With how hot Thailand is around the year, it is a common thought that everyone wants to run away to somewhere colder. And on that list for anyone in Thailand, most of them will probably be somewhere high up the mountain🗻, which also means a long, long route with a hundred curves going up and down at the same time😒
It certainly seems hard to drive up this kind of road, but there’s actually a way to do it😀, and LifeSara is here to walk you through 9 driving tips that will take you to the top of the mountain with your trusty car 🚘🚩
Check Your GPS First (And Maybe Download The Route Too!)
First of all, you’ll have to understand that mountain roads in Thailand are not equal in difficulty. Driving up the mountain in Koh Chang is not going to be as hard as in Chiang Mai. Even within the same province like Kanchanaburi, you will find that one road is pretty easy to climb, but crossing to another sub-district and you can suddenly find it to be beyond your skill!!
So the first step is to check the route first! Some of the mountain routes like in Ratchaburi or Trat are pretty tame and pretty good for learning mountain driving if you only ever drive up and down the building. Mae Kampong in Chiang Mai, however, is among the hardest roads to drive in Thailand, and even Thai people have to hire the locals to drive for them!
And the season also affects the difficulty as well! Rain is the number one enemy of mountain drivers everywhere, from the obscured vision from rain and fog to slippery roads, or even the landslide that can cut out the road, or even crash down over the car while you’re driving!! So check the weather report before your trip, too! Just because there’s no rain down on the plain doesn’t mean there’s no rain on the mountain!
Lastly, do try to download your route to your device if you can. No matter which internet provider you use, all of them have an equal chance to go dead once you enter the mountain range. Even if your device doesn’t connect to the satellite, you can still scroll manually to see the road ahead, which can be very valuable especially once you’re in the middle of nowhere!
Check Up Your Car (And Yourself!)
First, we check the road, now it’s time to check ourselves! Is your driving license still holding up? If you rent your car, does it has enough engine power to take you, your group, and your belongings up the mountain? If it’s your own car, then you’ll have to check its documents too! See if it’s still allowed to go out on the road! And remember! A red license plate car cannot cross over its registered province after sundown!!
The legality is important to keep your trip smooth, of course, but the even more important factor is your car’s capability! A small, fuel-saving city car ain’t gonna take you and your things all the way to the peak without a lot of sweats and tears! If you happen to get a car with high ccs like a truck or SUV, then you can rest easy. But if you got a sedan or MVP with a smaller engine, you might need to be more careful with how much you’ll pack or how many people will you take.
If you gonna take a car with less engine power on a mountain trip, you have to accept the fact that this trip will be hard for you. You might be able to speed up your car from the ground level to help push your car up the steep slope, but if the slope goes for a long distance, like 2-4 km or more, your car will struggle a lot mid-way through, and might even fail to move at all!
There’s even a viral clip in Thailand a while back where an MVP driver press their gas pedal down to the ground and the car still slid back down the hill, so if your car might really struggle for this kind of road, let it rest and go rent a stronger car closer to the destination.
But if your car can take it, then it’s time for the last check-up. Your tire pressure should be at the recommended level, and all of your car’s lights must be in working condition, and never forget to fill your gas all the way before going up the mountain, because the most likely scenario is that you won’t see any gas station ever again until you leave the mountain range.
Speed Up Before Going Up The Slope
To help push your engine up the mountain, you should speed up once you see an ascending slope in front of you. This tip is even more important for any car with a weaker engine because if this slope is long, this will be your last chance to build up your power to shove your car up the mountain!
But that doesn’t mean that you should stomp your gas pedal all the way down! You can still get in an accident if you lose control of your car, so just go at the speed you can control, which is usually no more than 100 km/h at the most anyway. (Most likely it’ll be around 90 km/h.)
Imagine your speed as an invisible hand that pushes your car from behind. The stronger that hand is, the less your engine has to work to push itself up the mountain. Without that speed, your engine has to work much harder, and if it gets to the point where your rpm spiked to the max while your car still crawling slower than a tortoise, then that’s the best your car can do and you’ll have to accept that.
P.S. If you’re driving an automatic car and there’s an S on your gearbox, this is the time to use it! Because gear S (for Sport), will shift gear at a higher rpm than the normal D, which results in more acceleration power! This mode usually went unused because it burns much more gas than usual D, but gear S potential absolutely shines in mountain driving!
Use Engine Break With Your Brake For Long Descent
Many drivers feel that the descent is easier than ascending part because you don’t have to wrangle with your engine anymore. But we have to tell you right now that you’re not out of the wood yet because it’s the going down part that has killed and maimed many careless drivers!!
If you have been on the road down from the mountain during the festival before, we’re pretty sure you’ll ever smell something burned at some points. That smell comes from the inexperienced drivers with the burned-up brakes on the side of the road. Most likely, those drivers don’t know, or weren’t efficient in the art of “engine breaking”.
Engine braking is the crucial method to get you down the long steep road safely, by using it “in turns” with your brake pedal. This is something manual car drivers will already be familiar with because they’ll have to keep their car in low gear from the start when driving on the mountain. It’s the automatic driver who never has to change gear themselves that’ll get in trouble!
