scour the streets looking for decent Massaman or Panang curry.

The only downside to Chiang Mai’s food scene is that it can make a fella go broke real fast.  Finding those cheap Thai restaurants for locals only has proven to be difficult since my arrival here. But time should remedy that.

Oh, and seafood…I miss fresh seafood.

Chapter 2: A Tale of Two Cities

What crawls out of a slimy slum into the cultural mecca of Northern Thailand? Well, me, as it happens. If you’ve followed my adventures closely, you’d know that my experience in Thailand, though marked with marvels at many turns, has reeked of the ripe ribaldry of my fossil fellows. The giant brothel that is Pattaya is now my past, and I have finally arrived and settled in one of Thailand’s most charming cities—Chiang Mai.

Now that I’ve taken some time off from writing and immersed myself in this new life, I’m ready to continue reporting my experiences to anyone who’ll suffer through my amateur prose. However, I think for this new chapter, I’ll skip the Lonely-Planet-esque overview of Chiang Mai. That’s been done to death. Moreover, I sense that my readership will start to include fellow residents of Chiang Mai, so I don’t think I’ll bore them with descriptions they already know.

Instead, I thought I’d do a contrast, albeit an unfair one. It’s a bit like comparing the bastards in “Game of Thrones”: totally obvious but fun nonetheless. By the time I finished it, I had written 2700+ words, and since the internet seems to think that’s too many for you to read, I broke it into three smaller pieces. The following is part 1.

 

Walking Streets

walking_street_pattaya

On a semi-regular basis, I used to haunt the inglorious neon lights that washed the throng of curious pleasure-seekers in a hellish hue of reddish pink. I used to walk the gauntlet of gogo bar hostesses and street advertisers shouting their rudimentary welcomes and enticements, shoving their laminated menus of ping pong shows and short-time sex in my face as I dodged drunken tourists gazing everywhere but directly in front of them. I used to go there simply because that was where my girlfriend and her friends liked to go to let off steam, and where the best clubs in Pattaya could be found.

It was Walking Street—the most famous street in Sextown. Though it was a mess of every shade of prostitution, it was also a place where adults could have fun and drink the sun into rising.

Chiang Mai’s Walking Street is a different place. Every Sunday around 4 pm, Ratchadamnoen Road closes to Sunday Walking Street Chiang Mai, Thailandvehicles, and creates a 1.5-km stretch of shops and food stalls. When you enter Sunday Night Walking Street from Tha Phae Gate on the east side of the moat, you can stare down the makeshift market until it disappears into a haze of forever. One is hard pressed to visit every shop in every nook, cranny, and alley. Even the numerous temples along that run open their grounds to vendors. Street performers and small bands huddle in the center of the street-come-walkway and fill the market with an assortment of sounds ranging from traditional Thai music to bluesy folk rock. My favorite is a band comprised of all blind men singing original, Beatlesque compositions in both Thai and English.

And whereas most touristy locales feature twenty shops with the same twenty trinkets, Sunday Night Walking Street features vendors plying truly unique, often handcrafted items: purses made of hemp, leather patchwork vests and bags, screen-printed t-shirts designed by the vendor herself, and more. It’s an artisan’s community with items you seldom want to pass up because you may never see them anywhere else.

The difference between these Walking Streets is stark: while one exploits human sexuality and debauchery, the other celebrates human creativity.

 

Loi Kroh is Mini Pattaya

Stemming from the southbound road that borders the eastern moat is Loi Kroh, a one-way street that connects the moat to the famous Night Bazaar. The first time I drove down this road, things felt simultaneously strange and familiar. There were many open-air bars with girls dressed in short, tight dresses standing on the sidewalk watching hopefully as I passed them by. There was also a complex of cubical-sized bars each with its own pool table, with even more Thai woman looking bored as they sat at tables in front of each one. There was even a few gogo bars and massage parlors with girls wearing the not-so-typical masseuse attire.

I had stumbled upon the one pseudo red light district in Chiang Mai, and my first thought was That’s weird. The gravity of that thought and everything it implied suddenly hit me. I had left a city where all of this was normal. And I was now in a city where it was zoned in and isolated, so as not to smear the rest of the city’s reputation.

 

Party till Tomorrow

It all depends on how you define “tomorrow.” If you mean that you want to party until the sun comes up, go to Pattaya. If you’re content with calling it quits when the clock strikes midnight, marking the technical beginning of the next calendar day, then stay in Chiang Mai.

