Getting a Thai driver’s license in Bangkok

I just got my Thai driving license in Bang Chak. Before my own experience I struggled to find fresh information about Thai driving licenses on the internet, so here goes my input.

I’m writing about getting my first motorcycle license, and a lot of the text is very relevant for a car license, just the practical test is different – theory is the same for both. If your car license has English writing on it, you can get a Thai (car license) without taking the practical test. You just need a certification from your embassy. The same goes if you have a motorbike license from your country and want to get a Thai motorbike license. If it’s expired OR if you have a car license, but want to get a Thai motorbike’s license – you need to do both the theory and the practical parts.

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I have a car license, but I didn’t register to change it to Thai at the same time, because being a Lithuanian national getting it translated alone would take months and cost a fortune as the nearest embassy is in China. The first license you get is considered a temporary license valid for 1 year (officially. For some reason the license that I got is valid for 2 years). As for license renewals – I don’t know.

What you need:

Passport: original plus photocopies of photo page, visa page, most recent entry stamp, and departure card. All photocopies need to be signed, with phone number written on them.

Medical Certificate: original, not older than 30 days.

Work Permit OR Residency Certificate (you do not need both as work permit has your address in it); original and a signed copy.

How much does it cost?

Once you pass the tests, the temporary license is 205 baht. Taking the tests doesn’t cost anything.

Register well in advance.

As a foreigner you need to physically go to your local Department of Land Transport Office to register for any test you want to take. “Local” may have a very broad and flexible definition. I live in Samut Prakan and my local office was apparently in Bang Chak, Bangkok. Thai people with a Thai national ID can register online, which makes it easy for them. My Thai friend registered me for the earliest slot available: nearly 2 months ahead (!!). One of my relaxed colleagues who’s also getting a bike was laughing at this until he spontaneously turned up at the transport office to get his license, and left empty-handed. Well, not empty-handed, he was given a slip saying to come back in two months.

I forgot how Thais love paperwork (it’s 2016, people…) and didn’t prepare anything during the summer holidays. Just the night before I thought I might need a medical certificate. The next day I went to Samrong General Hospital at 6am before the test, but they only do them from 8am, and they charge like 600-800 baht. Luckily, the motorcycle taxi guys at the DLT can take you to a local doctor to get one instantly for 100 baht.

No Certificate of residency was issued at Samut Prakan immigration. I almost cried after going through all the different officers. I didn’t cry though, I must have sweated all my fluids out, it’s 40 degrees you know.

Me: “I need residency certificate to get driver’s license”

Officer: “You go Embassy”

Me: “There is no Lithuanian embassy in Thailand”

Officer: *scratches head… “You work permit”

Me: “I guess I am work permit…wait, what?”

Officer: *points to address in work permit.

Me: *ahhhh, so my address IS in the work permit. The school admin had put the school’s address as my home address in my work permit, though. Not a problem. No need for the residency thingy. Fun. But if you don’t have a work permit you can get a residency permit from your embassy. (A guy before me had to present an original from the British embassy, as he didn’t have a work permit)

On the day:

I brought my Thai friend with me, but I guess if you have been exposed to more Thai conversations than “An-nee tao rai kap?” and “Pai park soi kap”, you could handle it yourself – some staff even speak English. Even though I had a slip that looked like an appointment, we had to queue to register.

7.20 Arrived at Bang Chak transport office. Many people queuing outside. Took a motorcycle taxi to a recommended doctor basically across BTS, other side of Sukhumvit. 60 baht for bike, 100 and a smile for the doctor (checked heartbeat, asked if I smoke). The taxi driver waited outside for the whole 5 minutes. Got back at 7.30. Appointment slip said 7.30-8.00 generically.

7.35 The sea of people flooded inside. I went to copy my documents and was done at 7.40.

7.47 I was sent to the long queue at counter #9. Outside there was a list of Thai people who had registered online. Many Thais who were queuing up hadn’t registered. Many Thais also seemed to be confused with the order of the queues and stuff (so it wasn’t just me!).

