Earlier this year I spent a few days in Thailand (Chiang Mai specifically, so my observations might not apply to the rest of the country).

Most intersections in the city are unmarked (no traffic lights, stop signs, or pedestrian crossing markers), yet everything seems to work okay.

From what I could tell, the intersections are treated like 4-way stops in other countries, except rather than one car crossing at a time, a batch of maybe a dozen cars will go through and then it will switch so the cross traffic can send a batch of cars through.

Similarly, cars will stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road whenever they want to.

However, there is no obvious method or moment when traffic should yield right-of-way. It just seems to happen magically when the stopped traffic suddenly starts driving across in front of the already moving traffic.

For pedestrians it's even worse (i.e. I was one of them). In order to cross a busy road, waiting for a break in traffic or waiting for a car to stop for you is useless; you could stand there for hours. If you make it very obvious that you want to cross, that you are about to step out into traffic, it still makes no difference; no one will stop.

The way to cross the road is simply to step out into traffic (perhaps closing your eyes first because it's too scary to watch). The cars in the first lane will stop, and when you step into the next lane, the cars there will stop, but again, not until you actually step in front of them.

In any other country that I've visited, attempting this method would at best result in loud horns blowing and more than a few people yelling at you, and at worst result in getting run over.

But this is the normal way of crossing the road there. Everyone just seems to step out into traffic, the traffic calmly stops, and then resumes once you have moved out of the way. Everyone is calm. The system works.

The question is, is there some subtle protocol going on that I didn't notice, or is peaceful but assertive anarchy really the way it works?

A secondary question is, what happens when people from Thailand visit other countries? Do they all get killed the first day trying to cross the road?

  • 1
    India is similar so I doubt there is any protocol. In fact you described the "protocol" yourself: "Go if you can". Think of it more as evolved from walking in a crowded area.
    – hojusaram
    Jun 1, 2019 at 9:06
  • 1
    Not pedestrians, but I read a story of an Indian in the USA who was the most polite driver ever - until he drove his colleagues in a rental car to some conference and turned into an absolute maniac. The colleagues forced him to stop, and it turned out he believed that bigger cars had the right of way. He was such a polite driver because his own car was tiny, and with his big rental car he believed he had a license to do whatever he wanted.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 2, 2019 at 12:17


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