The quirks of Southeast Asia’s roads and paths

Mapping Southeast Asia isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. Labyrinthine streets, complex traffic rules, and frequent gridlocks add up to a navigation headache for the region’s road warriors.

At GrabMaps, we’re driven by the challenge of embracing all these quirks in our local mapping. To help our driver-partners maneuver through each city’s surprising rules, we leverage street-level imagery, massive GPS data, crowd-sourced intelligence, and satellite data with local knowledge to map the best way forward in real time. 

Digitising local knowledge

From Jakarta to Hanoi, Southeast Asia’s congested cities hide surprising shortcuts down the major roads. What looks like a dirt track from GPS data may double up as a useful pathway known only to local motorcyclists. Bangkok’s sois are peppered with narrow sub-alleys that can peter out into dead ends – or offer unexpected connections between arteries for drivers caught in a jam. Many of these alternative trails go undocumented on standard street maps.

GrabMaps uses purpose-built cameras to put these routes on the map. Our fleet of driver-partners come equipped with our groundbreaking KartaCams, mounted on motorcycle helmets or attached to car windshields.

Our KartaCams capture video footage as drivers weave expertly through the streets, translating the collected data into maps that show real-time info on road conditions. When accidents clog up the road, our platform can keep the wheels turning by tracing an alternative path.

Diverse modes of transport, diverse rules

Tuk-tuks, jeepneys, songthaews (converted pick-up trucks) – Southeast Asia’s roads teem with a diverse mishmash of vehicles. It’s also a region where nearly eight in 10 private vehicles are two-wheelers, requiring GrabMaps to plot routes tailored to each mode of transport.

Newcomers in Bangkok, for instance, might be surprised to learn that flyovers and expressways are off-limits for motorcycles and tuk-tuks. When it comes to crossing waterways, Thailand’s vehicle ferries often offer a faster alternative than bridges – but it’s crucial to know that certain piers are restricted for two-wheeler use. In Malaysia, mopeds and e-scooters are banned on public roads; in Singapore, they’re banned on footpaths.

At Grab, we understand that hyper-localising is the key to smooth navigation. Our local ground teams monitor the latest rules and leverage local expertise from partners on the ground. Whether you’re booking a Grab RodDaeng in Chiang Mai or a GrabTukTuk in Phuket, our maps optimise routes to take the friction out of getting where you need, when you need.

Ever-changing restrictions

Don’t count on the “rules of the road” in Southeast Asia. Around here, the traffic laws change by the day – literally.

Jakarta’s odd-even traffic policy is well-known, where cars with licence plates ending in odd or even numbers can only access major roads on odd- or even-numbered days respectively. 

But how about Metro Manila’s number coding scheme, which restricts vehicles from hitting the road during rush hour on specific days based on the last digit of their licence plates? Or consider Hanoi’s regulation on contract-based vehicles like Grab, making 11 streets off-limits within certain time frames.

As restrictions evolve, GrabMaps is ready to evolve right alongside them. Smart algorithms embedded into our street maps help drivers stay safe and compliant with local traffic laws. When roads are closed, our real-time updates on road conditions help drivers avoid designated areas and can be updated live within moments.

Embracing Southeast Asia’s quirks

A source of frustration at times, Southeast Asia’s quirky roads can become endearing as you learn their secrets and shortcuts. Through hyper-local mapping, GrabMaps aims to capture the nuances of each city and town, tirelessly optimising and updating our data to form a truly reliable, local street map.

Find out more about GrabMaps’ offerings here, and follow us on LinkedIn for updates. 

Komsan Chiyadis

GrabFood delivery-partner, Thailand

Komsan Chiyadis

GrabFood delivery-partner, Thailand

COVID-19 has dealt an unprecedented blow to the tourism industry, affecting the livelihoods of millions of workers. One of them was Komsan, an assistant chef in a luxury hotel based in the Srinakarin area.

As the number of tourists at the hotel plunged, he decided to sign up as a GrabFood delivery-partner to earn an alternative income. Soon after, the hotel ceased operations.

Komsan has viewed this change through an optimistic lens, calling it the perfect opportunity for him to embark on a fresh journey after his previous job. Aside from GrabFood deliveries, he now also picks up GrabExpress jobs. It can get tiring, having to shuttle between different locations, but Komsan finds it exciting. And mostly, he’s glad to get his income back on track.