8.32 At the desk #9. Photocopy of my work permit was of poor quality so I had to ask my friend to go and make another copy. I glanced at the entrance and there was a queue still snaking its way outside…

8.40 Given a number 70 and told to wait for documents back.

9.00 Number called, and given my documents back and a form with incorrect date of birth! Then waiting at counter #10 again, form was corrected and signed. I was given all forms back, and an e-card.

9.10 I was sent opposite room 15 to watch physical test example videos. You don’t have to watch them, but they basically show you what to do in the actual test, so if your Thai is as basic as mine you might as well watch them while you’re waiting, so you know exactly what you’ll have to do.
9.35 The queue numbers were called and we were taken into room 16 to take the 3 tests. About 20 of us were split to make 2 queues, to take different tests for efficiency. Due to this “factory” nature the test ladies were rather generous. Many people who had poor reaction and vision, received an angry(ish) “lhuey”, which means again.

Part 1 was to sit down, press on the accelerator, and upon seeing a red light, quickly slam on the brake – super easy.

The second test got me worried as apparently my depth perception is rather poor. I put my glasses on for this. Basically you have a small box like 3 metres in front of you, and 2 vertical sticks in it. The right stick is stationary, and you have to move the left one back and forth to align it with the stationary stick.

Part 3 was to sit down and look at a thick dot in front of you. The machine shows a colour either on the left or right side of the dot, and looking straight at the dot and using peripheral vision you have to say what the colour is.

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Sitting around, standing around – first testing room.

One girl was told to bring either pants or a longer skirt because of a short skirt she was wearing. She went out, and came back in like 5 seconds with a longer skirt. “OK ka”.

9.55 I got sent to counter #13 for a video and given 2 booklets in 4 languages. The video covered the booklets’ content and the online test question material that I had practised a few times at home.

12.00 Lunch break. There is a cheap place that does Thai buffet style dishes, just on Sukhumvit road, on the right as you walk out.

13.00 Back in the same TV area for 2 more hours. The video is in Thai, with English subtitles. Longer sentences go outside of the screen but you get the gist of the content.

Thai humor is not always appropriate.
Thai humor is not always appropriate.

14.45 Told to go up to floor 3, room 301 for the theory test. There are 50 questions and you have to get 45 right to pass. Saw one foreigner leaving the room, who got 43/50 due to strange wording (Thai English sometimes makes no sense) and he said he’ll retake the test in 2 days. So I guess the queue for retakes is not as long as for the initial sign up.

14.50 Theory test. Literally same questions as on thaidriving.info, which also has pdf files with answers available. Wow.

15.05 The machine prints a ticket with 48/50 – geng mak! Registered with the lady for a bike test next day at 8.30.

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“Which of the pictures…” Can you see any more pictures to choose from? Me neither. But that’s the kind of English you’ll have to deal with in this test. You really need to practise it at home a few times.

15.10 DONE.

Lady: “You have bike?”

Me: “No.”

Lady: “Only Honda wave.”

Me: “Automatic?”

Lady: “Nooooo, manual”

Me: “Yes I have a bike.”

Lady: “Okeeeeey.”

Only in Thailand you have to ride your motorcycle through the city to take a motorcycle test. Amazing. As per angloinfo.com, apparently it is not possible to make an appointment to take a driving test, but applicants who need to take the test must arrive at 08:30. The lady advised me to come at 8.30 and wait somewhere outside.

Next day:

7.30 Lurking around at the car park for an hour, no need to go inside the office, just park your bike at the back where the test route is.

8.30 Official start of the test. Sweating like crazy, still lurking around.

8.35 A handful of staff take all the car and bike applicants to the testing grounds. Car people sit and wait (a looong time) in the waiting area, the bike people are told to drive inside and park in a long line, given their forms from the day before to write registration numbers. I was the weird foreigner with no number plates and the lady was like “Ok, ok, mister, later”.

8.50’ish The lady takes everyone around the area and explains the track – where to obey the signs, where to indicate, and where to and not to place your feet on the ground. Then you walk around the track to familiarise with it. It was all in Thai, and it sounded very helpful, like giving out answers and tips. Too bad I couldn’t understand most of it lol. I swear I saw one boy (15 years old?) pointing to the red octagonal stop sign and asking his friend, “Ton nee jot lhor?” – meaning “You stop there right?”. OMG.

