Understanding Thai people

Or why the easiest way prevails over the safest or the most considerate way…

If you ask a Thai why he prefers to drive on the wrong side of the road, against the traffic on the “emergency” lane, rather than take the next U-turn which is 2 kilometers away, his answer will probably be somewhere along the line of “ki kiaet pai U-turn”. If you ask this Thai girl why she doesn’t wear a helmet, maybe she will reply “ki kiaet sai”. Now ask this truck driver why he didn’t put on his turn signal before he turned and he may reply “ki kiaet peut”.

“Ki kiaet” means lazy in Thai and it is a derogatory word, like most words beginning by ki-. I’m not saying Thai people are lazy, but we can safely say that, generally speaking, they drive in a lazy way. It means that they choose the easiest, smoothest way to do things, not the safest, or not the most considerate.

Of course, we can’t take this word “lazy” just like we know it in English. We can’t understand a foreign language, especially Thai, just by translating everything word for word. A language is much more than a set of words to name things, it’s a way to apprehend the world and it is deeply linked to a culture. To understand people who speak another language than our own, we must try and understand their main cultural concepts. For instance, if a Thai says “ki kiaet bok khrao” (“I was lazy to tell him”), in a situation where he refrained to say something to someone, it’s not really laziness, but rather the choice of an easy way: “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to start an argument”, for instance.

So I think that the “ki kiaet” attitude, whether you choose to translate it as lazy, or easy, or just “ki kiaet”, is a good way to understand the way Thai people drive. They are not lazy people, but they drive lazily, they choose the easy way to do things. That’s why you see them drive on the wrong side of the road instead of driving 2 kilometers to the next U-turn, that’s why they can enter a gas station through the exit or exit through the entrance, and that’s why they do all the crazy and dangerous things you see them doing.

The questions we are entitled to ask ourselves, as foreigners, is why is it the easiest way that prevails, and not, say, the safest way? Or the most considerate way?

Well, first of all, safety is not as big an issue as it is in the West, and laws are not always enforced. And that concerns everything, not just the roads. The Western world has laws, rules and regulations for just about everything and is supposed to be a safe place. Funnily though, you see tourists in Thailand driving rented motorbikes bare-chested, wearing only pants and flip flops, and of course with no helmet on. They left the regulations at the boarding gate and they are enjoying freedom! Well, Thai people enjoy freedom on a daily basis. Besides from that, most Thai people are Buddhist people, they believe in reincarnation and they believe in destiny, luck, protection and a few other obscure concepts. That doesn’t make them daredevils, but basically, whatever should happen will happen.

OK, so far we have ki kiaet + freedom + destiny. If you are not familiar with Thai roads, you should now have a pretty clear idea of what is expecting you. The next question is, are Thai people considerate drivers?

3 Comments on “Understanding Thai people”

  1. its nothing to do with being lazy it is very clear that a lot of thai drivers do not have the first clue when it comes to the rules of the road and clear to any one with eyes that they have not taken a test or had instuction of any kind yes they may have a licence in there pocket but this does not guarantee they have gone though the correct process if you get my drift the police could make a fortune if like in uk they had an unmarked fast car 1000 bt a time for the undertakers this would make the retards think twice or better still 2nd offence crush there car !!!!!!

  2. ho yes one more thing were i live near korat there are several rd signs that state there is a t junction ahead when in fact its a bend with a give way dead ahead so you should indicate left to carry on because your leaving the main rd but what do the thais do they indicate right at the bend they are not leaving the rd its a bend!!!!!!! they must know this but they do it any way because the sign tells them to (robotic) so if the people that are in charge of the sign-age have no idea what hope is there i would love to meet a thai driving instructor i feel it would be a very interesting conversation (or not)

  3. Hey,
    Good whatever time it is for you,
    So I’m going to rent a car at the airport in BK, and drive to Korat.
    I have driven in a few Dif. countries and presuming I’ll survive Thai driving, but I definitely welcome your input on my endeavor.
    Any tips, web links you think would help would be great !
    Thank you for your post.

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