Despite nationwide laws to close at 2am, many clubs in Pattaya don’t start chasing out their clientele until the first dim rays of sunrise hit their doors. In puritanical Chiang Mai, however, bars must close at midnight, and only a few rebels remain secretly open through the infant hours of the morning.

Pattaya Cribs (Video)

For almost a year now, people have requested that I start posting videos instead of just writing about my time here. To be honest, I don’t like making videos. Wordsmithing is much more enjoyable an art than video editing. But because I love my faithful readers, I’ll give you want. And the topic of this post couldn’t be any more appropriate for video format. Enjoy the brief tour of my humble lodgings in Pattaya. (By the way, iMovie sucks ass.)

Legal for Another Year

As of Tuesday, November 3, 2015, I’m officially legal in Thailand for another year. Sounds like no big deal, right? I mean, I jumped through all the hoops last year—don’t I just jump through the same ones this time, too? Not exactly. Not in Thailand, anyway.

Thailand is just weird about foreigners. Just this past weekend, the “prime minister” of Thailand said that if there’s no peace and order, he must stay on as prime minister and “close the country”. Despite his deputy’s insistence that it doesn’t mean what it sounds like (and in good Thai order insists we shouldn’t “think too much”), the PM’s gaffe is hard to dismiss as anything less than a Freudian slip—a momentary lapse of the façade that conceals the strident xenophobia of the Thais.

Add to this the recent distrust of foreigners fueled by the Bangkok bomb and all of its allegations, and there’s mass paranoia at the heart of Thailand’s immigration. And unlike the United States’s fear of Arabs shortly after 9/11, Thailand’s paranoia is universal.

Then there are the actual foreign scabs. Some guys actually do come to this country escaping a troubled past in their homeland, and forge university diplomas and transcripts to gain legal working status. So Thailand’s paranoia often gets affirmed.

What’s that all got to do with me?

In the weeks leading up to my own visa expiration date, colleagues of mine were getting cockblocked at immigration. They were being told that their diplomas needed to be certified at their embassies. For British citizens, this involves nothing more than the nuisance of making an appointment and getting a stamp from the embassy verifying that the degree is valid. For the Philippines, same. For Europeans, same.

For U.S. citizens…hold on. It turns out the U.S. Embassy very explicitly does not verify degrees obtained from American universities—probably the result of some lawsuit 30 years ago.

So how does it work? When I first looked into it, I found this long annoying process detailed in a post I wrote at the time. In order to facilitate the annoying game of pinball my diploma needed to undergo in order for it to be usable in Thailand, I had to involve my gracious mother, who was at the ready with USPS express mail envelopes and money orders in the exact amounts required by each office the document had to bounce off.

Step one: mail a photocopy of my diploma to my mother, along with a notary request form for my university. (As it happens, Berkeley only processes requests for original diplomas at the end of each term, after which there’s a 5 – 6 week turnaround.) My first mistake was trusting the Thailand Post’s EMS service. I tracked the document to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, and then static. My document disappeared into the ether. Upon notifying my mother of this mishap, she coolly replied, “Why don’t you scan the documents and email them to me?” FACEPALM. Why didn’t I think of that?

So she received digital copies of the documents, printed them, and mailed them with return envelopes and money to Berkeley.

Then one of my colleagues points me to an online forum where an American expat in Thailand describes the process of using an affidavit as a stand-in for legalizing his diploma. Essentially, you can just write a sworn testimony that your diploma is true and valid, sign it in front of an employee at the U.S. Embassy, and they’ll put the official State Department seal on it.

So off I ran to Bangkok. I planned an entire day of cover lessons to make up for my absence at school. I took a bus to the airport, then took the Skytrain to the Embassy. Then I waited. And waited. One thing America is good at shipping abroad is DMV-style bureaucracy. I found out the wording on my affidavit wasn’t quite right. Luckily, they had little slips of paper prepared “For obtaining a Thai visa” to help me out.

Next day, I went to Thai Immigration. I had the giant stack of papers that my employer furbished for me, and slipped inside was my newly minted affidavit, along with a photocopy and original of my university diploma. I took a number, then grabbed a seat.

I sat there waiting through an entire extended family of Vietnamese immigrants processing visas at the sole immigration officer who checks them. My feet shivered in anticipation. My palms were sweaty. I chewed the inside of my lip. Inside, I churned over my plan B: if the affidavit isn’t sufficient, it’s ok, I told myself. Mom’s still processing the legalization of my diploma. I’ll just ask for an extension to buy more time.

