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Driving Right: Rules of the Road for South East Asia Self-Drive Holidays

Sometimes called ‘the rule of the road’, knowing which side of the highway to drive on is a crucial piece of information for any motorist. Here in Singapore we drive on the left, of course, in common with our neighbours and owing to a shared colonial history under the British. But while sticking to the correct side of the road keeps us all safe, with more and more Singaporeans taking driving holidays in South East Asia and further afield, it’s important to be aware of what’s involved when we have to swap sides!

road sign right

How Did We End Up On The Left?

In feudal Europe, including Britain, men wore swords on the left of their bodies so they could draw swords with their stronger right hand. In order to protect themselves on the road men would walk on the left so they could draw their blades in an instant. This had a knock-on effect with horses – the favoured mode of transport in those days. Since the scabbard was worn on the left, mounting a horse was easiest from that side. And again, horses moved on the left for easy defence.

In other countries, numerous historical quirks and practical considerations relating to traffic influenced which side of the road they would drive on. For example, French and American teamsters would sit on the left rear horse pulling their wagon so they could whip the other horses with their right hand. As such, it was easier for traffic to pass on the left so the teamster could ensure the wagon and horses were clear of traffic on the other side.

Today, around 65 per cent of the world’s countries drive on the right, and the remainder on the left. Of course, in some countries – such as India and some South East Asian countries – it’s not always easy to see which side of the road the locals are aiming for!

Adjusting to Right-hand Drive

The top five most popular destinations for Singaporeans are Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Of these, only China drives on the right. But South Korea – another right-hand drive country – is attracting increasing numbers of Singaporeans for driving holidays.

For most drivers, getting used to driving on the right is a fairly quick process, although many drivers can lapse back into their home country’s driving side on occasion (especially when setting out in the morning for another day’s drive) – which can result in some sobering experiences – and a sense of relief that travel insurance was taken out beforehand!


Whilst a popular destination for Singaporeans, the notion of driving in China is not one many non-locals pursue, not least because an International Driver’s Permit is not an acceptable licence type in China. As such, the problems posed by driving on the right in China are unlikely to worry most Singaporean holidaymakers.


The Republic of Korea does accept the International Driver’s Licence, so driving holidays here are easy and indeed attract many Singaporeans each year. Koreans are very good at observing the rules of the road, but this means that as a guest driver you are expected to be equally good – which means sticking to the right side of the road (just for starters!). Road signs are in English as well as Korean, and the major highways are of high quality. Minor roads however are not so well maintained. Among Singaporeans, self-drive holidays are increasingly popular in locations such as Korea’s Jeju island, whose local tourist authority has promoted it a great deal to Singaporeans in recent years. But as much as they love Singaporean visitors in Jeju, we still have to drive on the right!

jeju lava columns

Cambodia and Vietnam

Less popular among Singaporeans, these nearby right-hand drive countries are nevertheless packed full of historic sites and bustling cities. Be aware that even as you drive on the right side you could have a motorbike coming the other way on the same side. This is simply the quickest route to reach the part of the road the motorcyclist is aiming for, without crossing a busy carriageway – or indeed a concrete barrier!

Wherever you plan on taking a self-drive holiday next, don’t forget to find out which side of the road you’re meant to drive on. Happy driving!