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The ‘green’ part of the track, where you have to mostly obey stop signs

9.00 Everyone sits on their bikes and waits for their turn. HAVE A HELMET. And your turn is when the next important section is free of people, for example if I’m idling at the stop sign and see someone who started before me at the railroad crossing – I need to wait. As soon as he continues driving, I can go and then stop at the crossing. If you don’t, I’d avoid you on the actual road… The same concept applies to all major parts. If there are four people on the track at the same time, and the lady’s not watching, don’t expect that you can discretely make a mistake: each important segment of the track has a camera filming it.

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Test-takers exploring the elevated plank and the cones – you cannot place your feet on the ground for a split-second if you want to pass.

9.10 Still driving around: as far as I could understand you have to pass the whole track correctly 2 out of 3 times*. If you do well the first time, but hit a cone on the second one – you still have one chance left. It’s just like Super Mario.

FAIL! I did well in all parts except the elevated plank – failed twice on the same thingy! Oh, I can still hear the sigh of the crowd at night… When you finish and watch someone else doing it, it’s like watching an important match on TV – you sympathise with all test takers.

*as I found out later, apparently there was some miscommunication between the staff and the motorists, or the ladies were in a good mood. In order to pass you only have one chance, and you have to get everything right. If you fail, you do not have another go, you have to come back next time.

The track:

You start right past the gates. First stop – the stop sign. Duh… Indicate right turn and continue. Turn right, stop at railroad crossing. Then stop on the ascending part of the bridge. Then go straight and stop at the sign, twice. So all this so far is in the green area with trees and benches and stuff. Then indicate a left turn and proceed to the cone area – turn right into a narrow cone hall, where it kind of goes around 180 degrees, and then once you’re inside the cone corridor, you have to go on the plank almost straight away – very lightly elevated, not too narrow straight line, basically. This is where I failed because I feel I didn’t have enough time or space to prepare for it (little confidence, little practice). Once you ride off the plank, turn left past more cones, and the last part is manoeuvring through 5 or 6 cones. They’re not spaced well apart, but it was manageable at slow speed. Some guys were slaloming though very fast though. You’re not allowed to place your feet on the ground ANYWHERE in the cone area. Most people who failed, failed in this part.

9.30’ish Everyone waits for the paperwork to be done. The ones who passed have to sign something, and are given their documents back and go to the office building. What they do in there is still a mystery to me.

10.00 A whopping 20% of people failed. So all of them, including the ones who cannot drive in straight line eghhm….had to sign their name, did NOT get their documents back, only their IDs, and were given a slip for a re-take. It has to be done within 90 days. There were two days indicated when you cannot take the test. I wasn’t allowed to do it the next day, and was offered nothing earlier than next Tuesday. Apparently next time you have to go inside the office and show your slip.

A week later:

This was my second chance at the practical driving part. I arrived around 7.30, at about 8am we got our papers from counter 13 and proceeded to the track at 8.30. Same scenario as before: you get your papers, you listen to the instructions in Thai, and then sit on your bike. The instructors collect your papers and you go on the track. I can call myself a legend now, as I have failed AGAIN on the same bloody plank. I CAN drive straight, I manoeuvred through the morning Sukhumvit traffic, I HAVE kept extremely steady while driving along between buses and vans – why is it so hard to do that?? It’s not that difficult! So I parked and waited for the successful ones to collect their documents, and in about an hour I was ready… to come back again next week. I was told I can come in any day from Monday onwards, either at 8.30 or 13.00.

Third time’s a charm:

This time I chose the afternoon slot as it was more suitable for me, and I’m glad for one good reason: there were fewer motorcyclists. I was late, because it took me way too long to drive all the way from Samut Prakan. 13.05 I exchanged my slip for the documents at counter 13. I’ve also noticed on the papers there were 5 rows, 2 of which I had filled already. My assumption would be that you have 5 attempts in total to pass your test. The guy assumed I was there for a car test and said I was too late (pointing at 11 AM printed on the paper), so it’s important to mention that you’re (re)taking a bike test.