Time crawled as I watched one Vietnamese immigrant after another bow politely at the immigration officer’s irritated instructions to get photocopies of this or that. All the while, the red digital number above her desk read 644. My ticket was 645. Was I ever going to test my affidavit?

Ding! “Now serving number 6-4-5 at window number…6.”

I calmly approached the officer with my novel manuscript in hand, bound together with a paperclip bent completely out of shape from the packet’s unruly thickness. I shyly handed her my number and stood in front of her awkwardly. “Sit!” she shouted.

I placed the visa paperwork, along with my passport and work permit, onto the desk. She thumbed through the packet, verifying all my documents. She pointed to a copy of my diploma: “Original?”

I’d forgotten to hand her my new savior—the affidavit! I handed it to her.

She waved her hand frantically and pointed more emphatically at the diploma: “Original! Original!”

Ah, original!

I pulled out the original copy of my Berkeley degree. It’s quite a work of art, I must say. On crème-coloured, off-white card stock, there are etched in sweeping, majestic calligraphy the details of my academic achievement: my name, degree earned, major area of study, graduation date, and even a note of my honors status. Then, larger calligraphy letters proudly boasting “University of California, Berkeley.” And below that in the center, an embroidered golden stamp bearing the official Berkeley seal, accompanied by official signatures from various chiefs of bureaucracy.

I handed my shining relic to the officer, feeling proud of all the prowess and prestige it represented. But despite the magical feelings my diploma evoked within me, I also realistically expected that surely she’d now need my affidavit. After all, she can’t possibly read the hieroglyphics of calligraphy, can she?

She glanced at it, and handed it back to me. I tried to hand her the affidavit. Again with the hand waving. “Not need,” she said.

That was it? I didn’t need to go to Bangkok? I didn’t need to play document pinball stateside? All I needed was the original?

My theory: she was looking for an official U.S. State Department seal. It would have been embroidered with a golden stamp as well. It would have looked very much like an apostille; if Thailand was a Hague Convention nation, it would have needed to be an apostille. But alas, ignorance is bliss in this country. She saw the goldenness of the stamp, the dimples of the embroidery, and the austere authority of the seal, and thought to herself, “Damned if that don’t look like a State Department blessing.”

A flick of the pen and a pounding of stamp, and I’m good for another 365.

Surprise! From Thai Immigration: Certifying my Diploma

Here’s a fun personal update regarding Thai visas. When I’ve finished what I’m about to describe, I’ll revise this article to serve any American expats in Thailand. Until that time, if you see this little italicized intro, take the following info with a grain of hasn’t-been-tested-yet salt.

As of about 2 weeks ago, Thailand Immigration has decided that too many bozos with Mickey Mouse degrees have infiltrated their country. So they want all those applying for a Non-Immigrant B Visa (particularly for teaching) to provide a certified copy of their university diploma. For any other nationality but American, this is as simple as turning up to one’s own embassy and getting them to stamp it. Not so with America. The U.S. Embassy will not certify academic documents. They make this fact very clear on their website. They even go so far as to explain that they stopped providing this service in 1983. (I have a slight journalistic urge to investigate what lawsuit nearly happened back then to cause the headache I now have.)

So if you’re an American teaching in Thailand, or if you’re an American who needs a certified copy of your diploma for any other reason, here’s what you need to do (I’ve also provided links to clarify the various steps. These links only apply to my circumstance. Naturally, you’ll need to search for your university, state and nearest embassy/consulate.):

  1. Notarize the copy of your diploma. Many universities have a notary service available through the registrar’s office. In my case, UC Berkeley has someone come in twice a month, and the registrar is the one who makes the sworn statement that gets notarized. You should check with your university to see if and how they provide this service.
  2. Authorize the notary. Send the document to the Secretary of State in the state where your university is located. Essentially, this step involves the secretary of state’s office verifying that the notary public is valid. Usually you have to send a cover letter explaining what country you want to use the document in, so that they can apply the correct stamp/seal to it.
  3. Get a U.S. State Department Seal. This means you have to send the document to the U.S. State Department to have them authorize it. There are two types of authorization: Apostille and Certification. The former is useful for any country that signed the Hague Convention. Thailand is not a Hague nation, so the latter is your only option here. (Basically, the apostille guarantees that the document is legal in all Hague nations. For more exciting reading about the Hague Convention and Apostilles, just Google them.) This step is incredibly important because most Thai Embassies or Consulates in the U.S. will not legalize your documents without a State Department seal.
  4. Legalize the document in Thailand. The last step is to send the document to the Thai embassy or consulate nearest your university. They will legalize the document for you.