The truth is, this is the time when you’re supposed to use that “L” on your gearbox!! Because L (Low) gear will limit your car down to 1-3 gears, instead of going up to 5 like usual. In this mode, your car’s speed can’t go above 60 km/h, which is very helpful when you’re going down the long way.
Although if your automatic car has a manual mode as well, this is where the fun begins! Start your descent from gear 3 (or plain L for full auto car), and if your car going down too fast without braking, brake your car and shift down one gear. Repeat that step one more time if it is still too fast. From this point onward (or if you only have gear L), use your brake if your rpm going too high for a while (usually 4-5 seconds), lower your speed down until you’re comfortable, then let go.
Try to let your engine pull your car back, but don’t be afraid to use the brake more. In the long run, fixing the brake is still a lot less hassle than a burned-out engine. But if you use your brake too much, the first sign of trouble is the burning scent, follow up with your brake pedal that sinks deeper than usual, and if you can see smoke coming up from your wheel, then it’s time to make a stop (somewhere safe, not in the middle of the road, please).
DO NOT, no matter any circumstance, DO NOT POUR WATER OVER YOUR BURNING BRAKE!! A sudden change in temperature will bend your brake plate, render it unusable and now your car can’t go anywhere! Even if it is glowing red or smoking like crazy, just let it cool down on its own. Usually, after 20 – 30 minutes, your brake should cool down enough and no longer emit smoke. From then you can continue your descent, with much more carefulness than before!
Slow Down To Stable Speed Before Go Around The Corner
If you can see a number sign before reaching the curve, then that is the highest speed that the curve has been built to support. Although thanks to the Thai government’s ingenuity, the actual supported speed might actually be even lower than that… Nonetheless, unless you really know your road and your skill, stick to the speed on the sign.
Another key to entering the curve is to stabilize your speed “before” taking a turn. Your car will lose its grip anyway if you still braking mid-curve, so you’ll need to wrestle with your steering wheel all the way. But if you turn at a stable speed, your ride around the corner will be very smooth.
A simple way to see if your car grips the corner or not is to simply look around you. If your stuff slides around, your passenger or yourself is being pulled left and right every time you take a turn, you turn too fast. But if everyone in the car can sit upright like normal while you’re taking a turn? Now that’s a perfect grip, right there!
Slowly Speed Up Once You’re Inside The Curve
If the curve is long and you’re already inside without throwing everyone in your car around, then you can speed up a bit for even more grip!
But if you get faster without a proper grip in the first place, then you’re getting closer to being thrown off the road. Increasing speed while already having a grip on the corner will increase your grip even more, while also building a speed for the straight road afterward at the same time.
For Ascending Curve, Don’t Break. Just Take Your Foot Off The Gas.
Now we’re putting two previous tips together; turning up the steep slope! You need speed to climb the mountain, but also need to slow down to get a grip on the corner! What’s the right answer? Braking?
No! The answer is to get your foot off your gas! The steep road will always slow you down considerably anyway, so just take your foot off before you reach the curve, and the world will slow you down while you get to conserve your speed as much as you can so you can continue to ascend once you got a grip! And there you go! One curve down, a hundred more to go!
For Descending Curve, Don’t Speed Up. Just Brake Slightly.
The world slows you down when you go up, and now it’ll pull you faster when you come down! But coming down the mountain is all about managing speed anyway, and that’s what you’ll do here as well!
Just finish lowering your speed before the turn, and let the car pick up speed on its own after you got a grip! No need for gas, because gravity is doing its job now, and the longer it takes for your car to reach high speed, the longer time your brake got to cool down!!
If You Driving After No One In The Dark,
Use High Beam To Look Forward (Turn Off When Passing Other Cars)
If you think combining every previous tip together is already hard, you don’t want to get caught on the mountain roads once the sun has gone down, trust us. Because your difficulty is about to jump up a few notches! Although for some drivers, driving in the mountain without seeing what danger awaits up ahead makes it easier to drive instead. To each their own, we guess.
But no matter what your opinion is, “always keep your headlight on”. Especially when there’s no one in front of you, switch to a high beam right away! Not only will you see further and have more time to react, but your light will also reflect on the tree or the fence and warn the driver on the other side that you’re coming their way!
So if you see more light than just your own on the tree or the corner fence, know that someone else is coming up the road. So switch off your high beam and make sure you’re inside your own lane. If either you or the other driver forgets to switch the high beam off, remember that the universal warning is blinking the high beam 2-3 times. That should get the beam off quickly, whether yours or theirs!
Turn signals are also another important aspect of nighttime mountain driving, because not only does a clear signal that can be seen from far away make it safe for everyone on the road, but there’s also an unspoken language on Thai road that use them too! The left signal without actual turning means that the road ahead is clear if you want to pass them, while the right signal means there’s a car on the other side.
It’s pretty common in Thailand that the car in the front will give a signal to let the car behind them know when can they safely pass them to the front. So if you got some car behind you that stays close to your tail, be courteous and blink your left signal when the road ahead is clear. Slow down a bit so they can pass you safely because having someone braving the dark mountain road instead of you will make your life much easier! We guarantee!!