Decided I better write another entry on this blog or people will begin to wonder if I am still here. Somehow, the days and weeks are flying by. It’s hard to believe that we have already been here for almost four months.
After many weeks of interruptions, and extended periods of time without my passport in hand, I finally was able to go in and get my Thai driving license last week. It was a bit of a production and took a whole day to complete. I had to do it since I did not own a valid driving permit for any country. My Canadian one expired a few years ago and my counterfeit Chinese one was also past its date. I probably could have survived without one here but it is kind of nice to have the piece of paper in your wallet in case you ever want to rent a car. As in China, the police here in Chiangmai rarely check such things.
I was told it would take a whole day and a whole day it took. I arrived at the Chiangmai Transport Office about 8:30 in the morning. You need to bring your visa, a residence permit, and a hospital medical certificate. I was attempting to obtain both a motorcycle license and a car license so I had to do some things twice. Luckily, they did have English forms to fill in so I didn’t need a translator on that score. After my paper work was handed in, I was shuffled along with about 150 other participants to begin the process. Yes, they do 150 at a time! That in itself was amazing to me.
The first bit was like running the gauntlet. One at a time we were herded past a stop light that randomly changed from orange to red to green. If you picked the correct colors as they appeared, it was on to the next room. Here, all of us were crammed into a small room and given instructions and a demo on the next little “test”. Basically, there was a seat with a gas pedal, a brake pedal and a set of lights in front. This was to test your reflex time. The light started off green. As soon as it turned red, we had to press the brake. The time it took to react was displayed on the screen ahead. This was the extent of the two first tests.
If you don’t have a driving license from another country, you need to sit through a four or five hour morning class that consists of a few boring videos along with a speaker that drones on for at least a couple of hours. He talks, the class listens. Of course, it is all in Thai. There were a couple of ten minute breaks at some point during the morning but, let me tell you, it was very painful.
I made the very bad mistake of stepping outside near the end, about 15 minutes before it was over. Little did I realize what a mistake this was! As soon as the class ended, a woman walked over from the reception area and handed out numbers to the people exiting the room. Would she give me one? No. Would she let me back in? No. Did I have to wait until every single person had left? Yes. And even then, she wouldn’t give me a number. After sitting through the damn morning for at least four hours.
Apparently, I was not supposed to leave the room. She “saw me outside the door for at least fifteen minutes.” OMG. I thought the only people on power trips were the US customs officers. So, after my little scolding, I was placed in a room all by my lonesome and made to watch yet another boring video. In English. I could have made a scene and bitched and complained but I let her have her little moment of satisfaction. I figured she must be having a very bad day or something. I took my punishment like a bad little boy and soon joined the others. It didn’t put me behind in the next line to write the tests because I was one of the last ones to sign up and they were just taking people as their number came up.
Because I was applying for two licenses, I had to write the same test twice! Go figure. It was all on the computer and consisted of 30 questions. Some were a little tricky, the English translations were not always great and the pictures were tiny. I bombed the first time. But fear not, you can redo the test immediately after reviewing your errors from the first attempt. So, I passed the next two times with flying colors. On to the practical tests. By now it was close to 4:00 pm and they closed at 4:30!
I can sum up the practical tests in one paragraph. They both take place in the parking lot.
Car: Drive away from the parking space about one block in distance, turn right, drive a few meters and stop at a stop sign. Turn left and cross a little mock bridge and return to your departure area. Drive forward through a lane of pylons on either side and then back out of them. Parallel park and you are done! It took about 5 minutes.
Motorcycle: Repeat as above but forget the backing up test and the parallel parking. In other words, circle the parking lot. Oh, you need to drive along a small, narrow rise that is a couple of centimeters high, maybe 20 cm wide and 20 meters long. And you are done. Another 5 minutes.
Nobody rides with you. It is like an assembly line. I don’t know if they even watch the first part of the tests. The only place there are employees is at the end where you parallel park.
Then, it was back to the main office, a quick sit-down for a photo and the two licenses were printed out and handed over. They are good for one year the first time. When you renew them at the end of the year, they are extended for another five. It was a hell of a long day but not a really big deal in terms of the stuff that needed to be done.