The importance of driving through red lights

If we ever meet you, we really hope you like us and think we’re hugely fun. And we really hope we manage to hide just how anal, tightly structured and goal-focused we are.

Truth be told, we desperately want to go with the flow more, but we’re stuck in a rut of standard operating procedures, multi-indented bullet-point lists, and Google Calendar reminders about putting the bins out, getting our hair cut and ordering the week’s supermarket shopping. We can’t even watch a TV panel show without moaning that no one’s taking the game seriously. 

Rules, goals and structure come in useful for some things, but not everything – and we know we need a bit more flexibility and freedom in our lives, especially when it comes to our non-working lives. And thanks to Chiang Mai, we’re starting to achieve our new goal (oh, the irony) of relaxing a bit more, taking things as they come, and not worrying so much about having rules for everything. That’s because in Chiang Mai, no one really pays attention to rules, and everything still works out just fine.

Case in point: hiring and driving a moped. In Chiang Mai, you pay 200 baht (£4) to hire one for the day. You have to ask them for helmets, even though the law says you should wear one. You even have to ask for a lock (our rental place didn’t have one). You prove who you are by flashing them your passport photo, and then you sign a scrap of paper and you’re off.

Traffic lights seem to be for guidance purposes only: if your light is red but there’s no traffic coming from other directions, feel free to drive on. If you need to pull out into a new road while traffic is coming at you, just do it anyway, because the cars will make way for you. Mums on the school run will lob three kids and a cat on the back of a moped and speed past us while handing out snacks.

In Chiang Mai, it seems to be common sense, reciprocity and consideration for others that “rule”. As a result, everyone seems happy and relaxed, no one’s trying to show off their speeding skills, and there’s very little road rage. And we’re chilling out as a result too – not just on the road but in lots of ways.

When we first got together and decided to create our respective lists of “Three General Rules About Life” (yes, we really honestly did that), one of Rob’s was “It’ll be fiiine” – i.e. things always turn out OK, no matter how scary and horrible they seem at first. We’re starting to realise just how true and relevant that rule is.

Yes, rules come in handy (and we’re not necessarily suggesting that UK drivers start blasting their way through red lights). But we need to remember that loosening up and taking things as they come can have a positive impact too: we’re becoming more open to new experiences – which might in turn lead to new friends, more opportunities and generally more happiness. We need to start remembering that “it’ll be fiiine”, because it probably will be.