There might be a fifth step, which is to have the document sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand. I’m assuming this is unnecessary for now, and plan to bring my consulate-stamped document to immigration and see what they say.

If any American expats in Thailand happen to be reading this, and can add or correct with a certain amount of confidence any of the above, please do so in the comment section.

Please also note that my sources, which I trust, inform me that an affidavit will not suffice, but maybe that depends on the immigration officer you get and the mood they’re in that day.

Once I’ve succeeded in renewing my visa, I’ll update this article to reflect my actual experience.

Getting a Thai Driver’s License

Getting a driver’s license: it’s a nuisance many foreigners avoid here in Thailand. Absurd as it may be, many foreigners come to a country boasting the sixth most vehicular fatalities in the world, to drive a vehicle they’ve never driven before without a license or a helmet. I was one of those foreigners (plus a helmet) until just over a month ago. Maybe it was the 400-baht tickets I got two days in a row, or maybe it was this growing need to settle in more and become a legalized member of society. Oh, who am I kidding? It was the tickets.

Anyway, this is a detailed play-by-play of how to get a Thai driver’s license. This particular post will be more accurate and detailed than my other articles about settling in Thailand. The reason is that there are some details that the other articles around the web have left out. So if you’re a newcomer to Thailand, rest assured this will be accurate detailed information, as long as it remains relevant. And if you’re just a faithful follower, then I hope you’ll appreciate the tedious simplicity of the process.

Let’s start with the requirements.

To qualify for a Thai driver’s license, you need to satisfy essentially three requirements:

  1. Be of sound mind and good health (that is, not having mental or physical handicaps that will prevent you from safely operating a vehicle)
  2. Be over 18.
  3. If not a Thai national, have a Non-Immigrant Visa. (So tourists, you can bugger off!)

Car or Motorcycle?

Do you want a license to drive a car or a motorcycle? As in many other countries, these are not the same. You can get both, but must apply to each one separately. If you already have either one (International or from your home country), you can bypass the driving and written test for the one you have, as long as it’s in English. For example, I have an automobile license from California (written in English, of course), but I don’t have a motorcycle license of any kind. I didn’t have to take either the driving or the written test to get my automobile license in Thailand. But I had to take both tests for the motorcycle license.

As would be expected, there’s paperwork

To apply, you’ll need to bring the following paperwork to your local Ministry of Land Transport office:

  • Application (which can be obtained at the office, or online)
  • Valid passport with valid Non-Immigrant Visa
  • Signed photocopies of your passport’s first page, the Non-Immigrant Visa page, and the page with the stamp of your last entry.
  • Valid International Driver’s License(s) or license from your home country (as long as it’s in English)
  • Signed photocopy of your driver’s license
  • A letter from the doctor verifying that you’re healthy enough (mentally and physically) to drive
  • Proof of address, which certifies that you reside in Thailand, from your country’s embassy, or from the Immigration Bureau (document must be no more than 30 days old), OR
  • Your Work Permit along with your tax identification number

You can use your work permit instead of the proof of address, but you’ll need your Thai tax identification number. If you’ve been in Thailand less than 12 months, you probably don’t have one, in which case you’ll need to go the embassy/immigration route.

NOTE: If you’re applying for both the car and motorcycle license, you’ll need a set of paperwork for each one. So double your application, certification of residence, and photocopies.

Proof of Address

Since I went to Immigration to get my proof of address, I’ll detail the process here. At least at the Jomtien Immigration office, it’s pretty straightforward. Talk to the people at the counter and tell them you want a letter certifying your residence. They’ll give you an application (make sure you get two if you’re applying for two licenses). Photocopy your passport main page, non-immigrant visa page, and your work permit main page and address page. Submit the completed application(s) and signed photocopies, along with 250 baht per application, receive a number, and go to the window where your number is called. A stamp here and a stamp there, and you’ll have your letter(s) certifying your residence in Thailand.

Head on over to the Land Transport office to submit your paperwork. At the Banglamung office, I did this at Window 11. (It’s a good idea to get there early, as there are usually a lot of people and you could end up there all day. The doors open at 8:30. I arrived at 7:45.)

Color Blindness, Reaction and Depth Perception Tests

Once you turn in your application bundle, they give you a green card with a number. When they call your name, you’ll be asked to line up with other applicants for your color blindness test. This involves a large grouping of colored dots on a poster about 2 to 3 meters away. They point to a color, and you say it. They perfectly understand the English color names, so don’t screw it up by trying to show off your Thai.