13.15 The same practical test process started and we lined up, listened to the instructions, walked around the track.

13.30 I started my bike and at 13.34 I had already finished and parked it outside.

I was the first in line, the only foreigner, so the guy looked at me with a questionable expression and asked my friend whether I understood any Thai or what to do. Then I heard she said that most likely I didn’t, because he speaks too fast. Haha, it was true though. It must have been funny: a foreigner on a shiny red Vespa with his shades on, going first, flying through the track in like one minute and passing first time. It felt good. Had they only known it was my third time there!

14.10 – up until this time it was all waiting around. This time they assessed the fails first, and then the rest. I heard them say that if you fail, you can come the next day, you don’t have to wait until the following week. It seems that the procedures depend on the day, the officer, and the direction of the wind, I guess. Then when you hear your name, collect your papers, and when you hear TICK, put a TICK in the pass box next to your name. I made everyone laugh because I signed it instead. The lady was like you crazy farang can you not understand English? It’s a tick!

14.15 Went to counter 13 where they mark something on the system and send you to counter 8.

14.40 Heard my number, took a photo and paid 205 baht for my licence. (This is the first time when you have to pay something. You don’t have to pay anything for taking the theory or the practical tests). This temporary license is valid for 2 years (I thought it was supposed to be 1 year…), unless they made a mistake like they made a typo with my name! The latter I corrected of course, because I didn’t want it to look like it was issued at the “Khaosan Road Transport Department” if you know what I mean!

14.45 I was done. Finally!

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I would advise everyone, who wants to get a Thai driver’s license (or everyone who’s a bit of a geek or inexperienced or worried) to visit the following pages, as they helped me out a lot:

The actual test practice online, which kind of gave me a pass

Detailed 2010 post about Chatuchak test

Quality post including same questions from the test

Discussions about traffic rules

Tips and test material

Traffic signs

Comment about renting a bike for test

Some videos to get an idea of the practical tests:

Funny fail, fail, pass scooter video

Different bike practical test location

Pattaya bike test

Go pro style car

Happy driving!

Koh Lanta, Days 3 and 4: cycling, swimming and snorkelling

On our 3rd day in Koh Lanta  (read about Day 1 and Day 2 here) we went cycling and switched accommodation after we got back late in the afternoon. We had a couple of nights booked at a bungalow rather than a room, because it’s nice to explore different kinds of options on the housing menu. Since we were after a basic place, we specifically looked into the ones with mosquito nets. We’re not at all fans of creatures that have an exoskeleton, multiple-part body, multiple pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes or antennae. Thanks, Wikipedia, for making me sound smart!

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So we stayed in a bungalow of a good size, with a net, en-suite bathroom, and a porch, right next to the beach…for only 400 baht (about £8). They had a restaurant right on the actual beach offering cocktails from 99 baht, pina colada’s for 150 – crazy. We had meals there, enjoyed beautiful sunsets and it just felt like a dream. Whenever we have to switch accommodation or catch a ferry, it takes up so much time, sometimes even the whole day, so we can’t enjoy the day to the fullest, however this time we asked the owner at Hostaria 239 to watch our stuff until late, so we could enjoy our bicycle rides around the island.

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We cycled pretty much the whole day. The weather was perfect, but the best time was in the morning, so we left early to avoid the tropical sun. It’s Thai summer you know! I had also brought a long-sleeved jumper to the islands to learn from my mistakes of just wearing a t-shirt all day. (We got sunburnt anyway and used up 2 bottles of suncream). Cycling around the island was extremely fun, as it gave us a chance to notice the little things usually missed when on a scooter. We saw some poor little monkeys chained to a pole at somebody’s property, they were grabbing the chains and pulling them with their tiny little hands, and it was just sad. My thought was they see monkeys as some people see dogs in some parts of Europe and just chain them to a kennel. I don’t know.

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We had another full day to spare before changing hotels again, and we couldn’t wait to see more islands. That’s why we went on a 4 islands tour, which was definitely worth it, I’d recommend it to anyone, just beware that the name ‘4-island tour’ is operated by different companies, and the one we went on was arranged by Mr Claudio from Hostaria 239. I think it was only around 1000 baht per person. This included snorkelling at Koh Ma and Koh Chuak, swimming through a sea cave leading to a hidden beach at Koh Mook (that place was amazing), and lunch at a quiet beach on Koh Ngai (I would consider this island for a long-term stay as a chilled-out spot with pristine white beaches).

