Pedestrian Crossings in Thailand – Don’t Just Step Out

They have these things in Thailand that are painted on the road. They’re black and white and usually run across the street from one side to the other. I’m told they’re called ‘Pedestrian Crossings’
but as I’ve yet to see a pedestrian safely crossing on one, I’ve started calling them ‘Road Paintings’. Works of art that make the road look pretty but serve very little function.

The main problem with pedestrian crossings in Thailand is that nobody stops for them. You can stand in the middle of the road for a good 10 minutes looking sad and pathetic, but it’s rare that a Thai driver will bother to stop to let you cross. A situation that has always confused me as Thais are so incredibly polite in every other circumstance.

Even the police, driving by in cars or on motorbikes won’t force the traffic to stop. Even more perversely, they don’t think about stopping themselves either. There’s not much point I suppose. After all, if they stop there’s not much chance the other two lanes will.

I’ve asked Thai friends if they ever get fined for not stopping at a pedestrian crossing and they’ve all told me they’ve never been fined and never heard of anyone else being fined either. The police here make quite a bit of money from kickbacks, or illegal fines, from motorists who are stopped and told to hand over 200 baht (about $6) or they’ll be given a ticket. So far though, the pedestrian crossing hasn’t been included in this little scam, which is amazing as they could make a fortune.

Every day, when I go to the post office or the 7-11, I have to cross the busy main road near my house and, often, I try to cross at the road painting. The road is a six-lane road that serves a large part of northern Bangkok. Traffic is heavy at any hour of the day, but during the afternoon it’s often impossible to cross.

Three lanes run in one direction, with a median in the middle. Three lanes then run in the opposite direction across the other side of the median. Sometimes, I manage to get to the middle of the road and perch precariously on the 12 inch concrete median. But then getting across the other three lanes demands skills I obviously don’t have. It’s even worse at 4pm, when one of the lanes switches direction to accommodate heavier rush hour traffic. You’d better remember to look both ways, or you’re likely to be mowed down by a passing tuk-tuk.

Last week, I was balancing on the median with 2 other people, all of us frantically scanning the zooming vehicles for a gap so we could run. All of a sudden, I felt a hand clasp mine. I looked down to see a Thai woman who, if she was this side of eighty years old I would have been surprised. She was bent almost double and was clutching a walking stick in her left hand.

Quickly, she stepped out into the street right in the path of oncoming traffic. She thrust up her hand and the stick in a “Stop!” motion, then beckoned to me and the others still balancing on the strip of concrete to cross the street. All the way across the pedestrian crossing she continued to hold up her hand, frowning at the now stopped cars. “Don’t you dare move” her frown seemed to be saying, as she gamely marched forward.

At the other side of the street, after seeing me safely deposited on the sidewalk, she waved kindly, I said “Khop khun kha” (“Thank you” in Thai), she smiled quickly then off she trotted. Probably on her way home to tell her family how she’d helped a stupid white girl across the road.

So remember, if you ever come to Thailand and absolutely have to cross the street, either look for the pedestrian overpass (which will be about a mile away and not looking too appealing in the 100 degree heat), or find an old Thai woman. They all seem to be made of steel and grit. I’ll bet one of them can help you across the street.

Video – If you really want to see how traffic behaves on pedestrian crossings in Thailand, check out this funny video. Happens all over Bangkok every minute of the day.