Then you and the other applicants gather around a chair that’s positioned behind reaction and depth perception testing apparatuses. For the reaction test, you sit in the chair and hold down an acceleration pedal. A set of green LEDs resembling a volume indicator illuminate. Once they climb into the red, you have to push the brake pedal immediately. The depth perception test involves holding a remote with a red and a green button. About two meters away, and above the green and red LEDs from the previous test, are two sticks. One remains stationary closest to you. The other moves horizontally towards you (and the stationary stick) when you press one of the buttons (I don’t remember which one, but the testing personnel make it pretty clear which). If you allow the moving stick to pass the stationary one, you fail. You get three attempts at both tests.

If this sounds confusing, don’t panic. At least at the Banglamung office, the testing guy had a really good system for making sure everyone understood—he simply gave instructions to a Thai applicant, and as the Thai applicant followed directions, all us non-Thai speakers saw how to do it.

If you don’t need to take the driving or written tests—in other words if you have a valid license (auto and/or motorcycle) in English—this is where you’d skip the next few steps and go straight to Payment and Photo.

Driving Test

Motorbike driving tests take place first thing in the morning (I don’t know about automobiles because I didn’t need to take one). So by the time you finish your paperwork and pass the color blindness, reaction, and depth perception tests, you’ll have missed the driving test for the day, and will have to return the next day. That’s honestly the most annoying part of the whole process.

When you arrive for your test, you should line your bike up with everyone else’s at the entrance to the course. They should already have your paperwork when they’re ready to begin. At the Banglamung office, once they verified our paperwork they had us gather in the center of the course. When we were all assembled, they explained to us (in Thai) that we were to watch a staff member drive through the course to see where to go and what to do.

It’s a pretty easy test. Its most notable “obstacles” include a short incline and decline, a cone slalom, remembering to stop completely at stop signs, signaling turns at intersections, and a 30-meter rubber plank, the length of which you must drive over without falling off (hint: increase your speed moderately). It’s over and done with fairly quickly, consuming only about 90 minutes of your morning, waiting time included.

Written Test

The written test is also basically a no-brainer, and there’s one available in English. If you’re American, and haven’t taken international driving courses or tests before, you might want to bone up on your knowledge of international signage and road markings. Our signage and markings in the U.S. vary in many ways. If you already have a good knowledge of international signage and road markings, and also possess even the slightest common sense, then the test is mostly straightforward.

As this is Thailand, however, there is one challenge to the test—it’s poorly translated into English. So on some questions the wording can be confusing. On a select few other questions, the “correct” Slide1answers are actually wrong. Then on a couple of other questions, the answers don’t pertain to the question. Take note of my mocked up example to the right.

Luckily, there are seemingly exhaustive cheat sheets available online. You’d be wise to read through them two or three times, especially to be aware of the “trick” questions. You have to score a 90%, which means getting no more than four questions wrong. If you fail, you have to come back the next day to retake it. Try to avoid something so ridiculous.

NOTE: when I took the written test, they had me wait in a video room, where a driving safety video was being played. However, the video had hardly begun before they called my name into the testing room. Maybe the safety video is optional, or maybe it depends on what time of day you take your test.

 

Pay Up

Once you’ve passed your tests, they’ll have you sign a form, and send you to window 3 to pay the fee. It’s so dirt cheap you’ll wonder why you ever risked getting an instant ticket or bribing a police officer. For a motorcycle license, it’s 155 baht. For the automobile license, it’s 205. Pay the money, get your receipt. Simple as that.

Say “Cheese”

Along with your receipt, the cashier will give you a blue plastic card with a number. After a 15- to 20-minute wait, your number will be called. Sit in front of the lovely lady and get your picture snapped. I can’t remember exactly, but it seemed there was a certain color or pattern shirt/blouse that doesn’t work well with the cameras and the background, but they have shirts and blouses available to put on over yours if that’s the case (so don’t sweat it). The “photographer” will ask you to verify your information (name and date of birth) on her computer screen. Then sit back down to wait again.

NOTE: They will in fact give you a separate card for each classification. So if you get both the automobile and the motorcycle licenses, you’ll end up with two physical licenses. It’s not a mistake; it’s just typical Thai inefficiency. And for that reason you’ll probably have to take two separate photos for each license.

After just a few minutes, they’ll call your name, and hand you your shiny new driver’s license. Easy, right?