After the very good state of Malaysian roads, we assumed that when we crossed the border to Thailand we'd have to start dealing with much more deteriorated surfaces and hectic traffic. This really wasn't the case though. All the main roads we drove on were proper sealed roads, often divided with more than two lanes and a hard edge. Even some of the narrower mountain roads we came across were still well sealed and surprisingly well sign posted.
The only toll roads we came across were in Bangkok, but they were very easily avoided and we didn't feel the need to use them at all. I imagine they'd be useful if you were driving more in the city, but all we did was drive to the centre, park, and drive out of the centre. It was also school holidays while we were there so perhaps the traffic wasn't as congested as usual.
Thai drivers were on the whole really quite polite and civilised, regularly driving right on the hard edge to allow faster vehicles to overtake. Unfortunately they're just not very good at driving. We saw an absolutely ridiculous number of cars - usually unloaded 4x4 utes (pick-ups for our American friends) actually - in the ditches next to the road. Our theory is that they're so used to driving around with these huge, high loads that when they're unloaded they feel unbalanced and forget how to steer properly. The vast majority of the accidents we saw were just cars that had driven off the side of the road, usually not going particularly fast and rarely involving more than one vehicle.
We had expected that in Thailand we would be seeing a lot more makeshift type vehicles, run down and fixed by hand, and probably a lot of old cars, motorbikes and bicycles. We were shocked though to find that the majority of vehicles were almost brand new Toyota Hiluxes, Isuzu Hi-landers and other similar 4x4s with a tray. We've been told that this is because of the statis that is associated with having a good car, and a lot of the owners will actually be in vast amounts of debt. A lot of these vehicles have a cage attached to the tray that then allows extra packing space, and often the rear suspension is modified to cope with the weight of the load. Some of these vehicles were then stacked up to double the height of the car, sometimes higher. We saw very few sedans (saloons), station wagons (estates) or bicycles on the roads, but there was the expected overcrowding of scooters, the drivers of which don't seem to mind too much about following basic road rules such as drive on the left and stop at intersections.
Petrol and gas
Most of the places we stayed at in Thailand were able to offer us a secure, or at least off street car park. During our four days on Koh Phi Phi (an island) we paid 100Bhat (approx. $3) per night for the privilege of leaving Trevor at the Thai Hotel car park in Krabi (the mainland launching pad for most of the islands). While we were staying in Krabi we just parked on the street outside our hostel, but we wanted something a bit more secure if we were leaving for several days. The other option that we considered was parking at the police station in Krabi which is actually free. Unfortunately they were completely full so couldn't accommodate us, but we were also advised that it's not overly secure anyway.
We were very fortunate in Bangkok that we had friends who were able to offer us a free, secure car parking spot where they live. If this hadn't been the case Bangkok would have been a huge challenge and undoubtedly a lot more stressful for us. Street parking where we stayed in Khao San certainly would have been impossible, so we would have either had to stay a bit further out in the suburbs where we could have parked, or paid a probably obscene amount for secure parking.
We expected that the roads in Malaysia would be pretty good, but they really were as good as anything in Australia. The main highways between cities are all tollways, but they're very good roads; all divided with at least two lanes on each side, exceptionally well maintained and with regular roadside stops and petrol stations. There are also free roads that although being slightly less direct, with the usual obstacles such as traffic lights and towns, were actually also very good roads. We ended up using both types of road, depending on factors such as how much extra petrol we might use by taking the longer route and how much longer the free road would take.
The thing that we were struck by though was the number of serious accidents we saw. We didn't actually witness any, but within about 100km of Kuala Lumpur on the first day we had our car, we drove past the sites of two very serious accidents. In both cases the cars and trucks were completely mangled and in one we could actually see that there was still at least one person inside the wreckage. And despite the very good roads, we did witness driving that doesn't make these type of accidents seem unlikely. Most of the other vehicles on the road were overtaking us doing well over 100km/h, in most cases probably at least 130km/h. This in itself probably doesn't cause many accidents - I'm guessing it's the fact that they undertake and merge and use the hard edge as if they were driving around at 40km/h. In a nutshell, I would describe it as first world roads and cars and therefore first world speeds, but with the driving techniques of a developing country.
Driving along on Malaysian roads looking at the cars, we could have easily been in Australia. There was a variety of ages of cars, mostly within about 15 years old, and mainly pretty standard sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons, and 4x4's.
Petrol and gas
95 petrol throughout Malaysia is heavily subsidised by the government, and as a result foreign vehicles are only supposed to fill up with the more expensive types. We just explained time after time that for various reasons such as the age of the car, or the fact that it's from Australia, it can only take 95. The petrol attendants were usually confused enough by the fact that we were there that we didn't have too many problems.
We realised that all the taxis had gas tanks and then we noticed a few cars with NGV stickers, but we hadn't seen any type of gas sold at any petrol station. While we were on Penang though Ben bumped into a couple who had the NGV sticker and they pointed us to where we could purchase it. We found the petrol station easily enough, but we were a bit disappointed when we found out that NGV and LPG are actually completely different substances. As it turns out they don't have LPG at all in Malaysia.
We had no problems with parking at all, although we never actually drove into Kuala Lumpur where I think we would have had to pay for some sort of off road parking. Everywhere we went though we were able to find accommodation somewhere that had a somewhat secure parking area.