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Koh Ngai

The tour was so relaxed, the locations chosen were away from tourist crowds (although in one snorkeling spot there were several huge boats loaded with tourists, but even then our boat stopped far away from the others and we could enjoy snorkeling with plenty of space just for us), snorkelling was fun, and the crew were amazing! The water was incredibly clear in the snorkelling spots and there were loads of beautiful corals, fish and sea creatures to admire.

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Emerald Cave, also known as Morakot Cave or Tam Nam at Koh Mook

The leader was so passionate about what he does, and while in the water he was  grabbing our hands and pulling us down to the bottom of the sea to show some weird creatures and fascinating formations. I was like, “Come on man, I can’t hold my breath for even 5 seconds!”. And then he laughed and laughed because I was so crap at diving haha. He also caught a sea hedgehog or something spiky, and he was showing that it’s poisonous if you touch it with your fingers, but harmless if touched with a forearm or other part.

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The steering wheel of the boat was slowly falling apart (noticed only by the cautious), so me and this small kid were constantly observing the ‘captain’, thinking what if the boat flips over or something. I was fine, but I could see the kid was very frightened… But it was one of the nicest tours we’ve had in Thailand. There were only about 20 people in total on the boat (it was a longtail boat, so you can’t really fit any more than that on it), so it didn’t feel overwhelming. And when the crew really love what they do and love the places they take you to, it makes a world of difference. Even if they don’t speak much English!

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Once we got back, around 6 PM we rented a Fino motorbike. I had never driven one before properly, so I did my research online – thank you youtube! We signed some papers, sat down on it, and we were like “How do we start this thing??”. I’ve been watching the wrong videos apparently. The guy approached us, started our bike by pushing one bloody button, and let’s just say I didn’t feel very intelligent at that point. But driving a bike was awesome, can’t wait to do it again. And its easy too, I’ve learnt how to do it in two minutes. This was after two full days of exploring the island on bicycles, though, so we were pretty sure the roads were safe enough for us to move at a snail’s pace. You don’t wanna go crazy when you’re riding a motorbike for the first time! We checked-out of Hostaria, and parked our baby Fino in front of our nice Green Chilli Bungalow for the night. The story continues here: Day 5.

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Koh Lanta, Day 2: captain Auste steering a longtail boat

On our second full-day on the island (read about Day 1 here) we didn’t want to waste a minute and went to see some surrounding islands. Whilst waiting for the guide to pick us up, we had another nice chat with our host and this time he was sharing a story how the Long Beach got its name. It used to be long in the direction towards the sea. We thought that it was called so, because it is quite a long stretch of sand along the shore. Visibly, in recent years a lot of it has been swallowed by the sea. He also went on about the weird and annoying administration and rules of owning the property on the island, and then how many Thai people are afraid of geckos (salamandra blanca) – they’re so cute!

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So we got picked up and took a ferry to the north island. The ride to a small pier at the south of the island was amazing. The owner – a funny, hip, and stylish 30-something Thai man had an old rusty songthaew truck made out of wood! Racing through the hills of Lanta, ALL the locals had their eyes on the car. We then got onto a longtail boat, just me, Auste, the guide, and the boat operator. They were so cool and chilled out that they offered Auste to steer the boat! It was so funny, and she did steer it for quite a while, maneuvering through the blue waves of the Andaman.

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The Skull island

That day was exceptional as the guy was awesome, because he really enjoys what he does. Since he saw that we enjoyed climbing and exploring and taking photos, he went the extra mile to show us more places than he usually does when he has more people on the tour – he was as excited as we were. The cave on the Skull island was brilliant – with not even a single boat in sight, easy to climb, full of bats and birds and interesting rock formations. Not to mention the views you get through the “eyes” of the skull.

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To be honest, visiting all of the caves was amazing – something we didn’t expect to be as good. As we paddled the kayaks (part of the luckily private tour) around steep cliffs we had a gentle breeze from the sea, cute little splashes of waves, and an actual chance to climb up those cliffs and get inside. We were amazed by the size of the caves, we climbed around, took photos, and just listened to the waves crashing into the cliffs from the outside – indescribable feeling. Although there’s something I CAN describe – the smell inside some of those caves. If you’ve ever had blue cheese or brie, especially the expensive smelly ones – you’d know what I’m talking about, especially once you keep them unwrapped in the fridge for a while. In some caves you could hardly smell it, in others it felt like a Stilton party.

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Towards the end of our exploration we kayaked to a very, very isolated beach surrounded by limestone cliffs and had lunch. This was the time we chatted to our guides, relaxed, and fed monkeys. People, dogs, cats, birds, even monkeys eat rice in Thailand!

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Koh Talabeng – lunch time!

For the tour we paid around 1,300 per person, which was really good. (Compared to our trip to Ang Thong Marine Park from Koh Phangan, where it wasn’t bad, but the views weren’t as spectacular, we spent loads of time on a boat with roughly 50 other people, way too many tourists in all locations and zero time to explore them – and for the same price!) It’s cheaper renting a longtail boat for a day – around 1,500, but then you’d have to know where to go!

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Koh Talabeng

The trip was amazing and extremely cheap for such a quality time. It wasn’t rushed, the people were awesome, we saw amazing places, AND Auste got to steer a longtail boat! When we got back we rented bicycles (90 baht for a full day – score!), ready for some Lanta cycling action the next morning.

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Koh Lanta, Day 1: Cycling

Today was our first full-day on the island – happy! We had booked cheap accommodation because we decided there was no point of paying lots for a hotel, which would still probably be half as nice as what you’d expect.  Many times in the past we booked nice-looking hotels online, which turned out to be very out-of-date, bugs-on-sheets type of places. The fan on the ceiling was rather old and made lots of noise all night, so we both woke up with minor headaches (which could have also been the result of the hundreds of miles of travel the day before).

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If you’re the type who likes honest and friendly service, and don’t mind staying at a basic place, get in touch with Hostaria 239 – a hostel next to the entrance to Phra Ae Park and Phra Ae  beach. The owner is Italian and he honestly advised us of the best things to do and where to get reliable bikes and so on. He also does a good deal on breakfast, so [in the cute little tree-house] we both had a nice coffee, an omelette, homemade bread and fresh juice of passion fruit mixed with orange. I’m getting hungry just writing about it. He was showing me his jars of yeast and explaining bread making processes and so on, it was really cool to meet someone who just loves BREAD.

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Being slow as ever, we left in the middle of the day, with tropical sun burning everything on the surface of the earth. We rented brand new mountain bikes (bicycles) for like 60 baht for the rest of the day as they were closing around 5PM. We cycled along the main road to Saladan Pier, then followed it southwards along the eastern part of the island to the edge of the Old Town (didn’t quite reach the actual town!). There were a bunch of trees growing in weird colour water. I know my description doesn’t quite paint the picture, so you can just look at the picture haha.

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After sifting through the restaurants offering sea-view we found a nice one and had a tasty meal to ‘carb-up’ for the ride back.

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The island is quite hilly for a bicycle ride, so we were sweating non-stop, but the ride back was even hillier, where we were pushing our bikes up the steep forest road. Auste was uncomfortable at first to ride the bike along a narrow road, but the drivers were quite cautious and sounded the horn when overtaking, so we felt pretty safe.

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It was funny when we wanted to explore an interesting looking dirt road and we saw a big snake literally swimming through the tall grass with its head keeping well above the ground. In my head I was like “Dayuum! I ain’t know nothin’ about Thailand!”. I really don’t know anything about the local fauna so we made a U-turn and headed back to the main road asap. That day we saw elephants with their ‘masters’ (a.k.a. abusers), wild monkeys, chained monkeys (#whywouldyouever), eagles, giant lizards, crabs and coloured chickens  (don’t ask me why). Aaaand when we got back, we had the brilliant pizza from Le Colibri again…mmm…

Keep reading about our Krabi trip here. If you’re interested to see how we got to Koh Lanta from Bangkok, head here.